Joel Embiid in favor of changing All-Star ballot to bring back centers

Joel Embiid in favor of changing All-Star ballot to bring back centers

Joel Embiid already is on a path to becoming an All-Star. He's not alone in the young group of emerging centers with the potential to reach that caliber. 

Embiid sees a bright future for the center position in the NBA. He would be in favor of changing the All-Star voting to reflect that. 

"You've got KAT (Karl-Anthony Towns), you've got Myles Turner, you've got Kristaps (Porzingis), so a lot of young guys, a lot of dominant big men, Andre Drummond. I'm hoping they bring back the center position for All-Star," Embiid said after battling Hassan Whiteside in the Sixers win over the Heat. "Around the league, there's a lot of young big men and I think we're starting a comeback."

The NBA removed the center position from the ballot in October of 2012. The league changed the voting criteria from two forwards and one center to three frontcourt players. 

"It made sense to our Competition Committee," former VP of basketball operations Stu Jackson said at the time.
 
"Having a center is the only specific position that was singled out on the ballot. It just seemed a little outdated and didn't represent the way our game has evolved. By the same token, it also affords the same opportunity, if you have two good centers in a given year, pick 'em both. They both can be selected. Which is impossible right now."

In a league where many teams are trending toward small ball, Embiid believes the five-man is imperative to success.

"First of all, defensively, without a big man I think you can't be a good defensive team," he said. "I think the big man is the main piece. Offensively, getting rebounds, and when you've got a big man that can score down low and do everything else is always good for the team."

Embiid is having a standout rookie season, averaging 18.4 points, 7.3 rebounds and 2.3 blocks in his first 10 games, all while being restricted to 24 minutes.

On Monday, Whiteside scored a career-high 32 points along with 13 rebounds in the Heat's loss to the Sixers.

"I told him, ‘Keep killing it,'" Embiid said. "As big men, we all want each other to do good. I've always thought, even in the past, it's always been a big man league. I want it to stay like that."

Sixers 2016-17 player evaluation: T.J. McConnell

Sixers 2016-17 player evaluation: T.J. McConnell

T.J. McConnell

Position: Point Guard

Status for 2017-18: Guaranteed -- $1,471,382

McConnell in 2016-17
Entering his second season as an undrafted free agent signing out of Arizona, T.J. McConnell was expected to be at the back of the Sixers' bench in 2016-17. With the team's signing veterans in free agency for the first time in a while, McConnell projected as the third-string point guard behind newcomers Jerryd Bayless and Sergio Rodriguez. If Ben Simmons was healthy, he could have been even further down the depth chart.

Obviously, things didn't go as planned. Bayless played just three games and Rodriguez dealt with injuries at times. That opened the door for McConnell, who moved into the starting lineup in mid-December. He seized the chance and held on for dear life, turning into a solid starting point guard and one of the bright spots on an improving Sixers team.

McConnell played all but one game this season and started 51 games, increased by 32 starts from 2015-16. In 26.3 minutes per game, McConnell averaged 6.9 points, 6.6 assists, 3.1 rebounds and 1.7 steals. He struggled from three-point range, yet his field goal percentage stayed about the same year-over-year (47 to 46.1 percent). The 25-year-old point guard became a leader and a spark to the team, leading the team's impressive January alongside Joel Embiid. He also provided perhaps the moment of the season with his game-winner against the Knicks (see below) and proved to be unshaken in the clutch.

The Arizona product had 13 games with at least 10 assists, including 17 in Boston in early January. He averaged 9.3 assists per game in January and finished the month with five double-digit assist performances in six games. McConnell impressed enough that, according to reports, the Cavaliers inquired about his availability in hopes of making him Kyrie Irving's backup on the defending champions. 

Signature games
There were plenty this season, so I'll offer two. 

First up is his first start. Bayless, Rodriguez and Joel Embiid were all out when the Sixers traveled to Detroit on Dec. 11. McConnell rose to the occasion with 12 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists, just an assist shy of a triple-double in the Sixers' 97-79 win.

And the other signature game would, of course, be against the Knicks. He took just six shots and had eight points on Jan. 11 but his final shot was a big one, his game-winning jumper as time expired to beat the Knicks, 98-97. He also had seven rebounds, six assists and two steals in the home victory and produced a fist-pump for the ages in celebration at the end of the game.

Looking ahead to 2017-18
McConnell established himself as an NBA point guard in 2016-17, but he probably won't retain his starting role to begin 2017-18.

With Simmons and Bayless returning to health, McConnell will likely be relegated back to the bench, albeit in a larger role than the start of last season. His performance from his first start to the end of the year earned him a rotation spot assuming the Sixers don't spend big on one of the top point guards on the free agent market.

McConnell also has developed strong chemistry with each returning player for the Sixers, so he can fit in seamlessly as the point guard for any lineup. How he works alongside Simmons remains to be seen. His lack of three-point shooting could mean that he is forced to the bench when Simmons is in.

On McConnell
"The point guard in Philly, the kid from Arizona. He's a pure point guard, he makes their team better. ... [McConnell's] kind of overmatched in a lot of ways but he's smart, he's tough and he plays. He's a pure point guard, and there's still tons of value in that."

- Former MVP point guard Steve Nash

"He's a (Pittsburgh) Pennsylvania kid that nobody gave a chance and tripped on an opportunity with a program that's in the rebuild mode on my 17th point guard. You go through that massive volume of point guards and you have somebody that doesn't go away. … There's an injury, and so you give him the ball. He seized the moment, grabbed an opportunity and he ran hard with it. The preparation prior to that opportunity happening for him was A-plus. … To see him be rewarded, it's a great story."

- Sixers head coach Brett Brown after his shot vs. the Knicks

"He certainly represents everything that this organization represents and this city represents in terms of grit and tenacity and that fierceness that we’re looking for."

- Sixers president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo

NBA Playoffs: Nene, Rockets take 3-1 series lead on Thunder

NBA Playoffs: Nene, Rockets take 3-1 series lead on Thunder

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Nene scored 28 points on perfect shooting from the field, and the Houston Rockets beat the Oklahoma City Thunder 113-109 on Sunday to take a 3-1 lead in their first-round series.

Nene made all 12 of his shots and had 10 rebounds. He helped the Rockets overcome an off night by James Harden, who finished with 16 points on 5-for-16 shooting.

Eric Gordon and Lou Williams each scored 18 points for the Rockets. Trevor Ariza had 14.

Oklahoma City star Russell Westbrook had a triple-double by halftime and finished with 35 points, 14 rebounds and 14 assists. The Thunder said Westbrook joined Wilt Chamberlain as the only players to claim three consecutive playoff triple-doubles.

Steven Adams scored 18 points and Victor Oladipo added 15 for the Thunder (see full recap).

Cavs hold off Pacers, earn sweep into 2nd round
INDIANAPOLIS -- LeBron James made a 3-pointer with 68 seconds left Sunday and the Cleveland Cavaliers hung on for a 106-102 series-clinching victory at Indiana.

James finished with 33 points and 10 rebounds as he became the first player under the current playoff format to win 21 straight first-round games. He also set a league record with his 10th career playoff sweep.

It sure wasn't easy. After taking a 96-83 lead with 9:29 to go, the Cavs found themselves in a 102-100 deficit with 1:31 left.

But James answered with the go-ahead 3-pointer and Cleveland sealed the win on James' free throw with 1 second left.

Lance Stephenson scored 22 points and Paul George added 15 but missed a 3-pointer that could have forced overtime in the closing seconds. It's the first time the Pacers have lost a series 4-0 in their NBA history (see full recap).

Thomas, Celtics top Bulls to tie series, 2-2
CHICAGO -- Isaiah Thomas scored 33 points, and the Boston Celtics beat the Chicago Bulls 104-95 on Sunday to tie their first-round playoff series at 2-all.

Boston blew a 20-point lead, but Thomas keyed a third-quarter run that put the Celtics back on top after Chicago briefly went ahead.

Gerald Green made four 3-pointers on his way to 18 points, helping the top-seeded Celtics return the favor in Chicago after dropping the first two games at home. Al Horford added 15 points and 12 rebounds.

Game 5 is Wednesday in Boston.

Jimmy Butler carried the Bulls with 33 points and nine assists (see full recap).