Sam Hinkie, Nerlens Noel

ProBasketballTalk 2013-14 Preview: Philadelphia 76ers

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Last season: The 76ers went 34-48, the 11th time in the last 12 seasons they won between 33 and 48 games. They made the playoffs most seasons during that span, but they only one two postseason series. With the emergence of the NBA’s second-youngest All-Star last year, Jrue Holiday, Philadelphia seemed like it had a player who could lead them into another dozen years of bland playoff contention. Oh, Andrew Bynum was on the team, too, but he had no relevancy to the 76ers’ season other providing a massive distraction.

Signature highlight from last season: Fittingly, this sequence began with a 76er missing a long 2.

Key player changes: New 76ers general manager Sam Hinkie was mum on his plan until he made a huge draft-night trade, sending Jrue Holiday to the Pelicans for the No. 6 pick, which Philadelphia used on Nerlens Noel. On a clear rebuilding path, the 76ers also let Andrew Bynum, Dorell Wright and Nick Young leave in free agency. Philadelphia replaced them with younger and cheaper players like Tony Wroten and Darius Morris, who will have opportunities to play on a tanking 76ers team.

Philadelphia also hired a new coach to replace Doug Collins, former Spurs assistant Brett Brown.

Keys to the 76ers’ season:

1) How athletic is Nerlens Noel? Noel, injury aside, was by far the best prospect in the 2013 NBA Draft. His shot-blocking and steals numbers at Kentucky were elite, and great indicators of star-level athleticism. Of course, that didn’t mean Noel would be a guaranteed NBA success, especially in this draft, which was relatively weak at the top. But he was the best bet.

His ACL tear changed all that and was certainly the driving factor for his surprising draft-night tumble. At some point (though it might be 2014-15), the 76ers must assess whether the injury has any lingering effects for Noel. If not, they likely got a steal. If it does, Noel’s athleticism-dependent game might come apart.

2) Can Michael Carter-Williams become a starting point guard on a good team? Carter-Williams will be handed major minutes, because the 76ers are tanking, but he must develop to keep a starting job when Philadelphia actually gets good. That starts with his notoriously shaky jump shot, but transitioning to NBA defense after playing in Syracuse’s zone will also be an issue. Plus, Carter-Williams’ passing really fell off against quality opponents last season.

His size makes him an intriguing prospect, but Carter-Williams is very much a work in progress. Philadelphia will be looking for clues to his long-term outlook.

3) How much trade value do Thaddeus Young, Evan Turner and Spencer Hawes have? Sam Hinkie must want to build this team in his image, and it’s unclear any of those three fit the blueprint. Turner and Hawes are free agents after the season, so if Hinkie doesn’t trade them, he risks losing them for nothing. Young is under contract for two to three more seasons, but he’s also a good player, someone who might help the 76ers win too much. If Young, Turner and/or Hawes play well, that means both they’ll have more trade value and they’ll help Philadelphia win more. Because the 76ers want to avoid wins, there’s a good chance they trade any of these three who play well.

Why you should watch the 76ers: If you’re a fan of Philadelphia’s opponent, it will be fun to watch your favorite team win.

For 76ers fans… um… hmmm… every loss stick it to David Stern. So, there’s that.

Prediction: 19-63. It’s difficult to project a team to finish much worse than this, but the 76ers will try. A better pick in the loaded 2014 draft means more to Philadelphia than a few extra meaningless wins, and newly hired Sam Hinkie has the job security to go that route. The 76ers are inexperienced, and there will be growing pains, but a high pick next summer would heal a lot of wounds.

Aaron Gordon both legs over the mascot, ball-under-the-legs dunk (VIDEO)

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TORONTO — Zach LaVine won the NBA All-Star Saturday Dunk Contest, but in an epic night for my money this was the single best dunk.

Orlando’s Aaron Gordon broke ground with this one — guys have jumped over mascots and other players before (and a Kia hood), but by splitting their legs apart. Gordon just put both legs over Stuff (that’s the mascot’s name, Stuff the Magic Dragon, I don’t make this up) — and took the ball off the mascot’s head, went under his legs, and threw it down.

Insane.

Gordon deserved a trophy for his performance in this dunk contest.

Zach LaVine edges Aaron Gordon in epic, insane Dunk Contest

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TORONTO — That. Was. Amazing.

In a dunk contest that will go down with the all-time greats — Jordan vs. Dominique, Dr. J from the free throw line — Minnesota’s Zach LaVine defended his dunk contest title. Barely. Because Orlando’s Aaron Gordon was doing dunks nobody had ever seen before.

And LaVine was bringing it just as hard.

The two men advanced to the finals — dismissing Will Barton and Andre Drummond, each of whom had good dunks — and that was when it got wild.

There were four second-round dunks, and four perfect scores of 50. (That was in spite of Shaq, who wanted to give nines for second attempts.)

“I was prepared for four (second round dunks),” LaVine said. “To tell the truth, he came with something that no one else has done. He did two dunks that were just crazy with the mascots, jumping over them. We just kept pushing each other until the last dunk. I’ve got to give it up to my boy Will “The Thrill” Barton. It’s because of him I think I won. Because he said try to go from the free-throw line. I’d never done that before, and I just tried it. So I guess it was a great dunk. I think it was the best one ever.”

The Air Canada Centre crowd was exploding with every dunk. The two men went to a dunk-off — and got two more 50s.

“If I knew it was going to be like that, I would have prepared better and we would have been here dunking all night, going back 50 after 50 after 50 after 50,” Gordon said. “We would have been here all night. I didn’t know it was going to be like that. I was just hoping Zach was going to miss, and it wasn’t going to happen. You could see as my facial expressions when Zach dunks it, it’s like okay, that’s a 50. Like I know we’re going to have to dunk again.”

So they went to a second-round of overtime, where LaVine put up another 50 and won the contest.

Gordon was close to perfect.

Zach LaVine can flat-out fly.

Magic’s Aaron Gordon with the over-the-mascot mad dunk

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TORONTO — Aaron Gordon was giving Zach LaVine all he could handle in the Dunk Contest.

He blew the lid off the Air Canada Centre with this dunk in the first round — and it wasn’t even his best dunk of the night. Never seen this before.

This dunk contest was awesome, so much more video to come.

Zach LaVine opens Slam Dunk Contest title defense with spectacular behind-the-back slam (VIDEO)

during the BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge 2016 at Air Canada Centre on February 12, 2016 in Toronto, Canada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.
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TORONTO — Zach LaVine clearly heard all the talk that Aaron Gordon or Will Barton had a chance to upset him in the Slam Dunk Contest. He came out ready to prove his superiority right off the bat. This behind-the-back slam was his first attempt of the night:

Even better was the reaction, both from Andre Drummond and from LaVine’s Minnesota teammates: