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.

2017 NBA draft prospect watch: Jonathan Isaac has a banner week

2017 NBA draft prospect watch: Jonathan Isaac has a banner week

Two of the country's top prospects faced off in the Pac 12 this week while a top 10 forward saw his season come to a premature close. However, we begin this week with the breakout performance by Jonathan Isaac.

Jonathan Isaac, forward, Florida St. (6-11/205)
Isaac's potential had everyone in the basketball world's curiosity. Now his play on the court has their attention. The Seminoles hosted No. 15 Notre Dame, which had yet to lose in ACC play before the Wednesday game. 

The freshman forward dominated in the 83-80 win. He had 23 points on 7 for 9 shooting from the field. He made both his threes, all seven of his free throws and also had one assist. His other stats were also otherworldly. He picked up 10 rebounds and had seven(!) blocks, including one on a late Notre Dame shot to get back into the game after he'd put the Seminoles ahead with a three. All this was in just 25 minutes

He followed it up with a similar game against Louisville. In 28 minutes, he had 16 points on 4 for 7 shooting, making one three and, again, all seven free throws. Add in two assists and two blocks to aid in the 73-68 win. Isaac has shown himself to be an athletic freak, a potential stretch-four at the next level and one with tremendous defensive potential, displayed with his nine blocks this week.

OG Anunoby, forward, Indiana (6-8/235)
Anunoby has had an uneven season, but he, at the very least, showed flashes of the ability that make him a top player for this year's draft class. However, a knee injury suffered on Wednesday finished off Anunoby's season, forcing him to undergo surgery that will keep him off the court for the rest of Indiana's schedule.

This may knock him out of the 2017 draft entirely. As a freshman last year, his NCAA Tournament performance was enough to make him a lottery pick in an even weaker draft field than the upcoming one. He chose to remain in school and it isn't farfetched to believe he will return to Indiana for his junior year to get more seasoning, a better draft field and another year of education.

Lonzo Ball, guard, UCLA (6-6/190)
There are going to be quite a few marquee matchups in the Pac 12. One of the first this year came in the form of UCLA-Arizona in Los Angeles on Saturday. The No. 3 Bruins lost, 96-85, but that had nothing to do with Ball's standout performance (more on the Wildcats below). He pushed the ball in transition, drove to the hole with ease and made 4 of 8 threes with his quirky shot. 

He had 24 points on 10-for-15 shooting and had eight assists, six rebounds, two steals and a block. When you watch Ball score so naturally, it's easy to forget his potential as a point guard, but then he whips up beautiful assists as he did many times on Saturday. The freshman has everything you want in a point guard.

Lauri Markkanen, forward, Arizona (7-0/225)
The No. 14 Wildcats picked up their biggest win of the year, moving to 7-0 in conference play. As you can expect, Markkanen had a big game to push Arizona past UCLA. He had 18 points on 6 for 10 shooting, was 3 for 3 from three and made three free throws, all which grabbing seven boards. Like Isaac, he is a tantalizing talent as a stretch-four, hanging out around the perimeter and spotting up for threes well.

He now has 16 made threes in his last four games and has averaged over seven boards in that stretch. He's not unbelievably thin like many fours his age. The freshman really can battle down low and get his shot, and he justifies his prospect status on a game-by-game basis with his ability.

Markelle Fultz, guard, Washington (6-4/195)
Washington lost on Saturday, moving to 9-10 and 2-5 in conference. But it's worth talking about Fultz's standout Wednesday night. The freshman willed his team back from 17-points down with a 37-point performance en route to an 85-83 OT win over Colorado. In 43 minutes, he was 13 for 24 from the field and 11 for 15 from the free throw line.

Don't think he's just a scorer, though. He had eight assists, five rebounds, three steals and three blocks, doing it all for the Huskies as he usually does. The freshman sensation was 0 for 2 from three, but he is normally efficient from beyond the arc. He alone is the reason to watch the under .500 Huskies.

While the 9-10 Huskies are unlikely to make a late run towards March Madness, the strong Pac 12 should provide many marquee matchups for Fultz. He faces off vs. a stout Arizona team next Sunday afternoon. Six days later, the long awaited matchup between Fultz and Ball up in Seattle goes down with presumably many scouts in attendance.

Quick Hits

Malik Monk, guard, Kentucky (6-4/185)
Twenty-seven points on 9 for 14 shooting, 4 for 7 from three, 5 for 6 on free throws, three rebounds, one assist, two steals and four turnovers in an 85-69 win over No. 24 South Carolina.

Josh Jackson, guard/forward, Kansas (6-8/203)
Fifteen points on 6 for 14 shooting, 2 for 5 from three, 1 for 3 on free throws, five rebounds, two assists, four steals and six turnovers in a 79-67 win over Texas.

Jayson Tatum, forward, Duke (6-8/204)
Fourteen points on 4 for 9 shooting, 1 for 4 from three, 5 for 6 on free throws, three rebounds, one assist, three turnovers and five fouls in a 70-58 win over Miami.

With T.J. McConnell, Hawks say Sixers have 'identity' worth respecting

With T.J. McConnell, Hawks say Sixers have 'identity' worth respecting

ATLANTA – The final score was a little lopsided and the game was sloppy at times, but after beating Philadelphia, 110-93, Saturday night, the Hawks said they see promise in the rising young Sixers.

The Sixers didn’t have the legs on the tail end of back-to-back games to keep up with another hot team, and Joel Embiid did not play, as Atlanta (26-18) won for the 11th time in 13 games to move within a half game of Boston for the No. 3 spot in the East.

Yet if not for the Sixers' 21 turnovers and a second quarter where Atlanta seemed to make every shot, the Sixers (15-27) looked enough like the team that had won eight of 10 games before arriving in Philips Arena that the Hawks see differences.

The biggest change in the Sixers between Saturday and the first two meetings of the season between these two teams — one played with Embiid and one without — is T.J. McConnell starting at point guard rather than Sergio Rodriguez.

McConnell had a game-high 11 assists against the Hawks in addition to his eight points, and the Sixers had 27 assists on a night where they hit 12 of 29 three-pointers.

“They have an identity,” said Atlanta forward Kent Bazemore, who scored 16. “McConnell is playing really well, putting pressure on the defense and their floor spacing is very good. Very disciplined group.

“Guys are in the right spots, if a guy drives, they have a plethora of options: a guy in the corner, a guy on the jumper, a guy on the wing. They kept us honest for a chunk of the game.”

Ersan Ilyasova scored 21 points on 15 shots and Robert Covington added 15 points and 10 rebounds, but the Sixers were gassed in the second quarter, as the Hawks hit 16 of 23 shots in a 37-point period.

Atlanta stretched a 62-54 halftime lead to 18 points late in the third quarter, but the Sixers cut the deficit to 94-87 with 6:46 left in the game on a pair of free throws by rookie Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot.

The Sixers whipped the Hawks, 20-11, in fast break points.

“They were getting some threes in transition,” said Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer, who was on the Spurs' staff for years with Sixers head coach Brett Brown. “Right now, they’re pushing the pace.

“T.J. McConnell does a great job of getting outlets, getting up the court and finding shooters quickly and they’re letting it fly. Covington and Ilyasova and those guys are collapsing us early and shooting early threes.”

The Sixers had problems on the boards in Atlanta, where Dwight Howard grabbed 15 and Paul Millsap added 10 as the Hawks built a 48-38 rebounding edge. Those numbers were every bit as important as Millsap’s 21 points and the 13 added by Howard.

That disparity on the boards and the Sixers' collective loose handle did in the visitors. Atlanta scored 17 points off the Sixers’ 21 turnovers.

Embiid was scheduled to rest Saturday anyway. It’s unclear whether he’ll play Tuesday against the Clippers, who will be without guard Chris Paul and forward Blake Griffin, or Wednesday at Milwaukee.

Embiid suffered a knee contusion in Friday night’s 93-92 win over the Trail Blazers and Brown said he’d be further evaluated Sunday.

Get him back in the mix, and The Sixers have a shot at starting another winning streak.

“We did a good shot of holding them to one shot,” Howard said after the Hawks outscored the Sixers, 14-0, in second-chance points. “They play really hard. They play aggressive. They play good team basketball. They share the ball and find the open man. They have a good group of young guys.

“It wasn’t as easy as people expect out of Philly teams. You have to respect them.”