Noel out to prove doubters wrong with Sixers

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Noel out to prove doubters wrong with Sixers

NEW YORK -- Nerlens Noel walked into his first press conference still wearing a New Orleans Pelicans hat. The questions were coming in as reports surfaced that he had been traded to the Sixers in a deal that involved point guard Jrue Holiday (see story).

Either Noel didn’t know he was traded or was told to avoid answering questions regarding the deal because it wasn’t made official.

When Noel finally did answer a question pertaining to him being traded to the Sixers, he said he was looking forward to joining a “great organization.”

Short and sweet.

After Thursday’s draft wrapped up, officials said Noel would be returning to comment on his trade to the Sixers. At about 12:30 a.m. on Friday, the 6-foot-10 Kentucky center stood outside the press room in the Barclays Center and answered questions about a night in which he was passed over by five teams before being selected by the Pelicans, only to be dealt to the Sixers.

“It’s definitely been a little hectic, but I’m definitely staying focused and staying positive through this,” he said.

Noel said he was notified that he had been traded to the Sixers after initially being confused about the deal. After the move was clarified, he reminded everyone that he was looking forward to coming to Philadelphia.

“They have a great organization, especially being there with one of my best friends growing up in Michael Carter-Williams (drafted 11th overall by the Sixers),” Noel said. “I’m definitely looking forward to that.”

Noel averaged 10.5 points, 9.5 rebounds and 4.4 blocks in 24 games in his first and only season at Kentucky before tearing his left ACL.

Standing there, a few reporters surrounding him, one could get the sense Noel was upset about how the night unfolded. When he arrived at the Barclays Center on Thursday, the consensus was Noel would be drafted first overall. When he departed, that wasn’t the case.

“In a few years down the road, when I am established in the NBA, I’ll say this is the night that gave me motivation that I needed to be the player that I wanted to be,” Noel said.

Carter-Williams agreed with Noel’s notion.

“That’s how things end up,” Carter-Williams said. “It was meant to be. I am sure he has a chip on his shoulder now, and who knows, maybe that’s what he needs for him to be great in the NBA.”

Noel understood why he dropped in the draft, though. It was that ACL tear he suffered in February. Coming into the NBA draft, teams were said to be concerned about the injury and whether a December return was realistic.

Noel was asked if he thought teams were nervous to take a chance on him.

“I’d have to say so,” he said. “I mean, [teams] are going to make their own decisions that are best for them and, you know, later down the road let’s hope they made the right decision.”

Noel said he has started advanced workouts, added some defensive slides to his rehab and is even doing a little running. He estimated a comeback “around November.”

When it all shook out, was Noel happy to be drafted? Yes. He confessed it was a little hard to look at the positives but vowed to take any frustration out on the court.

“As hard as I was working," he said, "I’m definitely going to [rehab] with a bigger chip on my shoulder and come back for this and show the reason why …”

He didn’t finish the sentence. No need. Noel will be out to show the world why he, and not Anthony Bennett, should have been drafted No. 1 overall on Thursday.

Noel looked different when he met the media this time. He stood tall, this time without a New Orleans Pelicans hat on his head.

He is a Sixer now. A Sixer with something to prove.

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).