Sixers draft target: PF Adreian Payne

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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.

NBA trade deadline: Buyer's market? Lakers got next to nothing in Lou Williams trade

NBA trade deadline: Buyer's market? Lakers got next to nothing in Lou Williams trade

If the two NBA trades this week indicate anything, it's that we're in a buyer's market.

Two days after DeMarcus Cousins was traded by the Kings to the Pelicans for a shockingly light return, Magic Johnson made his first move as the Lakers' new head honcho, shipping Lou Williams to Houston.

In exchange for Lou-Will, the Lakers got Corey Brewer and the Rockets' first-round pick, another surprisingly modest return.

Williams, 30, is having the best season of his 11-year career and it's not just because he was playing big fish on a bad team. You'd think the Lakers' lack of talent would result in somewhat inefficient scoring from Lou-Will, but that's not the case.

He's averaging a career-high 18.6 points, shooting a career-best 38.5 percent from three and 88.4 percent from the line. Only once, 2009-10 with the Sixers, did Williams shoot better than his current 44.4 percent from the field.

Because Williams signed his three-year deal with the Lakers before the salary cap spiked last offseason, he's underpaid in the current NBA landscape. He's owed just $7 million next season, a team-friendly salary for a player who can provide instant offense off the bench.

Brewer is a non-factor in the trade and won't have much of a future role with the rebuilding Lakers, so the trade was basically Williams for a very late first-round pick. The Rockets are 40-18 and would pick 27th if the season ended today.

Picks that late in the first round just aren't that valuable. Over the last five drafts, only eight of the 30 players selected in the 25 to 30 range have even cracked an NBA rotation. And two of them are Spurs, which is almost like its own separate category given how regularly San Antonio unearths talent in the draft.

Even those who've cracked rotations after being drafted 25-30 over the last five years are not impact players: Pascal Siakam, Larry Nance Jr., Andre Roberson, Miles Plumlee. Keep in mind that's a good scenario for that late of a first-rounder. The only two actual difference-makers drafted in that range the last five years are Rudy Gobert and Clint Capela.

Keep this return in mind when wondering what the Sixers might be able to recoup in a deadline trade of players like Ersan Ilyasova or Nik Stauskas. 

It's a worse return for the Lakers than the Kings received on draft night last summer for Marco Belinelli. Sacramento traded Belinelli, a journeyman bench player, for the No. 22 overall pick.

Could the Lakers have possibly gotten less than the 27th pick if they just held onto Williams and traded him in the offseason?

When I opined last night on Twitter that the Lakers didn't do well in the Lou-Will deal, a few people replied that the Lakers aren't trying to win, they're trying to finish with a bottom-three record and keep their pick rather than ship it to the Sixers.

But keep in mind that finishing with even the second-worst record in the NBA guarantees the Lakers nothing. The team that finishes with the second-worst record has a 55.8 percent chance of landing a top-three pick. The team that finishes with the third-worst record has a 46.9 percent of chance of landing a top-three pick.

Far from a sure thing.

One sure thing is the Lakers won't be catching the Nets for the league's worst record. Even if the Lakers go 0-24 the rest of the way to finish 19-63, they'd still need the Nets to go 11-15 or better. Brookyln's lost 14 games in a row, so that ain't happening.

Ersan Ilyasova needed All-Star break, admits effect of upcoming free agency

Ersan Ilyasova needed All-Star break, admits effect of upcoming free agency

The Sixers resume practice on Wednesday and Ersan Ilyasova will look to be recharged and refocused when he hits the court in Camden. The veteran power forward is determined to find his rhythm after hitting a shooting snag prior to the All-Star break.

“I need it right now, just get away from basketball,” Ilyasova said of the time off following the Sixers’ final game before the break. “Obviously, the last week was kind of up and down. The season is long. Obviously, you have to get your mind out of it. It’s good timing.”

Ilyasova’s plans for the break included traveling to West Palm Beach, Florida, where he owns a home, to spend time with his wife and children who live in Milwaukee. He hoped unwinding with his loved ones would help him move beyond his struggles at the basket.

Ilyasova scored a total of 10 points off a combined 4 for 16 from the field and 1 for 7 from three in the Sixers’ last two games against the Hornets and Celtics.

After shooting above 40 percent from the floor each month since being traded from the Thunder in November, Ilyasova shot 35.6 percent in February. More significantly, his three-point shooting dropped from 35.4 percent in January to 23.4 percent this month.

So what’s caused the hiccup for Ilyasova, who had been a consistent double-figure contributor earlier in the season? There are several factors in play.

“It’s tough,” Ilyasova said. “Obviously, a lot of things going through your mind. Obviously, being a free agent next year, you’re going to kind of overthink it sometimes. It’s like I said, the season is long.”

While Ilyasova’s contract expires after this season, he isn’t pointing to that as the root of all his struggles. He remembers being in a skid like this before when he played for the Bucks and understands it comes with the territory of the league.

“I am not going to say it’s just because of free agency,” Ilyasova said. “You have 82 games, you can’t play perfect. Sometimes you have good games and bad games. Last week I was kind of out of rhythm and missed a lot of shots.”

Ilyasova arrived in Philadelphia with an ultra-professional attitude and his effort is not going to change whether or not his shots are falling. Ilyasova is averaging 5.3 rebounds this month, including three games of nine boards or more.

The Sixers won three of their last four games before the All-Star Break, and even though they weren’t his best offensive performances, Ilyasova is more concerned about the final result.

“It’s not about one person,” he said. “We’re doing something right to win the games. I’m going to try contribute the best way I can.”