Kazemi set to contribute after historic draft night

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Kazemi set to contribute after historic draft night

Michael Carter-Williams fielded most of the questions between the Sixers’ two 2013 draftees in attendance at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine on Friday.

Flanked to Carter-Williams’ left was Arsalan Kazemi, who received less of the attention but was certainly on the Sixers’ minds during draft night.

Kazemi was selected 54th overall for the Sixers by Washington, a product of one of several draft deals executed in the second round by Sam Hinkie.

The Sixers' new president and GM was doing plenty of maneuvering to gain assets while keeping one eye on Kazemi.

“We had the 35th pick in the second round and we were interested then, but we moved and moved and moved,” Hinkie said. “But we always moved with one goal. We were never not going to have a pick in the second round. The reason for that is we were never going to put ourselves in a position to not pick Arsalan, so we are excited to be able to also add him.”

Kazemi (6-7/226) played all four years in college. The forward averaged 9.4 points and 10 rebounds a game for Oregon last season while leading the nation in defensive rebounding percentage.

Those are all solid accomplishments, but the achievement of becoming the first Iranian-born player ever selected in the NBA draft took the night to a completely new level for Kazemi.

“I am really just happy. It is not just me but all the kids back in Iran and not just Iran but the region of the Middle East,” he said. “It is going to be huge for them keeping their dream alive because they think it is not going to happen for them. But I was just the same way and thinking the same way, and the next minute I am in a plane coming to the U.S. and now I am being drafted.

“It is exciting and I am really happy and happy for basketball in that region.”

Soccer and wrestling are considered the major sports in Iran, but Kazemi said basketball and volleyball are really growing. The interest in basketball certainly continued on Thursday when plenty of people in Iran stayed up late to see Kazemi’s named called.

Kazemi’s road to Philadelphia had its rough moments. He spent the first three years of his college career at Rice University. He was granted hardship transfer for allegedly being the target of racial abuse from the school’s athletic director.

However, Kazemi didn’t let that deter his dream.

In three NCAA Tournament games this past spring, Kazemi grabbed 45 total rebounds to help keep his name in discussions about playing at the next level.

In the mold of other high-energy rebound magnets such as Kenneth Faried and Reggie Evans, Kazemi is confident about what he can bring to the Sixers.

“I always play hard and I bring toughness,” Kazemi said. “I bring hard work. I am a good defender and energy, that is what I bring to the table. I think I am mentally ready and obviously I played against professional players because I played for my national team. Every year I get to play against a bunch of professional players.

“I want to compete. I played against a lot of NBA guys playing against Team USA. I have the mindset of how it is going to be. I have the experience playing in college four years. I think I should be good.”

NBA power rankings: Sixers can't escape the lower third

NBA power rankings: Sixers can't escape the lower third

With the NBA's glorified exhibition in the rearview mirror, we reenter reality of the remaining NBA season. The Sixers still are looking for suitors for Jahlil Okafor while questions swirl around about the health of Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. 

Some claim they are tanking still, and if those people are talking about the recent NBA power rankings then they would be right. 

Games before the All-Star break
Last Monday and Wednesday the Sixers split their two games before the break, beating the Hornets and losing to the Celtics. 

Dario Saric continues to be the Sixers' most productive player in the absence of Embiid. In the short week, he averaged 19 points (a team leader in that category both games) and 11 rebounds. 

T.J. McConnell continues to control the floor at the point, dishing out seven assists against the Hornets and eight against the Celtics. 

An inability to finish has been the story for the Sixers without Embiid. The Sixers led by one at the half against the Hornets and were tied with the Celtics at the midway point. These are good signs, but these guys are far from being contenders in the east. The experts agree. 

What's next
Only two games this week for the 76ers: Friday at home against the Wizards (7 p.m./CSN) and on the road on Sunday to play the Knicks (7:30 p.m./CSN).

What the experts say
ESPN’s Marc Stein had some fun with his rankings this week using tweets and memes to describe a team’s current situation. The Sixers dropped from 20 to 23 in his rankings — not a significant drop but a drop nonetheless. 

He used this one in his evaluation of the Sixers:

NBA.com’s John Schuhmann bumped the Sixers up from 22 to 21 this week. He sees great improvement in Saric’s game stating: “Saric has already shown a lot of improvement and TLC, with his length on the perimeter, could prove to be a great fit next to the other core pieces if he can knock down shots.”

He added a positive thought on the Demarcus Cousins trade and how the Sixers still made out well even though they were not able to ship Okafor to the Pelicans. 

“The Sixers lost a potential trading partner with the DeMarcus Cousins trade to New Orleans, but still came out a winner in the deal, because they can swap first round picks with the Kings this year and own Sacramento's pick (with no protections) in 2019.”

Bleacher Report’s Grant Hughes did not move the 76ers from the 21 spot on his list last week. He writes that he is intrigued with this processing team: “Sorry, but I'm never going to stop being delighted by the Sixers finding ways to win.”

He made his prediction for games won by the Sixers if they get Embiid back on the court: “It's hard to know what Simmons might bring, but Embiid's contributions are well understood. If he makes it back and looks healthy, Philly could easily win 30-plus games.”

Finally, Fox Sports’ Andrew Lynch dropped the Sixers from 27 to 28 – yikes! His outlook is very pessimistic as he looks exclusively at the injuries of Embiid and Simmons. He writes that a complete shutdown of Simmons would make sense as the season’s end gets closer by the day. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Give and Go: Do Joel Embiid's injuries limit his ceiling?

Give and Go: Do Joel Embiid's injuries limit his ceiling?

With the team at the All-Star break, our resident basketball analysts will discuss some of the hottest topics involving the Sixers.

Running the Give and Go are CSNPhilly.com producer/reporters Matt Haughton and Paul Hudrick.

In this edition, we describe Joel Embiid's rookie season.

Haughton
There are so many different ways to go when describing Joel Embiid's long-awaited rookie season.

The numbers say dominant. Embiid leads all rookies in points (20.2), rebounds (7.8) and blocks (2.4) per game. He's also second in field goal percentage (46.6) among first-year players.

Of course, the injury situation — and handling of it by the team — has made Embiid's first season a bit frustrating. After waiting two seasons for the center to overcome foot injuries, you can understand the team's cautious approach. However, the almost random playing patterns at times and the near radio silence on his medical status has left a bad taste.

Still, overall I would say Embiid's rookie campaign has been refreshing for the franchise. Following three straight seasons of absolute abysmal basketball, the Sixers finally appear to have a real building block. 

Not only that, but Embiid also gives them a charismatic personality that is filling up the Wells Fargo Center again and being recognized on a national stage. You can't ask for much more after what the organization endured in recent years.

Hudrick
Describing Embiid's season depends on which perspective you're looking at it from. 

When he's been on the court, it's been unbelievable. He's a 22-year-old Cameroonian who's only been playing the game of basketball for a few years. He also didn't play for two years after two foot surgeries. Even with all that, he's been the most exciting basketball player this city has seen since Allen Iverson.

From a statistical standpoint, his numbers align with some of the greatest rookie big men of all time. While mentioning Embiid and Hakeem Olajuwon in the same breath may be premature, it's an indication of just how spectacular he has been. Their rookie seasons actually compare favorably.

Of course, the injuries are concerning. Will he ever be a full-time player? Embiid recently expressed his interest in playing back-to-back games. The organization won't give him the opportunity this year and I'm not sure how many opportunities they'll give him in the future. 

With that said, Embiid can still make an impact in 60-something games a season. When he's on the court, he can be one of the most dominant players in the league. When healthy, Embiid is the most exciting athlete in Philadelphia.