Sixers rookies being allowed to grow

ap-carter-williams-mcw-thompson.jpg

Sixers rookies being allowed to grow

The theme most prevalent with the Sixers this season: Youth.
 
With four rookies, seven players who haven’t played in 82 NBA games, and no one on the active roster older than 25, the Sixers are the youngest team in the NBA.
 
For coach Brett Brown, the team’s youth is both a blessing and a curse. One can see the growing pains in games against San Antonio, Golden State and New Orleans. But even in those lopsided outings, there was much to be learned for the Sixers’ youngsters.
 
For two rookies, Michael Carter-Williams and Hollis Thompson, there has been value in every game and every practice.
 
Carter-Williams has faced the league’s top point guards, he’s nearly notched a pair of triple-doubles, and he’s had two games in which he turned the ball over six times. Carter-Williams has also been on the bench for four games with a foot injury and learned what one must do to maintain effectiveness following a short layoff. Through it all, he's the early front-runner for the league's Rookie of the Year award.
 
And the biggest lesson he's learned through his first month is quite simple.
 
“Maintaining every single day,” Carter-Williams said.
 
Though Carter-Williams has no veteran point guard sitting alongside him to show him the ropes about how to live the NBA life, that hasn’t been a bad thing. Brown says Carter-Williams has a freedom that most players never get.
 
Carter-Williams can succeed or fail and not have to worry about the cost.
 
“There’s nothing like opportunity. Let’s start there,” Brown said. “He’s getting big minutes, and he has the freedom to play and to make mistakes. I think that counts for a lot.”
 
It’s been a tremendous opportunity for Carter-Williams. Through his first 11 games in the league, the rookie is averaging 17.8 points, 7.0 assists, 5.6 rebounds and 3.1 steals. In NBA history, only one other player has averaged at least 17 points, 7.0 assists, 5.5 rebounds and 3.0 steals per game through a season ...
 
Magic Johnson in 1980-81.
 
It’s amazing what a player can do with no worries. Imagine what Evan Turner could have done as a rookie if he were allowed the freedom Carter-Williams and the other Sixers’ young players are allowed. Would Turner be a different player now? It’s a difficult question to answer. Perhaps the better question: Would Turner have benefitted from playing on a bad team his first two seasons instead of on teams that went to the playoffs?
 
During the Sixers’ postseason run in Turner’s second year, the No. 2 overall pick said he felt he wasn’t getting the same experience as the Wizards’ No. 1 overall pick, John Wall. Even though Turner was in the playoffs and the Wizards were doormats, Wall was getting valuable minutes.
 
There’s nothing like unfettered playing time, Brown believes.
 
“I stand by it,” Brown said. “Put people in a nice, clean and simple role and say this is what we want and master it in your first year and that’s the best road map for success, especially with rookies.”
 
But even with the Sixers, those nice, clean and simple roles have been tough to grant certain players. Take, for instance, rookie Hollis Thompson. The 6-foot-9 rookie from Georgetown has been thrown into a plethora of situations as a result of injuries to and issues with his teammates. Thompson has played in the paint and on the wing. He’s played against power forwards, small forwards and big guards. He's also had games in which he didn’t get off the bench and others, like last Saturday, when he logged 31 minutes.
 
How is that for a varied learning experience?
 
“I’m learning where I’m supposed to be and what situations I should be in,” said Thompson, noting that his forte is his ability to play defense. “I’ll do whatever.”
 
Thompson will do whatever he’s asked, but Brown doesn’t want to ask too much. The coach says his players, especially Thompson and rookie Brandon Davies, need to be placed into defined roles.
 
But Brown hasn’t had that luxury with Thompson.
 
“His natural position is a big wing -- he’s a three man,” Brown said about Thompson. “Once we sort of defined his role and anchored his role as defense -- Bruce Bowen -- then hopefully your shot is going to come around and it will because you invest time. Then his role will become cleaner.
 
“Right now, I piecemeal him and I see his head about to explode wondering where he’s supposed to be because he cares and he’s energized.”
 
Eventually, Brown says, the demands increase. For players like Carter-Williams, it will be about production and trips to the playoffs. Brown almost can’t wait to see how his top rookie will develop down the road.
 
“But once he’s taken advantage of that situation, his talent and his skill level is far greater than I imagined,” Brown said. “The thing that I stand by is there is a toughness and a leadership that is emerging from him that I project out. I get excited about it because he has a great intellect as a point guard than I would have guessed.”

NBA Playoffs: Cavs blow out Raptors for second straight Finals appearance

052716_okafor_noel_slide.jpg

NBA Playoffs: Cavs blow out Raptors for second straight Finals appearance

BOX SCORE

TORONTO -- LeBron James scored 33 points, Kevin Love had 20 points and 12 rebounds, and the Cleveland Cavaliers advanced to their second straight NBA Finals by beating the Toronto Raptors 113-87 in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals Friday night.

It's the third finals appearance in team history for the Cavaliers. Cleveland lost to Golden State in six games last year and got swept by San Antonio in 2007.

For James, it's his sixth straight trip to the finals, including four with Miami. He broke the 30-point barrier for the first time this postseason and finished with 11 rebounds and six assists.

"We needed LeBron to set the tone for us early and I thought he did that," coach Tyronn Lue said.

James will be the eighth player in NBA history to appear in six consecutive finals and the first who didn't play for the Boston Celtics.

"He's just a great player," Lue said. "He's a proven winner. He's always won over the course of his career. To go to six straight finals is unbelievable."

James got there by taking down a Toronto team that set a franchise record with 56 wins and reached the conference finals for the first time in 21 seasons.

After a second-quarter dunk, James shared some verbal barbs with rapper Drake, the Raptors' global ambassador and the man who popularized the nickname `6ix' for Toronto.

Kyrie Irving had 30 points and J.R. Smith added 15 for the Cavaliers, who will face the winner of the Golden State-Oklahoma City series on Thursday.

Cleveland would open at home against the Thunder but would be on the road against the 73-win Warriors, who trail 3-2 against Oklahoma City heading into Saturday's Game 6.

The Cavs will be seeking to end Cleveland's 52-year championship drought, the longest by any city with at least three professional teams. No Cleveland team has won it all since the Browns blanked Baltimore 27-0 to win the NFL championship in 1964.

"This city has been craving a championship," Lue said. "We have the right team and we have the right talent."

Kyle Lowry scored 35 points and DeMar DeRozan had 20 as the deepest playoff run in Raptors team history ended, much to the disappointment of a sellout crowd of 20,605 dressed in red and white T-shirts that formed a maple leaf pattern on either side of the court. Fans stood and cheered "Let's go, Raptors! Let's go, Raptors!" throughout most of the final three minutes.

Raptors coach Dwane Casey said reaching the conference finals was "a tremendous learning experience" for his young team, one that's "a step ahead" in its process of becoming a championship contender.

"We're learning," Casey said. "We're not where (the Cavaliers) are right now. We're going to be."

A dejected Lowry said it was hard to see the positive side of Toronto's best season ever.

"Of course you're going to look back at some point but right now I'm disappointed," he said. "Simple as that, I'm disappointed."

Toronto prolonged the series with back-to-back home wins in Games 3 and 4 but never mounted much of a challenge to the conference champions in Game 6, falling behind by 21 in the third quarter.

The Cavaliers came in 0-4 at Air Canada Centre counting the regular season and playoffs, but looked much more like the team that handed the Raptors a trio of lopsided losses in Cleveland this series.

The Raptors trailed 88-78 on a jumper by DeRozan with 10:23 remaining but James scored six points in a 14-3 run that gave the Cavs a 102-81 lead with about 6 minutes left.

James scored 14 in the first and five of Cleveland's nine field goals were from long range as the Cavaliers led 31-25 after one.

After video review, the officials waved off a basket by Biyombo with 3:18 left in the period and gave him a flagrant foul for knocking down Love.

Tempers flared again early in the second when Richard Jefferson reacted angrily to catching an elbow from Jonas Valanciunas as the two battled for a rebound. Patrick Patterson came over and shoved Jefferson out of the way. Both Patterson and Jefferson were given technical fouls.

Cleveland made five more 3-pointers in the second and outscored Toronto 9-3 over the final 71 seconds to lead 55-41 at halftime. The Cavaliers made 10 of 15 3-point attempts in the first half, while Toronto was 2 of 12.

The Cavs led 78-57 after a 3 by Love at 3:53 of the third but Lowry scored 15 points as Toronto closed the quarter with a 17-8 run, cutting it to 86-74.

Tip-ins
Cavaliers: Shot 17 for 31 from 3-point range. ... Outscored Toronto 17-5 in fast break points.

Raptors: Finished their playoff run by playing every other day from April 29 onward, a 15-game run that started with Game 6 of the first round against Indiana.

NBA draft profile: F Dragan Bender

052716-ingram-slide.jpg

NBA draft profile: F Dragan Bender

Dragan Bender

Position: Power forward
Height: 7-1
Weight: 225
Team: Maccabi Tel Aviv

Croatia’s latest basketball export is just 18 years old. He won’t turn 19 until November. Like a lot of teenagers, he’s hardly a fully finished product. The kid is raw, but his obvious potential figures to make him a high lottery pick in the upcoming draft.

Through 38 games with Maccabi Tel Aviv this season, Bender averaged just 12.9 minutes. He took 3.7 shots per game. He shot 42.3 percent from the floor, 33.8 percent from deep (on 2.0 attempts per game) and 71.9 percent from the line. He didn’t get to the line very often, by the way. In fact, he hardly got there at all, taking less than one attempt per game from the stripe.

But Bender’s appeal isn’t about what he is right now; it’s rooted in what he could become with time. There’s a reason why all 30 NBA teams sent someone to watch him play this year, according to DraftExpress. Investing in him could yield a significant return. Also, dude’s name is Dragan Bender. He was destined to become a pro athlete or conquer King’s Landing. Either way, good things ahead.

Strengths
Bender has been on the NBA’s projection radar for a while now. He’s worked hard to develop his shooting. Initially thought of as a non-shooter with wonky mechanics, Bender changed his stroke. It’s more compact and efficient now. Despite the small sample size, Bender had a 54.1 true shooting percentage and a 51.4 effective field goal percentage through 38 games this season.

He could pass more, but when he does he’s pretty savvy — particularly with the full-court outlet pass. Defensively, he’s not a rim protector, but he has a long wingspan (7-2) that should help him be a good pick-and-roll defender with time. In the increasingly switch-everything NBA, that’s a plus.

Also, did we mention his name is Dragan Bender? Donald Bender works in Croatian finance. Dave Bender has a nice B&B on Hvar Island. Dragan Bender is a potential NBA star.

Weaknesses
He’s reportedly put on some weight recently and worked hard to develop a better base, but he’s 7-1 and 225 pounds. Someone needs to feed him lots of sandwiches and protein shakes. Adding muscle for the long-slog NBA season will be important.

In addition to having a still-developing body and skill set, he hasn’t faced top-level international competition yet on a regular basis. He needs minutes against the best in the world, and in order to get those minutes he’ll have to refine his game – particularly his ball-handling and driving, which are still works in progress.

Unlike some other recent NBA imports (Nikola Mirotic and Kristaps Porzingis among them), it’s probably going to take a while before Bender can be a consistent contributor in the league. Any team that takes him has to acknowledge the inherent time commitment.

How he’d fit with the Sixers 
If we’re talking about how he’d fit with the Sixers, who had a long-term plan and weren’t in a hurry to rush anything, the Sixers who embarked on an open-ended journey with no fixed timetable or end point, you could make a case for Bender (but not with the first overall pick). Five or seven years from now, Bender could be a polished product – an outside shooting threat with, perhaps, an expanded offensive game that allows him to put the ball on the floor and optimize his passing and scoring. You could imagine him growing defensively and creating mismatch problems. You could envision it – over time.

The question is whether these Sixers, who keep talking about transitioning from the rebuild into whatever comes next, are about to scrap the slow-and-low approach to cooking their roster in favor of adding on-court heat and off-court PR sizzle. If that’s the case, Bender wouldn’t fit well at all. Not to mention that taking Bender means adding another body to an already clogged frontcourt.

NBA comparison
Lots of people have drawn a parallel between Bender and Porzingis. That’s the easy, reflexive comparison. Both are tall, lanky stretch fours from a not dissimilar region of the world. But really that’s unfair to Bender. Porzingis declared for the NBA draft back in 2014, only to withdraw his name and wait until last year. The wait helped elevate him to more of a known commodity. At that point, he had played three seasons for Sevilla of Liga ACB in Spain, one of the best leagues in Europe that features some of the premiere international talent. Bender isn’t there yet in terms of experience, and their games aren’t one-to-one equivelants anyway. Bender might ultimately shake out as something closer to Andrei Kirilenko (if he can improve his handle) or Nikola Mirotic.

Draft projection
Top five. If he lasts any longer, it will be a surprise.

Report: Sixers in California for NBA draft workouts

052616-lunch-break-slide.jpg

Report: Sixers in California for NBA draft workouts

As the Western Conference Finals are taking place in Oakland, the Sixers are looking for new talent of their own in California.

This week, members of the Sixers' front office are attending pre-draft workouts organized through multiple agencies, including BDA Sports Management, CAA Sports, Landmark Sports Agency, Octagon and Wasserman Media Group.

While the Sixers hold the No. 1 pick, these workouts are opportunities for them to evaluate players that could be fits for their 24th and 26th selections.

On Thursday, the list of workout participants included projected first-rounders Deyonta Davis (Michigan State) and Cheik Diallo (Kansas), according to the Philadelphia Inquirer

The scouting process takes NBA teams coast to coast. Earlier this week, the Sixers reportedly attended a private workout with Excel Sports Management in New York City, in which Brandon Ingram and Jamal Murray participated.

The Sixers have held two workouts at their own practice facility, bringing in a total of 12 prospects thus far.

As the draft nears, 57 early-entry candidates withdrew their names from the 2016 draft.