ORLANDO, Fla. -- Sixers fans will quickly grow to love second-round pick Arsalan Kazemi.
The Iranian-born 23-year-old is a hustler who is constantly in motion and finds his way to the backboard.
“He is amazing,” Sixers assistant coach Michael Curry said. “It is easy to see why his teammates and all his coaches like him. He just plays hard. Not the most athletic, not the fastest. Very seldom does he miss an assignment. He is always in the right place. He makes effort plays and he gets a lot done because of that. He has been doing well. I am happy to see that.”
Kazemi scored 10 points on 4-for-5 shooting Thursday afternoon in the Sixers’ 90-89 loss to the Magic during Orlando Pro Summer League action (see story). The 6-foot-7, 226-pound forward also grabbed six rebounds.
Kazemi hopes to make a reputation on the glass in the NBA just like he did in college. In three of his four collegiate seasons, Kazemi averaged double-figure rebounds. As a senior at Oregon he pulled down 10 per contest, the 15th-highest mark in the country.
From 2004 to 2006, the NCAA’s leading rebounder was Paul Millsap, who averaged 12.7 boards per game at Louisiana Tech. Millsap was selected 47th overall by Utah in the 2006 draft and has since averaged 12.4 points and seven rebounds a game in seven seasons with the Jazz. That production landed Millsap a two-year, $19 million free-agent deal with the Atlanta Hawks this offseason.
Kazemi, who was selected 54th overall in last month’s draft, has closely followed Millsap and would like nothing more than to follow in the forward’s footsteps.
“As a rebounding guy, Paul Millsap was leading the nation in college for three years,” Kazemi said. “I was on top for a while and he came into the league and started improving on his game, so that is the closest guy I can think of [having a similar game].”
Kazemi’s offense is nowhere near that of Millsap when the Hawks’ new big man entered the league in 2006. However, Kazemi is sure he can develop his overall game with time.
“I have to get stronger and I need to work on my outside game and shooting from the corner,” he said. “Those are the two big things I need to work on.”
Sixers president and general manager Sam Hinkie has no doubt that Kazemi will put in the work to become a solid NBA player.
“He is a lunch-pail kind of guy,” Hinkie said. “People may say he is undersized, but I say look around and see there are a lot of undersized guys that make an impact bigger than just their size. I think he has shown who he is this week. He is a winning basketball player.
“He knows who he is, that’s important. And he plays hard all the time. That’s not refreshing as a fan. That’s important if you care about winning and he does and he shows it on every possession.”
The summer league is a time to experiment. In Kazemi’s case he has seen action at the small forward after playing mainly as a power forward in college.
“He plays the four the best right now,” Curry said. “Athletically that fits him. He is not quite the size. Some matchups at the three he is able to do a really good job as well.”
“I like to play the three,” Kazemi said. “I played the three for my national team during world championships, so I know that I can play both positions.”
Given his status as a second-round draft pick and the Sixers’ need to have some ready-made NBA players to fill out the bench, Kazemi’s grip on a final roster spot is uncertain. Still, at some point Sixer fans will see more of the player nicknamed “The Beast From the Middle East” and he is sure they will enjoy how he performs on the court.
“I kind of felt that at Oregon they didn’t know me at the beginning, but after awhile they really liked me because of the way that I play,” Kazemi said. “Fans and coaches all love that player that plays hard, so I am just going to keep on doing what I am doing. As a rookie going into the league you just have to play defense and make the hustle plays and bring energy to the team and that is what I am going to do.”