Sixers draft target: SF Aaron Gordon


Sixers draft target: SF Aaron Gordon

In this installment of our series before June 26's NBA draft, we look at an versatile forward that is expected to be a top-10 pick:

Aaron Gordon
Position: Small Forward
Height/Weight: 6-9, 225
School: Arizona

Another in a handful of projected lottery picks to leave college after one season, Gordon takes a backseat to no one in this draft class in terms of athleticism. He is an elite leaper and shot blocker and runs extremely well for someone his size. Gordon averaged 12.4 points and 8.0 rebounds on an Arizona team that spent most of the season ranked No. 1 in the country.

Much was expected from Gordon when he arrived at Arizona following his MVP performance in the McDonald's All-American Game. He flashed glimpses of tremendous potential throughout his freshman season, but it also became apparent that he has a long way to go before developing into a complete player.

In Arizona's season-ending overtime loss to Wisconsin in the Elite 8, the best and worst of Gordon was on full display -- he grabbed 18 rebounds, but scored just eight points on 3-of-11 shooting from the field.

Gordon's athleticism and defensive versatility go hand-in-hand. He is athletic enough to guard small forwards and power forwards in the NBA, and his shot-blocking ability will make him a very effective help defender. Gordon will also excel in transition on the next level. He'll be able to out-run most forwards on the fast break and will have no trouble finishing around the rim. There won't be a shortage of plays involving Gordon on the morning highlight shows.

Gordon is also an underrated ballhandler, especially in the open court. He has little trouble leading the fast break and manages to make the right decisions most of the time. Above all, he's a guy front-office types fall in love with because of his measurables and athleticism. General managers and coaches will think they can fix his flaws and play to his strengths. Time will tell if he'll ever live up to that "tremendous upside" label he has been given. He doesn't turn 19 until September, so time is on his side.

Very raw and unpolished on the offensive end. He lacks a go-to move in the low post and is limited on the perimeter. Despite getting most of his opportunities close to the basket, he shot a shade under 50 percent from the field. Gordon's jump shot is so ineffective that defenders will let him shoot until he proves he can make shots consistently. Then there is his free throw shooting -- Gordon shot a horrendous 42 percent from the foul line last season. He'll need to improve that aspect of his game considerably or risk being a liability at the end of close games.

How he'd fit with the Sixers
Depends on which end of the floor you're talking about. Defensively, he would be a tremendous asset. Opponents would have a tough time getting clean looks at the basket against a frontline featuring Gordon and Nerlens Noel. Gordon would also provide Brett Brown with great defensive versatility, as he's able to defend several positions on the floor.

Offensively, he would fit in well with Michael Carter-Williams and company pushing the tempo. The Sixers aren't afraid to run, and Gordon can certainly do that. But when push comes to shove, this Sixers team needs players that can be counted on to score in half-court sets. That is not Gordon at this point, not even close. It will take some time before he becomes a consistent offensive performer.

NBA comparison
Blake Griffin is a popular name here, but I'm not buying that outside of the high-flying dunks. Shawn Marion is probably a better comparison, given Gordon's potential as a lockdown defender at the small forward spot. But I'll go Kenneth Faried -- unlimited energy, great rebounder and defender, but doesn't bring a whole lot to the table in a structured offense.

Draft projection
Early- to mid-lottery (fifth to ninth overall pick).

Anthem singer at Sixers-Heat game kneels during performance

Anthem singer at Sixers-Heat game kneels during performance

MIAMI — A woman performing the national anthem before an NBA preseason game in Miami on Friday night did so while kneeling at midcourt, and opening her jacket to show a shirt with the phrase "Black Lives Matter."

The singer was identified by the Heat as Denasia Lawrence. It was unclear if she remained in the arena after the performance, and messages left for her were not immediately returned.

Heat players and coaches stood side-by-side for the anthem, all with their arms linked as has been their custom during the preseason. Many had their heads down as Lawrence sang, and the team released a statement saying it had no advance knowledge that she planned to kneel.

"We felt as a basketball team that we would do something united, so that was our focus," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "Throughout all of this, I think the most important thing that has come out is the very poignant, thoughtful dialogue. We've had great dialogue within our walls here and hopefully this will lead to action."

The anthem issue has been a major topic in the sports world in recent months, starting with the decision by San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick to not stand for its playing. Kaepernick cited racial injustice and police brutality among the reasons for his protest, and athletes from many sports -- and many levels, from youth all the way to professional -- have followed his lead in various ways.

"All I can say is what we've seen in multiple preseason games so far is our players standing for the national anthem," NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said in New York earlier Friday, at a news conference following the league's board of governors meetings. "It would be my hope that they would continue to stand for the national anthem. I think that is the appropriate thing to do."

The NBA has a rule calling for players and coaches to stand during the anthem.

Heat guard Wayne Ellington often speaks about the need to curb gun violence, after his father was shot and killed two years ago. He had his eyes closed for most of the anthem Friday, as per his own custom, though was aware of Lawrence's actions.

"At the end of the day, to each his own," Ellington said. "If she feels like that's the way she wants to stand for it, then more power to her."

Making a statement in the manner that Lawrence did Friday is rare, but not unheard of in recent weeks.

When the Sacramento Kings played their first home preseason game earlier this month, anthem singer Leah Tysse dropped to one knee as she finished singing the song.

Tysse is white. Lawrence is black.

"I love and honor my country as deeply as anyone yet it is my responsibility as an American to speak up against injustice as it affects my fellow Americans," Tysse wrote on Facebook. "I have sung the anthem before but this time taking a knee felt like the most patriotic thing I could do. I cannot idly stand by as black people are unlawfully profiled, harassed and killed by our law enforcement over and over and without a drop of accountability."

Joel Embiid ends preseason on impressive note, has Sixers excited

Joel Embiid ends preseason on impressive note, has Sixers excited

MIAMI — It’s a cautious optimism to be sure — there can be no other type for the Sixers right now given their history of injuries — but you can tell the team is starting to get excited about Joel Embiid.

In Friday’s 113-110 exhibition finale win over the Miami Heat (see game story), Embiid scored 18 points in 18 minutes before fouling out late in the fourth quarter.

The 7-0 center, who missed his first two NBA seasons because of foot surgeries, made 8 of 16 shots and 2 of 2 on free throws, adding a game-high nine rebounds.

“I’ve always felt like I’m a complete player — that’s what I do,” Embiid said. “I’m starting to get easy points.

“I just got better every game [in the preseason], defensively, offensively.”

Sixers coach Brett Brown said he is still learning how to best use Embiid.

Brown added that the rust is apparent in Embiid’s game. But …

“He is as self-taught as any player I’ve ever been around,” Brown said. “He grew up in Cameroon and hasn’t played a lot (because of injuries). But he studies, he looks at stuff. He pays attention. He’s instinctively curious.

“There’s a lot of stuff in his head that he thinks through. His mind is quicker than his feet. At times, his core, his balance and his decision-making are off because his mind is working faster than his body.”

Embiid scored most of his buckets on Friday at close range — a finger roll, a tip-in, a couple of put-back dunks, an alley-oop dunk and a fast-break layup. But he did make a 10-foot jumper and took — but missed — a three-point try.

“He does stuff in a game that makes you step back and say, ‘Wow,’” Brown said. “He will trail and hit a three. He will have a pound, pound drop-step, dunk.

“Like a traditional post, he will turn his face and make a bank shot. He has that up-and-under stuff.

“But he’s raw. His preseason has been highlighted by those few things that you notice, all under the umbrella of, ‘He really has a chance to be very, very good.’"

Brown was asked to summarize the Sixers' 2-5 preseason, and he called it a “completely erratic” exhibition season because of injuries.

“Jahlil [Okafor] hasn’t practiced,” Brown said. “Joel has been steady and incremental. I think we all see that Dario Saric has got a lot to offer. I think the pairing of Joel and Dario was solid.

“We’ve seen Jerami [Grant] have a really good preseason. Richaun Holmes has taken his opportunity to play big minutes. Those type of things come to my mind.”