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NBA Daily: The 76ers Can Still Secure Home Court Without Embiid

Joel Embiid is recovering from surgery, but home court hopes for the Philadelphia 76ers were not lost on the operating table.

Dennis Chambers

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The Philadelphia 76ers will have to charge toward the postseason without their All-Star center, Joel Embiid.

During Wednesday night’s game against the New York Knicks, Embiid collided with Markelle Fultz and suffered a fractured orbital bone in his left eye, along with experiencing concussion-like symptoms. A source told Basketball Insiders that Embiid underwent surgery to repair the fracture Saturday afternoon. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski later reported that Embiid could return in two weeks following the surgery.

While losing Embiid, for the time being, is a crushing blow the Sixers and their 45-30 record, it’s not the end of the world for the team that’s surprised many with their winning ways this season.

From now until the end of the regular season, the Sixers will face just two winning teams — the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Milwaukee Bucks. The other remaining opponents all possess losing records.

Currently holding the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference, and a half game back on the Cavs for the third seed, Philadelphia has the advantage well in hand to keep itself in a favorable position heading into the playoffs despite the uncertainty surrounding Embiid.

In their first test without the Cameroonian star, the Sixers handled the basement dwelling Atlanta Hawks with relative ease. Ben Simmons managed a triple-double in just 27 minutes of playing time, Ersan Ilyasova chipped in 21 points and 16 rebounds off the bench, and Philadelphia eventually reached their ninth straight win when the score went final 101-91.

Following Embiid’s injury, a lot of focus shifted toward the Sixers’ inability to be effective on the court in his absence. This is true for the most part. Without Embiid, the Sixers are 4-8 this season. However, Friday’s contest against the Hawks was the first game Embiid missed since the All-Star break.

In that time, Simmons is averaging over 10 assists per game and committing under three turnovers. If there was a rookie wall coming for him, he’s run right through it. Over that same time frame, Philadelphia has managed to add not only the veteran likes of Ilyasova, but Marco Belinelli as well. These two luxuries off of the bench provide necessary scoring that was severely lacking in the games Embiid missed earlier in the season.

During the month of March, sharpshooter Robert Covington regained his shooting stroke, connecting on 40 percent of his three-point attempts. Dario Saric saw 46 percent of his shots from downtown reach the bottom of the net in that same timeframe as well. The Sixers are in the midst of hitting their stride, and since Christmas have the third-best record in the NBA at 30-12.

Even more impressive, the Sixers are 26-11 at home, winning 19 of their last 20 games at the Wells Fargo Center. South Philly home court advantage has become incredibly apparent for this young Sixers team, and their main course of action as the regular season winds down is holding steady on a top-four seed while they await the return of Embiid.

Although Philadelphia is just a half game behind Cleveland for the third seed, the Indiana Pacers are hot on the Sixers’ trail in the fifth seed, where the two teams are also separated by a half game.

This is where the Sixers’ remaining schedule may help them the most. Of the six games remaining for the Pacers, four are against teams with winning records: the Los Angeles Clippers, Denver Nuggets, Golden State Warriors and Toronto (the latter two taking place on back-to-back nights).

That’s a tough stretch of four games in five days for Indiana, despite their talent and the success they’ve had this season.

Expecting Philadelphia to win out would be a tall task to request even with Embiid in the lineup, so dropping a few games to winning teams without their best player would be an excusable offense. But as the Sixers showed Friday night in Atlanta, their roster is still plenty capable of disposing of the bad teams that meet them on the hardwood.

What may wind up being the key for the Sixers in their time without Embiid, however, is the last second re-addition of Markelle Fultz.

After missing nearly five months on the basketball court with a shoulder injury and an evaporated jump shot, Fultz returned to action on Monday against the Denver Nuggets. His re-debut yielded 10 points, eight assists, and four rebounds in just 14 minutes of action.

Since then, Fultz has put together two more solid performances, with his most efficient shooting night coming against the Hawks where he made four his eight attempts and displayed a pretty shooting stroke reminiscent of his days in Summer League play. However, Fultz played just 19 minutes in the game, his most since returning.

Brett Brown spoke before the Knicks game about wanting to gradually award Fultz not only more time on the court, but more responsibility as well. If the former No. 1 overall pick wants to get his best foot forward for the postseason, lengthening his leash now that the team is without their go-to scorer may be the best opportunity to do so.

The 76ers’ impressive season is thanks in large part to what Embiid was able to accomplish on the court, and without him, they may not be in such a favorable position to still secure home court for the postseason while he recovers from surgery.

But that option is still very much alive, and should be the only focus for Philadelphia over the next 12 days.

Dennis Chambers is an NBA writer in his first season with Basketball Insiders. Based out of Philadelphia he has previously covered NCAA basketball and high school recruiting.

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NBA Daily: Passion And Competitive Spirit Define Jarrett Culver

Jordan Hicks takes a look at Jarrett Culver, a stand-out player who led Texas Tech to the NCAA Championship game who has the NBA world buzzing going into the 2019 draft.

Jordan Hicks

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Jarrett Culver is entering the 2019 NBA Draft with two years of college experience under his belt. His two years with the Texas Tech Red Raiders gives us a pretty good idea of the type of NBA player he is capable of becoming.

His freshman season saw him as more of a complementary player. He had a strong outing from the three-point line knocking down shots at 38.2 percent. He was also called upon to provide a strong presence defensively.

Things changed moving into his sophomore season. He was essentially the number one option, so while his scoring improved significantly, there was a slight dip in his shooting percentages. His defense was still a high-point, and he finished the season as the Big 12 Player of the Year. He led the Red Raiders all the way to the NCAA Championship game where they lost in overtime to Virginia.

He struggled in both Final Four matches, mainly due to the fact that he was keyed on so heavily by the opposing defenses. Regardless, he brings a robust skillset to the NBA, which should allow him to find the court quickly with whichever lottery team selects him.

Basketball Insiders had the chance to catch up with Culver at the 2019 NBA Combine.

Culver dove into how his outside shooting will help him in the league.

“You spread out the floor when you’re able to shoot,” Culver said. “I’m working on it a lot. Right now I’m putting a lot of shots up [you know], repetition.”

While his three-point shooting took a slight dip his sophomore season, it was likely due to the fact that he was shooting much more off-dribble. His freshman season, where he played a more secondary role, he had a lot more open looks that were catch-and-shoot. That, in essence, paints a picture of the type of NBA career he’s capable of having.

Chris Beard, Culver’s college coach at Texas Tech, has mentioned that he is addicted to basketball.

“My love and passion for the game, its something I’ve always wanted to be better at,” said Culver, expanding on what Beard meant. “And its something I can continue to get better at. I don’t see it as a job, I see it as something I love – to go out and play basketball.”

There’s no doubting Culver’s passion. Not many college players have the opportunity to go on a deep NCAA tournament run similar to his, and every game you could see his desire to win.

When asked what he could bring to the table right away, Culver had this to say: “Right away I feel like defense. I take pride in defense and that’s something I want to do. People don’t realize how competitive I am.”

Culver discussed how watching Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan at a young age helped him realize the type of mentality he needed when playing basketball. Competition is a big part of his game, and he wants that to translate to the NBA.

His defense is certainly something that can be impactful right away, but downplaying his offensive skills would be foolish. While his three-point percentage dropped roughly eight percent on similar attempts, he was still able to increase his overall field goal percentage by roughly one percent from freshman to sophomore season. That is very impressive considering the load that was placed on his shoulders to generate buckets.

And generate buckets he did. Culver averaged 18.5 points his sophomore season and dished out an additional 3.7 assists per game.

Standing at 6-foot-6 with a wingspan of 6-foot-9, Culver plans to assist whatever team drafts him. He was asked about the prospect of going to Chicago, Phoenix or the New York Knicks and had nothing but positive things to say about all the franchises. He mentioned on multiple occasions that he felt like he’d mesh well with younger players. Obviously, that would make sense – Culver is only 20 years old himself.

Overall, Culver came off as a humble young man who would feel blessed to be selected by any team,  and even more blessed that he will likely end up high in the lottery. He is in a great state mentally,  which should bode incredibly well seeing as the transition to a full-time basketball professional could absolutely take a toll on one’s mind.

Mindset is more than half the game, so combined with his physical gifts, whichever team takes a chance on Jarrett Culver should more than likely come out as a winner.

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Brungardt, BAM Changing The Game In Accurate Athletic Assessment

Spencer Davies speaks with strength and conditioning specialist Brett Brungardt about co-founding Basic Athletic Measurement and its role in the NBA Draft Combine.

Spencer Davies

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As the NBA’s postseason continues and the crowning of a champion in the Finals draws nearer, the rest of the league’s attention is set on June 20, the date of the 2019 NBA Draft.

Last Tuesday in Chicago, the results of the draft lottery determined the first-round order of the top selections in the field. Over the next three days, attention shifted to the annual NBA Draft Combine.

You didn’t see Zion Williamson’s or RJ Barrett risk injury or hurt their chances by participating. Ja Morant, Jarrett Culver, Coby White and Cam Reddish all spoke to the media and met with teams, but they didn’t actually do anything physical. You rarely see any of those premier prospects do so.

The purpose of the NBA Combine is to help boost the draft stock of professional hopefuls that aren’t pegged at the top of their class. It’s the place where some late first-rounders turn into mid-first-rounders. Where once-thought-of undrafted players move up into potential draftee status through athletic testing and live scrimmages in front of executives, agents and coaches.

Every year, there’s always a “winner” at the NBA Combine, and sometimes there are multiple that benefit come draft time. We’ll find that out in about a month.

Whoever that may be, though, will have to thank Brett Brungardt.

Boasting over 25 years of experience—notably as a former strength and conditioning coach at the University of Washington and with the Dallas Mavericks—Brungardt is responsible for the co-founding of Basic Athletic Measurement (BAM), a standardized athletic testing organization that has essentially been the straw that stirs the drink at the NBA Combine since the company’s inception in 2008.

Brungardt hatched the idea of BAM based on conversations with head coaches over his time as a strength and conditioning assistant. He’d field questions about 40-yard sprint times and vertical jump measurements, and then would refer to spreadsheets with recorded year-by-year results to answer them.

Unfortunately, almost all the time, Brungardt’s numbers didn’t match up with the staff’s findings—so he brainstormed.

“In the back of my mind I kept thinking there’s gotta be a way to have reliable and valid information in a linear component that’s looking at athletes through time that we can trust,” Brungardt told Basketball Insiders at Quest Multisport in Chicago. “We were the original fake news, to be quite honest.

“On the back of that, we decided to come up with a standardized way of assessing athletes and looking at what we call our performance parameters, and then put that in the equation of making sure we’re creating a well-balanced, healthy athlete through some…they really are quite simple tests, but what we’ve added to make it more reliable is the technology. So we’re looking at a lot of data points. Not necessarily the end results become important, but it’s all the significant data points between the start and finish.”

Brungardt put in the work to travel across the world, scouring through New Zealand and Australia to find the perfect technology that would best help drive his brainchild. Doing his due diligence, he agreed to partner with Fusion Sport, a global leader in human performance software.

And so, along with Martin Haase, his co-founder who had an extensive background in software and statistics to help on the organizing end of things, Brungardt launched BAM.

For the past 11 years, BAM has taken a combination of advanced technological equipment and data collection to record times and scores—labeled BAMScores—for standardized tests specific to certain drills.

“It’s like an SAT for younger people,” Brungardt said.

At the NBA Combine, BAM administers five different tests, all of which are incorporated into BAMScore:

Pro Three-Quarter Court Sprint: Determines acceleration, maximum speed and speed endurance.

Lane Agility: Tests movement patterns in all four directions around the lane and measures the ability to make quick changes of direction while moving at speed.

Reaction Shuttle: Evaluates ability to show how quick and effective decisions are made and actions initiated. The brief interval of time it takes to react to an external stimulus.

Vertical Jump: Demonstrates ability to exert a maximal force in as short a time as possible vertical displacement.

Approach Jump: Athlete starts within 15 feet of the Vertec. It is a running start vertical jump. Measurement is similar to vertical jump, but also includes the athlete’s ability to coordinate and incorporate strength and power with reach.

The process of executing such tests is quite fascinating. According to an interview Brungardt did with Access Athletes, the participants register online ahead of the events and are given an identification tag with their Fusion ID technology. They are then re-registered with their tags verified through video. During the actual tests, an electronic wristband is worn to monitor player movement.

And just in case of the rarity where the software doesn’t reflect the correct outcome, Brungardt utilizes three backups (a video, handheld PDA and a CPU backing up the system).

Once an athlete finishes a test –or is done with the full amount of testing—the timing system downloads the results into BAM’s database where all of the information is stored. From there, the times and BAMScore reports can be shared to whoever requests them.

“For basketball, it’s the biggest standardized database in the world because we’ve been doing it for such a long time and standardized this process with the technology,” Brungardt said. “There are databases out there with hand time, which is highly unreliable, and mixtures of such, but all of ours are an apple-to-apple comparison.”

Physically and athletically speaking, these tests tell us everything we need to know. As for measuring greatness at the professional level, that’s the tough part.

“To use this as a talent identification process, [no]. There’s a lot of things that go on in basketball,” Brungardt said. “Larry Bird probably would not have been a great combine tester. But if you’re looking at a specific role for a player, someone that’s gonna fill a spot, that’s gonna play a role because there’s only one basketball out there, then you may have certain metrics that you deem are meaningful.

“We acquire the data. The brains in the NBA then put their secret sauce together from this data to see what they want to utilize out of that component. There’s great athletes and they’re fun to watch. It’s fun to watch the movement patterns, see how they do. Because it’s becoming more ingrained in the culture of basketball, but it’s still not like other sports where these parameters are instilled in junior high age and kids are performing them. So some of this is new to these athletes.”

Testing well is just one piece of the puzzle. Although it’s not his area of expertise, Brungardt has a general idea of how prospective talent is evaluated by basketball scouts and front office executives.

“There’s a performance box. And if they’re outside that box, probably no matter what their skill set is, it may be very difficult for them to perform at this level because the guys are so athletic,” Brungardt said. “You could be the greatest shooter in the world, but if you can’t create the space or get your shot off fast enough, then they’re gonna get to you and they’re gonna change your world.

“So you have to be athletic enough to create space to move so then you also then can’t be a certain liability. So there’s an athletic box they look at, and then they start to move down to skill pattern. That’s still the priority.”

BAM isn’t just limited to basketball, by the way. The organization does testing in 17 sports in total, with BAMScores compiled for each so that the numbers can be compared across.

For example, Jordan Bone earned the highest BAMScore at the 2019 NBA Combine in Chicago with a total of 2401 points. Put that next to Troy Apke’s impressive showing at the 2018 NFL Combine (unofficial BAMScore of 2379—they can’t authenticate the measures) and you can infer that both are extremely athletic people.

Bone and Apke’s BAMScores fall into the “professional” range of the organization’s scale. Contrasting with the U.S. Men’s National Cricket Team tryouts in April 2018, their player’s top BAMScore was 1957, a figure that ranks in the “varsity” category, three levels below the range those two fell into.

“Some sports have certain parameters that they’re better at because of adaptations and skills that go on in that sport than others,” Brungardt said. “But it doesn’t mean that other sports can’t look at those and become better at those performance parameters.”

Brungardt’s past experiences in basketball coaching played a significant part in making his vision come to life. With Brett’s innovation and the assistance of Haase, BAM has become the standard bearer of accurate athletic assessment.

“We established: ‘These tests are helpful for this sport,'” Brungardt said “Stopwatches just are not the most reliable way in the world to do it. When you start looking at more transcription and every time you touch data humanly, things happen that make it inaccurate.

“For me, it’s about physical development. I wanted to test an athlete, then I trained them and then I wanted to re-test them in a reliable fashion to see if what I was doing in the weight room was improving him on those components. And those were the goals.”

And while Brungardt is proud of the presence BAM has, he understands that upgrading should always be on their mind.

“Anytime you have more data on a test, it becomes more valid. It’s testing when it purports to test and that’s what validity is,” Brungardt said. “The technology is better. It always gets better.

“It’s about right now, we feel it’s really good. We’re always looking to improve things, but there’s always the human component because you have proctors. There’s lots of things we try to make as consistent as possible, but here what we’re doing, everything that we touch, pretty good!”

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NBA Daily: Tacko Fall Out To Prove He’s More Than Tall

Most of the attention centered around Tacko Fall stems from his height, but after an impressive combine outing, he’s out to prove that there’s so much more to him.

Matt John

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Tacko Fall was one of the many participants who attended the NBA Draft Combine this past week in Chicago.

By so doing, the combine retrieved all of his official measurements as a player such as his height, weight, and wingspan among others. After the combine was over, Fall had the following measurements.

Height (without shoes): 7’5 ¼’’
Height (with shoes): 7’7″
Weight: 289 pounds
Wingspan: 8’2 ¼’’
Standing Reach: 10’2 ½”
Vertical Leap: 26.5″

Those measurements set many records at the combine. So, in case you didn’t know it before, growing has never exactly been an issue for Tacko Fall. Even though the findings that measured how freakishly tall Fall is shocked the masses, none of them really fazed the man himself as long as that meant he wasn’t going to grow anymore.

“I kind of already knew so I wasn’t really surprised,” Fall said. “I don’t think I’m going to keep growing. I think it’s just going to stay there. Hopefully. We’ll see.”

Fall’s physical advantages made him look like a man among boys in his four years at the University of Central Florida. The Senegal native averaged 2.4 blocks and 7.7 rebounds – in only 23 minutes per game – and put up a scorching field goal percentage of 74 percent over the four-year span of his college career. Basically, Fall’s good stats mainly come from his unrivaled length.

During his time at the combine, Fall believes that sticking to his guns and not doing things out of his comfort zone made him look good to spectators.

“I think I’m doing pretty good,” Fall said. “I’m holding my own. I’m not going out there doing anything out of character. I’m staying true to myself. I’m playing hard. I’m talking. I’m running hard. I’m doing everything that I need to do.”

Despite his towering presence, Fall is not expected to be a high selection in this year’s NBA Draft, if he is selected at all. Not many mock drafts at the time being list his name among those who will be taken, and the ones that do have him among one the last selections in the draft.

Some of his primary critiques as a player include his low assist-to-turnover ratio and his faulty shooting mechanics. The biggest one of them all is his lack of mobility. Being as tall as he is would make it hard for anyone to move around well enough to compete with NBA offenses that rely more on quickness and spacing now than it did on mass.

The concerns surrounding Tacko’s mobility were made loud and clear to him. That’s why he believed he had something to prove to the skeptics at the combine.

“For people my size that’s the biggest thing that they’re looking for,” Fall said. “‘Can he move?’ ‘Can he keep up with the game?’ ‘Can he run the floor?’ ‘Can he step out and guard?’ I feel like I have the ability to do those things. So, coming in here and having the opportunity to play against great competition and showing my abilities have been a great blessing for me.”

Before the combine, Fall’s stock benefited from his final performance as a college basketball player. Tacko and the ninth-seeded Knights fought the first-seeded Blue Devils until the very end but ultimately lost 77-76. Fall had much to do with UCF’s near-upset over Duke, putting up 15 points, six rebounds and three blocks in 25 minutes before fouling out.

That game did a lot for Tacko’s belief in himself as a player leading to the combine. Putting up that kind of stat line against one of the best college basketball programs with three top-10 prospects with so much on the line had to make him feel good about his chances. He said as much following his performance at the combine.

“That was definitely one of the best games in my college basketball career,” Fall said. “It helps build confidence. You go toe-to-toe with those people. You think, ‘Wow I can really do this.’ All you have to do is keep working and working and keep proving that you can step out there and compete every night.”

For some prospects, the NBA Combine is nothing more than just a formality. In fact, multiple prospects for this upcoming draft – including RJ Barrett, Rui Hachimura, and consensus No. 1 pick Zion Williamson – decided to skip out on it. For prospects who are on the bubble like Tacko, it’s a rare opportunity to show that there’s more to them than what they showed in college.

Fall recognized the importance of the occasion and voiced his appreciation for the chance he had to show everyone who attended what he can bring to a basketball court.

“It’s been a great experience,” Fall said. “I’m blessed to be here. I worked really hard. I thank God I’m in this position. I just got to take advantage of it.”

Tacko’s efforts impressed scouts and media members alike. There have been rumblings that his play at the combine has further increased his stock in the NBA Draft. Even with all the work he’s put in and the ambition he has to make it to the biggest stage, Fall is soaking it all in.

“I’m enjoying it because not a lot of people get the opportunity to come here,” Fall said. “I’ve worked really hard and God put me in this position. I’m just trying to enjoy it.”

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