Lavoy Allen struggles to take next step in second season

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Lavoy Allen struggles to take next step in second season

A lot of folks had some decent-sized expectations for Lavoy Allen this season. With Andrew Bynum expected to anchor the middle and Allen inked to a two-year contract after a strong performance in the playoffs against the Celtics last May, higher expectations seemed reasonable.

But as the Sixers limp to the finish line of a disappointing season, Allen might not be quite ready for prime time.

Headed into Wednesday’s game against the Hawks, Allen averaged 5.9 points and 5.1 rebounds per game in 74 appearances. Though that’s up a bit from his rookie season but it hasn’t come close to matching the numbers posted by Nik Vucevic, whose minutes fell to Allen when he was traded to Orlando in the Bynum deal.

Like a microcosm of the Sixers’ season, Allen was sometimes brilliant and sometimes even good. But mostly he was underwhelming. After Allen pulled down a career-high 22 rebounds against Charlotte on Feb. 9, he was nearly shut out on the boards the next night.

In the course of two games Allen set the team season high for rebounds and then nearly became the first player to follow a 22-rebound night with a goose egg.

It could have been a better season, Allen admitted.

“Basketball-wise, I didn’t have a great year,” Allen said. “I was up and down here and there.”

But there is promise for Allen. Selected with the 50th overall pick in the 2011 NBA draft out of Temple, Allen went from starting his rookie season on the inactive list to playing significant minutes against the Boston Celtics in the playoffs. When the 2012-13 season began and Bynum wasn’t ready to go, Sixers head coach Doug Collins put Allen into the starting lineup.

Allen started 37 of the first 42 games, but fell to a role on the bench when Spencer Hawes emerged as the team’s best option in the middle. As always, Collins said, it got back to one element of Allen’s game.

“I go back to when we drafted him -- play with a motor,” Collins said.

“I remember in the playoffs the job Lavoy did to match up with Kevin Garnett and how we wanted him on the floor because of the job he did with him,” Collins continued. “We need him to have a much better year. We need him. We need our bigs for what we’re trying to do and obviously Thad [Young] and Spencer are two guys we count on heavily, but over the course of a long season, Lavoy can shoot, he has size and a good feel for the game. Arnett [Moultrie] has all of those capabilities too, so he’s going to have to take a big jump, too.”

Though Allen says his performance could have been better this season, he didn’t have an answer when asked what he learned about his game this year in comparison with his rookie year. He also said there were very few folks whose expectations he tries to live up to.

In fact, when asked which elements of his game he planned on working on this summer, Allen said he plans to work on his overall game. As far as increased energy goes, what you see is what you get with Allen.

“I only thought automobiles had motors, not people,” Allen said with a laugh.

Still, Collins believes Allen has a lot to work with and the problems he has on the court have nothing to do with his talent.

“With Lavoy it’s never about whether he’s talented or not,” Collins said.

Collins often points out that it often takes a player three years until they settle in to the NBA life and get their games together. For big men, however, sometimes it takes longer than three years. When Collins coached the Pistons he had a big man who showed all the signs of becoming a great player, but didn’t put it together until he joined the Sixers.

“I remember I had Theo Ratliff where all of a sudden he started taking off,” Collins said. “You have to be patient, but unfortunately in this business when winning and losing on a nightly basis are so important, it’s sometimes tough to have that kind of patience.

Collins seems to hint that the Sixers will have some patience with Allen.

“I think as long as guys show that commitment and you see it every day, that patience is longer,” Collins said.

Sixers-Celtics 5 things: Slowing down Isaiah Thomas

Sixers-Celtics 5 things: Slowing down Isaiah Thomas

The Sixers (4-15) continue their homestand against the Boston Celtics (11-8) at the Wells Fargo Center on Saturday night (7:30 p.m./CSN and CSNPhilly.com).

Let's take a closer look at the matchup.

1. A green giant-sized challenge
Just crumple it up and move on.

That's about the only thing the Sixers can do after getting ran out of the gym by the Orlando Magic on Friday. Instead of looking like a team that hadn't played since Monday, the Sixers appeared flat in a 105-88 loss.

Outside of Joel Embiid's first 20-point, 10-rebound game (he had 25 points and 10 boards) and a strong effort from Jahlil Okafor (16 points and 13 rebounds), not much else went right for the Sixers.

Now Embiid will sit the second game of a back-to-back set and Okafor will be thrust into the starting lineup, as the Sixers try to deal with Boston big man Al Horford. 

Horford, the Celtics' prized free-agent acquisition, is coming off his best game so far for his new team. He recorded 26 points, eight rebounds and six blocks in the Celtics' 97-92 win over the Kings on Friday.

2. Little big man
Even with Horford coming off a productive performance, the Sixers' game plan against the Celtics has to focus on slowing down Isaiah Thomas.

The 5-foot-9 guard continues to put up big numbers in the scoring department. Despite his shooting percentages taking a dip this season, Thomas still ranks ninth in the NBA with a career-high 25.7 points per game. 

And even though he is a willing passer (averaging a career-high-tying 6.3 assists), expect Thomas to try and score early and often against the Sixers. After all, the reserve-turned-All-Star has put up 21.5 points per game against the Sixers during his career, his highest mark against any opponent.

3. Dial up the long-distance defense
The Sixers need to be aware of Thomas and just about all of his teammates when they toe that three-point line.

The Celtics rank fifth in the league in three-pointers attempted (31.1), three-pointers made (11.3) and eighth in three-point percentage (36.3) per game.

The C's have four players shooting above 40 percent from beyond the arc, and perhaps a bit surprising, three of them are big men. Jonas Jerebko (46.4 percent), Horford (42.4 percent) and Amir Johnson (40.0 percent) have all been on target from long range.

4. Injuries
Robert Covington (knee) and Jerryd Bayless (wrist) are both questionable. Embiid (rest), Nerlens Noel (knee) and Ben Simmons (foot) are out for the Sixers.

The Celtics have no players listed on the injury report.

5. This and that
• The Sixers have lost five games in a row overall and eight straight to the Celtics.

• The Celtics rank 25th in rebounding with 42.2 a night.

• Dario Saric had two points Friday against the Magic and has failed to reach double digits in scoring five of his last six games.

Sixers, Magic get glimpse into future with young talent on full display

Sixers, Magic get glimpse into future with young talent on full display

The Sixers' 105-88 loss to the Magic on Friday was not the game to watch for those looking for competitive basketball, as the Magic needed just three quarters to put the game out of reach (see Instant Replay).

What the game did have was some of the NBA’s top young talent.

Friday night featured six first-round picks from the 2014 NBA draft. Joel Embiid (No. 3), Aaron Gordon (No. 4), Nik Stauskas (No. 8), Elfrid Payton (No. 10) and Dario Saric (No. 12) were all lottery selections in 2014.

Add in Sixers center Jahlil Okafor and Magic guard Mario Hezonja, who were both top-five picks in 2015, and that’s seven top-12 picks from the last three draft classes, not even counting the injured Ben Simmons.

“Basketball’s a small world, you grow up playing these guys," Gordon said of the Sixers. "Those guys are talented. They have a young group of guys that are going to get better and better each time they play.”

Though he played only 27 minutes, Embiid finished the game with 25 points and 10 rebounds to go along with four assists for the Sixers (see story). Okafor had a double-double of his own, adding 16 points and 13 rebounds.

Gordon, who is averaging 9.9 points and 4.5 rebounds per game, led the Magic with 20 points and also added two rebounds.

“He did pretty good,” Embiid said of Gordon. “He shot the ball pretty well tonight.”

The other four lottery selections struggled a bit. Payton played 24 minutes and finished with two points and four assists, while Hezonja missed both of his shot attempts in just three minutes of playing time.

Stauskas went scoreless, going 0 for 6 from the floor, finishing with five assists and three turnovers, while Saric went 1 for 5 from the field and turned the ball over twice

“It’s just about being patient, really,” Stauskas said. “We know our time will come eventually. It’s just about being patient and continuing to work hard, whether it’s next year or the year after, eventually things are going to click and this team is going to become a legit playoff team in the East, it’s just a matter of time before it happens.”

Even with a plethora of top-round talent, the Magic have struggled over the past two seasons, much like the Sixers. Orlando hadn't won more than 25 games in a season since 2012-13 before going 35-47 last year.

Despite the abundance of talent, both teams are waiting for their players to develop. Both the Sixers and Magic entered Friday’s game among the bottom four teams in the Eastern Conference. If their draft choices pan out, it wouldn't be surprising to see the two teams closer to the top of the conference and right in the thick of the playoff race in a few years. 

“Eventually they’re going to get there,” Magic center Bismack Biyombo said of the Sixers. “Like all young teams, you go through struggles before you face success. That’s just how life is. They have to learn the hard way. We’ve all been through the process like that but you always have to stay patient and see a great future ahead. Obviously they have a lot of talented kids that sooner or later, they’ll know more about the league and establish themselves.”