Sixers can learn from growth of Wall, Wizards


Sixers can learn from growth of Wall, Wizards

It has been more than two weeks since the Sixers ended their 19-win season, the third-fewest win total in franchise history.

As difficult as it was at times to watch the Sixers this past season, viewing the current NBA playoffs should give plenty of hope for what Brett Brown’s team can do in the future with more talent and development.

The Sixers can only hope it won’t take them as long as it took Washington to start enjoying postseason success again. The Wizards won just 19 games in the 2008-09 season, tied for the second-worst mark in the league.

The Wizards did improve to 26 victories the following season and then landed point guard John Wall with the No. 1 overall pick in the ensuing NBA draft.

They actually took some steps backward to 23 and 20 wins in Wall’s first two years. The Wiz recorded 29 wins in 2012-13 before they jumped to 44 this season as Wall blossomed into an All-Star and led the club to a first-round playoff win over the Chicago Bulls.

Wall played in all 82 games this season for the first time in his career. He also averaged 19.3 points and 8.8 assists per game, both career highs.

However, it’s Wall’s numbers as a rookie that are interesting as he laid the groundwork for the player he is now. Wall averaged 16.4 points, 8.3 assists and 4.6 rebounds during his first professional season.

Those numbers are very similar to Michael Carter-Williams’ stats from this season. Carter-Williams put up 16.7 points, 6.3 assists and 6.2 rebounds a night for the Sixers.

The Wizards added pieces through the draft (Bradley Beal and Trevor Booker) along with players via trade (Nene and Marcin Gortat) to get them back in the playoff mix. Still, it all starts with Wall’s development into a franchise player.

The NBA is a point guard’s league these days. The game is run by elite PGs such as Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, Rajon Rondo and Stephen Curry.

Three of the last five Rookie of the Year winners have been point guards in Damian Lillard (2012-13), Kyrie Irving (2011-12) and Derrick Rose (2008-09).

When it becomes official that Carter-Williams wins the 2014 ROY award -- which we fully expect to happen -- it will mark a great accomplishment for him.

If MCW continues to progress in the right direction, he might just lead his team to a postseason meeting with Wall’s Wizards in the near future.

Joel Embiid 'shoots the ball with the touch of like Steph Curry'

Joel Embiid 'shoots the ball with the touch of like Steph Curry'

NEW ORLEANS -- Of all the players Joel Embiid could be compared to, a similarity between a 7-foot-2, 270-something-pound center and a 6-foot-3, 190-pound point guard wouldn’t seem like a match.

That’s exactly what Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry sees, however, when looking at Embiid and reigning MVP Steph Curry.

“He’s different than anybody that’s been in this league in a long, long time,” Gentry said Thursday before the Sixers win over the Pelicans. “He’s a tremendous talent, he really is. I’ve never seen a guy that size, and with that kind of strength, that’s got such a soft touch. He shoots the ball with the touch of like Steph Curry. It’s so soft when it leaves his hand.”

Curry is shooting 48.9 percent from the field and 40.1 percent from three. Embiid is 45.8 percent from the floor is 44.2 percent from long range.

Embiid flashed a big smile and paused to react when hearing of Gentry’s praise. He had been feeling hard on himself after going 0 for 5 beyond the arc against the Pelicans (see story).

“Steph is probably one of the best shooters in the league right now," Embiid said. "So that compliment means a lot."

Nerlens Noel excited for impending return to game action

Nerlens Noel excited for impending return to game action

NEW ORLEANS -- The weeks and months have quickly piled up. Nerlens Noel has not played an NBA regular-season game since last season ended for the Sixers on April 13. Nearly eight months later, Noel is nearing the return he has been eyeing for quite some time now. 

“It’s always an excitement to be able to play basketball after this amount of time, including the summer, not being able to play organized basketball at a competitive level,” Noel said Thursday. “I’ve been really looking forward to this. I think I’ve gained some momentum coming back from this minor surgery, and I think I’m in a really good place and I’m feeling good with my body. Everything is on point.”

Noel has been sidelined since undergoing elective left knee surgery in October to address an inflamed plica. He traveled to New Orleans on Wednesday to join the Sixers ahead of their 99-88 win over the Pelicans (see game recap). Noel continued his rehab Thursday while the team prepped for the game. 

“I’ve been able do five-on-five, full contact,” Noel said. “I’ve tried to maximize my opportunities of that with the team being gone on the road. I came down here and went through most of shootaround and it went well. Now these next couple of days, [I will be] going through practice, still working on my wind. I do like where I’m at now.”

The Sixers’ next game is Sunday against the Pistons in Detroit. Brett Brown had given Noel’s availability for that game a “maybe” (see story)

“I’m not sure,” Noel said of playing Sunday. “I’m ready to go with these next couple of days and see how my wind feels and how my body feels, which I have been feeling good. So it’s a possibility.”

When Noel does return, there is a scenario in which he could be paired with center Joel Embiid. Last year, the Sixers struggled finding the best way to utilize Noel and Jahlil Okafor, also a center, at the same time playing the four and five positions. As Okafor has said of playing with Embiid, Noel also believes his off-the-court friendship with the towering rookie would translate onto the court. 

“I think it would be something that’s experimented,” Noel said. “It’d definitely be interesting.”

Noel candidly expressed his opinion of the Sixers’ logjammed frontcourt at the start of the season. Since speaking to the media after his surgery, Noel has mentioned he is in a good mental place (see story). For him, that means being out on the court again. 

“I love myself and I love the game of basketball,” Noel said. “When I step out here to come and play, it just brings a lot of enjoyment and excitement to me. Regardless of what the details of it are, I just love the game and I’m happy to just be playing.”