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. [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3vTHc1T0nQ0&w=560&h=315]

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.

Kevin Durant on chasing MVP: ‘Not really, I’ve been there, done that’

Orlando Magic v Brooklyn Nets
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Kevin Durant carried the Nets to another win Monday night, scoring 45 points on 19-of-24 shooting, plus seven rebounds and five assists.

If you’re having an MVP conversation a quarter of the way into the NBA season, Durant has to be part of it: 30 points per game on 54.8% shooting (and a ridiculous 65.9 true shooting percentage), 6.6 rebounds and 5.5 assists a game, plus playing solid defense and being the anchor of the Nets. After his 45-point outing to get Brooklyn a win over Orlando, Durant was asked about MVP chants and the chase for the award and was clearly not interested.

Durant has MVP numbers, but so do Stephen Curry, Luka Doncic, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jayson Tatum and others. If Durant is going to move to the front of the conversation, the first thing that has to happen is Brooklyn has to win a lot more games — 11-11 is not going to cut it when Tatum’s Celtics and Antetokounmpo’s Bucks have the two best records in the NBA. Winning games and finishing on a top-three team in the conference matters to some voters (and traditionally is one measure of an MVP).

Watch Herb Jones inbound off Pokusevski’s back, seal win for Pelicans

Oklahoma City Thunder v New Orleans Pelicans
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With 2.3 seconds left in the game and the Thunder down 2, they needed to steal the inbounds pass from New Orleans to have a real chance. That’s why when Aleksej Pokusevski walked on the court it looked like he was going to guard the inbounder, Herbert Jones.

Instead, Pokusevski turned his back to Jones, putting himself in position to step in front of anyone cutting to the ball to catch the inbounds. Except, Jones made the clever play to seal the game.

Pokusevski fouled Jones, who sank both free throws and sealed the 105-101 Pelicans win.

The Pelicans got 23-8-8 from Zion Williamson and picked up a win without CJ McCollum or Brandon Ingram in the lineup. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander continued his dominant start to the season and scored 31.

Watch Lakers fan drain half-court shot to win $75,000

Indiana Pacers v Los Angeles Lakers
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It might have been the loudest the crypto.com Arena was all night.

Between the third and fourth quarters, Lakers fan Jamie Murry of Downey won $75,000 draining a half-court shot — and he got to celebrate with Anthony Davis.

Murry’s celebration is the best part — with Anthony Davis coming out to celebrate with him (and seeming a little shocked by the hug).

One other big shot fell at this game, but Lakers’ fans didn’t like it as much — Pacers’ rookie Andrew Nembhard drained a game-winning 3-pointer as time expired.

Three things to know: Joel Embiid returns, scores final 11 vs. Hawks

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Three Things is NBC’s five-days-a-week wrap-up of the night before in the NBA. Check out NBCSports.com every weekday morning to catch up on what you missed the night before plus the rumors, drama, and dunks that make the NBA must-watch.

1) Joel Embiid returns, scores final 11 vs. Hawks in 76ers win

The 76ers went 3-1 with Joel Embiid sidelined by a left mid-foot sprain, but they are so much more a dangerous team with him.

Embiid scored the 76ers’ final 11 points of the game against the Hawks, including the go-ahead 10-foot jumper with 18.6 seconds left, to cap a 30-point night and lift the Sixers past the Hawks 104-101.

Embiid was making critical defensive plays down the stretch as well.

Embiid finished with 30 points, eight rebounds, seven assists and two blocks. That’s five straight 30+ point games for Embiid, who picked up right where he left off before the injury.

Well, not exactly pick up at the start as Embiid was 1-of-7 shooting to open the game, and he wasn’t the only Sixers rusty at the start. Embiid seemed focused on sharing the ball early but settled into an offensive balance as the game went on. Philly was saved by a solid defensive night.

The 76ers continue to pick up wins with James Harden and Tyrese Maxey out, which is a good sign going forward.

That’s three-straight losses for the Hawks, a loss that stings because they should have been able to dominate the shorthanded 76ers backcourt and get the win.

2) Karl-Anthony Towns goes down with concerning leg injury

Let’s hope the optimistic report from Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN is right and this isn’t as severe as it looked. Because it looked bad.

Timberwolves big man Karl-Anthony simply was pushing off to run back upcourt when he fell to the ground — without contact — grabbing his knee and calf.

Towns was helped back to the locker room and did not return, with the Timberwolves officially saying he was out for the rest of the night with a calf strain.

A calf strain would be the best possible outcome. An MRI Monday will tell us more.

Towns’ stats are down this season as he adjusts to the odd fit of playing next to Rudy Gobert, but he is still averaging 21.4 points and 8.5 rebounds a game.

The Wizards got a monster night from Kristaps Porzingis — a career-high 41 points — on their way to a 142-127 victory. When Porzingis is on this Washington team is tough to beat.

3) Big shots fall at Lakers’ game

Two big shots defined the night at the crypto.com arena Monday.

First, Lakers fan Jamie Murry of Downey won $75,000 with a half-court shot — and he got to celebrate with Anthony Davis.

The second one hurt the Lakers more. Pacers’ rookie Andrew Nembhard drained a game-winning 3-pointer as time expired.

The Lakers got lost in the scramble. On the initial action, Russell Westbrook doubled Bennedict Mathurin in the corner, which left the screen setter Myles Turner open at the top for a clean look at a 3 — but he was short and came off the front of the rim. Tyrese Haliburton out-hustled everyone to the rebound and tried to create his own shot but saw Nembhard wide open and kicked him the rock.

Ballgame.

The Pacers split their two games in Los Angeles at the start of a seven-game road trip through the West.

The Lakers had won 5-of-6 against a soft part of the schedule but that is about to change and over the next few weeks we will get a sense of where this 7-12 team really stands.