Sixers draft target: G/F James Young

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Sixers draft target: G/F James Young

In this installment of our series before June 26’s draft, we look at a swingman who can shoot:

James Young
Position: Guard/Forward
Height/Weight: 6-6/210
School: Kentucky

Another one of John Calipari's "one-and-done" prospects who is entering the NBA after just one season at Kentucky. Young was often overshadowed by Julius Randle and Andrew and Aaron Harrison at Kentucky, but he finished last season as the Wildcats' second-leading scorer at 14.3 points per game. As a freshman, he shot 40 percent from the field and 35 percent from three-point range.

Young bolstered his draft stock significantly with his performance in the national championship game. He was far and away Kentucky's best player in a six-point loss to UConn, scoring 20 points on 5 of 13 shooting from the field and grabbing seven rebounds. Young's driving dunk in the first half was the highlight of the game and left no doubt that he has the athleticism and explosiveness to succeed in the NBA.

Young has ideal size for an NBA swingman. He will play either the shooting guard or small forward position at the pro level. This year's draft is brimming with prospects at each of those positions. How Young stacks up with the rest of that crop remains to be seen.

Strengths
Young has extraordinary athleticism and a polished offensive skill set for a player who has yet to turn 19 years old. He also doesn't shy away from big moments. Young averaged just under 17 points in Kentucky's final three games of the season, which happened to be the Elite Eight, Final Four and national championship. Young is capable of taking over a game with his ability to score the ball. In addition to having an effective (though sometimes inconsistent) outside stroke, Young can put the ball on the floor and get to the basket.
 
There is no doubt that the scrutiny that accompanies playing at Kentucky prepares you for life in the NBA. Young never seemed to have a problem dealing with that.

Weaknesses
His biggest issue in college was consistency. Young had eight games last season with 20 or more points. He also had eight games with fewer than 10 points. Some of this was due to Kentucky's deep roster and vast supply of scorers. But there is no denying Young has the tendency to disappear for prolonged stretches of games.

There are also questions surrounding his defensive abilities. Young has the foot speed to be a solid perimeter defender, but never seemed invested on the defensive end during his one season at Kentucky. This is a common trait among NBA players, but Young could separate himself by working to become more of a two-way player.

Young wasn't exactly a willing passer in college. In over 32 minutes per game, he averaged just 1.7 assists. That's actually difficult to do for a player who has the ball in his hands as often as he did.

How he'd fit with the Sixers
Young is exactly the type of raw athlete that Sixers GM Sam Hinkie seems to covet. But Hinkie also prefers players who can play defense, and Young is a long way from earning that label. At just 18 years of age, Young's game and body are still rounding into form. His potential is enticing and the fact he's still two or three years away from his best basketball meshes well with the Sixers' long-range rebuilding plan.

But if the Sixers hold onto the 3rd and 10th picks, they're very unlikely to call Young's name on draft night. If they really like him, they could trade down to the middle of first round to take him.        

NBA comparison
Arron Afflalo, who was more advanced coming out of UCLA than Young is entering the league. But they have very similar body types and offensive skills. Afflalo has made himself into an elite outside shooter. He shot 43 percent from three-point territory last season, upping his career average to 39 percent. Those percentages aren't out of the question for Young, who may be a better athlete than Afflalo.

Draft projection
Mid-first round (13th to 20th pick). 

Ben Simmons spending his summer getting bigger and better

Ben Simmons spending his summer getting bigger and better

Ben Simmons repeatedly emphasized at summer league he wanted to work on “everything” leading up to training camp.

As a point-forward who plays multiple positions, he has more than just one role to address this offseason. But what does “everything” entail? With a wide range of responsibilities on the court, Simmons is honing in on specific areas.

“I think just getting in the gym and making sure I’m getting reps up, shooting-wise, dribbling,” Simmons said earlier this week after an appearance at Sixers Camp in Wayne, Pennsylvania. “The weight room as well, making sure I get my strength back and my weight up.”

Shooting
Simmons has been criticized for his reluctance to shoot. During his one season of college ball at LSU, he averaged 19.2 points off 11.7 field goal attempts per game (56 percent made). Over six summer league games (including both Utah and Las Vegas), Simmons took 22 field-goal attempts and shot 32.2 percent. He had less than 10 attempts in four of the games, and attempted 15 in the Sixers’ finale. Simmons attempted one three in summer league action.

While in Utah and Las Vegas, the Sixers encouraged Simmons to be more aggressive. At 6-foot-10, Simmons is able to get to the rim. Once there, many times he passes it off rather than finishing himself. The Sixers don’t expect Simmons to become a 30-point-per-game scorer, but he will be a key part of their offense.

“You always want him to be as good of a shooter as he can be,” Las Vegas summer league head coach Lloyd Pierce said this earlier month. “It’s not going to be his strength. His strength is going to be passing, facilitating, playmaking. That’s going to be an added bonus, whatever the percentage or the number is.”

Dribbling
Simmons averaged 5.5 assists per game during summer league (second on the team by 0.3 dimes to T.J McConnell). Conversely, he committed 3.8 turnovers.

The Sixers signed two point guards this summer, Jerryd Bayless and Sergio Rodriguez, and McConnell is returning from last season. Head coach Brett Brown said after the draft he does not plan to utilize Simmons as the primary one-guard right away as the 20-year-old learns the league. But early on, Simmons will have the rock in his hands plenty of times given his natural ball-handling abilities, especially when grabbing the rebound and running the fast break.

"I think it's the hardest position to play in the NBA,” Brown previously said. “I think to just give him the ball in that capacity is borderline cruel. He needs to feel NBA basketball. And maybe he evolves there."

Weight room
After college, Simmons put on 20 pounds from his training and entered the draft at 242 pounds. He stood out among the competition in summer league play with his NBA-ready stature. Simmons said he would like to get up to 246 or 247 pounds this offseason.

“Not too heavy,” he said.

With the size of a forward and the skills of a guard, the Sixers will be able to utilize Simmons to create mismatches both in the backcourt and at the hoop.

Adjusting to new home, Ben Simmons plays role model at Sixers Camp

Adjusting to new home, Ben Simmons plays role model at Sixers Camp

WAYNE, Pa. — Three steps. 

That’s all it takes before Ben Simmons is recognized walking through the streets of Philadelphia. 

This year’s No. 1 pick has been in the spotlight long before the Sixers drafted him in June, and now he's experiencing what it's like to be known as an NBA player in his new city. 

“I’ve been enjoying walking around South Street, getting some Ishkabibble's,” Simmons said Tuesday after a special appearance at the Sixers' Camp at Valley Forge Military Academy. 

At 6-foot-10, Simmons towers above most on the court, let alone on the sidewalk. Fans have been eager to welcome him to Philadelphia for a new chapter of the organization after three years of struggle. 

“Positive things,” Simmons said of the comments he receives. “I think a lot of people are excited, so I’ve been looking forward to it.”

Simmons understands the impact a professional athlete can have on young fans, and was excited to be at camp Tuesday.

Growing up in Australia, he never had the opportunity to hear from NBA players when he attended basketball camps. Now that he's in that position, the 20-year-old was glad to provide that memory to the 240 campers. 

“That would mean a lot if I was able to experience that,” Simmons said. 

Simmons demonstrated skill drills, such as passing fundamentals, interacted in a Q&A session and signed autographs for each camper. He also took individual photos for those who traveled internationally, including from Nigeria, Italy and Greece. 

“I’m just like them, but older,” Simmons said. “I’m just trying to be a good role model to them.”

Simmons plans to spend most of the offseason in Philadelphia as he gets settled into the city. He still has to move into his new home, but at least he knows where to get a cheesesteak in the meantime. 

NBA Notes: Dion Waiters signs 1-year deal with Heat

NBA Notes: Dion Waiters signs 1-year deal with Heat

Two people with knowledge of the situation tell The Associated Press that the Miami Heat have agreed to terms on a one-year deal with free agent guard Dion Waiters.

The two sides came to agreement on Monday. Waiters will make $2.9 million. The people spoke on condition of anonymity because the team has not announced the deal.

Waiters averaged 9.8 points for the Oklahoma City Thunder last year, but had several big games in the playoffs. He played particularly well against Dallas and San Antonio in the playoffs before his role was reduced in the seven-game loss to the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference finals.

Waiters will give the Heat another scorer off the bench (see full story).

Blazers: C.J. McCullom inked to four-year extension
PORTLAND, Ore. -- A person familiar with the deal confirms that guard CJ McCollum has agreed to a four-year, $106 million contract extension with the Portland Trail Blazers.

The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity on Monday because the deal hadn't been formally announced by the team. It was first reported by Yahoo Sports.

McCollum, who was named the NBA's Most Improved Player, averaged 20.8 points, 3.2 rebounds and 4.3 assists for the Blazers during the regular season. He raised his scoring average by more than 14 points over the previous season.

As the 10th overall pick for the Blazers in the 2013 draft, McCollum bided his time on the bench for his first two seasons. He became a starter in the backcourt with Damian Lillard last season after four of the team's starters departed in the offseason (see full story).

Michael Jordan donates $2 million to ease racial tensions
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Michael Jordan is trying to help ease tension between African-Americans and law enforcement.

The NBA great and Charlotte Hornets owner said Monday he's giving $1 million to the Institute for Community-Police Relations and $1 million to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. The aim is to help build trust following several shootings around the country.

Jordan says in a statement to The Associated Press on Monday that "as a proud American, a father who lost his own dad in a senseless act of violence, and a black man, I have been deeply troubled by the deaths of African-Americans at the hands of law enforcement and angered by the cowardly and hateful targeting and killing of police officers," (see full story).