Sixers Notes: Wright finally finds role under Collins

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Sixers Notes: Wright finally finds role under Collins

WASHINGTON -- All season long, Doug Collins has tried to figure out what to do with his wing players. Though he has guys who can shoot well, the Sixers lack speed on the wings.

Collins thought veteran Jason Richardson was the answer, but he went out with a season-ending knee injury. Nick Young stepped up for a tiny bit, but he too went down with an injury and was slow to rejoin the rotation.

It wasn’t until Collins turned to Damien Wilkins as his starter on the wing with Dorell Wright coming off the bench that it got straightened out. No, it’s not the second coming of Joe Dumars and Vinnie “The Microwave” Johnson from the champion Detroit Pistons teams in the 1980s, but the duo has solved a problem for Collins.

The key has been Wright coming off the bench. He scored 13 points in 25 minutes during Friday night’s win over the Wizards at the Verizon Center with a pair of three-pointers (see game recap). In his last 10 games, Wright has averaged nearly 13 points and has hit 22 three-pointers. Wright also has led the Sixers in scoring twice during that stretch, providing the punch off the bench the Sixers have needed.

“Dorell has been great,” Collins said. “We have had an issue all season long with our wings, how do we get it settled in? We need guys to settle into that mold a little bit and through injury it kind of found itself. J-Rich was a huge loss for us and then we tried Nick Young out there and then he got hurt. Then I moved Damien there and when Dorell thrived in that role off the bench.”

Providing scoring off the bench is not something veterans like Wright can do easily. The key to it, Collins says, is to come in ready to go, which is difficult for some players. As a starter a player can find the flow of the game, get his body warmed up and ease into things.

“The one thing you have to do is come in and get yourself into the rhythm of the game,” Collins said. “The one thing I’ve always said is that sometimes it’s harder for an older player who has been in the league for a while and maybe they have a lot of miles on them and maybe some injuries and it’s tough to warm up. When you come off that bench you have to be ready to roll.”

Wright has come into games firing.

“We’ve needed scoring from off the bench, so when I go in there I try to be aggressive as possible and look for my shot and take my shots in rhythm,” Wright said.

It’s not a completely foreign role for Wright even though he spent the last two seasons with Golden State as a starter. In six seasons with the Miami Heat, Wright started sporadically, but was never a main guy in the rotation.

However, in his first season with the Warriors, Wright led the NBA in three-pointers and three-pointers attempted. He also started all 82 games, averaged 38 minutes and was ninth in the NBA in steals with 124.

So if his shot isn’t going down, Wright says he has something he can fall back on. He even admits that he has enjoyed his new role off the bench.

“Yeah, it’s cool with me. As long as I’m out there being productive,” Wright said. “If I’m not scoring I can get rebounds and get the ball and make some plays. I’m happy with it.”

Brown out … again
Kwame Brown took his 27th straight DNP-CD on Friday night. He hasn’t appeared in a game since Feb. 20 in the Sixers’ loss at Minnesota.

Headed back to Washington, where Brown began his NBA career as the No. 1 overall pick -- with Collins as his coach -- one had to wonder if the veteran would see some action.

No such luck.

“Kwame hasn’t had a chance to play much and it’s been unfortunate,” Collins said. “When we signed Andrew Bynum, it set Kwame back. He saw that his role was going to be different. He came into training camp and he was hurt. He hurt some ribs before we got started and then started some exhibition games and hurt his calf. He was nicked up most of the year. I feel badly he hasn’t played -- I thought he was going to play more.”

Last July, Brown was signed to a one-year contract with a player option for a second season. Brown hasn’t told reporters if he planned on exercising his option, though it would be hard to imagine someone leaving $2.9 million on the table.

Jahlil Okafor's Duke network helping him through up-and-down season

Jahlil Okafor's Duke network helping him through up-and-down season

Jahlil Okafor’s second season in the NBA has been one of learning, marked by injuries, trade talks and DNPs. Throughout these shifting uncertainties, he had a constant foundation: his fellow Duke players.

“It’s a brotherhood,” Okafor said. “We’re all friends, we’re all a family.”

From those who burst onto the scene to those who struggled to veterans who have seen it all, Okafor has a network of players who already have been through the ups and downs of the league. Even though Okafor competed for only one year at the college level, he got to know many of them while he was coming up the ranks in high school. He formed a stronger bond once he got to the pros.

“He always knows I’m one phone call away no matter what,” Kyrie Irving said. 

Okafor began his second year dealing with a knee injury that held him out most of preseason action. When he got back into the mix, the Sixers looked to determine his place in a logjammed frontcourt.

Minutes were more available at the five-spot when Nerlens Noel was sidelined for the first 23 games of the season. Once all four centers (including Richaun Holmes) were healthy, it was Noel who found himself the odd man out of the rotation. Then the Sixers tried experimenting with a “twin towers” starting lineup of Embiid and Okafor. That pairing didn’t pan out and roles changed.

The Sixers narrowed their roster to a 10-man rotation with Noel as the defensive leader in the second unit. Okafor, for the most part, got the start when Embiid did not play because of back-to-backs or injuries, and was a DNP otherwise.

That situation changed again when the Sixers sat Okafor recently for two games as he was involved in trade discussions. Okafor did not travel with the Sixers for their Feb. 13 contest in Charlotte and rejoined them in Boston for their Feb. 15 game when a deal did not transpire. 

Okafor has a long list of players he can ask about these trying scenarios.

“I get help from all those guys,” Okafor said. “I can look to any one of [them] for advice.”

Former Blue Devil Austin Rivers has been in Okafor’s situation when it comes to decreased playing time. The 2012 10th overall pick had troubles carving out a role early on with the Pelicans. He dealt with injuries and was hit with DNPs when the team added more guards to the mix. Now in his fifth season, he has established a spot on the Clippers. 

“It’s a good thing,” Rivers said of the challenges. “If you’re truly a good player and a competitor, it’ll breed maturity and a level of respect and hard work. It’s a humbling experience. It’s the best thing for you; it’s the best thing that happened to me. I went through struggles to come back a better player and person. I think it’s the same thing he’s doing now. He’ll appreciate it.”

Irving, formerly the first overall pick, didn’t struggle with his role with the Cavaliers. He was a focal point from the start and had become a three-time All-Star and NBA champion by the end of his fifth season. Because of this, Okafor looks to Irving for his knowledge of managing the spotlight.

“Guys have to go through what they go through just to build character, build whatever they need, that armor, to deal with what this NBA life entails. It comes with a lot,” Irving said. “It’s just patience. Despite what's going on in the outside world, you’ve got to remain calm and give everything you have to this game of basketball.”

Last season, Okafor established a mentor relationship with Elton Brand when the 17-year veteran signed with the Sixers in January of Okafor’s rookie year. Okafor still speaks with Brand, who became a player development consultant for the Sixers, on a weekly basis for guidance.

This season, he has another veteran Duke player in the locker room. Gerald Henderson got to know Okafor before they played together on the Sixers. Henderson was on campus completing his degree when Okafor was there ahead of his freshman season. The two spent time together then, and Henderson continues to look out for him now as a teammate.

“I was around him a lot, working out with the team, seeing how good of a kid he was,” Henderson said, also adding, “It’s a man’s league. It’s not like you’ve got to hold somebody’s hand through something. Jah’s a man in himself. But at the same time, I’m always checking on him, seeing how he’s doing, make sure he’s not down, make sure he’s still getting his work in and focusing on the right things.”

The trade deadline is two days away.

Whether Okafor remains in a Sixers jersey or puts on a new uniform, the one he wore in college always will be a part of his journey through the NBA.

“It’s bigger than basketball,” Okafor said. 

Reports: Pacers the latest team pursuing Jahlil Okafor

Reports: Pacers the latest team pursuing Jahlil Okafor

Another team has emerged in Jahlil Okafor trade talks: the Indiana Pacers.

The Pacers are pursuing Okafor in an attempt to add help for Paul George, according to ESPN's Ramona Shelburne, Jeff Goodman and Chris Haynes.

Indiana would make some sense for Okafor because of their style of play. The Pacers rank 25th in the NBA in fastbreak points per game. They're 25th in speed/distance traveled on offense. (The Sixers are first.) 

And Indiana is also in the top-third of the league in post touches and paint touches per game. 

Al Jefferson, a plodding post player Okafor is often compared to, averages 8.5 points for the Pacers this season and has played in every game.

What might the Pacers be willing to part with?

Thaddeus Young would be a solid return, but it's hard to see the Pacers doing that because it wouldn't make them a better team.

C.J. Miles? Probably not. The guy's an elite three-point shooter.

Forget about Myles Turner, one of the best young bigs in the NBA. 

A trade that might make sense for both teams would be Monta Ellis and a 2017 first-round pick for Okafor. (Before you continue reading, just know I'm not advocating for such a deal, just bringing up the possibility.)

Ellis has fallen out of favor in Indiana, playing six fewer minutes per game than he did the last two years. And as a 31-year-old, undersized two-guard who's long struggled from three-point range, he's not the most efficient player. He's also owed $23 million the next two seasons.

The Sixers could use additional scoring, but could do better than Ellis in free agency. This theoretical trade would really be about the first-round pick.

If the season ended today, the Pacers (29-28) would get the 18th overall pick. In that regard, the pick coming back wouldn't be much different than what they could have received from New Orleans before the DeMarcus Cousins trade.

The Sixers seemed unwilling to take on the contracts of Omer Asik or Alexis Ajinca in a trade with New Orleans because, even though they have salary cap flexibility, they don't want to limit their payroll for multiple future seasons. The same would likely be true with Ellis, even though he'd fill more of a need.

Okafor for Miles would be a good trade for the Sixers. So would Okafor for Young. But again, neither deal would make Indiana better in the short term, so it's probably a pipe dream.

The trade deadline is Thursday at 3 p.m.