Kazemi set to contribute after historic draft night

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Kazemi set to contribute after historic draft night

Michael Carter-Williams fielded most of the questions between the Sixers’ two 2013 draftees in attendance at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine on Friday.

Flanked to Carter-Williams’ left was Arsalan Kazemi, who received less of the attention but was certainly on the Sixers’ minds during draft night.

Kazemi was selected 54th overall for the Sixers by Washington, a product of one of several draft deals executed in the second round by Sam Hinkie.

The Sixers' new president and GM was doing plenty of maneuvering to gain assets while keeping one eye on Kazemi.

“We had the 35th pick in the second round and we were interested then, but we moved and moved and moved,” Hinkie said. “But we always moved with one goal. We were never not going to have a pick in the second round. The reason for that is we were never going to put ourselves in a position to not pick Arsalan, so we are excited to be able to also add him.”

Kazemi (6-7/226) played all four years in college. The forward averaged 9.4 points and 10 rebounds a game for Oregon last season while leading the nation in defensive rebounding percentage.

Those are all solid accomplishments, but the achievement of becoming the first Iranian-born player ever selected in the NBA draft took the night to a completely new level for Kazemi.

“I am really just happy. It is not just me but all the kids back in Iran and not just Iran but the region of the Middle East,” he said. “It is going to be huge for them keeping their dream alive because they think it is not going to happen for them. But I was just the same way and thinking the same way, and the next minute I am in a plane coming to the U.S. and now I am being drafted.

“It is exciting and I am really happy and happy for basketball in that region.”

Soccer and wrestling are considered the major sports in Iran, but Kazemi said basketball and volleyball are really growing. The interest in basketball certainly continued on Thursday when plenty of people in Iran stayed up late to see Kazemi’s named called.

Kazemi’s road to Philadelphia had its rough moments. He spent the first three years of his college career at Rice University. He was granted hardship transfer for allegedly being the target of racial abuse from the school’s athletic director.

However, Kazemi didn’t let that deter his dream.

In three NCAA Tournament games this past spring, Kazemi grabbed 45 total rebounds to help keep his name in discussions about playing at the next level.

In the mold of other high-energy rebound magnets such as Kenneth Faried and Reggie Evans, Kazemi is confident about what he can bring to the Sixers.

“I always play hard and I bring toughness,” Kazemi said. “I bring hard work. I am a good defender and energy, that is what I bring to the table. I think I am mentally ready and obviously I played against professional players because I played for my national team. Every year I get to play against a bunch of professional players.

“I want to compete. I played against a lot of NBA guys playing against Team USA. I have the mindset of how it is going to be. I have the experience playing in college four years. I think I should be good.”

Nerlens Noel, Jahlil Okafor to play Sunday, Joel Embiid out (right elbow)

Nerlens Noel, Jahlil Okafor to play Sunday, Joel Embiid out (right elbow)

CAMDEN, N.J. — Two bigs back, one big out.

Nerlens Noel will make his regular-season debut Sunday against the Pistons in Detroit. Noel has been out since the preseason after undergoing elective arthroscopic left knee surgery in October.

Jahlil Okafor also will return following a bout of gastroenteritis, which sidelined him for the last three games. Neither Noel nor Okafor will have minute restrictions. 

Joel Embiid, on the other hand, will not play Sunday. He will miss the game because of minor inflammation in his right elbow, which he suffered in Thursday’s game against the Pelicans. The decision also is in conjunction with the load management plan the Sixers have mapped out for him. Embiid did not practice Saturday and will not travel to Detroit. 

“It’s very minor and we expect him back soon. Not much concern at all,” Brett Brown said of Embiid, adding, “I think it’s far more precautionary than anything people should get nervous about.”

With Embiid out, the addition of Noel will help the Sixers when they battle the Pistons and big man Andre Drummond, who is averaging a dominating 15.0 points, 13.6 rebounds and 1.2 blocks this season. Noel will come off the bench as he gets reacclimated to the team and the flow of the game. 

“I felt great [to be cleared to play],” Noel said. “I was anticipating it so I got my mind right and this is what I’ve been working for throughout the whole rehab process. I’m feeling good and looking forward to it.” 

The Sixers are mindful of the fact Noel has not played in a regular season game since the finale last April. He has been working on getting his wind back up, and the Sixers will watch it closely in-game when determining his playing time. Noel said he has a “good starting foundation” with his conditioning. 

“You can do as much as you want on a treadmill,” Brown said. “You can do as much as you want one-on-zero … but there is nothing that’s like an NBA game. Everything goes faster, everything goes quicker, you have emotions involved which can also drown how fast and how long you can go. Those things are just part of him coming back into it, and we’ll manage him accordingly.”

Noel’s debut is the first step for him, regardless of how many plays. His athleticism will give another look to the lineup. Brown foresees having Noel back will allow the Sixers to play faster and protect the rim with a greater “bounce.” 

“We miss playing with Nerlens, just his presence,” Okafor said. “He’s an athlete. Obviously we miss him on the defensive side. We miss him as a leader vocally. It’s just going to be great having him back on the floor.”

The Sixers could counter the Pistons with the combination of Noel and Okafor, a duo they struggled to utilize together last season. Brown’s decision will be based on matchups. He pointed out a situation in which Drummond and Jon Leuer are on the court would be more favorable than one in which Tobias Harris is playing power forward. 

“You just try to pick your moments where you can maybe pair those guys up,” Brown said. “I think it will be a more genuine conversation as Nerlens starts playing more with us. He’s just really come back into it. But we come back and you play Toronto and you have all three bigs available, then it becomes another level of a conversation. I do look forward to it when we have an opportunity to intelligently match up with other people and we’ll play it out like that.”

The Sixers' next game after Sunday is Wednesday against the Raptors, when they expect to have their bigs ready to go.

Sixers' game vs. Kings rescheduled for Jan. 30

Sixers' game vs. Kings rescheduled for Jan. 30

The NBA has determined a new date for the Sixers home game against the Kings, which was postponed on Nov. 30 because of unsafe playing conditions on the court.

The game has been rescheduled for Monday, Jan. 30 at 6 p.m. This will create back-to-backs for both teams.

The Sixers are playing in Chicago on Jan. 29. They will play consecutive games against the Bulls and Kings, then have a road back-to-back against the Mavericks and Spurs on Feb. 1 and 2.

The Kings will be on what is now an eight-game road trip. They will play a back-to-back against the Rockets the next night in Houston.