Moultrie shows promise in Sixers' loss to Celtics

slideshow-030513-sixers-moultrie-uspresswire.jpg

Moultrie shows promise in Sixers' loss to Celtics

By this point in the season, Sixers coach Doug Collins was hoping first-round draft pick Arnett Moultrie would not be such a mystery. Already 59 games into his rookie season, there is still a lot we don’t know about Moultrie.

The great unknown, of course, is simple …

Can he play?

In Tuesday night’s 109-101 loss to the Boston Celtics at the Wells Fargo Center (see Instant Replay), Collins gave Moultrie a chance to answer that question. The rookie was the first man off the bench, logging 20 minutes for just the third time this season.

But when the game was on the line in the fourth quarter, Moultrie went to the bench with 7:56 remaining and the Sixers trailing by 15.

Moultrie, as evidenced by the way he got up and down the floor, was gassed.

The veteran Celtics, on the other hand, were not. The Sixers had a chance to cut the deficit to six points with 6:28 left in the game, but a turnover by Dorell Wright led to a three-pointer from Paul Pierce. Following another turnover, Jason Terry nailed another three-pointer to deliver the final dagger.

From there the Celtics coasted to improve to 32-27 this season. The Sixers fell to 23-36 and with 23 games remaining in the season. They trail the Milwaukee Bucks by 7½ games for the last playoff spot in the East.

So with a once-promising season quickly slipping away, Collins gave Moultrie an extended look against the Celtics. As a result, the rookie got plenty of chances to match up against 18-year veteran, Kevin Garnett.

“It’s encouraging to see him growing. It’s a great sign,” Collins said. “I’m very pleased with Arnett and with what he’s doing.”

Moultrie shot 5 for 5 from the field to go with four rebounds. His 10 points accounted for nearly half of the bench’s production on Tuesday night. But more impressively, Moultrie has not missed a shot since the fourth quarter of the Feb. 26 game against the Magic and has hit his last 12 in a row.

With the rookie finally getting some quality playing time by logging minutes in five straight games and six of the last seven, it’s difficult not to wonder what could have been for Moultrie this year.

“I think a lot of it has been frustration, which you hope it would be,” Collins said. “He would probably have been playing like this for us all along if he had a summer. If he had not gotten hurt and he had summer league and come to camp in really good shape and been able to play. So, we’re hoping these last 24 or 25 games he’ll be able to build on this.”

Moultrie sprained his ankle last summer in a pre-draft workout for Sacramento and was behind in fitness and condition when training camp opened in October. In December, the Sixers sent the rookie to their D-League to get some playing time and help with his conditioning. It worked for a little while but when the All-Star break ended, Moultrie had taken a step back.

And to think, it all started with a summertime ankle injury.

“It became a problem because I wasn’t able to do certain things because of my ankle,” Moultrie said. “It’s not a problem any more. I think I’m in good condition now and I’m running the floor and rolling to the basket every chance I get.”

Against the Celtics, Moultrie was a presence in the paint. The longest shot he took was from three feet, which helped the Sixers out-score Boston 64-38 in the paint and 28-16 on second-chance points.

Where the Sixers struggled was containing the Celtics on the perimeter. Led by 22 points from Avery Bradley and 18 from both Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, the Celtics went 11 for 19 from three-point range and went 14 for 31 on mid-range jumpers.

“We had 64 points in the paint, 28 second-chance points and 14 fastbreak points and 20 points on turnovers. You think you can win the game,” Collins said. “Their three-point shooting was the difference tonight.”

The Sixers got double-doubles from Jrue Holiday (18 points, 10 assists) and Thad Young (19 points, 10 boards), while Evan Turner had 18 points, nine rebounds and seven assists. Still, the contributions from Moultrie, especially on running the pick-and-roll and hitting the glass, have been a positive development.

“That’s all it is, a learning experience. There’s been a lot of new stuff I have to adjust to, but I’m just dealing with it,” Moultrie said, noting that he’s been trying to model his game after Thad Young. “I think the hardest part was learning about my ankle and staying in tip-top shape.”

The Sixers return to action on Wednesday night when they open a three-game road trip in Atlanta. On Friday they go to Miami to face the Heat before wrapping it up in Orlando on Sunday night.

Sixers 2016-17 player evaluation: Nik Stauskas

Sixers 2016-17 player evaluation: Nik Stauskas

Nik Stauskas

Position: Shooting Guard

Status for 2017-18: Guaranteed — $3,807,147

Stauskas in 2016-17
In his second season with the Sixers and third in the NBA, Nik Stauskas saw himself generally improve across the board, albeit by a small amount. The Sixers as a whole had a plethora of injuries that kept nearly every player off the court for extended periods, yet Stauskas remained healthy enough to play 80 games, start 27 and play 27.4 minutes a contest. Health is certainly a skill and Stauskas has it.

As for his play on the court, Stauskas got better in essentially every category. His field goal percentage rose from 38.5 to 39.6 percent, he shot a career-high 36.8 percent from three and he improved his scoring to 9.5 points per game while also sporting career highs in rebounds, assists and blocks with only a 2.6 minute increase in minutes per game.

His consistency was pretty notable. He played at least 23 minutes in every game after Jan. 20 and was a constant in an ever-changing Sixers rotation. He had eight straight games with double figures to end February. While he began the year as the backup two-guard, Stauskas started at shooting guard by the end of the year with Gerald Henderson nursing an injury. Coach Brett Brown even had Stauskas play point guard down the stretch with injuries to Jerryd Bayless and Sergio Rodriguez creating an opening. In that way, Stauskas diversified his skill set

Signature game
Stauskas' season-high 21 points came against Phoenix in mid-November, a win against a team even worse than the Sixers. Stauskas had 20 points on back-to-back games in Orlando and Oklahoma City in late March, hitting eight threes over the two games.

But what is a signature game for Stauskas without a little measure of revenge? On Jan. 30, Stauskas made four threes and scored 16 points against the Kings, providing some key baskets in a 122-119 win over his former mates.

Looking ahead to 2017-18
Next season for Stauskas will be a critical one. It'll be the final season of his four-year rookie contract. While he's improved year to year, he's not quite the product one may expect out of the former eighth overall pick. At this point, a few years removed from that 2014 draft, it is unfair to continually compare him to that draft and instead focus on what he is.

Well, what is Stauskas? He's a shooting guard who can play a little bit of the point in a pinch and can hit a decent, albeit not elite, clip of threes. There's value there for sure. However, with a bevy of potential draft picks coming the Sixers' way, the guard known as Sauce Castillo could see his role downsized in 2017-18 with a rookie taking his minutes.

Even players getting healthy could take minutes away from Stauskas. He's already competing with veteran Gerald Henderson, also a free agent after 2017-18, for minutes and Bayless may be squeezed into more of a two-guard role with Ben Simmons at the point. Simmons, Bayless and T.J. McConnell likely take away the few opportunities Stauskas would have to play point guard, but he only took that on because of injury anyway.

Still, even in a roster squeeze, Stauskas brings a fair amount to the table. Brown's system needs shooters and despite a few slumps, Stauskas can drain jumpers. He's developed chemistry in the locker room and has earned enough trust and stayed healthy enough to play 27 minutes a game in the NBA. 

On Stauskas
"We're seeing a skill package that everybody talked about when he came out of college. You're seeing a lottery pick play. I'm personally happy for him because he cares sometimes too much and he's so self-conscious at times and extremely prideful and he's being rewarded for the work he has put in."

- Sixers coach Brett Brown

NBA Playoffs: John Wall scores 42 as Wizards eliminate Hawks

NBA Playoffs: John Wall scores 42 as Wizards eliminate Hawks

ATLANTA -- John Wall had that look in his eye at morning shootaround.

Bradley Beal knew it was going to be a big night for Washington's star point guard.

Wall scored 42 points -- a career playoff high, with 19 coming in the fourth quarter to single-handedly hold off a furious Atlanta comeback -- and the Wizards eliminated the Hawks with a 115-99 victory Friday, capturing the opening-round playoff series 4-2.

"You could just tell he was locked in," Beal said. "He was ready to go. We just feed off that."

Beal wasn't too shabby either, scoring 31 points (see full recap).

Celtics complete series comeback, eliminate Bulls
CHICAGO -- The Boston Celtics kept reminding each other not to let up as they closed in on a lopsided victory and a trip to the Eastern Conference semifinals.

No need to worry about that.

Avery Bradley scored 23 points, and the hot-shooting Celtics pounded the Chicago Bulls 105-83 to win their first-round series 4-2 on Friday night.

The top-seeded Celtics simply torched Chicago to finish off a tougher-than-anticipated series and advance in the playoffs for the first time since 2012. Boston regrouped after dropping the first two games at home and will meet Washington in the Eastern semifinals. Game 1 is Sunday (see full recap).

Clippers beat Jazz on road to force Game 7
SALT LAKE CITY -- Chris Paul scored 29 points and the Los Angeles Clippers forced a Game 7 in their first-round series with a 98-93 victory over the Utah Jazz on Friday night.

The Clippers will host the only do-or-die game of the first round Sunday, with the winner advancing to face the Golden State Warriors.

Los Angeles began to edge away in the third quarter and appeared to be in control when Austin Rivers capped a 9-2 run with a step-back 3-pointer that pushed the lead to 91-77 with 3:58 remaining.

He hit another with 1:29 left to make it 96-86, but Gordon Hayward scored seven straight to bring the Jazz within three before Joe Johnson missed a 3-pointer in the waning seconds (see full recap).