Jul 12 2015

Joel Embiid Likely Out For Season. What’s Next?

Joel Embiid is getting another surgery on his injured right foot, and it’ll likely force him out of the entire 2015-16 season. Missing just next season would be the best case scenario. The worst case scenario is that he’ll be sidelined forever, and that the bum foot will end the big man’s career before it even started. That’d be sad for the Sixers, NBA fans, and most of all, him.

This news (reported first by The Philadelphia Inquirer‘s Keith Pompey) is crappy for everyone, though not at all unexpected. Embiid, the third overall pick in the 2014 Draft, was a question mark when the Sixers selected him. That, not his talent, is why he was the third overall pick. The recovery appeared to be on schedule until last month when a report came out saying he had a setback. Some theorized it was some sort of smokescreen — an elaborate plan orchestrated by general manager Sam Hinkie that’d turn the Sixers into a credible threat to take Jahlil Okafor, and thereby raise the trade value of the third overall pick. (That was both ridiculous and hilarious).

Meanwhile, the pessimists and realists prepared for the worst. It turned out they were right to do so. What was once the Sixers’ most valuable asset is now being looked at as the next Greg Oden and Sam Bowie. He’s one more setback away from getting the “damaged goods” label. I’m not sure there’s anything that anyone could’ve done — or can do — to change that. Health is unpredictable. Embiid has been dealt a bad hand, and the flop hasn’t bailed him out. There’s still the turn and the river, but the odds of him having a healthy professional basketball career are looking slimmer than ever.

More thoughts below …

Was it the wrong pick?

If the Sixers did their due diligence, no. Embiid was considered the top prospect by just about everyone. He’s a 7-foot (and then some?) super athlete with soft touch and great defensive instincts despite having just picked up the sport a few years ago. The organization consulted with plenty of doctors (slightly more qualified than the experts on Twitter) to determine the likelihood of Embiid having a healthy career. I’m assuming the Sixers listened to those doctors, and acted accordingly on draft night, taking him knowing full well the risks of his injury. Yes, he was far from a sure thing. Though it’s not as if any of the guys behind him screamed certainty.

That’s not to say it was the right pick. There’s too many unknowns to make that determination. But at the very least it was a defensible selection, both then and now.

Handled with care

The Sixers are an evil corporation run by heartless hedge fund billionaires who lie about injuries, treat players like assets and want to move the team to New Jersey. That’s the narrative some would have you believe, and it’s not entirely untrue. Players are traded left and right as Hinkie looks to gain an edge in the competitive marketplace that is the National Basketball Association. It can be a cold, cold place.

But no colder than any other sports franchise. By most accounts, the Josh Harris/Sam Hinkie Sixers have been a player-friendly organization which cares about its personnel, even if the motives are selfish. There’s the 400K contract handed to the injured Pierre Jackson, the Evan Turner ride to the airport, and the Dario Saric visits  — those are nice little gestures. Their delicate handling of the Embiid and Nerlens Noel injuries has, in some ways, been much tougher to pull off. Players want to play and fans want to see the best talent on the court. The Sixers don’t seem to care. Noel sat out his entire rookie year, much longer than most have historically been sidelined after ACL surgeries. The Sixers could afford to do that, in part because they didn’t care about regular season Ws. (Who knows whether he’d have taken the court for the Sixers if they were a playoff bound team). But regardless of motive, he wasn’t rushed back, and he was physically prepared heading into his rookie season.

Embiid’s injury isn’t comparable to Noel’s, but the Sixers have been equally cautious. The organization made it clear that it was prioritizing a full recovery, rather than a speedy one. (At least, it appears that way based on the painfully slow and thorough recovery process.)

Have the Sixers taken a conservative approach because they care about Joel Embiid the person? Or do they simply care about Joel Embiid the basketball player? It’s probably a little bit of both. The result, though, is the same. He’s been given access to world class medical experts, who are trying to maximize his chance of a full, long-term recovery. That’s an environment he deserves to be in. That’s also an environment that I’m not sure other, less patient organizations would provide.

This starts when?

The Sixers are not going to be a good basketball team, but it won’t be because Embiid is missing. Rookies are typically below average NBA players. Even the best ones don’t usually move the needle. I mean, look at Kevin Durant in his first couple seasons. He was a +/- disaster.

In the short-term, the Sixers will lose far more highlights than Ws. Even if Embiid had a productive rookie season, it’d have been in a somewhat limited role. (You think they were going to let him play 30-plus minutes a game?). Being without Embiid certainly won’t help things. But the frontcourt is the one area where the Sixers have depth. Jahlil Okafor and Nerlens Noel will likely take up the majority of the minutes and center and power forward, respectively. Furkan Aldemir, Jason Thompson, Carl Landry, and possibly Richaun Holmes could also be part of the rotation, while Jerami Grant and Robert Covington could play some PF in small-ball lineups.

Long-term, this will hurt. A healthy Embiid (on a rookie contract) is the type of player that can singlehandedly turnaround the franchise while in his prime. But the second surgery delays his progression by at least a year, if not indefinitely.  While it’s not impossible that they become competitive in 2016-17, Embiid’s setback makes it a hell of a lot less likely.

Jul 10 2015

One Week Later: How the Nik Stauskas Trade Has Changed Our Lives

Remember last Wednesday? Many NBA fans probably don’t, because that was the day we were captives to Twitter like Deandre was captive to the Clippers, as free agency opened and Woj bombs flew like confetti for 24 hours straight. By nightfall, I knew I had to get out of the house. A friend of mine was celebrating his birthday, so I took him out for a beer, a side of garlic knots with marinara Sauce, and a vow that I wouldn’t look at my phone for two hours.

Upon returning home, I found I had several text messages that read, simply, some variation of “Saaaaauuuuuce.” In any other reality, it would be fair to assume that all of my friends had suffered simultaneous brain aneurisms. Instead, I knew what was happening immediately. My life flashed before my eyes, except instead of my life, it was basketballs going into hoops thousands of times. I was ecstatic. I was also terrified. The price of water in the middle of the desert isn’t cheap; what could the price for this man possibly have been?

Then it started coming out. No Saric. No draft picks. In fact, Sauce was personally bringing a first-round draft pick and two first-round swaps with him, like the baby Jesus being the one giving gifts to the three wise men. The Sixers sacrificed a future second-rounder and two recent second-round selections, neither of whom is named Sauce Castillo. It was the greatest trade of all time, and that includes the Louisiana Purchase. The man who orchestrated it was Sam Hinkie, hereby known as The Bringer of Sauce. Like Prince Doran Martell, The Bringer of Sauce had been strategically dormant for the majority of the day, remaining patient despite constant pleas to strike from the snakes (er, bloggers) surrounding him. He realized that the Sacramento Kings are currently being run by a Tommy Wiseau character and proceeded to pry Stauskas from Vivec like Mark stealing Lisa away from Johnny. (In case you are wondering, yes, Vlade Divac is Denny in this analogy.)

Having a living god on your roster obviously changes everything, not just from a team standpoint but to how we as human beings perceive the game. The Sauce is the red pill, and now that we’ve taken him, we can’t see the world the way it used to be. Basketball courts look different to me now; suddenly, the area between the low block and the three-point arc looks like fucking quick sand, and any player lingering there can go ahead and sink for all I care. If any Sixer attempts a mid-range jumper next year while Sauce and Covington are both on the floor, they should be demoted to the D-League immediately and be ineligible to return for at least two seasons. They should also have to handwrite a 300-page essay about why they didn’t pass the ball to Sauce and personally give it to him. He won’t read it, but he might punch you in your face.

Sauce Castillo is necessary right now because he completely embodies the current 76ers’ culture of yeah, why not? Move the rookie of the year for a lottery pick? Yeah, I can roll with that. Draft a series of highly-touted big men other teams have passed on because of injury concerns? Sure, that’s a gamble worth taking. Trade for some lanky, white Michigan sensation who shot 36% from the field in his rookie season but, in his best moments at college, played like a friend who occasionally reminds you that he served jail time? Why the fuck not? Actually, hell yes. The 76ers have been looking towards the future for years, but the present involves a whole lot of saying “yeah, why not?” And the present looks a lot like this.

In The Bringer of Sauce we trust.

At the risk of letting this 140-flame-emojis-worthy hot take run long, here a few parting stray observations and concerns that are absolutely necessary to conclude with:

– When Sauce isn’t on the floor, the other players should say “…Where’s Sauce?”

– If Sauce drains a three-pointer when there’s no one around to see it, does it still count as three points?

– There is going to be a shortage of Sauce jerseys very soon and the city should be worried about it.

– When does Sauce become eligible for a max contract and why hasn’t Sam Hinkie given it to him yet? Are we to assume this is part of “the process?”

– Who will guard Sauce during practice without tearing up from the beauty of his jump shot?

– With the game tied and three seconds left on the clock, will Sauce still take the shot even when he’s quintuple-covered?

– The city will shut down the day after Sauce hits his first half-court shot, so you might as well take off whatever the day after the Sixers’ first game is now.

– Can we just change the number “3” to the word “SAUCEMONEY” already?

– With the Sauce now in the Eastern Conference, why hasn’t Lebron James retired from basketball yet? Is he hoping he gets traded to Philadelphia so he can play with the Sauce?

After a week of being partially paralyzed with joy, it’s good to finally be able to look back at this trade rationally and see it for what it is: a guaranteed 11 championships. I’m not ready to call 70 wins next season just yet, but only because a healthy Embiid could up that total to 80 or even 90. The 76ers are boldly walking into the 2015-’16 season with the new team motto “This starts now.” But they’re wrong. This started on October 7, 1993.*

* – That, uh, was the day Nik Stauskas was born. If that wasn’t clear.

Jul 02 2015

STAUSKAS! … And A 1st, And Two Pick Swaps

After a quiet draft night, and then a dead silent 23 hours of free agency, the Sam Hinkie made another blockbuster deal, perhaps his most lopsided one yet. This time, the victim was Sacramento Kings crazy owner Vivek Ranadive.

Here’s the details, via Derek Bodner/Pablo Torre:

Sixers receive: Nik Stauskas, Carl Landry, Jason Thompson, Protected 2018 1st (earliest), rights to swap 2016 1st (if T-10), rights to swap 2017 1st (if T-10)
Kings receive: Arturas Gudaitis (47th pick), Luka Mitrovic (60th pick), 2nd-round pick.

This was essentially a salary dump. The Kings want in on the free agent frenzy and don’t have any cap space. The Sixers, meanwhile, have all the cap space.

So, SAC sent Stauskas — 8th overall pick in 2014 coming off a disappointing rookie season — along with Landry (owed $6.5M in 2015-16, $6.5M in 2016-17) and Thompson (owed $6.43M in 2015-16, partially guaranteed $2.65M in 2016-17) to Philly, and gave the Sixers a 1st and the rights to a couple pick swaps for their troubles.

This trade has jackpot potential for Philadelphia. While the Sixers are made up of borderline role players and unproven rookies, they’re playing in the Eastern Conference, where 35 Ws can land a playoff spot. The Kings meanwhile have been terrible for the last decade. Even if they land the likes of Rajon Rondo and Wesley Matthews, they’re likely to remain in the lottery the next couple seasons. There’s a realistic scenario where the Kings get high lottery picks the next two years — and maybe even win the damn thing — and would have to swap picks with the Sixers. All because they wanted to sign Rajon freakin’ Rondo.

That’s not to mention Stauskas, who the Sixers were reportedly targeting in the lottery last year. And Landry, who not that long ago (when healthy) was a productive NBA player. This is a heist no matter how you look at it.

Here’s a breakdown (Insider) from ESPN’s Kevin Pelton. He gives the Kings an F and the Sixers a B+.

“In a sense, then, this trade is Hinkie betting on his own team and against Sacramento. The latter, at the very least, has an excellent chance of paying out.”

More on this and free agency later.

Jun 26 2015

5-on-5: Can an Okafor-Noel-Embiid Frontcourt Work

 1. Odds Okafor is wearing a Sixers uniform on opening night?

Eric Goldwein: 65 percent. It’s hard to imagine a scenario where a frontcourt of Okafor, Embiid and Noel can coexist on a contending team — especially given Okafor’s lack of versatility, and Noel’s offensive shortcomings. But the Sixers don’t need them to fit well right now. All they need is for them to continue showing they’re promising players. If there’s an offer on the table, then certainly the Sixers will be listening. But for now, I think they’d be content letting the three bigs share the frontcourt.

Bryan Toporek: 35-40 percent? It all depends on what doctors say about Joel Embiid’s foot. If it’s serious enough to keep him sidelined for a portion — or all — of the 2015-16 season, Okafor won’t be going anywhere. If Embiid is healthy by opening night — or if his foot isn’t a long-term concern — it’d be pretty shocking if Hinkie kept all three of Okafor, Embiid and Nerlens. Barring a huge trade offer, though, the Sixers might as well keep Okafor through summer league to see whether the concerns about his defense were overblown.

Benjamin Smolen: Around 75-80 percent. The Sixers will be open to a trade, as is their responsibility, but if there’s one thing we’ve learned about Sam Hinkie it’s that he’s patient. He will take all the time he needs before dealing one of his bigs, and I assume that will mean starting the season with all three. And to editorialize a little, I know a lot of people are split on this pick, but I think it was absolutely the right one. We are obligated as a team to take the best player available at this juncture. Despite all the heat Okafor took during the pre-draft process (unfairly I think), he was that.

Daniel Christian: 70 percent. I’m pretty confident Okafor will be with the Sixers at the start of the season, just because he fits next to both Embiid and Noel better than they fit together. He’s probably the best offensive player of the bunch and that opens up the possibility of trading one of the other two. The only reason the percentage isn’t higher is because someone is going to be shipped off eventually. I’m not sure who it will be, but it makes more sense to keep Okafor for the time being to see what you’re working with.

Marc Nemcik: 75 percent. I don’t see anyone creating an offer intriguing enough for Hinkie to move Okafor. Aside from all of the Boogie trade rumors, which are probably more smoke than fire, does Boston really have the firepower to make a “Godfather offer?” My guess would be that Nerlens Noel is the one getting shipped out, particularly with Embiid’s value at an all-time low. Hinkie has time to make this decision with no pressure to be a good basketball team next season and Embiid potentially missing.

2. Can an Okafor/Embiid/Noel frontcourt work?

Goldwein: It’s certainly not ideal. Though a healthy Embiid could theoretically play at the four and five, Noel and Okafor are more limited; the former being an offensive liability, and the latter being a defensive liability. That said, there’s 96 minutes to go around. Embiid, I suspect, will be on a minutes restriction, and it can’t hurt to keep the mileage down on the other two. Given the focus is still presumably on development — and not Ws — this can work for now. Down the line there may be some tough calls.

Toporek: Unless Noel and/or Okafor extend their shooting range significantly, I don’t see how it could, especially when you throw Saric into the mix. Okafor would work best with a 4 like Serge Ibaka — a weak-side shot-blocker who stretches the floor offensively. Nerlens doesn’t have the shooting range to make that pairing work, and I’m not convinced Embiid is laterally quick enough to guard 4s defensively. Brett Brown was already stressing about the Embiid/Noel fit… I feel even worse for him now.

Smolen: Remember all the positive things I said to answer the first question? Well, I (almost) take them back. No, it can’t work. And that sucks. But it won’t need to long-term. If Sixer fans are willing to adopt “Optionality” as a catch-phrase six months ago, they need to hold onto it now. Okafor gives us options. I’m disheartened, because this was anti-climactic and next season may not be much fun, but I am certain that this gives us the best chance to be better down the road.

Christian: No, it can’t, and that’s why one of them eventually will have to go. There just isn’t enough space on the floor for everyone to operate. But there is no rush to make this work. The Sixers can take their time and see who actually fits best together and move from there. I don’t think we’ll see Hinkie’s resolution for this conundrum for a good while.

Nemcik: No, not at all – but the Sixers don’t need that frontcourt to work. At least one of these three will get traded eventually, although I’m concerned about drafting for value to this extent. Okafor was clearly the best player available at that point, but other teams know that Philadelphia will eventually have to move one of their big men. Does that hurt their value? Maybe.


3. What grade would you give the draft?

Goldwein: C+. It didn’t go how some might’ve hoped, but they didn’t screw up, and they very well might’ve come away with the rookie of the year.

Toporek: C. Despite the fit concerns, Okafor was the right pick at No. 3 once the Lakers took Russell second. He was the best player on the board — the presumptive No. 1 for much of the year — and if Embiid’s foot is a long-term concern, he’s about the best contingency plan the Sixers could ask for. That said, it’s hard not to feel at least somewhat deflated after Towns and Okafor looked like the clear-cut top two for much of the draft process. Trading Guillermo Hernangomez gets two thumbs up from me, but I’m extremely bummed Hinkie couldn’t move into the 20s and get a guy like Jerian Grant, Delon Wright or RJ Hunter to round out the perimeter rotation. Lady Luck was not on the Sixers’ side tonight.

Smolen: C+. It’s not all doom and gloom–Okafor is still a hell of a prospect–but, more than any other time, this feels like kicking the proverbial can down the road. The Sixers essentially have a mission statement to improve through the draft, and this draft, while giving them a great talent, didn’t do much to help build their roster in the short term. We weren’t able to get back into the first round, we still have no guards, we still are just collecting and waiting. All in all, even if individual decisions were mostly alright, it’s nearly impossible to walk away from this draft feeling anything but a little deflated.

Christian: C. The Sixers really needed a nice guard prospect for their vision to take the next step, and Russell seemed like the perfect guy. Watching LA take him after weeks of penciling in Okafor at number 2 was certainly a swift kick to the gut, but the 76ers were right taking him third. This certainly delays the process. Where is Philadelphia getting backcourt real, useful backcourt talent? Probably not free agency. Maybe via trade of one of the bigs, but it’s going to take some time to determine what big needs to be traded. If anything, this draft only raises more roster questions, but I don’t think there was anything the team could have done about it.

Nemcik: C. Not many things went right for the Sixers – but that really isn’t all their fault. If the Lakers take Okafor instead of Russell the outlook would be different. I think it’s easy to get distracted by fit, but Philadelphia still got one hell of a prospect that realistically could have gone first overall.


4. What’s next for the Sixers?

Goldwein: Free agency. At some point they’ll have to start spending, and what better time than now. A player like Danny Green would give a lot of credibility (and more importantly, floor spacing) to a team that’s been one of the NBA’s worst the last couple years. The Sixers have the cap space and roster spots to pull off that type of move.

Toporek: First and foremost, figure out what’s up with Embiid. If there’s no reason to worry about his long-term health, sort out this frontcourt logjam, presumably by trading either Nerlens or Okafor. From there, use free agency to load up on guards and wings. Point guard is still a glaring hole that needs to be addressed — maybe throw an offer sheet at Cory Joseph, who Brett Brown should know well from his San Antonio days? The Sixers clearly aren’t gunning for a playoff spot next season — nor should they be — but they’ll need to begin making some tangible progress or they’ll be on the outside looking in during the 2016 free-agency bonanza.

Smolen: Forgive the unoriginality, but Bryan really nailed it. The major thing is to figure out, as soon as humanly possible, what Embiid’s outlook is. If healthy, he still has the highest ceiling out of our….Triplet Towers (?). If he is healthy, I mean, I start looking for trade partners for one of them. There’s no rush, but you never know what opportunity might present itself. From there, I suppose it would be hard to have a basketball team without any guards? So, yeah, let’s sign some of those why not.

Christian: The first thing the Sixers need to address is their non-existent backcourt. It’s painful on the eyes to keep trotting undrafted free agents and second round picks out there in starting roles, so I wouldn’t be against the 76ers looking to sign some legit NBA players.The team’s current construction is still in such disarray, however, that it would be difficult to attract even average role players. The reality of the situation is that Philadelphia will continue to rely on project players to handle the guard duties. It’s probably not what most fans want to see, but this is the biggest remaining hurdle in Hinkie’s build-through-the-draft plan. The 76ers were supposed to find the young balance in this draft through D’Angelo Russell. Instead, things are more confusing than ever. Everything takes time, whether it’s awaiting Saric’s arrival, Embiid’s healing process or figuring out which heralded center will be traded, but eventually things have to begin to take shape. The backcourt is the furthest behind in that regard.

Nemcik: The abundance of second-round picks is clogging the roster. Guys like J.P. Tokoto may have to endure the same fate as Jordan McRae last season, so signing an abundance of players in free agency realistically isn’t in the cards. It’ll be difficult to convince players to sign for the Sixers unless they overpay, which isn’t something that Hinkie would do. Despite that, this free agency may provide a great opportunity for Philadelphia to pick up solid players on deals that will look like grand theft in a year or two. As previously mentioned, figuring out the frontcourt logjam will be a pressing concern.

 5. What does this draft say about the value of 1st- and 2nd-round picks?

Goldwein: That their value fluctuates year to year. The Hardaway for Jerian Grant (No. 19) trade suggests that mid/low first-round picks didn’t have a ton of value this draft. Is that because of this particularly draft class? Is it because of the expiring CBA? None of that’s clear, but Hardaway and Greivis freakin’ Vasquez just netted first-round picks .. Robert Covington could’ve probably gotten the Sixers into the lottery.

Toporek: I don’t know that we learned anything we didn’t know already. Some teams will always make panic trades — see: the Atlanta Hawks punting No. 15 for Tim Hardaway Jr. and two future second-rounders — so, theoretically, teams that have compiled a bunch of assets stand to benefit. The fact the Sixers couldn’t capitalize on Thursday is somewhat surprising — I, for one, expected Hinkie to package OKC’s first-rounder next year with either 35, 37 or 47 to move into the 20s — but the potential of having four first-round picks next year, two of which figure to be top-10 selections, remains insane. Let’s just hope we don’t have to endure another lost year before enjoying that prospective scenario.

Smolen: Far beyond picking Okafor, this is what upset me the most tonight. You’re telling me that the Raptors can get a first rounder for one year of Vasquez, the Knicks can get the 19th pick for Hardaway Jr., and the T-Wolves can get 25 for two early seconds, but the Sixers couldn’t make any noise? I guess what it shows me is two-fold: One, Hinkie HIGHLY values his future picks; and/or Two, he just didn’t think too highly of the talent in the tail-end of the first round this year. Either way, woof.

Christian: I think it reinforces ideas we’ve always known to some degree. Teams looking to make a leap will sacrifice assets for what they perceive to be an immediate benefit. I think when you have teams who don’t necessarily need that first round pick like Atlanta and Milwaukee, you get some funky, if not irrational, deals from their end. That’s always been the case on some level. I, like everyone else, am surprised that Hinkie couldn’t match the seemingly skimpy offers that netted the Knicks and Raptors first round picks. But it could just be that none of the remaining prospects within reach enthused Hinkie enough to lose anything. Not surrendering any of his plethora of future first rounders shows that the team places immense value in them, and that’s because this team really does need those first round picks. But the fact that teams were likely rejecting offers full of second round picks left and right might reveal some waning value in picks after 30.

Nemcik: The value of draft picks swings on a year-to-year basis. Hinkie couldn’t capitalize on teams trying to trade their way into the second round – other than the Knicks. Fewer teams were willing to part with higher relative value to grab a player this year, resulting in a number of draft-and-stash selections. The trades resulting in the affluence of picks were opportunistic and didn’t hurt the team in the long run, but it still indicates lower overall second-round value.

Jun 25 2015

Third Annual Hoop76 Mock Draft

Tonight, 30 incredibly high-skilled workers will lock themselves into multi-year contracts in cities that they don’t necessarily want to live in. And we, the viewers, will love every second of this morally questionable event known as the NBA Draft. Below — for the third straight year (here’s 2013 and 2014) — the Hoop76 staff put together a mock draft of the first round. Happy draft day, readers.

1. Minnesota: Karl-Anthony Towns
He’ll fit well alongside Andrew Wiggins and Ricky Rubio, because, well, he’d fit well alongside just about anyone. Versatile big man can defend, space the floor, and body up inside. Flip Saunders won’t screw this up.
– Eric Goldwein

2. Lakers: Jahlil Okafor
Despite the concerns about his defensive deficiencies and fit with Julius Randle, the Lakers can’t pass up the best low-post scorer to come around in years. If nothing else, he’ll be solid trade bait to entice Sacramento into trading Boogie Cousins.
– Bryan Toporek

3. Philadelphia: D’Angelo Russell
Let’s not get cute with this. I’m not willing to gamble this pick on the Lean Latvian or the Cocky Croatian with Jojo’s health up in the air, and I’ll pass on Mudiay after the two years we just spent on Point Guard That Can’t Shoot Island. Russ brings some much-needed spacing and playmaking, plus he and Nerlens are already pals.
– Xylon Dimoff

4. New York: Mario Hezonja
Haven’t heard of any rumors connecting Mario and the Knicks but New York needs excitement and someone willing/able to handle the pressure of playing at MSG. Over/under on how many games it takes for Melo and Mario to go at each other: 10.
– Alex MacMullan

5. Orlando: Kristaps Porzingis
Ignoring for a moment that “The Zinger and Vuc” sounds like the title of an 80’s cop drama, pairing Porzingis with Nic Vucevic would give the Magic a chance at one of the highest-scoring frontcourts in the league. This leaves Orlando’s mosaic roster with a backcourt that serves as its primary form of defense, effectively completing the team’s transformation into the opposite of what basketball used to be.
– Drew Stone

6. Sacramento: Emmanuel Mudiay
In my mind, Emmanuel Mudiay is a tier one player. Not only that, he fits a glaring need in Sacramento. So if I were the Kings, I’d need less than 30 seconds to make this pick. That said, the Kings are the Kings, so don’t be too surprised if instead they trade Boogie, drop back to 8 somehow, and draft Jimmer again.
– Ben Smolen

7. Denver: Justise Winslow

At this point Winslow is the best available player left, but he’s also a pretty good fit for the re-tooling Nuggets. With the recent news that Danilo Gallinari is on the trading block, this pick makes all the more sense. He’d be a nice young replacement– a wing shot maker, albeit less offensively capable, with more defensive upside. That’s just the type of guy new head coach Mike Malone would covet. Malone is a hard-nosed, defense-first coach, and Winslow might be the best defensive wing in the draft.

– Daniel Christian

8. Detroit: Stanley Johnson

Detroit needs any help they can get on the wing, and Stanley Johnson provides the highest upside with players like Justise Winslow and Mario Hezonja off the board. Although Devin Booker and his sweet shooting will be intriguing for the Pistons, Johnson’s potential on both ends of the court are unmatched at this point.

– Marc Nemcik

9. Charlotte: Devin Booker
The Bobcats’ 3-point shooting is terrible (ranked 30th) and Booker’s shooting is great, making the 6-foot-6 shooting guard a solid fit between Kemba Walker and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (update: and Nicolas Batum!)

10. Miami: Myles Turner
If the Heat re-sign D-Wade and Goran Dragic to huge deals this summer, they’re almost certain to lose Hassan Whiteside in 2016 free agency. Pat Riley, knowing this, takes Turner — a shot-blocking machine who hit over 80 percent of his free throws and can knock down an occasional triple — as Whiteside’s heir apparent.

11. Indiana: Willie Cauley-Stein
It pains me to do this as the captain of the S.S. Hibbert, but I’ll do my fellow Nap Town-ians — Hoosiers? Indianapolites? Whatever. — a solid and grant their longstanding wishes of exiling Roy from America’s Crossroads. After Indy somewhat rediscovered itself as an up-tempo outfit last season, W(T)CS slots in perfectly to replace Hibbs.

12. Utah: Kelly Oubre
There might not be a player available outside of the Top 10 with Oubre’s upside. But with surefire NBA rotation guys like Bobby Portis and Trey Lyles still on the board this selection is not without risk. Utah sports a young, well-balanced roster so they can afford to swing for the fences with this pick.

13. Phoenix: Trey Lyles
By now you’ve seen so many mock drafts with Frank Kaminsky going to Phoenix and some variation of the sentence “he’ll slot into the Channing Frye role” that Kaminsky in a Suns uni seems too likely to actually happen. Frank the Tank is the safe pick here, but Lyles has a comparable skill set and a better chance of turning into something more than a role player.

14. Oklahoma City: Rondae Hollis-Jefferson
May be a little bit of a reach, but I think the fit is perfect (shades of Thabo). Once you get to this point of the draft, I’m looking for concrete ability, and Hollis-Jefferson can be an elite wing defender from day one. Between Westbrook and KD, they don’t need another creator. They do need an elite stopper though.

15. Atlanta: Bobby Portis

Portis has one of the most well-rounded games of any big in the draft, and for a team that has had so much success with multi-faceted forwards, this seems like an ideal fit for him. He has all the tools to be an NBA rotation player: a jump shot good enough to space the floor, an above average face-up and post game, a decent knack for rebounds and at the very least passable defense. He’s not great at any one thing, but he projects to be good at a few different things.

16. Boston: Cameron Payne

Danny Ainge is in asset-collection mode and can’t believe that Cameron Payne is still on the board. Pundits have labeled him as the highest riser in the pre-draft process, so the Celtics are getting the best value at this point – regardless of position.


17. Milwaukee: Frank Kaminsky
Over/under on “Kaminsky” mentions in ESPN broadcast: 28.5

18. Houston: Jerian Grant
James Harden wasn’t shy about how much he wants a player to take some ball-handling responsibility off his hands. While Grant’s age works against him in most cases — he’ll turn 23 in October — the Rockets, in full win-now mode, will see his experience as a positive.

19. Washington: Rashad Vaughn
Might be reaching a bit here, but the Wiz will need insurance for when Bradley Beal inevitably misses 40 games for stubbing his toe. Vaughn may also be utilized as a second-unit ball handler as well, which is good so that Ramon Sessions and Garrett Temple can just stop.

20. Toronto: Kevon Looney
Possibly the only player still on the board who could play in multiple all-star games. For a team stuck in post-lottery/playoff purgatory in a city unlikely to draw major free agent talent it makes sense to take a chance on Looney’s potential.

21. Dallas: Sam Dekker
Given the Rondo/Ellis debacle, R.J. Hunter or Tyus Jones might be the Mavs’ best option here. But Dekker became a first-round prospect by embodying the blue collar drive that Mark Cuban clearly values, as seen in players like J.J. Barea, Chandler Parsons, and Jae Crowder. I can’t see Dallas passing on Dekker if he slips this far into an area of the draft where the chances of getting a legitimate playmaker are generally slim.

22. Chicago: R.J. Hunter
As much as I enjoy a watching a Bulls offense that frequently has two guys in the paint and three guys directly outside of the paint, I’ve taken someone who can, ya know, actually shoot. His dip in three point percentage last season doesn’t scare me at all; I doubt he will be the focus of any defensive game plans in the NBA. He may be primarily a spot-up guy, but there are far worse things you can be in today’s league.

23. Portland: Montrezl Harrell

With indications that Portland might be changing things up (Batum trade, Aldridge discontent), it makes sense to take a flier on a high-energy, uber-athletic prospect in Harrell. He’s a bit undersized, but at this point in the draft no one’s going to check all the boxes.

24. Cleveland: Tyus Jones

The Cavaliers need all the backcourt help they can get and Jones provides great value this late in the first round. Plus LeBron probably loves his competitiveness. Doesn’t this just scream “Shabazz Napier?”


25. Memphis: Delon Wright
Mike Conley broken face insurance.

26. San Antonio: Justin Anderson
With Danny Green potentially departing in free agency, the Spurs grab Anderson as a three-and-D backup plan. He knocked down 45.2 percent of his triples as a junior at Virginia, and few players in this draft class project to be better wing defenders. Pairing him with Kawhi Leonard is just mean.

27. Lakers: Chris McCullough
I like his defensive potential if he can get some proper coaching (sup, Byron) and with a starting lineup that features Kobe, Randle and Okafor, McCullough’s presence on that end could be sorely needed off the pine.

28. Boston: Terry Rozier
This is strictly a best player available selection. If Boston ends up keeping this pick and taking Rozier he ensures that when Avery Bradley and Marcus Smart are out of the game Boston doesn’t lose any of its defensive intensity.

29. Brooklyn: Andrew Harrison
I like to believe that simply watching March Madness eats up a good chunk of Billy King’s scouting process. Now it’s just a matter of whether he can get the right Harrison’s name in the commissioner’s hands. Maybe Mason Plumlee can help out.

30. Golden State: Joseph Young
I will be brutally honest. I don’t know much about Joseph Young. From what I’ve read, he can shoot the ball alright? I don’t know. I guess their second unit could use more shooting? They are pretty good. Frankly, it seems unfair that they even get a pick.

Jun 14 2015

Joel Embiid Is A Really, Really Slow Healer

It’s been almost a full year since Joel Embiid had two screws inserted into his right foot, and the Sixers’ big man has suffered a setback in his recovery.

Here’s the team statement from Sam Hinkie (via ESPN):

“As part of the conservative approach focused on the long-term health, recovery and care of Joel, we have been closely monitoring his progress, regularly evaluating his status and adjusting our plans accordingly,” team president and general manager Sam Hinkie said in a statement. “Recently, Joel and Sixers personnel traveled to Los Angeles for a series of routine exams with a number of physicians who have been actively involved throughout this process.

“During his visit with Dr. Richard Ferkel, a standard CT scan on Joel’s right foot revealed less healing than anticipated at this point. Our priority remains providing Joel with every opportunity to ensure he has a long and successful NBA career, and as such, these findings cause us to pause and reassess his current activities.

“Together with Joel and his representatives, we will continue to consult with the experienced team of doctors who have been an integral part of his evaluations, while also engaging in dialogue with a broader set of experts and specialists. Discussions regarding the appropriate next steps are currently ongoing and we will share an update once it becomes available.”

This is potentially very very very bad, and it’s particularly troubling given the time it’s been since the surgery and the context of his other injuries. But like the boot sighting in March, this could also mean nothing. Setbacks happen, and not all of them result in Andrew Bynum scenarios. Pessimism is warranted, though it might be best to avoid playing doctor without an M.D. and access to the 7-footer’s medical records.

One thing that’s clear: Embiid’s health, for better or worse, will play a huge role in this team’s future. If healthy, he’s the type of talent that could turn around a franchise.  D’Angelo Russell, Mario Hezonja, Kristaps Porzingis, 3-6-11, future picks, cap room — they’re important too, but trivial compared to the status of Embiid’s right foot. So here’s to a full and permanent recovery — and to this being a small stepback, rather than a major one.

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