More On Big Vuuch's Big Night in Newark

More On Big Vuuch's Big Night in Newark

So by now we're all done popping champagne over the selection of USC power forward/center Nikola Vucevic at #16 in this year's draft and we can come back down to earth a little and talk about what we actually have here. It seems like a lot of fans are pretty down on the guy, and I can't really blame em. At Nikola's first media interview as a Sixer, I couldn't even think of anything good to ask him because the only questions I had for him were insulting ones. How do you think a slow, unathletic guy like you is gonna fit in on a team of run-and-gunners? Do you think you'll be able to beat out Spencer Hawes for the team's position of skilled-but-largely-ineffective white starting big man? Do the names "Samuel Dalembert" and "Shawn Bradley" mean anything to you?

The nation of NBA draft evaluators, biased and unbiased alike, is similarly blase on Vucevic. The guys at Liberty Ballers (who I met at the draft and were also less than gung ho on the Vuch) have a nice little compilation of Sixers draft grades from various sources, and every single one of them is in the C / C- range. The general consensus appears to be that the Sixers desperately needed height, so they reached for the tallest guy out there, without considering whether or not he was necessarily the most talented guy available. Nobody's killing the pick as a franchise-crippler—it's sort of hard to do that with the #16 pick anyway—but it doesn't seem like Young Nikko is lighting the world on fire either.

Still, let's do a little "Benefit of the Doubt" once-over on this pick. We do desperately need front-court help next season, and even if Vucevic can't lock up the starting center position, he should be able to give the team good backup minutes that might otherwise go to another Tony Battie roster-filler type. He posted excellent numbers last year at USC (17-10 on 50% shooting, 35% from 3s and 75% FTs) and has drawn good marks for his basketball IQ. Coach Collins loves him and we saw last year how good he is at using skilled players to maximize their effectiveness. It's entirely possible that Vucevic will play in the Sixers' primary rotation next year, and might be a legitimate contributor for the team moving forward—all you can ask for for a #16 pick, really.

The reason the pick seems so underwhelming is the lack of critical thinking displayed therein. On the one hand, fans might've killed the team if they had picked another wing player for continuing to overstuff the glut we have at those positions while neglecting our team's pressing need for size, but the Vucevic pick goes so far against the team's primary identity as an up-and-down-the-floor bunch of athletes (though with Thad maybe out the door and Dre possibly to follow, perhaps that identity isn't long for the world anyway) that it seems like management keyed on Nikko's height with blinders to all other factors, many of which are arguably more important. But maybe this was just the sort of Nobody Knows Anything draft—evidenced by how two guys the Sixers originally appeared to be in the range for, Tristan Thompson and Jordan Hamilton, ending up going at #4 and #26, respectively—where you reach for the one thing that you know for sure. And in Philly's case, that was the team's need for size.

To me, the most disappointing part of the night is that it ended with Andre Iguodala still on the roster. I know the possible change in ownership complicates things, I know that none of the deals proposed for 'Dre really blew the Sixers' collective skirt up (shudder), but he might never have as much value after the draft (and after the new CBA, or lack thereof), and it really seemed like the team made the decision that they weren't going to send out AI9 for a return of lesser talent, when really any talent at all should have ultimately sufficed. If some other team ends up pilfering Monta Ellis away from Golden State for next to nothing, I feel like we might end up really regret not flipping 'Dre for him and just seeing what would happen. (Or Monta could destroy that team's chemistry and identity and make us realize what a bullet we dodged. But still.)

Ultimately, it wasn't the greatest draft night. But it probably wasn't ever going to be, and at least we have a guy who might be able to help the team out next year with only, uh, modest expectations. And as for Lavoy Allen—totally an unscientific, worthless analysis, but the couple times I saw him play at Temple, I thought he had the potential to be a Brendan Haywood-type player in the league. Everybody seems to think he'll be a total washout with the Sixers, and they know more and better than I do, but just saying.

Inside Doop: Union inch closer to playoffs after tie in Toronto

Inside Doop: Union inch closer to playoffs after tie in Toronto

The Union left the country for a big game over the weekend and did not return to the United States with a win as they hoped.

But they did come back with a hard-earned point against the top team in the conference as well as the first MLS goal from their marquee summer signing, while inching closer to the playoffs. Here’s a look at Saturday’s 1-1 draw with the Toronto FC and what lies ahead with three regular-season games left.

Three thoughts about Saturday’s game
1. It took Alejandro Bedoya almost two months to score his first MLS goal … but what a goal it was. After collecting a pass from Fabian Herbers midway through the first half (just barely avoiding being offside), the U.S. national team starter took one dribble and fooled goalkeeper Clint Irwin with a clever chip over his head and into the net. You don’t see those kind of chip goals often and when you do, they’re usually delivered by big-time playmakers — the kind of guys the Union don’t usually have but do now with Bedoya. Head coach Jim Curtin’s decision to play Bedoya at the No. 10 attacking midfield spot with Tranquillo Barnetta injured also paid big dividends and showed the Union have more midfield options going into the playoffs … and into next season.

2. Coming into the game, a big storyline centered around center back Ken Tribbett, who got the start at center back about a month after getting pulled at halftime vs. Toronto. Another centered around right back Keegan Rosenberry, who was trying to bounce back from a rare off game in Portland the previous week. But, in the end, both players had some very good moments and helped limit the Toronto attack for much of the game, especially in the first half. Much of that had to do with another Curtin lineup decision as the Union head coach put two defensive-minded midfielders in front of the backline: Warren Creavalle, who also had a great hustle play that nearly led to a second goal right before halftime, and Brian Carroll, who’s now made two straight starts after missing six straight games with Plantar fasciitis.

3. Saturday’s game didn’t end without some late fireworks from the league’s hottest player, Jozy Altidore. Riding an eight-goals-in-nine-games streak coming in, the U.S. national team star struck the post in the 87th minute and was taken down in the box by C.J. Sapong in stoppage time on what initially looked to be a clear penalty. If you look at the replay from Sapong’s perspective, however, you could probably make the case that Sapong was going for the ball before getting impeded by Altidore. Either way, the idea of a ref not making a call that would likely decide a game (on a play that wasn’t a real goal-scoring opportunity) took some guts, especially as he got lambasted from the home team and its fans.

Three questions for the week ahead
1. The brutal three-game road trip ends Saturday as the Union, after a loss in Portland and tie in Toronto, take on the rival New York Red Bulls (7 p.m., The Comcast Network). As conservative as it might sound, another point would probably make it a mildly successful trip considering the caliber of opponent. Either way, the Union’s playoff hopes and seeding will likely come down to their final two home games against Orlando and the Red Bulls. At this point, the best they can likely hope for is to hold off Montreal, D.C. United and New England for the No. 4 seed in the East, which would ensure them an opening-round home game. Luckily for them, Montreal and New England both lost this weekend, and although D.C. picked up a big win, they did so against another team in the playoff hunt in Orlando.

2. Another week means another question about captain Maurice Edu’s health. It’s now been more than two months since he returned to the practice field and almost a month since he started playing rehab games with the Bethlehem Steel. With only three games left in the season, it’s hard to see him becoming a starter after being out so long with a stress fracture. It also doesn’t help his case that Carroll and Creavalle are both playing well at his position. But if Edu’s healthy, there’s no sense not utilizing him as a midfield reserve or even as an emergency defensive replacement. The question, as always: is this the week he finally makes his season debut?

3. While Curtin’s lineup decisions played well in Toronto, one interesting one was not playing Roland Alberg. With Barnetta out, many Union fans probably expected Alberg to start at the No. 10 position — or, at the very least, come off the bench. But with the Union never falling behind, Curtin probably didn’t feel the need to bring in such an offensive-minded player. It was an understandable move considering the context but one that was surely disappointing for Alberg, who despite having nine goals in just over 1,000 minutes, has played only 19 minutes over the last three games and has started only once since the beginning of August. By now, you have to wonder what role the dynamic Dutchman will have in the playoffs — if he has one at all.

Stat of the week
With his seventh assist, the rookie Herbers moved into the top 10 in franchise history in career assists. He’s tied for ninth all time with Barnetta, Alejandro Moreno and Conor Casey.

Quote of the week
“I kind of even surprised myself.”

— Alejandro Bedoya, on his first MLS goal

Player of the week
Gotta give it to the guy who scored one of the best goals of the Union’s season, right? The Union now hope there’s more to come from Bedoya during the final stretch of the 2016 season.

Nerlens Noel on Sixers' frontcourt logjam: 'I don't see a way it can work'

Nerlens Noel on Sixers' frontcourt logjam: 'I don't see a way it can work'

CAMDEN, N.J. — Nerlens Noel is standing his ground.

After saying that the Sixers' entering the season with three starting-caliber centers (himself, Jahlil Okafor, Joel Embiid) "doesn't make sense," Noel didn't back down from his stance during the team's annual media day.  

"I don't see a way it can work," Noel said Monday. "It's just a logjam. You have three young, talented centers that can play 30-plus minutes a night." 

The Sixers attempted to play with two bigs in Noel and Okafor last season but had little success. Now that Embiid is finally healthy, the fit to the puzzle doesn't figure to get any better.

Reports swirled during the offseason that the Sixers were looking to trade either Noel or Okafor to add backcourt help to the woeful franchise, but nothing came to fruition.

"Things need to get situated," Noel said. "I think things obviously need to be moved around, someone needs to be moved around. It's just a tough situation. I can't really say too much because I have no say in the matter, so obviously that's for who can handle the situation in the right manner.

"I've gone through a whole lot. Probably the most, arguably, that any player has gone through in the NBA in losing. It's a tough situation to still be in. Year by year, to see things get more difficult to show your value. Year by year, it's always been something. It's really at a point where it's just a lot."

Bryan Colangelo said he understands Noel's viewpoint. However, the Sixers' president said he is in no rush to trade any of the centers and will wait the situation out.

"It’s not disappointing. It’s understandable," Colangelo said. "I think Nerlens actually did a pretty good job sizing up what we have, which is a lot of depth and a lot of talent at that position."

Despite each of the three centers being early in their career, Noel, who is in the final year of his rookie contract, doesn't want to hold off to see if the trio can actually mesh on the floor.

"I can't say I do really understand that (wait-and-see approach)," Noel said. "If you have a group of players, I just don't think it makes too much sense to just still come into the season with such a heavy lineup at the center position. I don't know what there is to wait and see."

Noel made sure to express that he has no issues with Okafor and Embiid and said they are some of his closest friends on the team. But when asked whether he was happy to be a Sixer, Noel deflected.

"I feel good," he said. "I'm all right, I'm in a good place right now."

Sure sounds like it.