Sixers rookies being allowed to grow

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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.”

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.”