Sixers draft target: PF Adreian Payne

apadreianpayne.jpg

Sixers draft target: PF Adreian Payne

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

Adreian Payne
Position: PF
Height/Weight: 6-10/239
School: Michigan St.

Did you watch the Delaware game? You really should have watched the Delaware game.

In Michigan State’s NCAA tournament opener, Payne throttled the poor Blue Hens. Payne scored 41 points on 10 for 15 shooting from the floor. He had eight rebounds. He made all 17 of his free throws. And he hit 4 of 5 three-point attempts. He was fantastic. The Blue Hens never had a shot. Those are the same Blue Hens who are called “basically an NBA team” by some people.

OK. Fine. No one calls the Blue Hens that. But still. Quite a game. It was the kind of game that made people notice. The kind of game that can help raise a prospect’s draft profile, which is exactly what’s happened. Before the NCAA tournament, he was projected as a late first-round pick. Now Payne appears to be a mid-first rounder.

Payne averaged 16.4 points, 7.3 rebounds and nearly a block per game for the Spartans last season.

Strengths
Payne is a big guy with some solid low-post moves. He rebounds well. He makes free throws (79 percent on 4.5 attempts per game). And, most encouraging of all, he spent the last two years going from a traditional paint player to a power forward who can step outside and hit the three.

In his first two years at Michigan State, Payne didn’t shoot from the perimeter. In his junior season, he took 1.2 per game and made 38.1 percent. That’s not a lot of looks. But last year, in his senior campaign, he averaged 3.4 attempts and hit 42.3 percent. Much more encouraging.

Regardless of where Payne shot in college, he was an efficient scorer. He had a 60 true shooting percentage as a sophomore, 63 TS percentage as a junior and 61 TS percentage as a senior. He also increased his player efficiency rating to 25.5 last season.

On the offensive end of the floor, he’s gotten better as he’s gotten older. Which brings us to some of the issues certain teams might have with him.

Weaknesses
Payne is 23. He’ll be 24 before next year is out. That’s not old for most people entering the professional workforce, but Payne is not most people and his new job doesn’t involve sitting behind a desk somewhere in middle America.

He’s not a great passer. At present, his 10.2 assist rate makes him just about average for his position in this draft class.

Meanwhile, his blocks have dropped off somewhat. He averaged more than a block per game in his sophomore and junior years. Last season, he blocked 0.9 shots per game. That’s not a huge slip, but he managed to improve in so many other areas that it was somewhat surprising he regressed slightly as a rim protector. He accounted for 32.4 percent of the Spartans' blocks as a junior but 19.7 percent as a senior, and his block rate fell from 5.6 to 3.8.

Defensively, he can look a step slow at times. Does he have the quickness to move with athletic NBA power forwards?

How he’d fit with the Sixers
The Sixers like to get out and run. That might be an issue. He’s not doughy (8 percent body fat according to NBA.com), but he could definitely get in better cardio shape. Offensively, his game would fit nicely. He can stretch the floor or score inside. He gets to the line and hits free throws. And he can rebound. Defensively, if he improves his footwork, he could be serviceable. Having Nerlens Noel around would certainly help compensate at the defensive end.

NBA comparison
He’s been mentioned with Drew Gooden and likened to Robert Horry. Neither of those feel quite right.

For the purpose of other important comparisons, here is a quick and unsolicited ranking of Adreians/Adriens/Adrians:

5. Adrien Broner

4. Adrien Brody

3. Adreian Payne

2. Adrian Balboa

1. Adrian Peterson

I toyed with putting Payne in the two spot, but the Lady Balboa gets it just for flying all the way to Russia for the Drago fight. Long flight. Lots of snow.

Draft projection
First round. Could go anywhere from just outside the lottery to the mid 20s.

Sixers-Celtics 5 things: Slowing down Isaiah Thomas

Sixers-Celtics 5 things: Slowing down Isaiah Thomas

The Sixers (4-15) continue their homestand against the Boston Celtics (11-8) at the Wells Fargo Center on Saturday night (7:30 p.m./CSN and CSNPhilly.com).

Let's take a closer look at the matchup.

1. A green giant-sized challenge
Just crumple it up and move on.

That's about the only thing the Sixers can do after getting ran out of the gym by the Orlando Magic on Friday. Instead of looking like a team that hadn't played since Monday, the Sixers appeared flat in a 105-88 loss.

Outside of Joel Embiid's first 20-point, 10-rebound game (he had 25 points and 10 boards) and a strong effort from Jahlil Okafor (16 points and 13 rebounds), not much else went right for the Sixers.

Now Embiid will sit the second game of a back-to-back set and Okafor will be thrust into the starting lineup, as the Sixers try to deal with Boston big man Al Horford. 

Horford, the Celtics' prized free-agent acquisition, is coming off his best game so far for his new team. He recorded 26 points, eight rebounds and six blocks in the Celtics' 97-92 win over the Kings on Friday.

2. Little big man
Even with Horford coming off a productive performance, the Sixers' game plan against the Celtics has to focus on slowing down Isaiah Thomas.

The 5-foot-9 guard continues to put up big numbers in the scoring department. Despite his shooting percentages taking a dip this season, Thomas still ranks ninth in the NBA with a career-high 25.7 points per game. 

And even though he is a willing passer (averaging a career-high-tying 6.3 assists), expect Thomas to try and score early and often against the Sixers. After all, the reserve-turned-All-Star has put up 21.5 points per game against the Sixers during his career, his highest mark against any opponent.

3. Dial up the long-distance defense
The Sixers need to be aware of Thomas and just about all of his teammates when they toe that three-point line.

The Celtics rank fifth in the league in three-pointers attempted (31.1), three-pointers made (11.3) and eighth in three-point percentage (36.3) per game.

The C's have four players shooting above 40 percent from beyond the arc, and perhaps a bit surprising, three of them are big men. Jonas Jerebko (46.4 percent), Horford (42.4 percent) and Amir Johnson (40.0 percent) have all been on target from long range.

4. Injuries
Robert Covington (knee) and Jerryd Bayless (wrist) are both questionable. Embiid (rest), Nerlens Noel (knee) and Ben Simmons (foot) are out for the Sixers.

The Celtics have no players listed on the injury report.

5. This and that
• The Sixers have lost five games in a row overall and eight straight to the Celtics.

• The Celtics rank 25th in rebounding with 42.2 a night.

• Dario Saric had two points Friday against the Magic and has failed to reach double digits in scoring five of his last six games.

Sixers, Magic get glimpse into future with young talent on full display

Sixers, Magic get glimpse into future with young talent on full display

The Sixers' 105-88 loss to the Magic on Friday was not the game to watch for those looking for competitive basketball, as the Magic needed just three quarters to put the game out of reach (see Instant Replay).

What the game did have was some of the NBA’s top young talent.

Friday night featured six first-round picks from the 2014 NBA draft. Joel Embiid (No. 3), Aaron Gordon (No. 4), Nik Stauskas (No. 8), Elfrid Payton (No. 10) and Dario Saric (No. 12) were all lottery selections in 2014.

Add in Sixers center Jahlil Okafor and Magic guard Mario Hezonja, who were both top-five picks in 2015, and that’s seven top-12 picks from the last three draft classes, not even counting the injured Ben Simmons.

“Basketball’s a small world, you grow up playing these guys," Gordon said of the Sixers. "Those guys are talented. They have a young group of guys that are going to get better and better each time they play.”

Though he played only 27 minutes, Embiid finished the game with 25 points and 10 rebounds to go along with four assists for the Sixers (see story). Okafor had a double-double of his own, adding 16 points and 13 rebounds.

Gordon, who is averaging 9.9 points and 4.5 rebounds per game, led the Magic with 20 points and also added two rebounds.

“He did pretty good,” Embiid said of Gordon. “He shot the ball pretty well tonight.”

The other four lottery selections struggled a bit. Payton played 24 minutes and finished with two points and four assists, while Hezonja missed both of his shot attempts in just three minutes of playing time.

Stauskas went scoreless, going 0 for 6 from the floor, finishing with five assists and three turnovers, while Saric went 1 for 5 from the field and turned the ball over twice

“It’s just about being patient, really,” Stauskas said. “We know our time will come eventually. It’s just about being patient and continuing to work hard, whether it’s next year or the year after, eventually things are going to click and this team is going to become a legit playoff team in the East, it’s just a matter of time before it happens.”

Even with a plethora of top-round talent, the Magic have struggled over the past two seasons, much like the Sixers. Orlando hadn't won more than 25 games in a season since 2012-13 before going 35-47 last year.

Despite the abundance of talent, both teams are waiting for their players to develop. Both the Sixers and Magic entered Friday’s game among the bottom four teams in the Eastern Conference. If their draft choices pan out, it wouldn't be surprising to see the two teams closer to the top of the conference and right in the thick of the playoff race in a few years. 

“Eventually they’re going to get there,” Magic center Bismack Biyombo said of the Sixers. “Like all young teams, you go through struggles before you face success. That’s just how life is. They have to learn the hard way. We’ve all been through the process like that but you always have to stay patient and see a great future ahead. Obviously they have a lot of talented kids that sooner or later, they’ll know more about the league and establish themselves.”