Competition to be wide open for in-shape Sixers

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Competition to be wide open for in-shape Sixers

Hey, are you a basketball player looking to show off your skills? Can you shoot, run all day and play a little defense, too?

In that case, Sixers head coach Brett Brown might be looking for you …

OK, it’s not exactly a want ad or a Craigslist posting. But with the opening of NBA training camps coming in the next two days, the 76ers have an abundance of what many players are seeking and the team’s new coach thinks it can be a selling point to motivate his players.

“How would you like to be a young guy coming into the Sixers with an abundance of minutes available?” Brown said during Wednesday’s media availability. “Of course we need shooters, but they’re hard to find. We want people that compete.”

For the plethora of young players headed to camp with the Sixers this weekend, from high draft picks like Nerlens Noel and Michael Carter-Williams to the undrafted players trying to catch on with a team like Khalif Wyatt, Brown’s selling point sounds almost too good to be true.

If a player wants an opportunity to compete, the field is wide open.

“This year’s team is about development,” Brown said.

There will be some prerequisites, of course. To start with, players better show up in camp in shape because fitness and the ability to use that youthful exuberance will be the Sixers’ only means to compete this season. After all, the Sixers will be short on experience and talent, but they should be able to lead the league in youth and energy.

Brown’s predecessor, Doug Collins, was a stickler for fitness, routinely weighing players to see if they were getting sloppy -- or worn down -- as the season wore on. But Brown is making fitness his hallmark. It’s all about development, Brown says, and the young players are going to have to figure it out quickly.

“As a professional athlete, it’s your responsibility to get in great shape,” Brown said. “Your skin-fold test (measuring body fat) is this and your weight is this. That’s non-negotiable.”

Coming from San Antonio where Brown was an assistant coach under Gregg Popovich, the Sixers’ coach saw what focusing on fitness did for future Hall of Famer Tim Duncan. As he aged, Duncan’s weight climbed to a little more than 270 pounds. That weight mixed with his 6-foot-11 frame left Duncan ripe for injuries and ineffectiveness.

But when Duncan returned in 2012-13 at a svelte 240 pounds, it was as if he had found the fountain of youth and the Spurs were minutes away from winning another NBA championship.

So, for those young ballplayers looking for a chance to play and compete with an NBA team, get in shape. Brett Brown might have a spot for you.

The case for Kansas' Josh Jackson to the Sixers at No. 3

The case for Kansas' Josh Jackson to the Sixers at No. 3

Over the weeks leading up to the 2017 NBA draft, we'll be making cases for the Sixers to draft several prospects. Our series will kick off with options at No. 3 (or trade downs) followed by second-round possibilities. The 2017 NBA draft will take place on June 22 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.

Josh Jackson

Position: SF
School: Kansas
Height: 6-8
Weight: 203
Wingspan: 6-9¾

Jackson enjoyed an excellent season in his one year with the Jayhawks. Regarded as one of the top high school recruits in the country, Jackson didn't disappoint. The super athletic swingman averaged 16.3 points, 7.4 rebounds and three assists per game.

Jackson is without a doubt the best two-way player in this draft. He can guard positions one through four. He averaged an impressive 2.2 steals and 1.4 blocks per 40 minutes, using his length and athleticism to disrupt passing lanes. He's also strong and physical, with the ability to body up ball handlers and cutters and redirect them.

He's a bit underrated offensively. He struggled with his shot early on but improved as the season went on. In his last 17 games, he shot 48 percent from three on over three attempts per game. As his three assists per night indicate, he's a good and willing passer. He's also a better ball handler than he gets credit for, with the ability to get to the rim using his left or his right. Oh, and he can finish.

The case for Jackson
He fits the Sixers as an elite wing defender who plays well off the ball. If his shot continues to improve, he could be a great complement to Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. 

No, he's not an obvious fit, but he's way too talented at a position they really don't have. And talented wings aren't easy to find. Robert Covington has been a find for the Sixers and should definitely be given a contract extension, but Jackson simply brings more to the table on both ends of the court. The shot is a concern, but we've seen almost every player improve their shot with head coach Brett Brown and the Sixers' staff.

The case against Jackson
You can't just overlook the fact that he shot an abysmal 57 percent from the free throw line. That simply won't get it done. Free throw shooting can also be an indicator of whether a player can improve his stroke from the field. If the Sixers take Jackson, you have to hope that 57 percent is an aberration. 

Jackson also had some trouble off the court. There were two separate incidents. Both cases were recently resolved, but they both show a lack of maturity and, quite frankly, stupidity. 

One case involved Jackson backing up his car into another and then leaving the scene. He was given probation and forced to pay a $250 fine. In a more troubling incident, Jackson kicked the driver's side door and kicked out a tail light of a member of Kansas' women's basketball team after an argument. He reached a diversion agreement that requires him to attend anger management classes, write a letter of apology and refrain from using alcohol or recreational drugs for a year.

The Sixers will have to vet Jackson long and hard to determine if these incidents were out of a character or part of a troubling pattern.

Analysis
Washington guard Markelle Fultz is the No. 1 player on the board and will likely be picked by the Celtics. The consensus seems to be that the Lakers will take UCLA guard Lonzo Ball. With those two players off the board, Jackson is the clear-cut pick at No. 3.

At worst, you have an elite wing defender that can help slow down the likes of LeBron James, Paul George, Jimmy Butler and Giannis Antetokounmpo in the Eastern Conference. He's also going to be a nightmare in the open court running the floor with Simmons. I'd bank on him having at least a modest improvement on his shot.

The off-the-court stuff is definitely a concern, but it's possible they're just dumb decisions by a young kid. He's so talented, you better be certain that there's an issue if you decide to pass on him at No. 3. If he stays out of trouble, he's absolutely worthy of the No. 3 pick.

NBA Playoffs: LeBron James makes history as Cavaliers roll into Finals

NBA Playoffs: LeBron James makes history as Cavaliers roll into Finals

BOX SCORE

BOSTON -- The NBA Finals has its first "three-match," courtesy of a King who passed His Airness.

LeBron James scored 35 points and passed Michael Jordan to become the NBA's all-time playoff scoring leader as the Cleveland Cavaliers beat the Boston Celtics 135-102 on Thursday night to claim their third straight Eastern Conference title and another trip to the NBA Finals to meet the Golden State Warriors.

Kyrie Irving added 24 points and Kevin Love finished with 15 for the Cavs, who never trailed and led by as many as 39 points in one of their most dominating wins of the series. The Cavs set an NBA record by winning their 13th consecutive series closeout opportunity.

Cleveland's 4-1 series win gives it a 12-1 record this postseason and sets up a third consecutive matchup with Western Conference champion Golden State, the team it beat in the Finals last season to claim the franchise's first championship.

"I wear the number because of Mike," James said. "I think I fell in love with the game because of Mike, just because of what he was able to accomplish. When you're watching Michael Jordan it's almost like a god. So I didn't think I could be Mike."

It will mark the seventh straight trip to the Finals for James, who hit a 3-pointer late in in the third quarter to nudge past Jordan on the playoff scoring list. He quickly flashed one finger as he backpedaled down the court.

In the postgame trophy presentation backstage, James spent most of it lingering in the background as his teammates celebrated.

But there's no denying that his accolades are putting him in the orbit of Jordan, his boyhood idol.

"The biggest thing is I did it just being me, I don't have to score the ball to make an impact on the basketball game," James said. "That was my mindset. If I'm not scoring the ball, how can I still make an impact on the game?"

As much as this series was about James, Irving helped turn the tide of the series with a 42-point effort in Game 4. But he said both he and his teammates continue to be inspired by their leader.

"He's been the driving force, this entire playoff run, and all of us have just helped us along the way," Irving said.

Coach Tyronn Lue said they've gotten tighter this season.

"This team is a crazy team. They just stayed resilient all year, got to the playoffs, and we really stepped our game up," he said. "Now we can start focusing on Golden State to get ready. As of tonight, I'll get started."

Avery Bradley led Boston with 23 points.

The Cavaliers basically conceded the East's top seed to the Celtics at the end of the regular season by opting to rest their starters in advance of the playoffs. But they displayed their superiority over the final two games to wrap up the series.

After allowing the Celtics to seize the early momentum in Game 4, the Cavs barely gave them the chance in Game 5.

Led by its Big Three, Cleveland quickly built a 21-point lead in the first quarter, while getting lots of contributions from their teammates.

Love continued to knock down shots from the outside, Irving sliced his way into the lane to the rim and James got free for several of his one-handed, tomahawk dunks.

It was a very welcomed sight in Irving's case, after he rolled his left ankle in the third quarter of Cleveland's Game 4 win. He showed no signs of lingering issues, though, beating several defenders off the dribble and handing out seven assists.

Meanwhile, J.R. Smith and Kyle Korver helped spread out Boston's defenders by connecting on several wide-open scoring opportunities.

Deron Williams, who had been quiet for most of the series, also got in on the act with a series-best 14 points for Cleveland.

Tip-ins
Cavaliers: James has scored 30 or more points in 11 of Cleveland's 13 games this postseason. ... Improved to 36-5 against Eastern Conference opponents in the playoffs since 2015. ... The 43 points Cleveland scored in the first quarter set a team postseason record for a quarter.

Celtics: Never led at home in the series. ... Finished the playoffs having made at least 10 3-pointers in 16 of their 18 games. ... Held a pregame moment of silence for the victims of the Manchester bombing.

Making progress
The Celtics did their best to keep up, but the consistent outside shooting, bench scoring and defense they relied on to stun Cleveland in Game 3 wasn't there Thursday night.

Celtics coach Brad Stevens said though he's disappointed with how the season ended, he's encouraged that no one in Boston's locker room is satisfied just making it to the conference finals.

"I told our guys: `We made a lot of great strides, but this pain is part of the path to what we ultimately want to be,'" he said.

Showing support
Injured Celtics point guard Isaiah Thomas was in attendance Thursday night and gathered with his teammates in a huddle before they took the court for pregame warmups.

The two-time All-Star was sidelined in Game 2 after aggravating a hip injury.