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NBA PM: The Basketball Tournament is Back

The Basketball Tournament is back – with a $1 million prize, a 97-team field and more talent than ever.

Alex Kennedy

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The Basketball Tournament is Back

Imagine a single-elimination, high-stakes tournament similar to March Madness, except anyone could put together a team to compete. Teams could consist of NBA veterans, overseas stars, D-League players or even your next-door neighbor. Anyone over 18 years old can apply for free and then fans vote to determine which teams are in the field. Oh, and unlike the NCAA Tournament, players could earn money since the winning team would take home a large monetary prize to be split among its players.

tbtbThis was the vision that Jonathan Mugar had last year, when he founded The Basketball Tournament.

Last year was the inaugural TBT, but it was still a somewhat small affair. The tournament featured 32 teams competing for a $500,000 prize, the championship game was only available for viewing through an online stream and all of the contests were held at Philadelphia University or Boston University.

While the idea was excellent, there were still some questions that needed to be answered. Would the event be organized well and go according to plan? Would notable players want to participate in the tournament? Would there be mainstream interest from the public?

It quickly became clear that the answers were yes, yes and yes – and the tournament was a success.

With word spreading and The Basketball Tournament gaining popularity, this year’s TBT will be significantly bigger and have a much more official feel. The prize has doubled to $1 million, the field has tripled and games will be broadcast on ESPNU and ESPN. In mid-July, first-round match-ups will take place in four different cities – Atlanta, Chicago, Philadelphia and Los Angeles – and be aired on ESPNU. The championship game, which will be played on August 2 in New York, will be broadcast on ESPN.

The goal when TBT was founded was for this to be an annual tournament that grew each year – with the field and prize continuously growing – and it certainly seems to be heading in that direction.

“Last year, we were able to prove that the concept of a high-stakes, democratic tournament, with an exceptionally skilled collection of players was an entertaining event,” Mugar said. “Our partnership with ESPN, along with our market expansion, further validates that we are on the track to grow even beyond what we had hoped for in year two.”

One reason The Basketball Tournament has become popular and attracted the attention of ESPN is because it features plenty of notable players and teams.

Last year, the 2010 Cornell Sweet 16 team and the 2009 Villanova Final Four team each reunited to participate in TBT. In addition, alumni from Notre Dame, Wisconsin, Maryland, Temple, Princeton and Air Force registered teams. Notable college players like Marshall Henderson, Kenny Kadji and Matt Walsh played as well, which excited NCAA basketball fans across the country.

NBA fans also had some recognizable players to watch, with league veterans like Dahntay Jones, Hakim Warrick, Josh Selby, Smush Parker, Josh Boone, Andre Barrett, Rob Kurz and Chris Wright competing for various teams. After the tournament, some of these players starred overseas or signed back in the NBA (with Jones joining the Los Angeles Clippers), proving there was legitimate talent in last year’s field.

Many of the same recognizable players from last year will play again this July, and they’ll be joined by even more talented players in what will be a stacked tournament.

Former NBA players competing this year include Nate Robinson, Jamaal Tinsley, Mike Bibby, Jason Williams, Brian Scalabrine, Josh Selby, Hakim Warrick, Donte Green, Dominique Jones, Michael Sweetney, Royce White, Fab Melo, Jermaine Taylor, Von Wafer, Sam Young, Jamario Moon, Terrence Williams, Pooh Jeter, Damien Wilkins, Pops Mensah-Bonsu, Ike Diogu, Josh Boone, Marcus Banks, Luke Harangody, Ryan Gomes, Willie Reed, Smush Parker, Renaldo Balkman, Chris Wright, Tyshawn Taylor, Xavier Silas, Bobby Brown, Earl Barron, Sundiata Gaines, Dijon Thompson, DerMarr Johnson, Stephen Graham, Derrick Caracter, Alex Kirk, Rob Kurz, Mardy Collins, Scotty Hopson and Hamady N’Diaye.

Current NBA players cannot play due to contract restrictions, but they can still be involved in TBT. A number of notable NBA players – including Ty Lawson, Jamal Crawford, Nick Young, C.J. McCollum, Frank Kaminsky and Matt Bonner – have signed up to be a coach, general manager or booster so that they can support teams. Some, including Swaggy P, will even be on the sideline coaching their squad. A number of celebrities (to be announced later) have also agreed to be boosters, and some will be in attendance for the tournament games.

As if fans needed any more reason to get excited, TBT incentivizes participation from supporters. Five percent of the $1 million prize goes to a fan that supported the winning team. Last year, a fan named Elizabeth Lawler won $25,000 (five percent of the $500,000 prize) after being responsible for thousands of votes for the winning team.

The first TBT exceeded all expectations and was an enormous success. Now, with even better players, more teams, a bigger prize, games taking place all across the country and ESPN’s backing, The Basketball Tournament shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon.

***

Notre Dame may have had a disappointing last-second exit from the NCAA Tournament, but the school’s fans can get behind another Fighting Irish basketball team that’s competing in a high-stakes tournament.

TBTInside2The Notre Dame Fighting Alumni – as the group of former Notre Dame players call themselves – were the winners of the first TBT last year and they are back in this year’s field to try to defend their championship. Shortly after they won their prize last year, they huddled up and chanted “BACK-TO-BACK!”

The team first came together when former Notre Dame walk-on guard Kieran Piller heard about the tournament and decided to organize a squad with his old teammates. He asked Fighting Irish alumni such as Rob Kurz, Tyrone Nash, Ryan Ayers, Tory Jackson, Torin Francis, Ty Nash, Russell Carter, Chris Thomas and Zach Hillesland. The players all agreed, but some of the players were initially skeptical.

“My immediate impression was, ‘That sounds way too good to be true,’” former NBA player Kurz said with a laugh. “But because they were playing the games directly across from where I played high school in Philadelphia, I figured even if it’s B.S. it’d be kind of fun to go back there and play together with a bunch of my college friends who I hadn’t seen or played with in years. We looked at it as a fun college reunion. Then, of course, it was legitimate and it ended up being really fun.

Notre Dame took the tournament pretty seriously compared to other teams, meeting up at Germantown Academy in Philadelphia before the event to practice and put in some plays. They knew that their chemistry would give them a huge edge, but they also wanted to be organized and have a solid game plan.

While their preparation certainly helped, their experience together was the biggest factor in their success. Their players were always on the same page and even though they hadn’t played together in years, Kurz said it was very easy to get back into a rhythm with his teammates.

Even though Notre Dame wasn’t the most talented team, they were an organized, tight-knit group that knew what they were doing. The fact that they ran plays separated them from some teams that just approached the tournament with a pick-up mentality. They also had a balanced attack, with a different leading scorer in each of their five wins.

In the championship game, the Fighting Alumni defeated a team with several former NBA players such as Dahntay Jones, Josh Boone and Andre Barrett. Despite facing such a stacked squad (that was considered the frontrunner to win the championship throughout the entire tournament), the Fighting Alumni won, 72-68, and became the first TBT champions.

“The championship game was definitely the toughest,” Kurz said. “But there was a lot of good talent throughout the whole tournament. Some players who are in the NBA this year played in the tournament last year, so it wasn’t easy.

RobKurzInside2“The fact that we won was just a blast, but more importantly we just had a great time being together again. Those guys are some of my best friends in the world and to get together again after years was great.”

The players received a ton of support from Notre Dame fans as well as their school, with head coach Mike Brey flying to the championship game and the PR department pushing fans to vote for the squad over social media.

“Everyone from Notre Dame was so excited,” Kurz said. “Before the championship game, we were getting texts from the coaching staff, our trainer and everyone who was a part of the program and the family. Everybody really got into it, especially once we went to the championship.

“In terms of fan support, Notre Dame has such a great following and people were just excited that we were a part of something cool. We actually had a great crowd [of Notre Dame fans] that showed up to the championship game. It was just a lot of fun.”

After winning the title, the cash prize was split up equally among the Notre Dame players and the group also decided to donate $40,000 to the Coaches vs. Cancer Foundation.

This year, the Fighting Alumni feel very confident entering the tournament. Because they won last year, they will get a bye until the Sweet 16. This, coupled with their chemistry and TBT experience, should give them an edge over many of the teams.

They’re expected to bring back all of their key contributors and may add some talented pieces. Luke Harangody and Tim Abromatis traveled to the TBT championship game last year to support the Fighting Alumni from the stands, and it’s possible they may play this year. Kurz feels that this Fighting Alumni squad is even better than last year’s, and they’ll be more prepared because they’re going to practice for a full week this time in advance of the tournament.

“Our roster may have a couple of additions; we’re going to put some guys on the roster who are still playing at a really high level in Europe and guys who played in the NBA, so I think we’re going to have an even better team this year honestly,” Kurz said. “We’re all going to Notre Dame the week before the tournament to practice and play pick-up. We’re in the Chicago bracket, so it’s not far away and that gives us a chance to be on campus and prepare.”

While Kurz likes Notre Dame’s chances, he knows that being the last team standing out of the 97-team field will be difficult. He expects there to be some loaded teams with $1 million on the line.

“I’ve heard that it’s going to be even tougher this year – that a lot of talented players are entering,” Kurz said. “The competition will be intense, and I know that the tournament is going to be 10 times bigger this year. I can’t even tell you how many people have told me that they’re trying to enter a team this year. Even my former agent is thinking of putting a team in. I mean, with $1 million on the line, there are going to be a ton of people trying to get involved.”

***

One new team that is getting involved – and following the Notre Dame Fighting Alumni model – is the Syracuse Alumni squad.

This Syracuse team features Donte Green, Hakim Warrick, Eric Devendorf, Demetris Nichols, Rick Jackson, Baye Moussa Keita, Josh Pace and Brandon Reese among others. The program’s former basketball manager Kevin Belbey had the idea, ran it by Jim Boeheim (who was all for it) and then contacted the players to see who could participate.

Syracuse has a very talented roster that is currently the No. 1 ranked team in the Northeast region, and they lead all registered TBT teams in fan votes. Green and Warrick both played several years in the NBA, and some of Syracuse’s other players have had successful careers overseas.

“We’re a confident bunch because we have a lot of experienced guys who played in the NBA, played overseas and played in college, but we know that a lot of teams will be talented,” Devendorf said. “We’re confident, but we’re going in with the mindset that we have to play hard. You can lose at any time [in a single-elimination tournament].”

Like the Notre Dame team, Syracuse’s squad has strong chemistry. All of the players have an in-depth understanding of Boeheim’s system, which they’ll use throughout the tournament.

“I think the chemistry is a huge edge for teams like us and Notre Dame,” Devendorf said. “It’s great that all of our players come from the same team and played for the same coach – Jim Boeheim – so we all know the system. We don’t have to go over anything or learn anything new because guys already know what’s expected of them and what they need to do. Knowing each other and coming from the same system is definitely an advantage for us.”

Another advantage is that the Syracuse squad may play a 2-3 zone, according to Devendorf, which would make them even tougher to match up against. The 2-3 zone can cause trouble for collegiate opponents who spend significant time preparing for it, so just imagine how tough it would be to face in a tournament like this.

“If we want to switch to a 2-3 zone, we’re capable of doing of that,” Devendorf said. “No problem.”

Devendorf is planning to get everyone together on Syracuse’s campus in early June to practice. It’ll also give the team a chance to bond and catch up with one another before they head out for the competition.

“We’ve all kept in touch throughout the years; just to get this whole group of guys back together is really exciting and it’s going to be a great time,” Devendorf said.

Syracuse fans are equally excited about the reunion and have given the squad a ton of support. Within hours of the team being registered on TBT’s website, they received hundreds of votes to be included in the field. Fortunately for those fans, it sounds like the Syracuse Alumni team will try to participate in TBT every summer going forward.

“I think it’d be a really good idea to make this something we do annually,” Devenforf said. “It would be a way for us all to catch up every summer.”

While Notre Dame and Syracuse are receiving a lot of attention because of their talented rosters and early registration, other college programs are planning to put together rosters too.

Several other schools that will be involved are Connecticut (which may have a star-studded team), Indiana, Virginia, Oklahoma, Florida Gulf Coast (led by Dunk City stars Sherwood Brown, Brett Comer and Chase Fieler), Saint Louis (with Jordair Jett and Willie Reed), La Salle, Cornell (which played last year, bringing together their 2010 Sweet 16 team), Xavier, Drexel, Colorado and Temple – giving this even more of a March Madness feel.

When $1 million is on the line, there’s bound to be a ton of interest and talented teams ready to play.

And Kurz believes this is only the start. He envisions The Basketball Tournament becoming a national phenomenon in the near future.

“It’ll keep growing,” Kurz said. “There’s no doubt in my mind that this will blow up. Think about it: there’s $1 million on the line for this year’s tournament and it’s only the second year. What is it going to be next year, after people have the chance to see it on ESPN and ESPNU? It’s going to grow exponentially every year.

“The money – and the tournament itself – will only get bigger from here.”

Full Disclosure: Alex Kennedy has become a booster for the South Region’s TeamBDB, which features Josh Selby, Dominique Jones, Jermaine Taylor, Willie Reed, Aquille Carr and Durand Scott among others. For more information about their team, click here.

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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NBA Daily: Reliable Burks Thriving In Long Sought-After Opportunity

Spencer Davies takes a look at Alec Burks’ outstanding start to the season with the Golden State Warriors.

Spencer Davies

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If you go back and look at the 2011 NBA Draft, you’ll see big names all around.

Champions such as Kawhi Leonard, Klay Thompson and Kyrie Irving. All-Stars like Jimmy Butler, Kemba Walker and Nikola Vucevic.

19th overall pick Tobias Harris turned out to be a maximum contract player. “Mr. Irrelevant” was Isaiah Thomas, a player that made an All-NBA team in a near-MVP season.

But there’s still time for another man to prove himself as one of the best talents in his class and, so far this year, he has given us a reason to believe he will.

Once plagued by injuries and often dealt with inconsistent roles, Alec Burks finally has the opportunity he’d been seeking — and this time around, he’s doing the stepping up instead of being the one on the sideline.

Last night against the Memphis Grizzlies, Burks exploded for 29 points, 8 rebounds and 2 assists, plus a block and a steal. It’s the most he’s scored in a single game since Dec. 2017 and the fourth game where he’s eclipsed the 20-point mark this season already.

While that is an impressive accomplishment in its own right, the way Burks is going about getting his points is the real encouraging story. Healthy and fearless, he’s attacking with purpose and being rewarded with results, one way or another.

Burks is drawing fouls at a high rate with his aggressiveness. He’s getting to the line at will and knocking down his free throws, an astounding 23-for-25 over the last three games. A knack for disrupting opposing offenses, he’s been able to capitalize on the other end with a team-leading 5.5 points off turnovers per 100 possessions. That would also explain his success in transition, where he’s made a living on the open floor.

Don’t mistake Burks as a one-tool guy, either. He’s one of Golden State’s top threats in the pick-and-roll, using his dual-threat ability to either penetrate or pull up from distance. Trailing just Paul George, Andrew Wiggins and James Harden, the veteran combo guard is deadly off handoffs with 1.67 points per possession in such situations.

In addition, Burks has had a noticeable impact on the defensive end. The Warriors suffer when he’s not on the floor, as the opposition’s effective field goal percentage is 8.4 percent better when he sits. According to Cleaning The Glass, that ranks in the 99th percentile in the league. Furthermore, those teams are scoring 120.3 points per 100 possessions if he’s on the bench.

The 28-year-old has been a top-10 defender when it comes to guarding his assignments coming off screens, too, holding those players to 33 percent from the field.

Watching Burks operate with a clean bill of health is a gift from the basketball gods who have been cruel to him over the last three years of his career. It’s a shame that this chance has been given to him with his teammates on the mend, but how many times has he been on the other side of that battle?

Selected by the Utah Jazz at No. 12 eight years ago, Burks started his NBA career on a high note. He was a part of a franchise built around Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson, playing a complementary bench role while developing with the likes of Gordon Hayward and Enes Kanter. Then, Trey Burke was added to the mix along with Rudy Gobert in Burks’ third season, one where he appeared in a career-high 78 games.

That following year when he signed an extension, things took a downturn. Already having to adjust to a new head coach in Quin Snyder, Burks began having shoulder issues and played through them until electing to have surgery in late December. The Jazz also brought in Rodney Hood and Dante Exum as rookies.

Burks came back from the setback and, again, had been on the floor consistently in the 2015-16 campaign — except the injury bug decided to rear its ugly head in another way. Almost one year to the date that his season ended with shoulder surgery, he suffered a fractured left fibula that once again cut his year short. Snakebitten by misfortune in way too many occasions, his role in Utah never really was the same. His minutes diminished, his rhythm was off and Snyder had his backcourt rotations set.

Utah ultimately parted ways with Burks via a trade to the Cleveland Cavaliers last year, and while he did show flashes of his abilities and even snuck in a game-winning dunk during that 34-game stint, it wasn’t long before the organization moved on. The Cavaliers flipped him to the Sacramento Kings, where he had 15 DNPs and played less than 10 minutes per game.

Burks admitted at Warriors media day that being traded twice after spending seven years with one organization took a toll on him and his family. By the same token, he also knows that things happen for a reason.

Originally signing with the Oklahoma City Thunder this past summer, Burks pivoted to Golden State because he wanted to reevaluate his following the trades of Paul George and Russell Westbrook. He was sold on the Warriors’ team culture and an opportunity to play for a winner. Unfortunately, Stephen Curry went down with a major injury early this season, D’Angelo Russell is out for a couple of weeks and Draymond Green has missed some time as well — so championship aspiration is aiming high.

At the same time, the Warriors need a veteran to show young guys the ropes. Steve Kerr needs a guy to produce at a high-level to keep up with a fast-moving, deep Western Conference. Burks is proving each night that this group can rely on him.

That first-round pick all those years ago with so much promise, so many obstacles to overcome is now on the other side of the spectrum. The chance he’s been starving for is staring him right in the face.

Believe that Burks won’t take it for granted.

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Hungry HEAT Destined To Be Dark Horse In East

The Miami HEAT are off to a hot start at 9-3. Jordan Hicks details why this may actually be legitimate and why the HEAT have a chance to go deep in the playoffs.

Jordan Hicks

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After Jimmy Butler was acquired by the Miami HEAT this past offseason, everyone expected them to be a solid team in the Eastern Conference. They weren’t expected to go deep in the playoffs, and very few people had them pegged as one of the league’s elite teams. But 12 games into the season, the HEAT are 9-3…and they might be — dare we say — really, really good.

The crazy part about how their team is playing together is all the moving pieces that make it work. Butler is the leader of the team — both in general and in scoring — but he’s only averaging 18.4 points. They have six guys averaging double-digit points, another at 9.7 and three more all above 7 points per game.

As a team, they are number one in the league in field goal percentage, third in three-point shooting, fifth in assists per game and first in steals per game. They are tied with the Toronto Raptors for the fourth-best plus-minus.

Looking into more advanced statistics, they are fifth in the NBA in net rating, helped greatly by their current defensive rating of 101.2. They are second in the league in assist percentage and first in both effective and true field goal percentage.

Of their nine wins, two of them came on the road against the Milwaukee Bucks and the surprising Phoenix Suns, and another came at home in the complete demolition of the Houston Rockets. Their three losses were all the road against the Minnesota Timberwolves, Denver Nuggets and Los Angeles Lakers — three games you’d almost expect them to lose.

This isn’t a take that’s expecting you to believe the HEAT are the real deal based solely on their wins and losses up to this point in the season, but the fact they are completely taking care of business shows that Erik Spoelstra may be well on his way to one of his best head coaching seasons since the departure of LeBron James.

Just what is making this team so good? Let’s start by highlighting their stingy defense, the main driver behind their early-season success.

Butler is leading the entire NBA in steals with 2.8 per game. He is their leader on that end and a large part as to why they’re so successful. They are currently leading the NBA in steals as a team. This is great for a very obvious reason. It takes possessions away from the opposing offense and, in many cases, leads to an easy look in transition on the other end. The most efficient way to score is a wide-open dunk or layup, and fast breaks usually turn into that. The HEAT are averaging a tick under 10 steals per game, so that is plenty of looks their opponents won’t get off.

A huge breakout player for the HEAT this year is Bam Adebayo. Ever since his rookie year, you got the feeling he’d turn out to be solid, but his third season in the league finally feels like Adebayo’s time to shine. He’s averaging 13.9 points, 10.5 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.5 blocks. Guess how many other players in the NBA are putting up a similar stat line? Just one. His name is Giannis Antetokounmpo, you may have heard of him before.

In a league that is being overrun with efficient scoring, the glue guy is a key piece to any championship team that often goes unnoticed. Take Draymond Green, for example. You remember Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, and Klay Thompson, but Green played as big of a role as any of those guys in bringing rings back to Oracle. Adebayo has a chance to take an incredibly large leap this season, and some are even calling him an early candidate for the Most Improved Player award. No big deal, just HEAT-royalty Dwayne Wade.

Most impressive is where Adebayo currently sits in box plus-minus. This leaderboard is usually nestled with all the top players in the league, and Adebayo currently sits at No. 8. It’d be crazy if he stayed there all season, but the fact he’s up there already 13 games into the season is pretty impressive.

On the offensive end, things seem to be clicking on many different cylinders. As previously mentioned they have six, basically seven guys in double figures. Two of them happen to be rookies, and one of those rookies happens to be undrafted. That undrafted guy, Kendrick Nunn, is making a whole lot of noise.

He’s second in per-game scoring behind Rookie of the Year favorite Ja Morant, and he leads all rookies in steals per game. He’s first in made field goals and first in total steals, too. He leads all rookies in overall plus-minus. He’s second on the HEAT in points per game behind Jimmy Butler and second in steals per game, as well. He’s shooting well from the field as well as from behind the three, where he’s tied with Coby White for most threes made out of all rookies. He’s shooting the three at 38.4 percent which is killer for a rookie considering he’s shooting over six of them per game.

The other rookie standout, Tyler Herro, is averaging 13.3 points and 4.5 rebounds per game. He’s a great spot-up shooter, but is capable of creating his own looks, too. Of the rookies on the roster, he’ll likely be the better shooter in the long run, and he’s shown every bit of why he deserved to be drafted in the lottery at No. 13.

The HEAT have many other players contributing in diverse ways, some big and some small. Meyers Leonard is shooting over 60 percent from three on two attempts per night. Justise Winslow was pacing the team in nightly plus-minus before his concussion. Goran Dragic — a savvy veteran who is somehow glossed over in this group — is scoring 16 per game on very efficient marks. One could go on and on about all the talent this Miami team has deep on its roster.

Listen, there is still an eternity left before the playoffs start, and Jimmy Butler has shown previous incapabilities of putting the team first. But the HEAT seem to be off to an incredibly productive start. Most wouldn’t pencil them in as a championship team, but with all the parity in the league today, they absolutely have an argument to be considered the top dark horse.

The Miami HEAT have plenty of pieces to make a deep run in the playoffs. Apart from Butler, they are definitely lacking a superstar or two, but they make up for it with early-season continuity, solid coaching and overall execution on both ends of the floor. With all the talent on their roster at almost every poisition, don’t be surprised if the HEAT end up coming out of the East.

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NBA Daily: Philadelphia Castoffs Finding Success Elsewhere

After failing to make it with the Philadelphia 76ers, three players have stood out by gaining traction with new franchises as solid contributors. Chad Smith sheds some light on how these individuals have changed the narrative of their careers.

Chad Smith

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Trust The Process.

That was the slogan that the Philadelphia 76ers plastered on billboards and etched into the minds of their fans. They stressed patience to their fan base and were transparent about the entire plan. The tanking of not just games — but seasons — delivered the Sixers’ front office what they so desired: draft picks.

More valuable than cash considerations and better than expiring contracts, the draft picks offered an unknown quantity. Hope and potential for greatness were the selling points for their dynamic plan. It was easy to convince anyone and everyone that would listen. At the time, it appeared to be a solid plan, so long as everyone could stomach the losing.

While the exciting element of a draft pick is the unknown, that has also proven to be a double-edged sword. If selecting the right talent was easy, Michael Jordan would have never worn a Chicago Bulls uniform. Kevin Durant would have never played in Seattle and the Detroit Pistons probably would have rather had one of Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony or Chris Bosh instead of Darko Milicic.

Maybe that wasn’t the plan, though. Perhaps the plan was just to get as many bites out of the apple as possible and hope to strike gold on a couple of the picks. If indeed that was the plan, it would be difficult to argue that it didn’t work. Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons are already All-Star players and the faces of the franchise.

Philadelphia finally molded into a playoff team during the 2017-2018 season. The organization quickly went to work on tweaking the roster, trying to find the right pieces to fit this puzzle together. But outside of its two cornerstones over the past five years, there were three notable players that were labeled as busts or clearly were not going to make it with the Sixers. And many wondered if these guys would even still be in the league in the coming months.

These guys needed a fresh start. They needed a reset button on their careers. Now, they appear to be in the right environment with the right people bringing out the best in them. They have thrived in their new roles and, ultimately, have changed the narrative of their careers.

Markelle Fultz, Orlando Magic

The most obvious success story seems to be playing out right before our eyes. The Sixers selected Fultz with the No. 1 overall pick in 2017, but it turned sideways very quickly. After captivating college basketball fans at Washington, expectations were extremely high as he prepared for his rookie season.

The Orlando Magic have been starving for a star point guard for quite some time. They took a gamble on the 21-year old, and it is paying off in a big way. Fultz being used as a combo guard alongside a strong and youthful roster seems to be an ideal fit. He is getting to the basket and finishing strong. He is also knocking down his free throws (82 percent) and collecting steals (1.3 per game) at a high rate.

Heading into tonight’s game in Toronto, Fultz is averaging just under 11 points and 3.1 assists per game. He had an effective field goal percentage of 42 percent in his 33 total games as a member of the 76ers. Through 13 games this season, he’s upped that to 51.4.

Both Embiid and Simmons missed their entire first season in Philly and turned into All-Stars. This small sample size is just that, but things are definitely trending in the right direction for Fultz to develop into the caliber of player everyone thought he would be when he was drafted. The mental hurdle has been cleared, and his confidence seems to have been been restored.

Jahlil Okafor, New Orleans Pelicans

The 2015 NBA Draft had some exceptional talent. Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell went just before Okafor, but many people thought that was a mistake. While the former third overall pick won’t ever reach the same pinnacle as those two in his career, he has been a tremendous success story nonetheless over the past two years.

After three seasons of below-average production in Philly, Okafor was traded to the Brooklyn Nets where he was seeking a fresh start. His 26-game stint there did not yield positive results, and it appeared as though the promising big man’s future was near the end. In the summer of 2018, Okafor signed a minimum salary contract with the New Orleans Pelicans. He remains on a partially-guaranteed deal, but is outperforming that so far this season.

With so many athletic wings and a bevy of guards in New Orleans, Okafor has found the perfect role as the man in the middle. No longer seeming rushed, the big man is patient with the ball and has the ability to finish himself or find the open guy on the perimeter. He is much more efficient shooting the ball and is averaging 1.1 blocks per game.

Despite suffering an ankle injury that has him temporarily sidelined, Okafor has been playing well. With the absence of rookie sensation Zion Williamson, New Orleans has needed his solid play to keep the train rolling. He won’t be what many had envisioned him becoming after leaving Duke, but Okafor has carved out a nice role for himself in the league.

Richaun Holmes, Sacramento Kings

Another member of Philly’s 2015 draft class has found his opportunity in a different zip code. Despite playing 156 games for the Sixers, Holmes was never really given the opportunity to become a vital role player for the team. He started just 20 of those games and played less than 17 minutes a night. With so many injuries in Sacramento, that opportunity has come for him, and he has stepped up and excelled in his new role.

The overall numbers for Holmes have risen quite a bit, but the blocks are what stand out the most. Through 13 games this season, the active big man is averaging nearly as many blocks per game (1.4) as the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, Rudy Gobert. He is averaging career-high numbers in virtually every statistical category.

The former second-round pick has always been known as an energy guy, and he is thriving off of that on this young and hungry Kings squad. His rebounding has been tremendous, especially on offense. Sacramento ranks in the top half of the league in second-chance points, largely due to Holmes being so active on the glass.

Whereas many of the trades that the 76ers executed involved more talent coming back in return, this one was different. Philly traded Holmes to the Phoenix Suns in the summer of 2018 for $1 million. Nearly a year later, Holmes signed a two-year deal with the Kings for $9.77 million. Consider that money well-earned by Holmes, and well spent by Sacramento.

For every Embiid and Simmons that comes along, there are guys like Michael Carter-Williams, Nerlens Noel and Timothé Luwawu-Cabarrot. What is important for these guys is to embrace a fresh start and a different role with a new team.

By doing so, they can assure themselves of a future in the league as opposed to watching from the sidelines.

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