Sixers rebuilding Noel's 'future' -- his jumper

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Sixers rebuilding Noel's 'future' -- his jumper

The Sixers and their fans obviously enjoyed the 3-0 beginning to the 82-game season, despite that coming to a screeching halt Monday night with a 20-point loss to Golden State -- a game the Sixers trailed in by as many as 39 points.

There were no long faces when the team gathered for Tuesday’s practice. Brett Brown’s team simply went back to work, addressing its shortcomings and continuing the development of its young players.

“The peaks and valleys of the NBA are dangerous,” Brown said. “We love you, we don’t. We love you, we don’t. We are good, we’re really terrible. And you have to be so careful and none of it is true.

“You are never as good as you thought you were and you are not as bad as you think you are. I hope I walk an even line throughout this year knowing the realities of our team.”

Off in the corner of the Sixers’ practice facility stood another reminder of reality in Nerlens Noel. The rookie is still a ways from participating in up-and-down basketball action and he’s currently in “project” mode.

During this mode, the Sixers’ coaching staff has decided to take rebuild Noel's jump shot.

“I think we have the perfect environment to do it because we have a whole year,” Brown said. “We have taken him back to doing a lot of one-handed shooting. I can sense that he is shooting with two hands behind my back. But when he does that, the off hand comes in and elbows start flying. But when he does just one hand, he gets his elbow under it and it is a good looking shot.”

In his one season at Kentucky, Noel shot 59 percent from the floor but much of his scoring was around the rim. The goal is to have him become a fundamentally-sound shooter from 15 feet and in.

“It is his future,” Brown said of Noel investing time in his shooting technique. “The first place you start is the free throw line because now he is going to turn and face. He really likes Kevin Garnett, a turn-and-face, jump-shooting big, and he aspires to be one of them even though he is a post player initially. I think the free throw is what carries over to the other parts of the game. And I hope we can get that right.”

Interestingly enough, Noel shot just 53 percent from the foul line in college. It behooves both Noel and the organization to help the 6-foot-10 forward improve in that category.

Dwight Howard has always struggled at the charity stripe. This season, he’s 18 of 36 (50 percent) at the line. And Clippers big man DeAndre Jordan has made just 11 of 25 (44 percent) free throws.

A big man who is not a liability being fouled in the guts of a close game is a tremendous lift for a team.

Noel by no means is the only player on Brown’s roster that needs a jump-shot makeover -- Noel may just need it a little more.

“I think everyone is tweakable,”Brown said. “I think Nerlens is a total rebuild. You would do something with [Evan Turner’s] footwork and we have done that. You would do things with different release points. You would exaggerate the follow through with Tony Wroten’s shot because everything is a hot stove.

“Everything is tweakable -- Nerlens, though, is a total rebuild.”

Sixers-Celtics 5 things: Slowing down Isaiah Thomas

Sixers-Celtics 5 things: Slowing down Isaiah Thomas

The Sixers (4-15) continue their homestand against the Boston Celtics (11-8) at the Wells Fargo Center on Saturday night (7:30 p.m./CSN and CSNPhilly.com).

Let's take a closer look at the matchup.

1. A green giant-sized challenge
Just crumple it up and move on.

That's about the only thing the Sixers can do after getting ran out of the gym by the Orlando Magic on Friday. Instead of looking like a team that hadn't played since Monday, the Sixers appeared flat in a 105-88 loss.

Outside of Joel Embiid's first 20-point, 10-rebound game (he had 25 points and 10 boards) and a strong effort from Jahlil Okafor (16 points and 13 rebounds), not much else went right for the Sixers.

Now Embiid will sit the second game of a back-to-back set and Okafor will be thrust into the starting lineup, as the Sixers try to deal with Boston big man Al Horford. 

Horford, the Celtics' prized free-agent acquisition, is coming off his best game so far for his new team. He recorded 26 points, eight rebounds and six blocks in the Celtics' 97-92 win over the Kings on Friday.

2. Little big man
Even with Horford coming off a productive performance, the Sixers' game plan against the Celtics has to focus on slowing down Isaiah Thomas.

The 5-foot-9 guard continues to put up big numbers in the scoring department. Despite his shooting percentages taking a dip this season, Thomas still ranks ninth in the NBA with a career-high 25.7 points per game. 

And even though he is a willing passer (averaging a career-high-tying 6.3 assists), expect Thomas to try and score early and often against the Sixers. After all, the reserve-turned-All-Star has put up 21.5 points per game against the Sixers during his career, his highest mark against any opponent.

3. Dial up the long-distance defense
The Sixers need to be aware of Thomas and just about all of his teammates when they toe that three-point line.

The Celtics rank fifth in the league in three-pointers attempted (31.1), three-pointers made (11.3) and eighth in three-point percentage (36.3) per game.

The C's have four players shooting above 40 percent from beyond the arc, and perhaps a bit surprising, three of them are big men. Jonas Jerebko (46.4 percent), Horford (42.4 percent) and Amir Johnson (40.0 percent) have all been on target from long range.

4. Injuries
Robert Covington (knee) and Jerryd Bayless (wrist) are both questionable. Embiid (rest), Nerlens Noel (knee) and Ben Simmons (foot) are out for the Sixers.

The Celtics have no players listed on the injury report.

5. This and that
• The Sixers have lost five games in a row overall and eight straight to the Celtics.

• The Celtics rank 25th in rebounding with 42.2 a night.

• Dario Saric had two points Friday against the Magic and has failed to reach double digits in scoring five of his last six games.

Sixers, Magic get glimpse into future with young talent on full display

Sixers, Magic get glimpse into future with young talent on full display

The Sixers' 105-88 loss to the Magic on Friday was not the game to watch for those looking for competitive basketball, as the Magic needed just three quarters to put the game out of reach (see Instant Replay).

What the game did have was some of the NBA’s top young talent.

Friday night featured six first-round picks from the 2014 NBA draft. Joel Embiid (No. 3), Aaron Gordon (No. 4), Nik Stauskas (No. 8), Elfrid Payton (No. 10) and Dario Saric (No. 12) were all lottery selections in 2014.

Add in Sixers center Jahlil Okafor and Magic guard Mario Hezonja, who were both top-five picks in 2015, and that’s seven top-12 picks from the last three draft classes, not even counting the injured Ben Simmons.

“Basketball’s a small world, you grow up playing these guys," Gordon said of the Sixers. "Those guys are talented. They have a young group of guys that are going to get better and better each time they play.”

Though he played only 27 minutes, Embiid finished the game with 25 points and 10 rebounds to go along with four assists for the Sixers (see story). Okafor had a double-double of his own, adding 16 points and 13 rebounds.

Gordon, who is averaging 9.9 points and 4.5 rebounds per game, led the Magic with 20 points and also added two rebounds.

“He did pretty good,” Embiid said of Gordon. “He shot the ball pretty well tonight.”

The other four lottery selections struggled a bit. Payton played 24 minutes and finished with two points and four assists, while Hezonja missed both of his shot attempts in just three minutes of playing time.

Stauskas went scoreless, going 0 for 6 from the floor, finishing with five assists and three turnovers, while Saric went 1 for 5 from the field and turned the ball over twice

“It’s just about being patient, really,” Stauskas said. “We know our time will come eventually. It’s just about being patient and continuing to work hard, whether it’s next year or the year after, eventually things are going to click and this team is going to become a legit playoff team in the East, it’s just a matter of time before it happens.”

Even with a plethora of top-round talent, the Magic have struggled over the past two seasons, much like the Sixers. Orlando hadn't won more than 25 games in a season since 2012-13 before going 35-47 last year.

Despite the abundance of talent, both teams are waiting for their players to develop. Both the Sixers and Magic entered Friday’s game among the bottom four teams in the Eastern Conference. If their draft choices pan out, it wouldn't be surprising to see the two teams closer to the top of the conference and right in the thick of the playoff race in a few years. 

“Eventually they’re going to get there,” Magic center Bismack Biyombo said of the Sixers. “Like all young teams, you go through struggles before you face success. That’s just how life is. They have to learn the hard way. We’ve all been through the process like that but you always have to stay patient and see a great future ahead. Obviously they have a lot of talented kids that sooner or later, they’ll know more about the league and establish themselves.”