Sixers' Brackins adds tools in hopes of bigger role

Sixers' Brackins adds tools in hopes of bigger role

Tuesday, June 7, 2011
Posted: 11 a.m.

By John R. Finger
CSNPhilly.com

The college kids were long gone, having had an exit interview with the Sixers director of scouting Courtney Witte before talking with the press and exchanging information about the next stop on the pre-draft workout circuit. New Jersey was a popular stop for a few of the prospects. The same goes for New York and Cleveland.

But for Craig Brackins, just a year removed from the whole draftee rigmarole, the workouts are pretty standard. Actually, there are very few spots on the floor at the Sixers workout facility at the Philadelphia College for Osteopathic Medicine from which Brackins did not put up a shot.

Brackins raced around invisible screens to shoot baby hooks and caught passes on the low block for dunks. He ran pick-and-pops to fire up 20-footers and then ran from corner to corner to shoot baseline jumpers from each side of the floor.

In between the sets of drills, Brackins shot free throws so that he could emulate end-of-the-game conditions where his legs might feel like rubber and his arms like rocks. More importantly, Brackins could give assistant coach Brian James a breather from throwing all those passes.

Craig has done everything that our coaching staff has asked of him to become a better player, Witte said after a handful of potential draft selections worked out for the Sixers coaching and player personnel staffs.

Certainly Brackins, a 6-10 big man, isnt all that far removed from what those prospects are going through. Sure, he was one of them last year where after three years at Iowa State he was drafted in the first round by Oklahoma City. However, on draft day he was traded to New Orleans before landing in Philadelphia in another trade three months later.

When the season began, Brackins spent most of the year shuttling between Philly and the Sixers D-League affiliate in Springfield, Mass. where he was coached by former NBA veteran Dee Brown and was teammates with recent Villanova star, Scottie Reynolds.

So between being drafted, traded twice and then yo-yoing between the NBA and the D-League, Brackins had a unique rookie season. He even got into three games, averaging 11 minutes a pop with eight points.

It was a learning process. Im glad I went through it because there were a lot of things that opened my eyes and learned from talking to the guys and about understanding some of the struggles they went through because they went through struggles, too, Brackins said following his spirited workout on Monday. Its been fun with leaders like Andre Iguodala always in my ear and Tony Battie, too, he was a real big help for me.

The interesting part about seeing Brackins work out at PCOM was that it jibed with his repertoire. Certainly Brackins is looked at as a low-post player able to grab rebounds and defend the paint. That is the traditional role of a 6-foot-10 guy who averaged 20-plus points and 10 rebounds per game during his second year at Iowa State.

But a glance at the stats shows that Brackins isnt tethered to the low block.

Brackins took five three-pointers in his three NBA games and 77 in 18 D-League games, hitting them at a 25 percent clip. In college he took more than two three-pointers per game, converting on nearly 30 percent of them.

If anything, Brackins looks like a modern big man who is asked to stretch the floor offensively by facing up to the basket while working down low. Better yet, it seems as if the emphasis in the NBA is on developing big men with all-around skills. Its no longer necessary for players of a certain height to stand in only one area of the floor. Perhaps this started with 6-9 point guard Magic Johnson, who could bring the ball up the floor and then post up anyone on the block and evolved to Dirk Nowitski, the 7-footer who can shoot the three as well as create his own shot from any spot on the floor.

Back then it was more of a bruiser game, but now its about getting extended and faced up with more skill work, Brackins said about the shift in the game. So if you have everything in your arsenal, youll do well in this league. Thats something Im trying to keep tuned and show on the court.

Either way, with the Sixers looking to bolster their frontcourt this summer, Brackins could work his way into a more prominent role. But instead of his face-up game, Witte said the Sixers are still working with Brackins about developing a more polished bruiser style. So as part of his on-the-court workouts, the big man has been working out in the weight room and with developing his coordination and has added a different sport to help with his strength and agility

Boxing.

If anything can toughen up a guy its a few rounds in the ring twice a week.

Its a different workout and it helps with my conditioning. Thats been going great and it gives boxers a whole new perspective, Brackins said.

His trainer wont allow him much of a break, either, kind of how James was at PCOM on Monday with pass after pass.

If Im messing up or slacking, hell swing a punch, Brackins said about his boxing work.

Of course strength and toughness are mutually exclusive. At 6-10, Brackins checks in at a slender 230 pounds. Take away the broad shoulders and Brackins nearly has the same build as all-star Kevin Durant, who measures in at 6-foot-10 and 220 pounds.

Weight-wise, if you go by the scale, Im a pretty good size. Its just a matter of being stronger, Brackins said. If you look at a guy like Kevin Durant, he doesnt look physically strong but he goes against some of the toughest guys in the NBA.

No, lets not compare Brackins with Durant. One guy is a two-time scoring champion and the other has three NBA games under his belt. Better yet, Brackins is a year older than Durant. However, the process for which Brackins is charting is also pure in its own right. Not to get too over-the-top, but Brackins is hoping to achieve some sort of metamorphosis with his game, while players like Durant come to the league with the skills already at the surface with only experience as the missing ingredient.

Actually, Brackins isnt unlike the prospects the Sixers brought in to work out as the start off on their own unchartered path. Certainly last years first-round pick remembers what it was like a year ago.

I remember it well, Brackins said. It was tough for me I know exactly what they are going through.

In some sense hes still going through it.

E-mail John R. Finger at jfinger@comcastsportsnet.com

Related: Thompkins highlights Sixers' pre-draft workout Sixers must weigh talent, need, experience in draft

Sixers draft target: F Ben Simmons

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Sixers draft target: F Ben Simmons

Ben Simmons

Position: Forward

Height/Weight: 6-foot-10/239 pounds

School: LSU

The 19-year-old Australia native was the favorite to be the top pick in the 2016 NBA draft before he ever took the court for LSU. Here we are less than a month from the draft and that still may very well be the case.

It's hard to ignore Simmons' production in his only season with the Tigers: 19.2 points, 11.8 rebounds, 4.8 assists and two steals per game. The 6-foot-10 forward with guard skills was named SEC Freshman of the Year and was named to the conference's first team. But for all his personal accolades, Simmons' team failed to make the NCAA Tournament after taking a 71-38 whooping at the hands of Texas A&M in the SEC Tournament. He's been criticized from everything to his lack of maturity to his inability to shoot consistently from the outside.

Strengths
It's so rare to see a player of Simmons' stature with the ability to handle and see the court so well. Watching Simmons grab the ball off the rim and then go the length of the floor to either finish or find the open man is a thing of beauty. I love how smooth he is. It looks effortless for him. You almost forget he's 6-foot-10. His basketball IQ is excellent. He forces contact down low with his big body and draws fouls. His rebounding ability should translate very well to the next level.

He has the ability to guard multiple positions with his length and athleticism... if he's motivated. His size is going to be a matchup nightmare for opposing teams. A traditional four will struggle with his quickness. He'll be able to take a lot of wings down low and punish them in the post.

Weaknesses
The biggest thing is his shot. It's been well-documented. His three-point output in college: 33 percent. As much as that number reflects a weakness, he's at least self-aware. He knows his weaknesses. His free-throw percentage (67 percent) is just OK. The good news is, if you actually watched him shoot, this isn't a total rebuild.

Are the maturity and competitiveness concerns legitimate? I don't know. It's a 19-year-old kid we're talking about. The Sixers will have to decide if those concerns are something he'll outgrow or a serious red flag going forward. Playing under Brett Brown, who coached Simmons' father in Australia, would hopefully mitigate some of the concern.

How he'd fit with the Sixers
This is a really interesting question that I'm not sure anyone has the answer to yet. At 6-foot-10, he almost has to play the four, but where does that leave Nerlens Noel, Jahlil Okafor, and possibly Joel Embiid and Dario Saric? There could be nights where Brown could get away with playing Simmons on the wing given his ball skills. But it might be a struggle for Simmons defensively depending on the matchup. In any case, Simmons will need a shooter/scorer or two in the lineup to complement his skill set.

NBA comparison
This is next to impossible. How many players have there been that are built like power forwards but handle like point guards? Magic Johnson is a lofty comparison, but Lamar Odom may not be quite strong enough. Much like Simmons, Magic was not a shooter (19 percent from three in his first nine years in the NBA), but at 6-foot-9, Johnson was one of the greatest facilitators in league history. If Simmons is somewhere between Johnson and Odom, the Sixers will be just fine.

Draft projection
I'd be shocked if the Sixers don't take Simmons at No. 1. It's the right call.

NBA Playoffs: Westbrook, Thunder push Warriors to brink of elimination

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NBA Playoffs: Westbrook, Thunder push Warriors to brink of elimination

BOX SCORE

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Suddenly, these Golden State Warriors who have been compared all season to the Chicago Bulls dynasty of the 1990s are on the brink of elimination.

Russell Westbrook had 36 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists, and the Oklahoma City Thunder beat the Warriors 118-94 on Tuesday night to take a 3-1 lead in the Western Conference Finals. Golden State, which won a league record 73 games in the regular season, lost consecutive games for the first time this season.

The Warriors must win Game 5 on Thursday in Oakland to keep their season alive.

"We all have to bounce back," Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. "The good news is, we go home. Obviously we play well at home. The idea now is to go home and get one win. Do that, and we put some pressure on them and we'll see what happens."

Klay Thompson led Golden State with 26 points, but two-time league MVP Stephen Curry was limited to 19 points on 6-for-20 shooting. Curry's shooting performance was so uncharacteristic that reporters asked if he was hurt.

"He's not injured," Kerr said. "He's coming back from the knee, but he's not injured. He just had a lousy night. It happens, even to the best players in the world."

The Warriors lost consecutive playoff games by at least 20 points for the first time since Games 2 and 3 of the 1972 Western Conference semifinals against the Milwaukee Bucks. Golden State's Draymond Green, who was fined for kicking Steven Adams in the groin in Game 3, finished with six points, 11 rebounds and six turnovers.

Meanwhile, Oklahoma City got a boost from an unlikely source. Andre Roberson, a player the Warriors have ignored at times during the series, scored a career-high 17 points and grabbed 12 rebounds.

Kevin Durant added 26 points and 11 rebounds and Serge Ibaka added 17 points and seven rebounds.

As for Westbrook, it was his first triple-double of the playoffs after posting 18 in the regular season. It was his fifth career playoff triple-double.

"I play every game like it's my last, regardless of who's in front of me," he said. "That's my job, and my job is to worry about my team, and that's all I do."

The Thunder know they have to close. Nine teams have rallied from 3-1 deficits to win.

"I think we're in a good place, but like I said, this game is over," Westbrook said. "We've got to move on to the next game. Every game is different."

The Thunder led 30-26 at the end of the first quarter, then gained control in the second. In the most unlikely of connections, Adams threw a bullet pass to Roberson near the basket for a dunk that gave the Thunder a 56-43 lead with just over four minutes left in the first half.

Oklahoma City finished with a flurry and led 72-53 at halftime. The Thunder matched the most points they have scored in a first half in franchise playoff history, a mark they set the previous game against the Warriors. It also matched the most points Golden State has allowed in a half this season for the second straight game.

Westbrook had 21 points, nine assists and five rebounds in the first half, and Durant had 18 points and six boards.

Thompson tried to keep the Warriors in it, scoring 19 points in just over seven minutes to start the third quarter. But the Thunder maintained their composure, led 94-82 at the end of the period and remained in control in the fourth.

"This is a tough situation to be in, but the series isn't over," Curry said.

Quotable
Kerr, on the pressure of trying to win a title after setting the regular-season wins record: "We had a tremendous regular season, our guys competed every single night and did something no one has ever done and they're proud of that. But in the playoffs, everybody starts 0-0. So there's no extra pressure, whether you're talking about defending our title or trying to back up the regular season."

Stat lines
According to Thunder Public Relations, the last team to score 72 or more points in the first half of two straight playoff games was the 1987 Los Angeles Lakers.

Tip-ins
Warriors: Curry went 1 for 7 in the first quarter, and made just 1 of 4 3-point attempts. ... Thompson committed his third foul with 7:55 left in the second quarter, and C Andrew Bogut committed his third about two minutes later. ... Curry made a 3-pointer for his 48th consecutive playoff game, extending his NBA record. ... The Warriors were 12-0 this season the game after a loss.

Thunder: Westbrook had five points, six assists and three rebounds in the first quarter. ... Oklahoma City forced 13 turnovers in the first half. ... The Thunder improved to 19-0 this season when Westbrook gets a triple-double. ... The Thunder outrebounded the Warriors 56-40 and outscored them 31-19 from the free throw line.

Report: Sixers attend New York workout for Ingram, Murray, Maker

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Report: Sixers attend New York workout for Ingram, Murray, Maker

The Sixers are taking their talent evaluation on the road.

On Tuesday, members of the front office attended a workout for Excel Sports Management in New York, which included Brandon Ingram, the projected No. 1 or No. 2 pick in the 2016 NBA draft, Jamal Murray, a projected lottery pick, and Thon Maker, according to the Inquirer.

The Sixers have held two workouts at their own facility, and it is common for teams to attend organized workouts for higher-rated prospects. Head coach Brett Brown, managing owner Josh Harris and vice president of player personnel Marc Eversley traveled to the session, but president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo was in Toronto for his son's high school graduation, according to the report.

The Sixers hold the first, 24th and 26th picks in the upcoming draft. The decision between one and two is widely considered to be between Ingram and Ben Simmons (see story). The Sixers have the assets on their roster to move up from Nos. 24 and 26 through a trade, which makes scouting prospects outside of the top two an integral part to their evaluation.

The team has worked out 12 players in Philadelphia and will continue to do so up until the draft on June 23.