NBA Draft Prep: Top prospects 1.0 -- the lottery

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NBA Draft Prep: Top prospects 1.0 -- the lottery

The Sixers have not played well this season, which is exactly as it should be. As they come out of the All-Star break, they have the second-worst record in the NBA and a 19.9 percent chance to land the top pick in the 2014 NBA draft. Things are unfolding as the pro-tank crowd hoped.

As the regular season funnels into the offseason for the Sixers, we’ll take a semi-regular look at potential prospects. Because so many variables are still unknown -- lottery position, who will declare for the draft, who will stay in school, etc. -- the exercise will begin as a rough outline of the top 14 (the lottery) that will be polished as more information becomes available. 

1. Joel Embiid, 7-0, C, freshman, Kansas
He’s talented and raw. Those are the two adjectives most frequently associated with the Jayhawks' freshman. Embiid is averaging 10.7 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.5 blocks while shooting 61.2 percent from the field. The Cameroon native reportedly didn’t start playing basketball until he was 16, and he won’t turn 20 until mid-March. He’s had some back and knee issues lately, and he recently said he’s “strongly considering” staying in school. If he comes out, he has the obvious ability to be the top pick.

How he’d fit with the Sixers: Hard to see it after the Sixers invested a first-round pick in Nerlens Noel.

2. Jabari Parker, 6-8, SF, freshman, Duke
He’s looked good in his first college season. Parker is averaging 19.3 points, 8.5 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 1.2 blocks and one steal while shooting 47.8 percent from the floor and 36.5 percent from three-point range. He’s shown a solid offensive game, and he has the length to develop into a quality defender. Lots of upside with Parker, very little risk.

Sixers fit: He’d be ideal for a young team that likes to get out and run.

3. Andrew Wiggins, 6-8, SG/SF, freshman, Kansas
Before the season began, a lot of people predicted Wiggins would be the first overall pick. Now there’s some question about whether he’ll be the first player taken from his own team. You could really put any of the top players in a hat and pick them out in random order. They all have major talent, and you could make a case for any of them being the best of the lot -- including Wiggins, who has superior athleticism and has shown the ability to get to the basket and shoot from distance. He’s hitting 44.3 percent from the floor and 34.9 percent from three. He’ll turn 19 this week.

Sixers fit: Same as with Parker. Plug him in and let him grow with Michael Carter-Williams, Noel, and whomever else they grab out of this draft.

4. Julius Randle, 6-9, PF, freshman, Kentucky
Big. Strong. Athletic. Has the ability to bang inside or shoot a mid-range jumper. He’s also a willing defender and an absolute double-double machine (15.7 ppg, 10 rpg). He won’t turn 20 until November. So much potential. He’s a lot of fun to watch.

Sixers fit: Yes please. Pairing him with Noel would make for an imposing frontcourt.

5. Dante Exum, 6-6, PG, Australia
Lots of buzz about this kid, even though most people haven’t seen him play. He’s only 18 and won’t turn 19 until July. NBAdraft.net likened him to Penny Hardaway. And, not surprisingly, his size (6-6, 188 pounds), length and position have some people mentioning Exum as an MCW type. Brett Brown, who coached in Australia, probably knows as much as anyone about Exum. Some highlights.

Sixers fit: Nope. They already have an MCW type.

6. Marcus Smart, 6-4, PG, sophomore Oklahoma State
Needs to work on his shooting (40.4 percent from the floor, 29 percent from three), but he's a solid passer (4.2 assists per game), rebounder (5.8 rpg) and defender (3 spg). Looked like the most NBA-ready point guard prospect -- until that thing happened.

Sixers fit: They’re set at point guard.

7. Noah Vonleh, 6-10, PF, freshman, Indiana
He’s already shown top-tier talent as a rebounder and defender. The 7-3 wingspan certainly helps. He’s shooting 54 percent from the floor and 72 percent from the line, and he’s demonstrated some ability to shoot from distance. (He’s averaging one three-point attempt per game and is hitting 54.2 percent of those.) He’s sort of a combo forward, but he’s looked stronger and more polished as the season has gone on. (Four double-doubles in his last eight games, and just two single-digit rebounding performances over that span.)

Sixers fit: Yup. You could imagine all sorts of ways for Brown to use him.

8. Rodney Hood, 6-8, SF, sophomore, Duke
He’s a solid shooter -- 48.7 percent from the field and 44.3 percent from three. There have been some questions in the mock-draft community about his athleticism, but he has good size, he’s a capable defender, and it’s hard not to like his shot.

Sixers fit: A wing with size who can shoot from distance. They could do worse.

9. Dario Saric, 6-10, SF/PF, Croatia
Saric won’t turn 20 until April. He was named the 2013 FIBA Europe Young Player of the Year. He’s been described as a “point forward” and praised for his passing. Some highlights.

Sixers fit: Big and versatile sound like two things the Sixers wouldn’t mind having, though there’s some question about whether Saric might spend another year or two in Europe.

10. Zach LaVine 6-5, PG/SG, freshman, UCLA
He reportedly grew five inches in the last three years. He’s athletic but lean (180 pounds). He’s been a pretty good shooter so far: 47.1 percent from the floor, 42.2 percent from three.

Sixers fit: Depends on whether he could become a full-time shooting guard.

11. Tyler Ennis, 6-2, PG, freshman, Syracuse
One of the best players on the best team in the nation. Lots of other freshmen have been more hyped, but few have played better. Good passer (5.6 apg). Capable shooter (42.2 percent FG, 36.5 percent from three). And he plays the passing lanes well on defense (2.1 spg).

Sixers fit: You already know the answer.

12. Gary Harris, 6-4, SG, sophomore, Michigan State
He’s averaging 17.4 ppg, and a lot of people rave about his scoring. But he’s hitting only 40 percent from the field, and he’s making just 32.3 percent of his threes on a high volume of attempts (seven per game). He’s not super tall or big (210 pounds) for the position, either.

Sixers fit: Eh.

13. Doug McDermott, 6-7, SF, senior, Creighton
He’s an excellent shooter: 51.3 percent FG, 44.4 percent three-point (on 5.7 attempts per game). He’s been a pretty good post defender, too. The problem is that he’s not an NBA post player. He projects as a small forward at the next level, which makes you wonder if he has the quickness to guard that position as a pro after spending a lot of time checking larger, slower power forwards and centers in college. Feels like another Wally Szczerbiak.

Sixers fit: If he was taller or bigger (225 pounds) or quicker, maybe.

14. Aaron Gordon, 6-8, PF, freshman, Arizona
He’s undersized for the position (he’s listed at 210 pounds), but if he can put on some muscle he becomes intriguing. He also needs to work on his shot. It’s shaky. And he’s hitting just 41.5 percent from the line. That's scary. His offensive game at the moment basically makes him a run-and-rebound type, which is why he might slip out of the lottery. Where he’s drafted all depends on how much faith an organization has in his potential.

Sixers fit: He could certainly run with them, but Brown likes guys who can also shoot. Hard to see Gordon stretching the floor or getting the OK to bomb from three.

Sixers' '66-'67 team reflects on success of 'best team ever'

Sixers' '66-'67 team reflects on success of 'best team ever'

As part of their “Salute Saturday” series, the Sixers honored the 1966-67 championship team at halftime of their 107-106 loss the Celtics on Saturday.

Fifty years after winning the title, the success of the squad (which went 68-13 in the regular season) still resonates with those representing the Sixers today. After all, they are the group Wilt Chamberlain described as “the best team ever.” 

“It’s just part of the history of this city and the organization,” said Brett Brown, who has established a relationship with Billy Cunningham through practice visits and emails. “There was a toughness with that team that he personified and the city sort of reflects. It’s stuff you hear me talk about all the time how you want our team to reflect the spirit of the city. That team did it.”

Prior to their tribute ceremony, members of the team reflected on their run in which they beat the San Francisco Warriors for the title. 

On Wilt Chamberlain
“Wilt was such a dominant figure, not only as a basketball player, but he’s almost bigger than the game,” Matt Goukas said. “He played so well, he was such a good team player – he started really passing the ball right around that time --and that enabled great scorers like Hal (Greer) and Billy and Chet Walker to do their thing, and Wilt was very happy to give them that leeway.”.

On fond memories
“It was a team that we played well together and we lived as a family and that’s what made it so good for us," Greer said. "A lot of fun, a lot of fun. We missed the next year, but 68-13 is not bad at all.”

“It’s hard to forget a situation like that where we had such a terrific team and the season went so quickly, we won so many games and then of course winning a championship,” Goukas said. “As a first year player I said, ‘This is the way it’s supposed to be, I guess.’ But of course I never won another championship as a player, but we had such a terrific group of guys and true professionals that for me as a rookie, Billy Melchionni as a rookie, we really benefited from guys like Hal Greer, Wally Jones and Harry Costello, they really showed us the way.”

On team chemistry
“It was very difficult times when you look at the sixties from a social aspect,” Cunningham said. “Martin Luther King was killed the following year we won the championship. Race relationships weren’t the best. And this time, which was just about half black-half white, I’m not even sure, it was never an issue. That’s the beauty I think of being on a team you know getting to know people, you judge them as an individual and nothing more than that.”

“I think it was our coach Alex Hannum, for one (that kept the team together),” Greer said. “And of course the big guy. He held us together most of the time, he could rebound, play defense, do it all.”

Sixers burned by yet another point guard in loss to Celtics

Sixers burned by yet another point guard in loss to Celtics

The Sixers had been burned by point guards before. Many times, actually. 

Just a week ago, Kyrie Irving dropped 39 points in the Cavs' 112-108 win. Nineteen came in the decisive fourth quarter. 

On Saturday Isaiah Thomas did the same damage. The undersized All-Star tied his season-high with 37 points in the Celtics' comeback 107-106 victory (see instant replay).

“Isaiah’s an All-Star,” Jahlil Okafor said. “He showed us why tonight. He’s the head of their team and came up big for them like he usually does.” 

Thomas made his impact in spurts. During the Celtics' 9-0 second quarter run, he scored six of those points. In the fourth quarter, in which the game was decided, he dropped 12 straight Celtics points. Thomas finished the night 11 for 19 for the field and only 2 of 3 from three. 

The most telling stat was at the free throw line. Thomas shot 13 for 15 after attacking and drawing fouls, a point of emphasis by head coach Brad Stevens for the second half. 

Thomas scored 15 points in the first half. He noticed a change in the Sixers defense in the second and capitalized on it. The Celtics ability to stretch the floor with their three-point shooting bigs also created opportunities for Thomas to get to the rim. 

“In the second half they sat back a little bit and they were switching a lot,” Thomas explained, also noting, “We wanted to put Okafor in a pick-and-roll. He sits far back. I just wanted to attack him downhill. It’s hard for bigs to move those bigs legs they’ve got. So I just tried to stay in attack mode and I saw we were in the bonus.”

The Sixers have had problems defending the one spot all season. Isaiah Thomas is the fifth starting point guard to score 30 points or more against them. He joins Russell Westbrook (32), Jeff Teague (30 in overtime), James Harden (33) and Irving. Another five (Kemba Walker, John Wall, Eric Bledsoe, Mike Conley and Kyle Lowry) have scored 20 or more points. 

The oneness of these high-scoring point guards doesn’t fall solely on the Sixers backcourt, where Sergio Rodriguez has been assuming the starting role in place of the oft-injured Jerryd Bayless. These opponents have been doing their work inside the arc. Of the five who have scored 30, only two (Harden and Irving) attempted more than three treys. 

“We’re all working hard trying to stop them, but it’s easier said than done,” Okafor said. 

The next point guard the Sixers will face is Emmanuel Mudiay when they take on the Nuggets Monday. Last season Mudiay hit the game-winning, buzzer-beating three in Denver.