Sixers rookies being allowed to grow

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Sixers rookies being allowed to grow

The theme most prevalent with the Sixers this season: Youth.
 
With four rookies, seven players who haven’t played in 82 NBA games, and no one on the active roster older than 25, the Sixers are the youngest team in the NBA.
 
For coach Brett Brown, the team’s youth is both a blessing and a curse. One can see the growing pains in games against San Antonio, Golden State and New Orleans. But even in those lopsided outings, there was much to be learned for the Sixers’ youngsters.
 
For two rookies, Michael Carter-Williams and Hollis Thompson, there has been value in every game and every practice.
 
Carter-Williams has faced the league’s top point guards, he’s nearly notched a pair of triple-doubles, and he’s had two games in which he turned the ball over six times. Carter-Williams has also been on the bench for four games with a foot injury and learned what one must do to maintain effectiveness following a short layoff. Through it all, he's the early front-runner for the league's Rookie of the Year award.
 
And the biggest lesson he's learned through his first month is quite simple.
 
“Maintaining every single day,” Carter-Williams said.
 
Though Carter-Williams has no veteran point guard sitting alongside him to show him the ropes about how to live the NBA life, that hasn’t been a bad thing. Brown says Carter-Williams has a freedom that most players never get.
 
Carter-Williams can succeed or fail and not have to worry about the cost.
 
“There’s nothing like opportunity. Let’s start there,” Brown said. “He’s getting big minutes, and he has the freedom to play and to make mistakes. I think that counts for a lot.”
 
It’s been a tremendous opportunity for Carter-Williams. Through his first 11 games in the league, the rookie is averaging 17.8 points, 7.0 assists, 5.6 rebounds and 3.1 steals. In NBA history, only one other player has averaged at least 17 points, 7.0 assists, 5.5 rebounds and 3.0 steals per game through a season ...
 
Magic Johnson in 1980-81.
 
It’s amazing what a player can do with no worries. Imagine what Evan Turner could have done as a rookie if he were allowed the freedom Carter-Williams and the other Sixers’ young players are allowed. Would Turner be a different player now? It’s a difficult question to answer. Perhaps the better question: Would Turner have benefitted from playing on a bad team his first two seasons instead of on teams that went to the playoffs?
 
During the Sixers’ postseason run in Turner’s second year, the No. 2 overall pick said he felt he wasn’t getting the same experience as the Wizards’ No. 1 overall pick, John Wall. Even though Turner was in the playoffs and the Wizards were doormats, Wall was getting valuable minutes.
 
There’s nothing like unfettered playing time, Brown believes.
 
“I stand by it,” Brown said. “Put people in a nice, clean and simple role and say this is what we want and master it in your first year and that’s the best road map for success, especially with rookies.”
 
But even with the Sixers, those nice, clean and simple roles have been tough to grant certain players. Take, for instance, rookie Hollis Thompson. The 6-foot-9 rookie from Georgetown has been thrown into a plethora of situations as a result of injuries to and issues with his teammates. Thompson has played in the paint and on the wing. He’s played against power forwards, small forwards and big guards. He's also had games in which he didn’t get off the bench and others, like last Saturday, when he logged 31 minutes.
 
How is that for a varied learning experience?
 
“I’m learning where I’m supposed to be and what situations I should be in,” said Thompson, noting that his forte is his ability to play defense. “I’ll do whatever.”
 
Thompson will do whatever he’s asked, but Brown doesn’t want to ask too much. The coach says his players, especially Thompson and rookie Brandon Davies, need to be placed into defined roles.
 
But Brown hasn’t had that luxury with Thompson.
 
“His natural position is a big wing -- he’s a three man,” Brown said about Thompson. “Once we sort of defined his role and anchored his role as defense -- Bruce Bowen -- then hopefully your shot is going to come around and it will because you invest time. Then his role will become cleaner.
 
“Right now, I piecemeal him and I see his head about to explode wondering where he’s supposed to be because he cares and he’s energized.”
 
Eventually, Brown says, the demands increase. For players like Carter-Williams, it will be about production and trips to the playoffs. Brown almost can’t wait to see how his top rookie will develop down the road.
 
“But once he’s taken advantage of that situation, his talent and his skill level is far greater than I imagined,” Brown said. “The thing that I stand by is there is a toughness and a leadership that is emerging from him that I project out. I get excited about it because he has a great intellect as a point guard than I would have guessed.”

NBA All-Star Saturday: Glenn Robinson III dunk champion; Eric Gordon wins 3-point contest

NBA All-Star Saturday: Glenn Robinson III dunk champion; Eric Gordon wins 3-point contest

NEW ORLEANS -- Glenn Robinson III is the NBA's new dunk king, with an assist to Indiana teammate Paul George, the Pacers' mascot and a Pacers cheerleader.

Robinson leaped over all three, snagging the ball from George along the way before finishing with an emphatic, two-hand, reverse jam, giving him a perfect score -- and the title -- on his final dunk.

Robinson edged out Phoenix's Derrick Jones Jr., who was done in by his failure to complete his difficult first dunk of two in the final round.

Jones still managed a perfect score on his second dunk, when he received a bounce-pass in the paint, put it between his legs and threw down a left-handed jam. But Robinson made sure it wasn't enough.

In the 3-point contest, Houston's Eric Gordon dethroned Golden State splash brother Klay Thompson. Kristaps Porzingis of the New York Knicks won the Skills Challenge.

Both dunk finalists delighted the crowd with soaring slams over teammates and others that showcased the explosive spring in their vertical leaps.

Robinson had one dunk in which he leap-frogged one man sitting on another's shoulders, grabbed the ball from the elevated man's hands and slamming it home.

Jones jumped over four teammates including Devin Booker and Marquese Chriss in the first round. He also drew roars from the crowd when he took a pass off the side of the backboard from Booker with his right hand, put the ball between his legs to his left for a round-house jam.

The dunk that cost him was a bold one. He tried to leap a friend and the Suns' gorilla mascot, grab the ball on the way over, put it between his legs and then finish with a windmill. But he couldn't get the dunk to go down in his allotted three attempts.

DeAndre Jordan of the Los Angeles Clippers and Aaron Gordon of Orlando were unable to emerge from the first round. Jordan dunked over DJ turn tables and Gordon dunked after receiving a bounce pass from a drone that had flown over the court with the "Star Wars" theme music playing.

Eric Gordon got his win in New Orleans, where he played the previous five seasons before leaving last summer in free agency.

Gordon's score of 21 in a final-round tiebreaker defeated Cleveland's Kyrie Irving, the 2013 winner who had 18. The pair had each finished with a score of 20 in the final round, meaning they each had to shoot 25 more balls to decide it.

"I wasn't really concentrating on how many I made," Gordon said. "It's all about just knocking down the shot. I never counted in my head or anything. I just go out there and just shoot the ball."

Thompson was stunningly eliminated in the first round, missing a final shot from the corner that could have put him through ahead of Kemba Walker.

Big men reigned supreme for a second straight year in the skills competition, with the 7-foot-3 Porzingis beating Utah's Gordon Hayward in the final round.

Those vanquished in earlier rounds included guards John Wall of Washington and Isaiah Thomas of Boston, both because they couldn't make their initial 3-pointers required to close out the course before Hayward did, even though Hayward had trailed each of them dribbling down the court by a considerable margin before hitting his clinching shots.

Porzingis emerged from the big-men's division that included the Pelicans' Anthony Davis and Denver's Nikola Jokic.

"It's a good feeling that I'm able to showcase my skill with my size and show to the kids that you're capable of doing that even if you're tall and lanky like me," Porzingis said. "I think a lot of kids now growing up will improve those perimeter skills just seeing guys like -- I don't want to mention myself, but big guys with perimeter skills that can do it."

Porzingis and Hayward were neck-and-neck until the end of the course, but Porzingis hit his 3 first to end it.

The three-round, head-to-head obstacle-course competition tests dribbling, passing, agility and shooting skills.

Earlier on Saturday, Rollie Massimino, who coached Villanova to the 1985 NCAA championship, and Chris Webber were among the 14 finalists for this year's Basketball Hall of Fame induction class.

Others include NBA referee Hugh Evans, Connecticut star Rebecca Lobo, two-time NBA scoring champion Tracy McGrady, five-time All-Star Sidney Moncrief, Baylor women's coach Kim Mulkey, Kansas coach Bill Self and two-time NBA champion coach Rudy Tomjanovich.

Previous finalists returning to the ballot include point guard Tim Hardaway, record-setting high school coach Robert Hughes, Notre Dame women's coach Muffet McGraw, former Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan and 10-time AAU national champion Wayland Baptist University.

Enshrinees will be announced at the Final Four on April 3. The induction ceremonies in Springfield, Massachusetts are Sept. 7-9.

Report: Sixers sat Jahlil Okafor because trade with Blazers was 'close to happening'

Report: Sixers sat Jahlil Okafor because trade with Blazers was 'close to happening'

Remember last Saturday night, when Brett Brown said he did not play Jahlil Okafor against the Heat because of trade rumors? All the signs were pointing to Okafor's being traded.

Seven days later, Okafor remains a Sixer at the All-Star break, but more information as to why the Sixers held Okafor out last week against Miami has emerged.

Okafor did not play against Miami because the Sixers and Portland Trail Blazers had a trade that was "close to happening," according to TNT's David Aldridge. Portland instead opted to trade with Denver for Jusuf Nurkic and a 2017 first-round pick, per Aldridge.

Aldridge's report contradicts a previous report from The Ringer that suggested the Okafor trade talks were "stuck in gridlock" and the Sixers were dealing with just the Pelicans.

With five days until the Feb. 23 trade deadline, the Sixers still have time to move Okafor. On Saturday, the Mavericks were linked as a potential landing spot for Okafor. Add Dallas to the list that includes the Bulls and Pelicans. Both the Nuggets and Blazers were reportedly interested in Okafor, too, before making a trade themselves. Denver opted for Mason Plumlee, and Portland added its third first-round pick in the 2017 draft, which is believed to be loaded with talent.

It's been a bizarre week for the Sixers and Okafor. Okafor didn't make the trip to Charlotte last Monday, and then wasn't traded. He did travel to Boston for the Sixers' final game before the break with his future with the organization still unclear. An answer will come Thursday as to whether the Sixers can trade Okafor, or if they will have to wait until the offseason to solve their logjam in the middle with Joel Embiid, Nerlens Noel and Okafor.

Stay tuned.