NBA Draft Prep: Top prospects 1.0 -- the lottery


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. 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.

Jahlil Okafor eager for more minutes as knee heals

Jahlil Okafor eager for more minutes as knee heals

CAMDEN, N.J. — Jahlil Okafor has been patient with his right knee. He was disciplined with restrictions and recovery during the preseason, recognizing the goal of being ready for opening night. 

At the same time, once he got back on the court he wanted more. Okafor played eight minutes Friday against the Heat, his first game since Feb. 28 before undergoing surgery to repair a right meniscus tear. 

“I don’t think I’m going to do eight again,” Okafor said Sunday. “They kind of heard me complain about that a lot. I think it’ll definitely be more than eight, but it won’t be much more.” 

Okafor has been limited since aggravating his knee during the final day of training camp. He practiced “to tolerance” on Sunday, according to the Sixers. Okafor did not participate in the team scrimmage and worked out individually with assistant coach/head of strength and conditioning Todd Wright. 

The second-year big man did not feel soreness on Saturday following the game. On Sunday, he felt “kind of stiff” during practice. Brett Brown has been watching Okafor’s movement closely. While Okafor considered it to be “good,” Brown was a tougher critic. 

“I think he looked OK,” Brown said. “He didn’t look great to me today. I’ll give him a B-minus … It’s always how do you move? East, west, north, south, how do you move?” 

Okafor scored four points and had one rebound, one assist, one block and one turnover in Miami. He focused on his defense during the game. When he subbed out, he checked in with Elton Brand on the bench to receive feedback from the now-retired veteran. Okafor plans to continue to tap into him for advice throughout the season. 

With opening night three days away, Okafor still plans to be on the floor for it.

“I am optimistic about it,” he said. “I should be ready to go.” 

Robert Covington sprained his right ankle in Friday’s game and did not practice Sunday. Brown anticipates Covington, who has been starting at small forward, also will be ready to go Wednesday. 

“I do (expect him to play),” Brown said. “But we won’t know that for sure yet.” 

Sixers waive retired Elton Brand
The Sixers waived Brand on Sunday, making his retirement official. Brand announced his intentions to walk away from the game Thursday. The Sixers' request of waivers was a procedural step. The roster currently stands at 19. 

“It’s been an honor, it’s been a privilege to play this game, the game that I love, and I’m certainly going to miss it,” Brand said last week (see story). “But it’s definitely time now.” 

Brand celebrated his career with his teammates at Komodo in Miami on Thursday night ahead of their preseason finale against the Heat. 

Report: Nerlens Noel expected out 3-5 weeks after left knee surgery

Report: Nerlens Noel expected out 3-5 weeks after left knee surgery

It appears the Sixers' frontcourt logjam may not be an issue early on.

Nerlens Noel, who is having surgery Monday for an inflamed plica in his left knee, will miss the first three to five weeks of the season, according to Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Noel suffered a left groin injury in the first preseason game against the Celtics and missed the rest of the preseason. While undergoing treatment, Noel reported left knee soreness, which led to the discovery of the inflamed plica.

It's been an odd start to the season for Noel. The big man was outspoken about his displeasure with the Sixers' frontcourt situation early in camp. With the deadline for Noel's rookie contract extension approaching on Oct. 31, the team has not had conversations about it, according to a report.

The Sixers are already without No. 1 overall pick Ben Simmons as he recovers from surgery to repair a Jones fracture in his right foot. The team will also be without their starting point guard Jerryd Bayless who is dealing with a ligament issue in his left wrist. Bayless won't require surgery and will be reevaluated in two weeks.