Philadelphia 76ers

Kazemi playing only way he knows how for Sixers

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Kazemi playing only way he knows how for Sixers

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Sixers fans will quickly grow to love second-round pick Arsalan Kazemi.

The Iranian-born 23-year-old is a hustler who is constantly in motion and finds his way to the backboard.

“He is amazing,” Sixers assistant coach Michael Curry said. “It is easy to see why his teammates and all his coaches like him. He just plays hard. Not the most athletic, not the fastest. Very seldom does he miss an assignment. He is always in the right place. He makes effort plays and he gets a lot done because of that. He has been doing well. I am happy to see that.”

Kazemi scored 10 points on 4-for-5 shooting Thursday afternoon in the Sixers’ 90-89 loss to the Magic during Orlando Pro Summer League action (see story). The 6-foot-7, 226-pound forward also grabbed six rebounds.

Kazemi hopes to make a reputation on the glass in the NBA just like he did in college. In three of his four collegiate seasons, Kazemi averaged double-figure rebounds. As a senior at Oregon he pulled down 10 per contest, the 15th-highest mark in the country.

From 2004 to 2006, the NCAA’s leading rebounder was Paul Millsap, who averaged 12.7 boards per game at Louisiana Tech. Millsap was selected 47th overall by Utah in the 2006 draft and has since averaged 12.4 points and seven rebounds a game in seven seasons with the Jazz. That production landed Millsap a two-year, $19 million free-agent deal with the Atlanta Hawks this offseason.

Kazemi, who was selected 54th overall in last month’s draft, has closely followed Millsap and would like nothing more than to follow in the forward’s footsteps.

“As a rebounding guy, Paul Millsap was leading the nation in college for three years,” Kazemi said. “I was on top for a while and he came into the league and started improving on his game, so that is the closest guy I can think of [having a similar game].”

Kazemi’s offense is nowhere near that of Millsap when the Hawks’ new big man entered the league in 2006. However, Kazemi is sure he can develop his overall game with time.

“I have to get stronger and I need to work on my outside game and shooting from the corner,” he said. “Those are the two big things I need to work on.”

Sixers president and general manager Sam Hinkie has no doubt that Kazemi will put in the work to become a solid NBA player.

“He is a lunch-pail kind of guy,” Hinkie said. “People may say he is undersized, but I say look around and see there are a lot of undersized guys that make an impact bigger than just their size. I think he has shown who he is this week. He is a winning basketball player.

“He knows who he is, that’s important. And he plays hard all the time. That’s not refreshing as a fan. That’s important if you care about winning and he does and he shows it on every possession.”

The summer league is a time to experiment. In Kazemi’s case he has seen action at the small forward after playing mainly as a power forward in college.

“He plays the four the best right now,” Curry said. “Athletically that fits him. He is not quite the size. Some matchups at the three he is able to do a really good job as well.”

“I like to play the three,” Kazemi said. “I played the three for my national team during world championships, so I know that I can play both positions.”

Given his status as a second-round draft pick and the Sixers’ need to have some ready-made NBA players to fill out the bench, Kazemi’s grip on a final roster spot is uncertain. Still, at some point Sixer fans will see more of the player nicknamed “The Beast From the Middle East” and he is sure they will enjoy how he performs on the court.

“I kind of felt that at Oregon they didn’t know me at the beginning, but after awhile they really liked me because of the way that I play,” Kazemi said. “Fans and coaches all love that player that plays hard, so I am just going to keep on doing what I am doing. As a rookie going into the league you just have to play defense and make the hustle plays and bring energy to the team and that is what I am going to do.”

Sixers notes, quotes and tidbits: Simmons' defensive assignment; Saric's role

Sixers notes, quotes and tidbits: Simmons' defensive assignment; Saric's role

Sixers coach Brett Brown reiterated Wednesday that he plans to use Ben Simmons as his point guard this season, while adding that Markelle Fultz will not be excluded from “decision-making and point guard-type of responsibilities” on occasion.

Brown also didn’t rule out using the 6-10 Simmons as a small-ball center.

Simmons and Fultz have been the top picks in each of the last two drafts, but Simmons missed last season while his broken right foot healed.

Simmons, who played a single season at LSU, is “an elite passer,” in Brown’s estimation, as well as a guy who has “jaw-dropping” speed.

Brown has also found that the 6-4 Fultz, selected after the Sixers engineered a trade with Boston for the most recent No. 1 choice, is very coachable. And his skill set is as advertised.

There will be times, as a result, when each runs the point.

“Once the ball is missed and you have sort of jailbreak, Markelle’s going to be in (the) open court with the ball,” Brown said. “He will be at that point one of the primary ballcarriers. When it’s a static situation and you’ve got to run a play at the start of the year, Ben Simmons will have the ball. … At the start of the game and it’s a dead ball, we’re going to give Ben the ball.”

Defensively, Brown envisions Fultz playing opposing point guards and Simmons guarding power forwards. The matchups with the other projected starters are also conventional. Joel Embiid will play centers, Robert Covington will guard the other team’s best wing and JJ Redick will check the other wing.

Brown also said Simmons “has a chance to be an elite defender,” though his reputation in college was otherwise. Fultz also played a lot of zone in his lone year at Washington.

The Simmons-at-center discussion was an interesting one. Brown said it is “possible” he will use Simmons – or possibly 6-10 Dario Saric – in that capacity at times, noting that the Warriors closed games with no one bigger than 6-7 Draymond Green (and more recently, 6-10 Kevin Durant) on the court.

“When you get down to the last six minutes, inevitably it ends up a smaller game,” Brown said.

As for Simmons’ health, president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo said that hasn’t been a concern for a while.

“He’s playing five-on-five,” Colangelo said, “and dominating the gym.”

Fluid rotation
Much is still to be determined about the rotation, given the presence of veterans like Amir Johnson, Jerryd Bayless, Richaun Holmes, Nik Stauskas and (possibly) a slimmed-down Jahlil Okafor.

And what of Saric? He averaged 12.8 points and 6.3 rebounds as a rookie last season, while appearing in all but one game. There is speculation that he might wind up the sixth man, but Brown is not yet certain about that.

“His gift of basketball intellect is high, and so when you say where does he fit in, I’m saying anywhere we want,” he said. “Where does he fit in to start games, end games, I don’t know. I just know that in my opinion, that’s probably the Rookie of the Year (last season), and his skill package and his toughness and his intellect will be fit in where it’s needed most -- in a timely fashion, we believe.”

Milwaukee guard Malcolm Brogdon was chosen Rookie of the Year, while Saric and Embiid made the All-Rookie team. Now Saric is one of many players for whom Brown must find time.

“The gym’s going to tell us a lot,” he said.

And, he added, “I feel the first third of the season is going to be a lot of learning for all of us.”

Playoffs?
Playoff talk has been rampant for a while, and when asked by Ian Thomsen of NBA.com about that, Colangelo said, “Forecasting that would definitely, I believe, be unrealistic. But hoping for that? It’s on everybody’s mind.”

Colangelo revisited that on Wednesday.

“I don’t think it’s unrealistic to want to be in the playoffs, or have a goal to be in the playoffs,” he said. “That is our goal, but (there are) things you have to look at with respect to the situation we find ourselves in.”

He pointed out the difficulty of making the postseason with two rookie guards. According to the Sixers’ research, it hasn’t happened since Houston did so in 1998-99, with a backcourt of Cuttino Mobley and Michael Dickerson.

Then there is the matter of incorporating the other new pieces, like Redick and Johnson.

“I think it’s premature to throw anything out with respect to a number (of victories) or any goal,” Colangelo said, “but I would say our objective is to make the playoffs.”

Brown, 75-253 in his first four years on the job (including last year’s 28-54), knows the team is “in a different phase,” as he put it, and understands how difficult it can be to take the next step. At the same time, he too is caught up in the excitement of the playoff talk, which has in part emanated from the players.

“I really don’t say anything to them about tempering expectations,” he said. “I like them saying stuff. Then you’ve got to own it. … Words are one thing, actions are another.”

But certainly he likes how hard they have worked in the offseason, and sees the potential.

“Years ago,” he said, “I heard a phrase: ‘If they show you who they are, believe them.’ That’s over a period of time. … On first glance, when I check some of our guys, I think they have a real chance for greatness. We aspire to win a championship in the city. Then you want another one, and then another one.”

As Sixers camp nears, Joel Embiid still not ready for 5-on-5

As Sixers camp nears, Joel Embiid still not ready for 5-on-5

The foremost question on everybody’s minds when Sixers president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo and coach Brett Brown met with reporters over lunch Wednesday afternoon was simple: When is Joel Embiid going to be able to play 5-on-5?

“Right now,” Brown said, “we can’t give you a direct answer.”

The 23-year-old Embiid, who as a rookie in 2016-17 displayed uncommon skills and equally uncommon charisma, underwent surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee in March, ending his season after 31 games.

The 7-2, 280-pound center is the obvious key to a young, promising team, but he is not yet ready to go full-tilt. 

“If you walk in the gym, it looks like he could play 5-on-5 basketball,” Colangelo said. “But we’re going to take our cues from the people who know best.”

And right now the Sixers’ medical staff, headed by the newly hired vice president of athlete care, Dr. Daniel Medina, favors what Colangelo called “a hyper-conservative progression.”

“Will he be ramping that up throughout the preseason?” Colangelo said “Yes. How many games, we’re not certain. Is it every game? We don’t know. That will be based on what we’re told.”

The Sixers open training camp next Tuesday in their Camden, New Jersey-based facility. The preseason begins Oct. 4 against Memphis at the Wells Fargo Center, while the regular season opens Oct. 18 in Washington.

“It’s not about being ready for the first practice or the first game,” Colangelo said. “And he will be out there for the first practice and the first game. The question is how much, how little, if at all. Those things will be determined by certain criteria along the way.”

Colangelo said, in fact, that he has a document that spells out the criteria that must be met before Embiid can play.

“There is a plan in place,” Colangelo said, “and it’s a progression-based plan. It’s criteria-based, and as he’s checking off boxes, and continues to jump over each and every successive item, then we’ll put him out there on the floor. There’s no timetable. There’s no scheduled number of minutes. There is no decision on back-to-backs. All of that is yet to be determined.”

Embiid, the third overall pick in the 2014 draft, missed his first two seasons while recovering from a broken foot. He averaged 20.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.5 blocks last season, despite a minutes restriction; he averaged just 25.4 a game.

When Brown was asked whether Embiid will be on such a restriction this season, he said, “We all hope not, obviously.”

The other question about Embiid concerns whether he and the team can reach an accord on a contract extension. Colangelo said he is “cautiously optimistic” that that can happen before Oct. 16, the NBA’s deadline for extending players on their rookie deals.

But the primary question remains about Embiid’s health.

“This really is about creating an opportunity for him to have long-term, sustainable health,” Colangelo said, “not to get ready for the first preseason game per se, or the second preseason game. Again, that progression is going to lead to hopefully a full season of competitive basketball, without restriction. That’s the goal.”