Noel exciting Sixers coaches with practice efforts

ap-sixers-noel-brown.jpg

Noel exciting Sixers coaches with practice efforts

The date Nerlens Noel tweeted that was speculated as being his Sixers debut is only three days away.

Noel had fans excited when he initially sent that message out on social media, but now it’s the big man’s coaches that are getting riled up about his progression.

“The first thing that I have fallen in love with is that he is beyond competitive,” Brown said after Thursday’s practice. “There is a dog in him, a toughness in him that I misjudged.

“He doesn’t talk a lot, but he is a fantastic listener. You go through all those months shooting one-handed with him and then you see him come out here.”

Brown witnessed that edge when the 6-foot-11, 228-pound Noel practiced with teammates Brandon Davies and Jarvis Varnado along with assistant coach Greg Foster on Thursday, an activity that has become a daily routine for the Sixers’ big men.

With just eight games remaining it seems unlikely Noel will participate in a contest this season. However, Brown would not confirm that. The coach simply reiterated the special ability he sees in the center and how that bodes well for the franchise’s future.

“He is a fierce competitor and that is the number one quality for me that makes someone special,” Brown said. “Then you get into the athleticism. He has a bounce. People that can block a shot, hit the floor and go back up are special and he can do it with both his right hand and left hand.”

Noel will likely participate in a game for the first time since February of last year during this summer when the Sixers field a summer league team. When Noel does finally take the court how will that year and a half out of action with an ACL tear impact his game?

“He’ll do what everybody does -- he will play too fast,” Brown explained. “He will try to rush things. He won’t let the game come to him. He will try to impose himself on the game. He will be very erratic. He will be turnover prone and foul prone.

“He’ll do all those things, but that’s to be expected. But for him to be doing what he is doing now in itself is exciting and this city should be really excited.”

Brown doesn’t know how much or how little the Sixers will play Noel whenever the center returns to game action. The coach just knows it will be a process and he will trust his gut.

“We won’t make him play 38 minutes and try to force feed it,” Brown said. “We will go at a pace that is realistic and see how he goes. It will be more of a gut-feel formula than anything. We won’t be shy with him, but we will be smart.”

NBA Playoffs: Raptors advance past Bucks despite blowing 25-point lead

NBA Playoffs: Raptors advance past Bucks despite blowing 25-point lead

MILWAUKEE -- DeMar DeRozan scored 32 points and the Toronto Raptors squandered a 25-point lead late in the third quarter before holding on for a 92-89 victory Thursday night over the Milwaukee Bucks to take their first-round playoff series in six games.

Cory Joseph had five points in a 9-0 run in the final 2 minutes, including a 3-pointer with 1:27 left, to help stave off the pesky Bucks.

The Raptors move on to face the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference semifinals in a series that starts Monday. They'll need to work on finishing off opponents in the second half.

Jason Terry's 3 with 3:06 left gave the Bucks an 80-78 lead, completing an unlikely comeback from the 25-point deficit with 5:16 left in the third quarter. The Raptors looked as if they were on cruise control after DeMarre Carroll's 3 gave them the 71-46 advantage.

Giannis Antetokounmpo spearheaded the second-half rally for Milwaukee. He had 34 points.

But the Bucks finished one comeback short.

The furious effort appeared to sap the energy of the young Bucks. Even Antetokounmpo, a renowned gym rat, looked tired with his hands on hips as he caught his breath during fourth-quarter breaks. He played 47 minutes.

Antetokounmpo finished 13 of 23 from the field but was 2 of 6 in the fourth.

The Raptors could finally breathe easy after DeRozan went 2 of 2 from the foul line with 3.1 seconds to play for a three-point lead. Tony Snell's inbounds pass on the ensuing possession was intercepted by DeRozan (see full recap).

Spurs advance: San Antonio beats Grizzlies 103-96 in Game 6
NASHVILLE, Tennessee -- Kawhi Leonard scored 29 points, helping the San Antonio Spurs advance to the Western Conference semifinals by beating the Memphis Grizzlies 103-96 Thursday night to take the series 4-2.

The Spurs now have beaten Memphis four of the five playoff series between these teams, and this was San Antonio's second straight win over the Grizzlies in the first round.

Tony Parker added 27 points on 11-of-14 shooting, while LaMarcus Aldridge had 17 points and 12 rebounds. Patty Mills had 10 points off the bench for the Spurs. San Antonio outrebounded Memphis 46-28, with 16 of those offensive boards. That led to 17 second-chance points.

Their semifinal with Houston will start Monday night in San Antonio.

Mike Conley scored 26 points, leading the five Memphis starters in double digits. Marc Gasol added 18, Zach Randolph 13 points and 11 rebounds, and Vince Carter had 12 points (see full recap).

Sixers 2016-17 player evaluation: Ben Simmons

Sixers 2016-17 player evaluation: Ben Simmons

Ben Simmons

Position: Point guard? Power forward? TBD

Status for 2017-18: Guaranteed — $6,168,840

Simmons in 2016-17
Ben Simmons missed the entire 2016-17 season after suffering a Jones fracture in his right foot on the final day of training camp.

He was ruled out officially in late February when a scan revealed his foot had not fully healed. Simmons was cleared to advance his training in mid-April.

This season was one of learning for Simmons. The Sixers implemented a multifaceted rehab program to improve his health, education and shot. This included studying game film with Brett Brown and working closely with shooting coach John Townsend.

Simmons also joined the Sixers to experience life on the road. During these trips, he spent time with point guard Jerryd Bayless, who is serving as a veteran go-to as Simmons learns the NBA backcourt.

Signature game
Since Simmons did not appear in a game, let's modify here. Simmons was no stranger to showing off his skills during pregame warmups, including this dunk in Indiana.

Looking ahead to 2017-18
Simmons' first step to prepare for next season is five-on-five work. The Sixers have to determine if that will include his participating in the summer league. This seems unlikely given Simmons' lack of full-contact basketball activity with his own team and the fact he was limited last summer when healthy.

The second step is learning the point guard position. The Sixers plan to start Simmons at the one next season, a role in which they believe Simmons can thrive because of his athleticism and court vision.

The Sixers will work with Simmons to continue improving his shot, specifically hitting free throws and finishing at the basket with both hands.

On Simmons
"I think that the question about whether or not Ben Simmons is a point guard or not, that will play itself out over time. But I don't think there's going to be a quick answer there. I know there's a commitment by the staff to make that happen."

Sixers president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo

"What I left Stockton (training camp) being so excited about was that he is an elite, potentially, defensive player. So was his father that I coached for five years. It's in his bloodline." 

Sixers head coach Brett Brown