Joel Embiid

Westbrook, Harden, Leonard MVP top three as NBA announces award finalists

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We are not going to know who is MVP — or any other NBA award winner, outside of the All-NBA Team — before the June 26 award ceremony. That’s after the Finals, and after the Draft.

But we do know who the top three finalists are in the major individual categories, those were announced on Friday on TNT. Here are all the finalists (listed in no particular order).

Most Valuable Player
Kawhi Leonard
James Harden
Russell Westbrook

Defensive Player of the Year
Draymond Green
Kawhi Leonard
Rudy Gobert

Rookie of the Year
Joel Embiid
Dario Saric
Malcolm Brogdon

Sixth Man of the Year
Andre Iguodala
Eric Gordon
Lou Williams

Coach of the Year
Erik Spoelstra
Mike D’Antoni
Gregg Popovich

Most Improved Player
Rudy Gobert
Giannis Antetokounmpo
Nikola Jokic

Remember, the votes were turned in before the playoffs started.

I don’t see any real surprises in there. Certainly not with MVP where Westbrook/Harden/Leonard will be the top three vote getters, with LeBron James fourth, then a pretty wide open race for fifth. Some people will argue LeBron was snubbed, but while he had a strong regular season his Cavaliers took the month of March basically off, particularly on defense, and in a close race that matters.

On down the list, those likely are the top three vote-getters in each category, and while you can try to make a case for people outside this group to be included (was Isaiah Thomas one of the most improved? Scotty Brooks for Coach of the Year?) there are no shockers in there.

Drake will host the NBA’s first ever awards ceremony on June 26, shown live on TNT from New York City. I doubt they do it, but the NBA should treat this like the Golden Globes, with big round tables and flowing alcohol for the nominees and others in the audience. It would make a more lively show.

Joel Embiid’s goal next season? “I intend to play every game”

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Yes, but will the doctors and Sixers management let him?

Joel Embiid was unquestionably the best rookie last season when he was on the court. Embiid averaged 20.2 points and 7.8 rebounds per game despite a minutes restriction, and he was efficient in getting his numbers — he had an All-Star level PER of 24.2. When he was on the court the Sixers outscored their opponents by 3 points per 100 possessions (for comparison, that’s right at the full season number of the Celtics).

But Embiid only played in 31 games, which likely will cost him the Rookie of the Year award. At the NBA Draft Lottery Tuesday (where the Sixers got the third pick), he told Jessica Camerato of CSNPhilly.com that his goal next season is simply to be available.

“[My offseason goal is to] make sure my body’s ready because I think next year I’ll be able to play almost every game,” Embiid said. “Just make sure my body’s ready to take on the toll of the NBA schedule, back-to-backs, but I intend to play every game and we’re going to see how it goes. It’s about getting strong and getting my legs strong and making sure I’m ready for next year.”

That’s a quality offseason plan. He’s not playing in every game, not a chance, but it’s a good goal.

Embiid needed surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee. While that is a different injury than the foot problems that kept him out his first two seasons, it’s safe to say the Sixers are going to approach using him with an abundance of caution again. I’d be shocked if he’s not on some restrictions to start the season — last season it was a 28-minute limit at the end and no back-to-backs, that could happen again. Maybe that loosens up as the season wears on.

He’s not playing in 82 games, but if he can at least double last year’s total or get closer to 70, that’s a huge win for Philly. Especially considering owner wants to see contending for a playoff slot next season.

 

After Sixers land No. 3 pick, owner shouts “thank you Sam Hinkie”

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Philadelphia may not have stuck with Sam Hinkie, but his process continues to stick with them. And work for them.

The Sixers will pick third in the NBA Draft next month because former GM Hinkie flat-out schooled the Sacramento Kings in a 2015 trade: The Kings got the rights to Arturas Gudaitis (the 47th pick in the 2015 draft) and Luka Mitrovic (60th pick) while the Sixers got Nik Stauskas, Jason Thompson, Carl Landry, and the rights to swap picks this year, plus another future first rounder.

The Kings were set to pick eighth this year, but the lottery was kind to them and they jumped up to third — higher than the Sixers (fifth) so Philly chose to swap. Which led Sixers primary owner Joshua Harris scream out thanks to the man he canned in Hinkie, as reported by CSNPhilly.com.

“Thank you, Sam Hinkie!” he said, again all but shouting for the rooftops. “You set us up well. I’m going to text him tonight, and give him a big kiss over text.”

Sixer fans feel the same way — some raised a Hinkie banner at the Sixers draft party Tuesday.

If you’re wondering why Harris fired Hinkie in the first place, his other comment shows where his head is — and was — at on “the process.”

“I want to be done with this building, man,” the Sixers’ principal owner said after Tuesday night’s NBA draft lottery in the Hilton Midtown. “I’m ready to be, like, playing [in the playoffs].”

Whether or not there was pressure from Adam Silver and the league to shortcut the process, Harris could not handle the volume of losing that came with Hinkie’s plan. It’s not that Hinkie didn’t lay out his plan in detail, it’s not that Harris didn’t sign off on it, heck, it’s not even that it wasn’t working. However, understanding it intellectually, seeing it on a spreadsheet or in a cold presentation, is very different from watching your team lose daily. It’s different watching your team draft guys you know have high upside but likely will not play for a year after the draft (Joel Embiid, and it turned out to be two years).

New GM Bryan Colangelo stands to be the beneficiary of the process. The only question is how much of that future might he be willing to move to get veterans in Philly who could help keep Haris off the lottery stage next year? Well, and is that the best plan long term?

Magic Johnson, Joel Embiid, Walt Frazier among on-stage lottery representatives

AP Photo/Nick Ut
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The Lakers have so much riding on tomorrow’s lottery. If they land a top-three pick, they keep it. Fall out of the top three, their first-rounder goes to the 76ers – and their 2019 first-rounder goes to the Magic. The odds are slightly against the Lakers, but it’s close to a coin flip.

Who better to ride out the high-stakes drama than the ever-smooth Magic Johnson?

The Lakers president is among the on-stage representatives. The full list released by the NBA:

  • Boston – Wyc Grousbeck
  • Charlotte – Rich Cho
  • Dallas – Michael Finley
  • Denver – Gary Harris
  • Detroit – Jeff Bower
  • Lakers – Magic Johnson
  • Miami – Alonzo Mourning
  • Minnesota – Andrew Wiggins
  • New Orleans – Alvin Gentry
  • New York – Walt Frazier
  • Orlando – Frank Vogel
  • Philadelphia – Joel Embiid
  • Phoenix – Devin Booker
  • Sacramento – Dave Joerger

It’s all a little silly. None of these people have any control over the lottery, which occurs beforehand backstage anyway.

But it’s always fun to watch them squirm and celebrate as the results are announced.

De’Aaron Fox tells teams at NBA Combine he’s the best point guard in draft

Associated Press
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CHICAGO (AP) — De'Aaron Fox considers himself highly competitive and doesn’t shy away from matching skills with anyone.

Still, there’s one player he knows he can’t beat: his mother.

Lorraine Harris-Fox played at Arkansas-Little Rock in the 1980s and holds the school record for highest free-throw percentage at .928.

“She knows what she’s talking about,” De’Aaron Fox said Friday at the NBA Combine. “The one thing she stays on me is free-throw shooting. If there’s anything she criticizes me about, it’s shooting free throws.”

Fox, a point guard who played one year at Kentucky, is considered a top-five pick in next month’s NBA draft. Most of the projected top picks decided not to attend the Combine – even to take physicals and meet with representatives from individual team – but Fox wouldn’t have missed it.

“I just wanted to be here,” he said. “I watched the combine so many years growing up. Not necessarily playing or doing drills – I knew I didn’t have to and it wouldn’t help me – but just being here and getting to know the teams could change some minds.”

Fox had a simple message for the eight teams he met with: He’s the best point guard in the draft – even though Markelle Fultz and Lonzo Ball, projected top-two picks, play the same position.

“I feel like I’m the best,” Fox said. “If they’re drafted above me, I’m cool with it. You have to play basketball at the end of the day.”

Fox isn’t just talking smack. He has a performance from this year NCAA Tournament to back up his statement.

Kentucky played UCLA and Ball in the Sweet 16 and the 6-foot-3 Fox had a breakout performance with a career-high 39 points (on 13-for-20 shooting), four assists, three rebounds and one turnover in an 86-75 win. Ball, who is 6-6, finished with 10 points on 4-for-10 shooting.

Even Ball’s outspoken father, LaVar, couldn’t find a way to sugarcoat that matchup. Besides, the elder Ball did his talking before the game.

“He’s the consensus No. 1 pick, he could be the No. 1 pick,” Fox said of Ball. “I’m just extremely competitive. That’s what I tell everybody. It didn’t matter if it was him or one of the other top picks. I’m competitive and I came out hot.

“We all know what was said and that just gave not just me but the entire team fuel.”

Although the order of teams picking in the draft won’t be determined until the lottery next week, Fox didn’t hesitate to address how he might fit in with a few teams that figure to be selecting high.

He met with the Philadelphia 76ers and told the team’s brass he’d be a perfect complement to Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, two recent high picks.

“They wanted to see how I fit in with Ben and Joel,” Fox said. “I liked it. They have a lot of pieces and a point guard, they really haven’t had a point guard in a few years, so that could be the missing piece to what they need.”

He met with the Los Angeles Lakers – a group that included Hall of Famer Magic Johnson – and was impressed they asked about having a killer instinct.

“That’s me,” Fox said. “I’ve always been humble, but on the court it’s an entirely different person and Magic was saying that’s how he is. I liked to work with someone who was a great point guard like Magic.

“Magic, he was a great leader, just the way he carried himself. When he was on the court, he made everybody better. When he’s in a room, he lights up a room. That’s someone I feel like would be great to be a mentor to myself.”

Teams picking high long favored big men, but there’s little doubt that both Fox and Ball will be selected early.

Kennedy Meeks, a 6-10 senior who helped North Carolina win the national championship, was asked if big men were now overlooked with the emphasis on small ball in the NBA.

“Maybe a little bit, but I think you just go out there and showcase your talent,” he said. “You don’t worry about the politics, you don’t worry about the critics and all that. Everything will take care of itself. You can see with guys like Marc Gasol, Pau Gasol, Zach Randolph, Jared Sullinger. Those guys are definitely successful in the NBA.”