Philadelphia 76ers

NBA Draft Prep: Top prospects 1.0 -- the lottery

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NBA Draft Prep: Top prospects 1.0 -- the lottery

The Sixers have not played well this season, which is exactly as it should be. As they come out of the All-Star break, they have the second-worst record in the NBA and a 19.9 percent chance to land the top pick in the 2014 NBA draft. Things are unfolding as the pro-tank crowd hoped.

As the regular season funnels into the offseason for the Sixers, we’ll take a semi-regular look at potential prospects. Because so many variables are still unknown -- lottery position, who will declare for the draft, who will stay in school, etc. -- the exercise will begin as a rough outline of the top 14 (the lottery) that will be polished as more information becomes available. 

1. Joel Embiid, 7-0, C, freshman, Kansas
He’s talented and raw. Those are the two adjectives most frequently associated with the Jayhawks' freshman. Embiid is averaging 10.7 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.5 blocks while shooting 61.2 percent from the field. The Cameroon native reportedly didn’t start playing basketball until he was 16, and he won’t turn 20 until mid-March. He’s had some back and knee issues lately, and he recently said he’s “strongly considering” staying in school. If he comes out, he has the obvious ability to be the top pick.

How he’d fit with the Sixers: Hard to see it after the Sixers invested a first-round pick in Nerlens Noel.

2. Jabari Parker, 6-8, SF, freshman, Duke
He’s looked good in his first college season. Parker is averaging 19.3 points, 8.5 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 1.2 blocks and one steal while shooting 47.8 percent from the floor and 36.5 percent from three-point range. He’s shown a solid offensive game, and he has the length to develop into a quality defender. Lots of upside with Parker, very little risk.

Sixers fit: He’d be ideal for a young team that likes to get out and run.

3. Andrew Wiggins, 6-8, SG/SF, freshman, Kansas
Before the season began, a lot of people predicted Wiggins would be the first overall pick. Now there’s some question about whether he’ll be the first player taken from his own team. You could really put any of the top players in a hat and pick them out in random order. They all have major talent, and you could make a case for any of them being the best of the lot -- including Wiggins, who has superior athleticism and has shown the ability to get to the basket and shoot from distance. He’s hitting 44.3 percent from the floor and 34.9 percent from three. He’ll turn 19 this week.

Sixers fit: Same as with Parker. Plug him in and let him grow with Michael Carter-Williams, Noel, and whomever else they grab out of this draft.

4. Julius Randle, 6-9, PF, freshman, Kentucky
Big. Strong. Athletic. Has the ability to bang inside or shoot a mid-range jumper. He’s also a willing defender and an absolute double-double machine (15.7 ppg, 10 rpg). He won’t turn 20 until November. So much potential. He’s a lot of fun to watch.

Sixers fit: Yes please. Pairing him with Noel would make for an imposing frontcourt.

5. Dante Exum, 6-6, PG, Australia
Lots of buzz about this kid, even though most people haven’t seen him play. He’s only 18 and won’t turn 19 until July. NBAdraft.net likened him to Penny Hardaway. And, not surprisingly, his size (6-6, 188 pounds), length and position have some people mentioning Exum as an MCW type. Brett Brown, who coached in Australia, probably knows as much as anyone about Exum. Some highlights.

Sixers fit: Nope. They already have an MCW type.

6. Marcus Smart, 6-4, PG, sophomore Oklahoma State
Needs to work on his shooting (40.4 percent from the floor, 29 percent from three), but he's a solid passer (4.2 assists per game), rebounder (5.8 rpg) and defender (3 spg). Looked like the most NBA-ready point guard prospect -- until that thing happened.

Sixers fit: They’re set at point guard.

7. Noah Vonleh, 6-10, PF, freshman, Indiana
He’s already shown top-tier talent as a rebounder and defender. The 7-3 wingspan certainly helps. He’s shooting 54 percent from the floor and 72 percent from the line, and he’s demonstrated some ability to shoot from distance. (He’s averaging one three-point attempt per game and is hitting 54.2 percent of those.) He’s sort of a combo forward, but he’s looked stronger and more polished as the season has gone on. (Four double-doubles in his last eight games, and just two single-digit rebounding performances over that span.)

Sixers fit: Yup. You could imagine all sorts of ways for Brown to use him.

8. Rodney Hood, 6-8, SF, sophomore, Duke
He’s a solid shooter -- 48.7 percent from the field and 44.3 percent from three. There have been some questions in the mock-draft community about his athleticism, but he has good size, he’s a capable defender, and it’s hard not to like his shot.

Sixers fit: A wing with size who can shoot from distance. They could do worse.

9. Dario Saric, 6-10, SF/PF, Croatia
Saric won’t turn 20 until April. He was named the 2013 FIBA Europe Young Player of the Year. He’s been described as a “point forward” and praised for his passing. Some highlights.

Sixers fit: Big and versatile sound like two things the Sixers wouldn’t mind having, though there’s some question about whether Saric might spend another year or two in Europe.

10. Zach LaVine 6-5, PG/SG, freshman, UCLA
He reportedly grew five inches in the last three years. He’s athletic but lean (180 pounds). He’s been a pretty good shooter so far: 47.1 percent from the floor, 42.2 percent from three.

Sixers fit: Depends on whether he could become a full-time shooting guard.

11. Tyler Ennis, 6-2, PG, freshman, Syracuse
One of the best players on the best team in the nation. Lots of other freshmen have been more hyped, but few have played better. Good passer (5.6 apg). Capable shooter (42.2 percent FG, 36.5 percent from three). And he plays the passing lanes well on defense (2.1 spg).

Sixers fit: You already know the answer.

12. Gary Harris, 6-4, SG, sophomore, Michigan State
He’s averaging 17.4 ppg, and a lot of people rave about his scoring. But he’s hitting only 40 percent from the field, and he’s making just 32.3 percent of his threes on a high volume of attempts (seven per game). He’s not super tall or big (210 pounds) for the position, either.

Sixers fit: Eh.

13. Doug McDermott, 6-7, SF, senior, Creighton
He’s an excellent shooter: 51.3 percent FG, 44.4 percent three-point (on 5.7 attempts per game). He’s been a pretty good post defender, too. The problem is that he’s not an NBA post player. He projects as a small forward at the next level, which makes you wonder if he has the quickness to guard that position as a pro after spending a lot of time checking larger, slower power forwards and centers in college. Feels like another Wally Szczerbiak.

Sixers fit: If he was taller or bigger (225 pounds) or quicker, maybe.

14. Aaron Gordon, 6-8, PF, freshman, Arizona
He’s undersized for the position (he’s listed at 210 pounds), but if he can put on some muscle he becomes intriguing. He also needs to work on his shot. It’s shaky. And he’s hitting just 41.5 percent from the line. That's scary. His offensive game at the moment basically makes him a run-and-rebound type, which is why he might slip out of the lottery. Where he’s drafted all depends on how much faith an organization has in his potential.

Sixers fit: He could certainly run with them, but Brown likes guys who can also shoot. Hard to see Gordon stretching the floor or getting the OK to bomb from three.

Hard-working Markelle Fultz confident Sixers will succeed

Hard-working Markelle Fultz confident Sixers will succeed

CAMDEN, N.J. — The life of a No. 1 overall pick can get pretty hectic, particularly during the summer heading into their first season.

Getting acclimated to a new city, making appearances, signing endorsement deals, etc. The list goes on forever.

Unless that top pick is Markelle Fultz.

“I did a lot of basketball stuff, just traveling around for basketball purposes,” Fultz said of his summer during Sixers media day. “Of course being the No. 1 pick, a lot of stuff comes along with that."

“I just recently went back to Seattle to hang out with some of my college friends, but other than that, getting in the gym has been the most fun thing for me.”

If there is one thing to know about Fultz so far, it’s that he is constantly working to hone his craft.

Put aside the left ankle sprain he suffered in the Las Vegas Summer League that forced him to spend some time healing up and the 19-year-old spent virtually the entire offseason on the court.

“My summer’s pretty much just been of course rehab for my ankle, which is way better now,” said Fultz, who averaged 16.0 points, 3.0 rebounds and 2.3 assists in three summer league games before the injury. “Just learning the plays and just learning my teammates. Really just enjoying this process, having fun and getting ready.

“I stay in the gym 24/7. Even at home, I’m fortunate enough to have a basketball court outside. Just staying around the game, just playing, shooting trick shots as a lot of people know I like doing. Like I said, just trying to learn the plays to the best of my ability so I can be ready for the season.”

Fultz’s gym-rat mentality combined with his skill set is what ultimately made Sixers president Bryan Colangelo feel comfortable enough to send the No. 3 pick and a protected first-round pick to the Boston Celtics to move up to the top of the draft.

“We felt that that decision was the right one at the time and it’s the right one now,” Colangelo said of the deal. “Markelle is a tremendous young talent. He’s got a high ceiling. He’s very young, but certainly someone that we’re excited to have in the fold with our young core of players that we’ve been bringing together.”

While Fultz certainly fits into the team’s mold of recent selections, it’s how he meshes with previous No. 1 overall pick, Ben Simmons, that could ultimately decide how successful he is in Philadelphia.

Sixers head coach Brett Brown has made clear his desire to use the 6-foot-10, 230-pound Ben Simmons as the squad’s primary point guard. That means Fultz will get moved to shooting guard, a change he views as a plus and not a problem.

“I think I’ll be comfortable with it. My main goal is just to do whatever I have to do to help the team win and if that’s me playing on and off the ball, that’s what I’m willing to do,” Fultz said. “I think the success is going to be high really just because it’s going to throw teams off. You don’t know who’s bringing it up, who’s going to get it. I’m definitely looking forward to it.”

Never lacking in confidence, Fultz reiterated on several occasions that his backcourt partnership with Simmons would work and that the Sixers would reach the postseason.

When you put in the tireless work on the court like Fultz does, you expect results.

“My first goal is always team first and myself, I always have to keep my confidence high,” he said. “In order to be great, I set high goals for myself so that I can achieve them.

“It’s not only my mindset. You ask any of my teammates, they’re going to say the same thing — it’s getting back to the playoffs, that we’re going to make it. Really it’s just the way I believe, the way I think. That’s the way you have to think in order to change things around. In order to be successful, you can’t think that you’re not going to make it. Your chances of doing that are going to be low, so you have to believe it in order to do it.”

Joel Embiid sets realistic expectations for season as contract situation lurks

Joel Embiid sets realistic expectations for season as contract situation lurks

CAMDEN, N.J. — In Joel Embiid’s ideal situation, he would play 48 minutes in all 82 games.

His reality is different than that, however. As he works his way back from left knee surgery, he understands he won’t be on the court as much as he would like. 

“If I could play 82 games, I would,” Embiid said Monday at Sixers media day. “But I’ll be honest, I don’t think I’ll play 82 games. That’s not happening … I’m just focused on my path to being back on the court.” 

Embiid underwent a procedure in late March to repair a torn meniscus, ending his standout rookie year after just 31 games. He has not been cleared for 5-on-5 and it remains to be seen if he will compete in any preseason contests. 

Embiid said if the Sixers were in a Game 7 of the NBA Finals situation, he would play. But they’re not. Their push for a playoff berth is just beginning. 

“I think the timetable, we’ve been focusing on the first game of the season,” Embiid said of the Sixers' Oct. 18 opener against the Wizards. “We’ve got a couple preseason games, might play in those. But if I’m not 100 percent, they’re not going to put me out there. It’s not just about rehabbing. It’s also about being in the best shape possible, which I’m not yet at that level.” 

Embiid has undergone multiple scans since his surgery and said of the results, “Everything looks perfect.” Sixers president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo said the recent scans showed the joint to be “intact and structurally sound.” The Sixers expect Embiid to participate in drills during training camp. 

“All in all, I believe our medical team feels good about where things are,” Colangelo said. 

Embiid is honed in on improving and maintaining his health by working on his landings to avoid further injuries. He threw his 7-foot-2, 250-pound frame around the court last season, including flying out of bounds into the stands. 

“I fell a lot last year,” he said. “I think it was also because I was flopping.” 

The uncertainty of Embiid’s health during training camp likely will factor into an important decision that has to be made in only a few weeks. The Sixers and Embiid have until Oct. 16 to sign a contract extension. 

“I still remain cautiously optimistic that something could get done,” Colangelo said. “That’s not to say it will, but I’m cautiously optimistic that remains a possibility.” 

Embiid firmly debunked a report by 94WIP's Howard Eskin that he has not been participating in 5-on-5 because a deal had not been reached. He noted his love for the game and how difficult it is to get him off the court, let alone him refusing to get on it at all. 

“No,” Embiid said, chalking the report up to starting controversy. “At the end of the day, I don’t have the leverage. I’m going into my fourth season and I’m going to be a restricted free agent, so there’s no leverage, they can do whatever they want. There’s been discussions about it. Hopefully something does work out. 

“I’m worried about getting back on the court and that’s all I care about. If it happens, it’s going to happen. If it doesn’t, just got to keep focused on the fourth season and after this year I’ll be a free agent and we’re going to see what comes of it.” 

Training camp begins on Tuesday, when Embiid will have the opportunity to return to basketball with his teammates, even if it is in a limited and closely-monitored role. 

"I've got to check a couple boxes before my first game of the season," he said. "That's what I intend to do."