MCW: Greatest pressure will be on Nerlens Noel

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MCW: Greatest pressure will be on Nerlens Noel

When the Sixers return next season they will have the reigning Rookie of the Year, a healthy No. 6 overall pick from 2013 and a top-five selection from the upcoming draft.

It is exciting to think of the potential in that lineup, but with potential comes expectations and the pressure to live up to them.

Who has the greatest pressure? Is it on Michael Carter-Williams to back up the numbers he averaged this past season? Perhaps it's on Nerlens Noel to be the rim protector he has been touted to be by so many around the league? Or does the pressure sit with the to-be-determined top-five pick in a draft praised for its deep talent?

Carter-Williams thinks the answer is Noel.

“There is a lot of expectations and pressure, but I think the fans are really eager to see what Nerlens brings to the table,” Carter-Williams said Monday after being named Rookie of the Year and prior to having shoulder surgery. “That is pressure, but he is going to have more help. A lot of his help comes from me and I am going to be there to support him.

“I am going to work things out with him when things aren’t going his way. I am going to stay on him and just for him to do all the right things on the court.”

Noel will have the advantage of being one year into his relationship with head coach Brett Brown.

Early on, Brown made the decision that Noel would be part of all team functions from film sessions to travel to pregame activities.

The only part of being an NBA rookie Noel did not experience was playing.

The pressure on MCW will be different than Noel’s because he is now a known quantity. Carter-Williams led his rookie peers in scoring, rebounding, assists, steals and minutes per game this season all while growing into a true team leader.

Just as first-year players often hit the rookie wall, a sophomore slump is not unusual. Carter-Williams' maturity and supporting cast will help him navigate the challenges of his second NBA season just as they did his rookie year.

“I think that helped me a lot. Staying grounded is your ability to appreciate the game and work hard on and off the court," he said. "Without being grounded and staying level-headed, I wouldn’t have gotten Rookie of the Year.”

And like Noel, MCW knows what Brown wants and expects from him.

The high draft pick will be in an interesting situation. His rookie performance could be overshadowed by the play of Noel and Carter-Williams and not scrutinized to the same degree.

But fans are expecting the Sixers' draft selection, which will be no lower than No. 5, to be in the starting lineup and contributing at both ends of the floor.

The Sixers did not end up in that situation when they selected Evan Turner second overall in 2010. The Cavaliers certainly did not get that with Anthony Bennett this past season following his No. 1 overall selection.

Turner was the 2010 national college player of the year at Ohio State, where he averaged 20.4 points, 9.2 rebounds and 6.0 assists a game.

Those numbers did not follow him to the pros. Turner averaged 7.2 points and 3.9 rebounds as a rookie. People wanted so much more from the No. 2 pick.

Bennett’s experience in Cleveland was worse -- he played in just 52 games and averaged 12.8 minutes coming off the bench with 4.2 points and 3.0 rebounds.

With the right pick, the pressure to be better in the 2014-15 season can be shared by all three young Sixers.

Loss to Warriors leaves Brown thinking, 'What's it take to win a championship?'

Loss to Warriors leaves Brown thinking, 'What's it take to win a championship?'

The Golden State Warriors are the definition of the new NBA.

They have multiple superstars, play a fast-paced and free-flowing style, defend well and shoot a lot of three-pointers. They make a lot of those threes too.

Every team outside of Cleveland would love to have the components of their roster (the Cavaliers probably wish they had some of those pieces as well).

Count Sixers head coach Brett Brown among the admirers.

"For them to rank No. 1 in so many offensive and defensive areas -- and you should probably hear that louder than the offense because that's what we all think when we think of the Golden State Warriors' roster -- is just daunting," Brown said. "You pick your poison and you try to find ways that you think can put you in the best position to go steal a win and it's hard to find an area of weakness. They really hit both sides of the box offense and defense."

That was before the Warriors flexed their defensive muscle. After Golden State limited the Sixers to 45.7 percent shooting from the field, 29.4 percent shooting from three-point range and forced them into 23 turnovers on Monday night, Brown had even more appreciation for the NBA's best team.

"I felt the most obvious thing, to me sitting there coaching against it in relation to how good they are, was the defense and that they can switch everything," Brown said after the Sixers' 119-108 loss (see Instant Replay). "They're all so long and they can just switch stuff so that the game is always in front of them. They don't scramble much. They're not in rotation much. You coach against that during the game in real time, I felt that more than I did their offensive brilliance."

Still, even Brown admitted the new-age NBA is all about offense and the Warriors have it in bunches. Despite struggling with their shooting all game (44.9 percent from the field, 20.7 percent from three), the Dubs got enough scoring when they needed it against the Sixers. That was mainly provided in the form of former league MVP Kevin Durant, who had a game-high 27 points.

"They get another really amazing ingredient. They just go up another level," Brown said of the Warriors' addition of Durant. "It's just adding to something that they were great at to begin with."

"It's scary to think they can shoot much better," T.J. McConnell said.

The Sixers don't have anywhere close to that level of firepower offensively. For them to compete against the NBA's juggernauts, they need to play fast and share the ball -- a couple of the things they can realistically borrow from the Warriors.

"We kind of try to model our team after how they move the ball, how they play together and not have too much isolation ball," Jahlil Okafor said of the Sixers, who had 24 assists on 37 made field goals. "They're one of the best teams in the league at sharing the ball and they showed that tonight."

They sure did. Golden State assisted on 31 of its 40 made field goals. 

Combine that with a breakneck pace, and it's just two of the ingredients that make the Warriors so special. 

Brown feels like he is starting to get that mentality with his Sixers. The team has progressed in both areas as the season has progressed and its now fifth in the league in pace with 100.8 possessions per game and ninth in assists a night with 23.6.

"The two things that stand out most to me that we have spent time on is we're No. 1 in the NBA when we turn people over and we run out of it," the coach said. "Our pace has been excellent. I'm proud of the improved pace. I hope that when you have a coach and a sports science program that comes in from Day 1, and we've talked about this, where we said, 'You're going to be in the best shape of your life, you're going to be in career-best fitness.' The quick sentence after that is the reward is we're going to run. You can't say then that we're going to walk it up the floor. That's not who we are. Our pace has been relentless lately. We're proud of our pace. 

"We are No. 2 in the NBA on assist percentage, where we really pass the ball. If you look and judge how we score, it's not like we give it to T.J. and watch him break everybody down and go to work. We need collectively to move the ball. If we don't have that team stuff, we don't have what lots of NBA teams have -- the iso guys, the NBA All-Stars, somebody that can create their own shot -- it's just not who we are. Not one of them, especially when you start taking out Joel (Embiid). The pace of which we do things on offense and the fact that we share the ball, we move each other, we move the gym, those things are all we have to get those 100-plus points."

The Sixers reached the 100-point mark but still suffered a loss because they don't have the requisite stars to take over when things bog down. With Embiid and No. 1 overall pick Ben Simmons both on the shelf (see story), Brown can only dream about when he'll have topflight talent to take the Sixers' scheme to the next level.

"In different weak moments, you get a little bit frustrated," Brown said. "But when you really sort of look at your purpose of trying to take some punches and hits in order to move the program forward -- I'm not 30 years old -- I'm fine. I really believe in what we're doing and that the more this thing shakes out and plays out, I believe it more and more. I think we're starting to build a culture and we're starting to build an attitude and a system behind the scenes that can absorb talent, that can absorb high draft picks and healthy Ben Simmons and healthy Joel Embiids."

For now, Brown will have to settle for seeing that top tier of basketball from afar. And as far as he's concerned, he just witnessed the best in the business (see story).

"What's it take to win a championship? That's all I think about," Brown said of what he learns from watching elite teams like the Warriors. "What's it really take? How do you beat that team four times? What's it really take? What's the future of our game? What's it look like in 2020, 2025? We've talked about this. Personally, I see it. I think, clearly, I could be wrong. You're seeing a bunch of do-all players that are long and can switch out on everything and shoot a lot of threes, play with speed, tenacity. They don't miss a beat. There's not really a weakness here.

"As you're looking at it, you're looking at what's it take to beat them? We've had heavyweights come into this building from San Antonio to Cleveland to teams in the East with the Celtics and Toronto. That's a different beast."

"You project it out. You wonder, 'How do you get to that level? Who do we have we think that can play in that game? What do you feel like you need to draft and grow? What do you need to go purchase -- free agent.' All that. That's all you think about. That's the holy grail, what they have. That is the king, in my opinion, in our league as we speak, so you're always wondering how does that work for us?"

Sixers draw high praise from Warriors after loss to NBA leader

Sixers draw high praise from Warriors after loss to NBA leader

BOX SCORE

The Warriors are the blueprint of a total team in the NBA. They have a star-studded starting lineup and a top sixth man with the positional versatility that creates hard-to-combat matchups.

Yet, as the Warriors notched their 50th win of the season, 119-108, in a collaborative effort against the Sixers, they gave credit to the potential they see in their opponent, even when Brett Brown didn't have his key pieces on the court Monday (see Instant Replay).

"They play hard," Stephen Curry said. "They have some talent to work around. Hopefully they have some consistency with their roster going forward and getting guys healthy. One thing about them, you've got to compliment their energy and effort and fight every night they play."

Facing the Warriors with a full squad is challenging enough. The Sixers did it shorthanded without Joel Embiid, who is out indefinitely with a left knee contusion (see story). They also are less than a week removed from trading starting power forward Ersan Ilyasova and the defensive-minded Nerlens Noel.

"You've got to give this team a lot of credit," Draymond Green said. "They're going to be really, really, really good. I mean, they're missing Embiid and Ben Simmons and they're really on their way."

With 10 available players, including Justin Anderson, who has had just one shootaround to actually get a run in with the team, the Sixers fought until the final buzzer sounded. Dario Saric led the Sixers with 21 points and seven assists, while also collecting seven rebounds. Gerald Henderson scored 16 and both Robert Covington and Richaun Holmes added 15 (see feature highlight). Covington also grabbed a team-high eight rebounds.

"They play the right way," Klay Thompson said. "They made it tough on us tonight. I'm excited to see their team when Embiid and Simmons are healthy. It should be a scary frontcourt, and with Saric. They're heading in the right direction. They'll only get better this June because they have some high picks. It's a bright future in Philly."

The Sixers held the Warriors to 6 for 29 three-point shooting (20.7 percent), including an 0-for-11 outing by Curry. This was the third time this season and only the 37th time in his career Curry missed all of his three-point attempts.

"I think he had an off night," Brown said. "I think at times we got lucky with them as a team. They didn't shoot it the way the team normally would shoot it. Some of it is I give our guys credit."

Curry took his uncharacteristic performance, which included a pair of air-balls, in stride.

"The weatherman said it was a low-pressure system that was coming and I forgot to adjust," Curry said. "One thing, [I] don't ever get down on myself. Obviously that's why I got 11 of them up and not make one. You still have confidence the next one's going in."

Still, the Warriors turned to team basketball to pull away with the win. While they struggled from long range, they found other ways to run up the scoreboard, including shooting 33 for 39 at the free throw line.

Kevin Durant led all players with 27 points to go with eight rebounds. Green recorded a 14-point, 11-assist double-double and six boards. Thompson scored 21 points and Zaza Pachulia added 16. And at the end of the night, Curry still finished with 19 points in spite of his three-point woes.

"We've been doing this for a while together now and just try to find ways to get it done," Green said. "Obviously you've got to do a lot more on the defensive end to get stops, and try to create more offense. I think it was a good effort from everybody tonight to chip in."

Added Curry: "For us to still have the moxie to withstand that and still pretty much have the lead the whole game and allow our defense to get us a win tonight was kind of our M.O."

The Warriors are a perennial title contender thanks to their balanced roster and depth of weapons. The Sixers are in the beginning stages of working toward that goal. After Monday's game, the NBA's strongest example of "team" appreciated the direction in which Sixers are moving.

"Putting this franchise back together," Green said, "it's amazing to see."