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NBA PM: Sixers Must Get 2014 Draft Right

The 76ers could be the winners of the draft, as long as they make the most of their two top-10 picks … Aaron Gordon isn’t worried about the tweener label

Alex Kennedy



Sixers Must Get 2014 Draft Right

The Philadelphia 76ers didn’t win the lottery as they had hoped, but that doesn’t mean they can’t drastically improve their team on draft night. With the No. 3 and No. 10 picks in the first round of the 2014 NBA Draft, the 76ers will have the opportunity to add two potential franchise cornerstones to their young core, which already features 2013 lottery picks Michael Carter-Williams and Nerlens Noel.

This is such a talented draft class that Philadelphia may be able to land two star-caliber players with their pair of top-10 picks, making them one of the teams to watch on June 26.

With the No. 3 pick, they can draft whoever is available out of Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker and Joel Embiid after the Cleveland Cavaliers and Milwaukee Bucks pick. Or, if they want to get creative, they could select Dante Exum and pair him with Carter-Williams to form a scary backcourt that is ridiculously tall and long.

Exum and Sixers head coach Brett Brown go way back, since Brown coached Exum on the Australian national team and coached Exum’s father in the NBL. Philadelphia was one of the first teams to meet with Exum at the combine, and Exum admitted that some of the teams he met with expressed interest in playing him alongside another point guard to run a two-PG system similar to what the Phoenix Suns ran this year with Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic.

Regardless of who Philadelphia settles on, it seems that they’ll be able to land a very talented player at No. 3 since Wiggins, Parker, Embiid and Exum all have star potential.

With the No. 10 pick, they have plenty of options such as Aaron Gordon, Dario Saric, Doug McDermott, Jusuf Nurkic or James Young among others, depending on who is available. They could also trade up, trade down or package the picks together in a deal.

Philadelphia went all in on this draft class, after trading away All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday for the New Orleans Pelicans’ first-round pick (No. 10) and tanking away the 2013-14 season to land a top selection (No. 3).

Sixers general manager Sam Hinkie has put the franchise in position to be big winners on draft night, as the only team with two top-10 picks, but he must make the most of those selections in order to justify the trade and losses.

If last year’s draft is any indication, Hinkie should be able to maximize Philly’s picks. He proved that he’s a solid talent evaluator by selecting Carter-Williams, the eventual Rookie of the Year, with the No. 11 pick last year as well as pouncing on Noel at No. 7 when he slipped lower than anyone projected.

The Sixers understand the importance of this draft for the franchise’s future. Brown stated during the season that the team needs to land at least one star with their first-round picks.

“I think it’s important,” Brown said of drafting a star, according to Tom Moore of the Bucks County Courier Times. “I think it’s really important. Stars want to play with stars. And it’s too early to say anything about Michael or what you can project Nerlens out to be. Just because somebody’s chosen high in the draft doesn’t mean they’re going to be a star, either.”

Everything that Philadelphia went through this season – including the 19-63 record and 26-game losing streak – will be worth it if they’re able to land a franchise player in the 2014 NBA Draft.

As Brown said, stars like to play with stars, and acquiring that first star is always hard. Hinkie struggled with this during his time in the Houston Rockets’ front office. For years, the Rockets tried to land a star player but struck out on everyone from Chris Bosh to Carmelo Anthony to Dwight Howard (who later came around and decided Houston wasn’t so bad, but only once James Harden was already in town). This is the Sixers’ chance to land that star player who will excite fans, right the ship and attract other players to Philadelphia.

In addition to the team’s two first-rounders, Philadelphia also has five second-round picks in this year’s draft. The Sixers could try to package some of these picks to trade for an additional 2014 first-rounder or a future pick, or they could use the selections themselves. They could use the picks to improve their depth since they have a lot of holes. However, it’s very unlikely that the team will bring seven rookies to camp, so don’t be surprised if the Sixers take a page from the San Antonio Spurs’ book and draft-and-stash some of their second-rounders overseas.

The Spurs have done this better than any other team in the league, selecting players and then leaving them overseas to continue their development. It worked extremely well with Manu Ginobili and Tiago Splitter, but they’ve done it with many other players as well. In fact, San Antonio currently has a handful of guys playing overseas right now including Livio Jean-Charles, DeShaun Thomas, Davis Bertans, Ryan Richards, Adam Hanga and Marcus Denmon.

If Philadelphia wants to use those second-round picks, but doesn’t want half of their roster to be rookies, they could use the draft-and-stash method with some of their picks and see how their selections develop after a year or two of international play.

All eyes will be on the Sixers on June 26. If Hinkie and his staff get this draft right, the rebuilding process becomes much easier and suddenly Philadelphia could be one of the better up-and-coming teams in the NBA.

Gordon Ready to Prove Himself in NBA

Aaron Gordon is one of the most intriguing players in the 2014 NBA Draft. The 6’9 forward has a wingspan that is nearly 7’0 and an 8’9 standing reach. But what has NBA talent evaluators drooling is Gordon’s athleticism, which was on display recently at the combine in Chicago. He had a 39-inch max vertical, did the shuttle run in 2.76 seconds (first among all prospects) and ran the lane agility drill in 10.81 seconds (the only non-guard to finish in the top 10).

It’s easy to see why some NBA teams are falling in love with Gordon. He is an athletic freak and, at only 18 years old, he has plenty of potential. In most drafts, Gordon would likely be in the conversation for the No. 1 overall pick, but this isn’t most drafts. Instead, he has to compete with the likes of Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker and Joel Embiid, all of whom could be franchise players in the NBA.

However, don’t be surprised if Gordon goes higher than expected on draft night. He could win a team over and climb up draft boards between now and June 26. Not only is Gordon an amazing athlete, he’s an extremely hard worker and he really impressed teams in interviews. He is his biggest critic when it comes to his game, and he’s striving for greatness.

“I need to not be so hard on myself,” Gordon admitted. “I’m only 18 years old, so I’m not going to be perfect. But in my mind I feel like I should be, and so when I don’t do as well as I need to or as well as I want to then, I get really down on myself and that starts to compound mistakes.”

The biggest question surrounding Gordon is what position he’ll play in the NBA. Is he a small forward or a power forward? The tweener label could scare some teams away, but Gordon isn’t concerned about making the transition to the league. He feels his versatility will actually make him more valuable and effective at the next level.

“The most common question [from teams] was what position do you think you’re going to play, or what position do you think you can play?” Gordon said. “I just answered, ‘I’m a forward, but you can play me at the one, you can play me at the five, you can play me at the two, you can play me at the three, you can play me at the four, it doesn’t matter.’ … I’m a basketball player, I can do pretty much everything out there and that’s what I intend on doing.”

One team that met with Gordon at the combine in the Philadelphia 76ers, and they have expressed interest in him. If he’s still on the board at No. 10, the team told him that he’ll someone they consider.

“Obviously, they said they’re a rebuilding team, and I said that’s something that I’m interested in,” Gordon said of the Sixers. “A rebuilding team forces you to find a niche extremely quickly if you want to win. They said, ‘With a couple of people, you’ll be right there in the running.’”

Gordon’s brother, Drew, played for New Mexico and went through the NBA’s pre-draft process back in 2012. He went undrafted, but ended up playing summer league with the Dallas Mavericks before going overseas. He has tried to help his younger brother through this process and let him know what to expect.

“[He told me] just go out and do your best,” Gordon said. “I mean, it’s pretty general advice. He didn’t give me any much more advice than that. He knows that I’m going to do well, he has faith in me and I appreciate that in him.”

A number of NBA executives also have faith in Gordon and believe he’ll do well at the next level, which is why he’s surely to be a lottery pick and may climb into the top 10.

Up Close With Dante Exum

See what Dante Exum had to say when he addressed the media at the NBA combine in Chicago. He discusses what position he wants to play at the next level, how he’ll transition to the NBA and which players he has modeled his game after. Check out the video below:




Alex Kennedy is the Managing Editor of Basketball Insiders and this is his 10th season covering the NBA. He is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.




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Middleton, Bucks Aiming To ‘Lock In’ As Season Comes To Close

Spencer Davies catches up with Milwaukee Bucks swingman Khris Middleton in a Basketball Insiders exclusive.

Spencer Davies



Basketball Insiders had the chance to chat with Khris Middleton about the direction of the Milwaukee Bucks as the season comes to a close.

You guys won three out of four before you came into Cleveland. What was working during that stretch?

Just being us. Doing it with our defense, playing fast-paced offense. Just trying to keep teams off the three-point line. We haven’t done that. We didn’t do that [Monday] or two games ago, but it’s something we’ve just gotta get back to.

With the offense—it seems like it’s inconsistent. What do you think that’s got to do with mostly?

Just trying to do it by ourselves sometimes. Standing, keeping the ball on one side of the floor. We’re a better team when we play in a fast pace. And then also in the half court, when we move the ball from side-to-side it just opens the paint for everybody and there’s a lot more space.

For you, on both ends you’ve been ultra-aggressive here in the last couple weeks or so, does that have to do with you feeling better or is it just a mindset?

I’ve been healthy all year. Right now, it’s the end of the season. Gotta make a push. Everybody’s gotta lock in. Have to be confident, have to be aggressive. Have to do my job and that’s to shoot the ball well and to defend.

Have you changed anything with your jumper? Looking at the past couple months back-to-back, your perimeter shooting was below 32 percent. In March it’s above 45 percent.

I feel like I got a lot of great looks earlier this year. They just weren’t falling. Right now, they’re falling for me, so I have the same mindset that I had when I was missing and that’s to keep on shooting. At some point, they’re gonna go down for me.

Is knowing that every game at this point means more an extra motivator for you guys?

Definitely. We’re basically in the playoffs right now. We’re in a playoff series right now where we have to win games, we have to close out games, in order to get the seeding and to stay in the playoffs. Each game and each possession means something to us right now.

Is it disappointing to be in the position the team is in right now, or are you looking at it as, ‘If we get there, we’re going to be alright’?

I mean, we wish we were in a better position. But where we’re at right now, we’re fine with it. We want to make that last push to get higher in the seeding.

Lots of changes have gone on here. Eric Bledsoe came in two weeks into the season. You had the coaching change and lineup changes. Jabari Parker’s been getting situated before the postseason. How difficult does that make it for you guys to build consistency?

Yeah, it was tough at first. But I think early on we had to adjust on the fly. We didn’t have too many practices. There was a stretch where we were able to get in the film room, get on the court, and practice with each other more.

Now it’s just at a point where we’re adding a lot of new guys off the bench where we have to do the same things—learn on the fly, watch film. We’re not on the court as much now, but we just have to do a great job of buying in to our system, try to get to know each other.

Does this team feel like it has unfinished business based on what happened last year?

Definitely. Last year, we felt like we let one go. Toronto’s a great team. They’re having a hell of a season this year, but I feel like we let one go. This year’s a new year—a little add of extra motivation. We’ve been in the playoff position before, so hopefully, we learn from it when we go into it this year.

Would you welcome that rematch?

I mean, we welcome anybody man. We showed that we compete with any team out here. We can’t worry about other teams as much. We just have to be focused on us.

What has to happen for you guys to achieve your full potential?

Lock in. Just play as hard as we can, play unselfish, and do our job out there night-in, night-out.

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NBA Daily: Raptors Look To Fine-Tune The Defense

The Toronto Raptors’ defense had a letdown against the Cavaliers, but has been outstanding overall.

Buddy Grizzard



The Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors engaged in an offensive shootout on Wednesday that could be a playoff preview. The Cavs protected home court with a single-possession, 132-129 victory. Afterward, the Raptors spoke about the types of defensive adjustments the team needs to make as the postseason rapidly approaches.

“That’s how a playoff game would be,” said DeMar DeRozan, who missed a three at the buzzer that could have forced overtime. “This is a team we’ve been playing against the last two years in the postseason. Understanding how we can tighten up things defensively, how to make things tougher for them [is key].

“[It’s] little small things that go a long way, and not just with them … with every team.”

Raptors coach Dwane Casey concurred with DeRozan that fine-tuning of the defense is needed. He also pointed out that, with young contributors such as center Jakob Poeltl and power forward Pascal Siakam on the roster, defensive experience against the league’s best player, LeBron James, is something they will have to gain on the fly.

“I don’t think Jakob Poeltl played against him that much, and Siakam,” said Casey. “This is their first time seeing it. I thought Jak and Pascal did an excellent job, but there are certain situations where they’ve got to read and understand what the other team is trying to do to them.”

Poeltl was outstanding, leading the bench with 17 points and tying for the team lead in rebounds with eight. Casey praised the diversity of his contributions.

“I thought he did an excellent job of rolling, finishing, finding people,” said Casey. “I thought defensively, he did a good job of protecting the paint, going vertical. So I liked what he was giving us, especially his defense against Kevin Love.”

Basketball Insiders previously noted how the Raptors have performed vastly better as a team this season when starting point guard Kyle Lowry is out of the game. Much of that is due to Fred VanVleet’s emergence as one of the NBA’s best reserve point guards. VanVleet scored 16 points with five assists and no turnovers against Cleveland. It’s also a reflection of how good Toronto’s perimeter defense has been up and down the roster.

According to ESPN’s defensive Real Plus-Minus statistic, three of the NBA’s top 15 defensive point guards play for the Raptors. VanVleet ranks seventh while Lowry is 12th and Delon Wright is 14th. Starting small forward OG Anunoby ranks 16th at his position.

The Raptors also rank in the top five in offensive efficiency (third) and defensive efficiency (fifth). Having established an identity as a defensive team, especially on the perimeter, it’s perhaps understandable that Lowry was the one player in the visiting locker room who took the sub-standard defensive showing personally.

“It was a disgraceful display of defense by us and we’ve got to be better than that,” said Lowry. “We’ve got to be more physical. They picked us apart and made a lot of threes. We’ve got to find a way to be a better defensive team.”

Lowry continued the theme of fine-tuning as the regular season winds down.

“I think we’ve just got to make adjustments on the fly as a team,” said Lowry. “We can score with the best of them, but they outscored us tonight. We got what we wanted offensively. We’re one of the top teams in scoring in the league, but we’re also a good defensive team.”

Lowry was clearly bothered by Toronto’s defensive showing, but Casey downplayed the importance of a single regular-season game.

“We’ve got to take these games and learn from them, and again learn from the situations where we have to be disciplined,” said Casey. “It’s not a huge thing. It’s situations where we are that we’ve got to learn from and be disciplined and not maybe take this step and over-help here. Because a team like that and a passer like James will make you pay.”

While the Raptors continue to gain experience and dial in the fine defensive details, Casey was insistent that his players should not hang their heads over falling short against Cleveland.

“Hopefully our guys understand that we’re right there,” said Casey.

The Raptors host the Brooklyn Nets tonight to open a three-game home stand that includes visits from the Clippers Sunday and the Nuggets Tuesday. After that, Toronto visits the Celtics March 31 followed by a return to Cleveland April 3 and a home game against Boston the next night. With three games in a row against the other two top-three teams in the East, the schedule presents plenty of opportunities for the Raptors to add defensive polish before the playoffs begin.

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NBA Daily: Jaylen Brown Set To Return For Celtics

The Celtics finally got some good news on Thursday. Jaylen Brown’s return is imminent.

Moke Hamilton



Finally, some good news for the Boston Celtics.

Jaylen Brown is set to return to action.

Brown has been M.I.A. since sustaining a concussion during the team’s 117-109 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves back on March 8, but has traveled with the team to Portland and is expecting to return to the lineup on Sunday when the Celtics do battle with the Sacramento Kings.

As the Celts gear up for a playoff run, which they hope will result in them ending LeBron James’ reign atop the Eastern Conference, they’ve picked the wrong time to run into injury issues. Along with Brown, both Kyrie Irving and Marcus Smart have each been conspicuous by their absences, and the team could certainly use all of their pieces as they attempt to enter the postseason on a high note.

Fortunately for Boston, with the Toronto Raptors leading them by 4.5 games in the standings and the Celts ahead of the Cleveland Cavaliers by a comfortable six games, Brad Stevens’ team is enjoying the rare situation of having a playoff seed that appears to be somewhat locked in.

Still, with the team only able to go as far as its young rotation will carry it, Brown addressed the media on Thursday.

“I’m feeling a lot better. I’m just trying to hurry up and get back,” Brown said, as quoted by

“I’m tired of not playing.”

Stevens is probably tired of him not playing, too.

As we head into the month of April, playoff-bound teams and conference contenders begin to think about playing into June, while the cellar-dwellers and pretenders begin to look toward the draft lottery and free agency.

What’s funny is that in the midst of the Raptors and their rise out East, the Celtics and their dominance has become a bit of a forgotten storyline. When Gordon Hayward went down on opening night, the neophytes from the Northeast were thought to be a decent team in the making whose ceiling probably wasn’t anywhere near that of the Cavs, the Raptors and perhaps even the Washington Wizards.

Yet through it all, with the impressive growth of Jaylen Brown, impressive rookie Jayson Tatum and the rise of Irving as a franchise’s lynchpin, the Celtics stormed out the games to the tune of a a 17-3 record. What made the strong start even more impressive was the fact that the team won 16 straight games after beginning the season 0-2.

Although they weren’t able to keep up that pace, they began the month of February having gone 37-15 and turned a great many into believers. With their spry legs, team-first playing style and capable leader in Irving, the Celtics, it was thought, were a true contender in the Eastern Conference — if not the favorite.

Since then, and after experiencing injuries to some of its key cogs, the team has gone just 11-8.

In the interim, it seems that many have forgotten about the team that tantalized the Eastern Conference in the early goings of the season.

Brown’s return, in one important respect, will signify a return to Boston’s prior self.

With Marcus Smart having recently undergone surgery to repair a torn tendon in his right thumb, he is expected to be out another five weeks or so, meaning that he’ll likely miss the beginning of the postseason.

As for Irving, although reports say that his ailing knee has no structural damage, everything the Celtics hope to accomplish begins and ends with him. FOX Sports 1’s Chris Broussard believes that it’s no slam dunk that Irving returns to action this season, but he’s in the minority. This team has simply come too far to not give themselves every opportunity to compete at the highest level, so long as doing so doesn’t jeopardize the long term health of any of the franchise’s cornerstones.

Make no mistake about it, the Celtics are far from a finished product. With their nucleus intact and flexibility preserved, they will have another offseason with which to tinker with their rotation pieces and plug away at building a champion.

But here and now, with what they’ve got, the Celtics are much closer than any of us thought they would be at this point.

And on Sunday, when Jaylen Brown rejoins his team in the lineup, to the delight of the Boston faithful, the Celtics will be that much closer.

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