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.

Charles Barkley: Sixers can be 'really good, really quickly'

Charles Barkley: Sixers can be 'really good, really quickly'

Charles Barkley is jumping on the Sixers bandwagon.

"I think the Sixers gonna get really good, really quickly, but it all depends on (Joel) Embiid," Barkley said. "They're not gonna win a championship the next couple years, but I think they can really become a perrenial playoff team in the next three years."

Sounds good, right? Not so fast. There are a lot of "ifs" according to Barkley. 

Most of those "ifs" ride on the health of center Joel Embiid. If the big man gets healthy, and the Sixers can resolve the "glutton of big guys," Barkley likes the Sixers chances.

"I think the most important thing they need to figure out is if Joel Embiid is going to be healthy. ... I like (Jahlil) Okafor and I like (Nerlens) Noel, but they gotta figure out if Joel Embiid is going to be healthy. 

"I like Ben Simmons, but that team's got a long way to go," Barkley said.

To hear more of Barkley's thoughts on the Sixers' future, watch the full video above. 

 

 

Team USA overpowers Argentina in 1st Olympic exhibition

Team USA overpowers Argentina in 1st Olympic exhibition

LAS VEGAS -- New team. Same old result.

Full of new star power -- and dominant on the inside -- the U.S. men's basketball team opened its bid for a third straight Olympic gold medal Friday night with a 111-74 exhibition romp over Argentina.

A game that was over almost before it began showed the U.S. has to improve its shooting and conditioning. It also showed that there is plenty of talent among a group of players that seem to want to play well for each other and their country despite the absence of Olympic stalwarts Kobe Bryant and LeBron James.

"There's a willingness from these guys to work on anything we need and to work hard," coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "These are very good guys."

A U.S. team that hasn't lost a game in 10 years had little trouble with Argentina, which some consider a medal contender in Rio. Paul George scored 14 first-half points, Kevin Durant added 12, and the U.S. blew open the game early before an appreciative crowd on the Las Vegas Strip.

Even with Bryant retired and James taking this Olympics off, there was no real talent drop off on a team heavily favored to win gold once again. The depth of the U.S. showed as coach Mike Krzyzewski rotated players in and out, searching for the right combinations on a team with 10 new players from 2012.

"Nothing is for sure," Durant said. "We want to get this gold and right now we have a job to do. We have to prepare the right way."

Count the Argentines among those who were impressed at the first real game for the Olympic team.

"Obviously, they have the best talent and the best size in the world," Argentina's Luis Scola said. "That's a big difference in their favor."

The game was the first of five exhibitions the U.S. will play before traveling to Rio to defend the gold medal. The U.S. team has spent the last week practicing in Las Vegas in preparation for the tour and the games.

There weren't any opening night jitters, though the U.S. shot only 45 percent and missed all but 14 of 41 3-pointers. With DeMarcus Cousins pulling down 15 rebounds in just 16 minutes, the U.S. dominated inside, outrebounding Argentina 53-30.

"The big thing is getting in shape and they are not there where they will be," Krzyzewski said. "But we really have an inside presence on the boards."

For Durant the game was a chance to play with a pair of his new Golden State teammates, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson. It was also a chance for Durant and Carmelo Anthony -- the only two players from the 2012 team -- to demonstrate that this will be their team in Rio.

Both players cheered from the bench as the minutes were spread around, jumping up to clap for teammates. Every U.S. player got quality time, with Green's 12 minutes the least played by any American.

"We're going to have fun and we're going to enjoy ourselves," Anthony said. "If it's not fun it's not worth it. We're going to enjoy ourselves but at the same time we're going to be focused in trying to get that gold medal."

Durant finished as the game's high scorer with 23 points, while George had 18 and Carmelo Anthony 17. Andres Nocioni had 15 for Argentina, while Manu Ginobili added 11 for Argentina, which lost to the U.S. in the semifinals of the 2012 Olympics.

Though at times little defense was played, there was plenty of offense to keep the crowd at the new T-Mobile Arena happy. The teams combined to put up 70 3-point attempts, 41 of them from the U.S.

Oddsmakers had made the U.S. a prohibitive 29.5-point favorite in what at times looked a lot like an NBA All-Star game. But while the U.S. team is loaded with 12 NBA players, the Argentines had only three on their roster and the talent difference showed.

While the team is full of new players, the gold medal run will be the last for Krzyzewski, the national coach for the last decade. His teams have lost only one game during his reign, which will end after the Olympics with San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich taking over.

Manu Ginobili intrigued by coach Brett Brown, Sixers before re-signing with Spurs

Manu Ginobili intrigued by coach Brett Brown, Sixers before re-signing with Spurs

The Spurs have been one of the most consistent NBA teams for nearly 20 years. They have made 19 consecutive postseason trips and won five championships during that span. 

The Sixers, on the other hand, are entering a phase of building a new foundation with a group of young players. They are working to improve upon a 10-win season, let alone making the playoffs.

Yet four-time NBA champion Manu Ginobili saw more than records when weighing his options in free agency. The veteran point guard looked to the Sixers sidelines and was intrigued.

Head coach Brett Brown previously worked in the Spurs basketball operations department and on the coaching staff under Gregg Popovich. He was part of four championship teams in San Antonio. When the Sixers approached Ginobili this offseason, he gave them consideration before returning to the Spurs, where he has spent his entire 14-year career.

“The fact that Philadelphia had a great coach and a person I appreciate so much as Brett Brown, made it more appealing in the case the Spurs didn’t happen,” Ginobili told The Vertical on Thursday. “But the Spurs happened and they always had the priority.”

The Sixers reportedly offered Ginobili, 38, a two-year, partially-guaranteed deal worth around $30 million. The Spurs first offered him a one-year, $3 million contract. Ginobili ended up re-signing with the Spurs for one-year, $14 million. 

“It was not my main option. I never wanted to leave San Antonio,” Ginobili said. “But I had to listen to all the options that are there.”

Ginobili averaged 9.6 points, 3.1 assists and 2.5 rebounds in 19.6 minutes coming off the bench last season. The Sixers are adding veteran leadership, and Ginobili is one of the most experienced in the game. In addition to his reliability at the position, he could have been a mentor to the entire team and worked with Ben Simmons to help hone his point guard skills as the rookie big man plays point-forward. His years of international competition would have gelled with incoming players such as Dario Saric, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot and Sergio Rodriguez. 

The Sixers signed point guards Jerryd Bayless (three years, $27 million) and Rodriguez (one year, $8 million) this summer. T.J. McConnell and Kendall Marshall still are under contract. Last season's starting point guard Ish Smith signed with the Pistons at the start of free agency.