Ex-Sixer Sam Young fitting in with Pacers

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Ex-Sixer Sam Young fitting in with Pacers

Sam Young has found a home again.

At least for now, that is.

The Indiana Pacers re-signed Young last month three weeks after releasing him. The move was made after Young injured his left ankle during a practice in January. With Young’s contract on the verge of being guaranteed, Indiana made the tough decision to part ways.

But it didn’t last long -- head coach Frank Vogel made sure it didn’t.

Vogel said he told the Pacers front office that he was not on board with releasing Young if it meant they wouldn’t bring him back.

“Really excited,” Vogel said of Young’s return. “As soon as we got him back healthy, we signed him, got him right back in the rotation.”

Young, who last season was traded to the Sixers from Memphis for the rights to forward Ricky Sánchez, is helping the Pacers in the area they are best -- defense.

The Pacers have one of NBA’s best defenses statistically. Indiana is second in the league in points allowed, averaging 90.3, holding their opponents to an NBA-best 42.1 percent shooting (32.5 percent three-point shooting), and first in rebounding, averaging 45.4 per game.

Vogel admired Young’s attitude with defense, which is one reason why he’s averaging 15.5 minutes per game. That’s more playing time than Young has seen since 2010-11, his sophomore season with the Grizzles.

“He shows it,” Young said of Vogel’s confidence in him. “When a coach consistently tells you that what you bring to the table is needed on the team, that’s pretty much everything you need.”

You won’t see Young light up the scoreboard -- most games his name probably wont be mentioned at all (unless he utilizes that highly effective pump fake, which Young said he’s never worked on). However, the University of Pittsburgh product does his damage quietly.

“He’s just a winning player” Vogel said, “that does a lot of little things. Not a guy that’s going to go out and put up 20 points a game, obviously, but make all the hustle plays.”

Heading into the matchup with the Sixers on Wednesday, the Pacers were riding a four-game winning streak with wins over Detroit, Miami, Chicago and Atlanta.

Knowing Miami is the best team in the Eastern Conference, one would probably guess if there was a blowout in that win streak it didn't come against the reigning NBA champions. 

That guess would be wrong.

The Pacers blew out the Heat, 102-89, last week and Young’s stat line wasn’t a key factor. But what he did in his 11:21 minutes of playing time was make life tough for LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. No, he didn’t completely shut down James, who finished with 28 points on 9-of-17 shooting, but anytime a team has a player like Young who can challenge James just a little, the Pacers will take it.

In fact, one reason Vogel was so vocal about bringing back Young was his ability to guard guys like James and Carmelo Anthony, two of the best scorers in the league.

Told of this, Young smiled and said: “Before I stepped on the floor to play a game, they’ve been emphasizing that. I already know, when the big guns come out, I’ll be on them.”

Young described his brief time here in Philly as “incomplete.” When the trade occurred, Sixers head coach Doug Collins admired Young’s defense. He thought adding another wing defender would only help the Sixers down the stretch. And maybe it would’ve, had the Sixers beaten the Boston Celtics and advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals last season, where the Heat awaited.

Young played in 14 games and averaged a little over nine minutes with the Sixers, seeing the majority of his playing time at the end of games.

“Before I even got on the floor, we had a [losing streak],” Young said of his lack of playing time with the Sixers. “So when you have that streak like that, red flags go up. You don’t want to start taking a chance now. I came in, and I had to kind of sit back and wait until the team started to play [well]. … Just learning the plays and getting comfortable in the system, it wasn’t enough time.”

And of his new team, Young seems comfortable. When he was released, he never left Indiana and continued to work out at the team’s facility before getting re-signed.

Asked if he feels the Pacers are the team for him moving forward, Young said, “Hopefully. And I hope they feel the same.”

Julius Erving, Allen Iverson gearing up for upcoming BIG3 draft

Julius Erving, Allen Iverson gearing up for upcoming BIG3 draft

The NFL isn't the only league with a draft coming up this month.

Julius Erving and Allen Iverson have some work to do, too.

The newly-formed BIG3 three-on-three league will hold the first player draft for its eight teams on April 30 in Las Vegas. Iverson is a player, captain and coach for 3's Company. Erving is the coach of Tri-State.

The BIG3 comes to the Wells Fargo center on July 16 during Week 4 of 10.

There are 24 spots remaining on the rosters. Over 70 former NBA players are hoping to be selected. Former Sixers Jumaine Jones, Larry Hughes, Reggie Evans, Joe Smith, Xavier Silas, and Lee Nailon are among those eligible for the draft.

Other draft entrants include (in alphabetical order): Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, Marcus Banks, Keith Bogans, Earl Boykins, Derrick Byars, Josh Childress, Brian Cook, Ndudi Ebi, Steve Francis, Kendall Gill, Donte Greene, Shane Heal, Mike James, Ivan Johnson, Voshon Lenard, Rashad McCants, Pops Mensah-Bonsu, Lawrence Moten, Ronald "Flip" Murray, Andre Owens, Smush Parker, Jamario Moon, Ruben Patterson, Isaiah "J.R." Rider, Eddie Robinson, four-time All-Star Latrell Sprewell, DeShawn Stevenson, Mike Sweetney, Etan Thomas, Hakim Warrick, and James White.

How the rosters currently stand:

3's Company: Allen Iverson (captain, player-coach), DerMarr Johnson (captain)

Ball Hogs: Brian Scalabrine, Player X, Rick Barry (coach)

Ghost Ballers: Captains Mike Bibby (captain), Ricky Davis (captain), George Gervin (coach)

Killer 3s: Chauncey Billups (captain), Stephen Jackson (captain), Charles Oakley (player-coach)

Power: Corey Maggette (captain), Cuttino Mobley (captain), Clyde Drexler (coach)

Three-Headed Monsters: Rashard Lewis (captain), Jason Williams (captain), Gary Payton (coach)

Trilogy: Kenyon Martin (captain), Al Harrington (captain), Rick Mahorn (coach)

Tri-State: Jermaine O’Neal (captain), Bonzi Wells (captain), Julius Erving (coach)

The BIG3 was founded by Ice Cube and Jeff Kwatinetz. It will kick off June 25 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

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