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). 

Joel Embiid to undergo surgery on left knee

Joel Embiid to undergo surgery on left knee

Updated: 6:40 p.m.

It's official. 

Sixers center Joel Embiid will undergo surgery to repair the torn meniscus in his left knee. The time and place have not been disclosed. 

The team made the announcement a couple hours after ESPN's Marc Stein reported that Embiid "very likely" would need surgery. 

Embiid's season ended in late January after just 31 games because of a pair of left knee injuries -- a bone bruise and partially torn meniscus. The meniscus tear was discovered in an MRI following the Sixers' win over Portland on Jan. 20, when Embiid suffered the bone bruise. He missed the next three games and returned on Jan. 27 for a nationally televised game against Houston. In what turned out to be his final game of the season, Embiid had 32 points, seven rebounds, four assists, three steals and two blocks in a 123-118 loss to the Rockets. (James Harden scored 51 points.)

The Sixers monitored the meniscus in a second MRI, and there were no signs of change. A third MRI revealed the tear was "more pronounced" than in the first two. There's a thought Embiid further injured the meniscus during a practice in late February.

Embiid was with the Sixers on their recent West Coast road trip and visited specialists in California to receive more advice about treatment. 

"It's all on the table. We're trying to do homework," Brett Brown said about Embiid March 10. "There's nothing, to me, news in what I said. It's just reviewing it all. He's got an inner circle around him that's helping guide him, and we're just taking all the information in. Ultimately, he's the one that has to feel most comfortable with it."

No timetable has been announced for Embiid's return, but Jahlil Okafor had surgery to repair a torn meniscus on March 22 of last year -- exactly a year ago -- and was ready for the season opener, albeit on a minutes restriction. The restriction was lifted on Nov. 21.

Embiid averaged 20.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.1 assists this season. He shot 46.6 percent from the floor, including 36.7 percent from three, and 78.3 percent from the line.  

CSNPhilly.com's Jessica Camerato contributed to this report.

Russell Westbrook most dominant guard Brett Brown has seen in 16 NBA seasons

Russell Westbrook most dominant guard Brett Brown has seen in 16 NBA seasons

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Brett Brown has seen a lot of basketball in his life -- championship, Hall of Fame ball at that.

The 34 triple-doubles and 31.4 points, 10.5 rebounds and 10.3 assists from Russell Westbrook this season, though, that's on another level.

"There is no guard that has been more dominant in my NBA days, 16 years of them, than the numbers that we're seeing Russell Westbrook put up," Brett Brown said at Sixers shootaround Wednesday. 

The 6-foot-3 point guard leads the NBA in scoring, ranks third in assists and 10th in rebounds. He also is first in triple-doubles and second in double-doubles (52). 

There's nothing cordial or subtle about Westbrook's feelings toward his opponents, and Brown likes it that way.

Westbrook's "with us or against us" mentality includes his feelings towards Kevin Durant for leaving the Thunder and the dismissal of Steph Curry's recent comment that he believes James Harden will win MVP.

That outlook plays into Westbrook's MVP-caliber season, the reason why the Thunder are 40-30 and sitting in the sixth spot in the Western Conference heading into Wednesday's game against the Sixers.

Brown knows the mindset needed to win a title. He appreciates the way Westbrook goes about it, even if it's different than what he experienced as a coach for the Spurs. 

"The Spurs did it with more of a -- it was a polite way to do it," Brown said. "He's not polite about it. KG (Kevin Garnett) wasn't polite about it. Kobe Bryant wasn't polite about it. It still gets back to the respect you have for that. No matter how they present it, whether it's polite or not, and it's really hard to present that endearing quality that I'm in love with in a polite way.

"So there was a different mindset because you could say (Manu) Ginobili and (Tim) Duncan had that too, but not to the demonstrative way that Russell has it, or KG, or Kobe. I say that with complete admiration. Tonight, you can just read facial expressions and body language, and you've got somebody that's knocking out historic numbers and has (dragged) his team into being in the playoffs after the departure of Kevin Durant."

On opening night, Westbrook dropped 32 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists against the Sixers.
 
Brown looks at the first three seconds of a possession as critical to defending Westbrook. There is no easy formula to restricting him, and it will be a total team effort beyond the point guards.

"So much of it is, and it's kind of cruel because it's so hard, it's like, can you keep the game in front of you?" Brown said.

"Then, can you do it without fouling? He's a master at taking his breakaway speed and reckless abandon and fearless approach and parlaying it into 10, 12, 14 free throws.

"Some of that isn't always the guy that's guarding him. It's the second line people trying to show verticality and not come over. Sometimes just through inertia, you get torpedoed in the chest and you inevitably bend a little bit. But there's a discipline with our bigs to show verticality, make him make tough shots at the rim to the point of who are the candidates that have Russell? He'll see different looks from us. ... We'll live with pull-ups, not layups."

Okafor questionable
The Sixers will find out later in the day if part of their game plan against Westbrook will include Jahlil Okafor. The big man is listed as questionable against the Thunder because of right knee soreness. He did not play Monday in Orlando.

"He looked OK but it still doesn't take him out of the questionable category," Brown said. "We'll be able to share what's going on better before the game tonight. Get him a real good workout and give everybody information after that."

Splitter takes the court
Veteran center Tiago Splitter, who hasn't played since coming over to the Sixers from the Hawks in the Ersan Ilyasova trade last month, made his first appearance with the Delaware 87ers Wednesday as his rehab from a calf strain continues.

In 14 minutes in the 87ers' win, Splitter had five points (1 for 6 FG, 3 for 3 FT) with three rebounds, two assists and a block.

"I thought he was fine," head coach Eugene Burroughs said. "The first game he's played so it's always tough when you haven't played in a while to try and get in a rhythm and get back in the flow. But I thought he did some great things, set some great screens, had some great verticality in the lane defensively and had some really good passes. A guy like that knows how to play basketball."