Change Of Course In Philly?
Yesterday, the Philadelphia 76ers named former Phoenix Suns majority owner and current USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo to the post of Chairman of Basketball Operations. His role will also include being an adviser to 76ers majority owner Josh Harris.
As the dust on this move settles, there are few things worth talking about.
This move likely isn’t going to change much in the short-term, as current General Manager Sam Hinkie will continue to run the day-to-day operations of the team. However, in the long-term, league sources believe that Colangelo will be putting not only his stamp on the team, but also will be very active in recruiting and shaping the team’s roster going forward beyond this season.
There is also a sense that NBA commissioner Adam Silver – at the behest of several other owners – was urging Harris to put a proven and established face on the 76ers franchise, as the team has continued to drag on the NBA’s bottom line of the league during their rebuild.
In Colangelo, not only did the Sixers get a credible basketball operator, they also get someone who has ties and connections to some of the top talent in basketball from his role with USA Basketball. Colangelo has been personally recruiting the NBA’s top talent to participate in the Men’s National Team program and has gotten to know many of the top players and their agents personally, which could be huge for the 76ers as they enter the next phase of their rebuild. Armed with a small mountain of free agent cash to dangle to would-be free agents, Colangelo has the relationships and credibility in the NBA community the 76ers were frankly lacking.
There is also a sense among outsiders (personalities not currently working inside the 76ers organization) that Colangelo could be fairly active around the 76ers during the trade deadline this year, although sources close to the process say that Colangelo has pledged to work with existing management this year in more of an advisory role. So how aggressive Colangelo’s voice will be in the short-term remains unclear.
There is also a sense that to land Colangelo an ownership stake in the team was part of the deal, either as part of his compensation or as an offer to buy-in with his own cash or some combination of both. The 76ers have a very complex ownership structure so arranging for Colangelo to buy in wouldn’t be that difficult to pull off.
In the long-term, it remains unclear how secure Hinkie will be beyond this season, as more than a few insiders wonder if adding former Toronto Raptors president and Colangelo’s son Bryan to the mix isn’t likely next season.
While everyone in the mix is saying that Colangelo is an addition to the current structure of the 76ers, the belief outside the organization is that this is the first step toward a significant change in direction and that Colangelo isn’t going to sit in the corner and collect a paycheck; he is going to put his stamp on the team and that’s likely going to include some major free agent signings this summer.
Has Hinkie Really Done A Bad Job?
With yesterday’s hiring of Jerry Colangelo, questions about the future of current General Manger Sam Hinkie surfaced. And while Hinkie takes a lot of heat from fans over his rebuilding tactics, there are a few things worth noting.
If you rewind back to the state of the 76ers organization when Hinkie took over in May of 2013, the team had just gone 34-48 and finished fourth in the Atlantic Division. Doug Collins was basically running the show and the roster was a mess. The team had traded away bright young talents like Nikola Vucevic and first-round pick Moe Harkless, and had taken on the contract of Andrew Bynum that the team ultimate re-traded.
There wasn’t a lot of promise on the Sixers’ roster outside of point guard Jrue Holiday and forward Thaddeus Young.
According to sources close to the process, Hinkie laid out several scenarios for ownership. Among them was the option of trying to build going forward using what the team had, which would have likely yielded some playoff appearances but not much else given how hard it is to add talent in the draft when you are the seventh or eighth seed. Equally, Philadelphia was struggling to attract free agents. The other option was a complete rebuild and ownership opted for that. This included trading away as much of the roster as possible, leveraging the draft and the 76ers’ salary cap space to bring in as many low-dollar talents as possible.
That’s was the plan ownership approved, and Hinkie has been executing it. While there is often a sense that Hinkie is operating autonomously, the truth of the matter is that ownership has been involved at every step of the rebuild.
The Sixers have been operating under a simple principal: that they want to be “Great Not Good.” While amassing good talent is valuable, the key to winning and sustained winning requires great talents. That’s what the Sixers have been looking for during this process.
During the 2013 NBA Draft, the Sixers traded away a proven guard in Holiday for an injured Nerlens Noel. The 76ers did that knowing full well that Noel would likely miss the season rehabbing from a torn ACL, but the belief was that Noel had the potential to be a great NBA player. With their own selection, they drafted point guard Michael Carter-Williams, believing that with his length, court vision and size that in time he had the potential to be a great talent, despite his struggles shooting the ball.
After roughly 100 games, the 76ers ultimately traded Carter-Williams in part because he became a problem within the team dynamic, but also in part because they realized that he was not improving as a shooter and that the best he could be for them was good, not great.
In the 2014 NBA Draft, the Sixers had their eye on Australian guard Dante Exum, and there was a sense that’s where the 76ers were going to go if the draft played out as expected with Kansas big man Joel Embiid going number one overall and Andrew Wiggins going number two overall. However, Embiid injured his foot and fell out of the top two and was on the board for the 76ers. The belief at the time was that while Embiid’s navicular fracture was serious, he was far and away the best talent on the board with the potential to be great. There was risk in the pick for sure, but the chance to get a franchise-type player was the goal and the 76ers drafted him.
The Sixers made a similar choice later in the 2014 draft with international forward Dario Saric. The team knew he was staying in Europe for at least two years, but viewed him as the best long-term talent available to them.
Where Hinkie gets heat is with four selections at the top of the draft, he has yielded just one player that’s logged game minutes.
That’s a tough pill for pundits to swallow, but what’s overlooked in all of this is that the 76ers are incredibly well positioned going forward.
Noel has proven to be a solid player. Time will tell if he gets into the great discussion. Embiid had a setback with his injury, but indications are that he is progressing with his second surgery and taking the rehab process seriously. This year’s first-round pick Jahlil Okafor has been stellar. The 76ers hold the rights to the Lakers’ first-round pick if it falls out of the top three. They have their own pick, which should be in the top five. They have the rights to Miami’s pick, which should be in the late 20s, and they have the Thunder’s pick, which could also fall in the 20s.
Saric has the option of coming to the NBA next season, and throughout the rebuild the 76ers have stumbled upon players like Robert Covington, Tony Wroten and Jerami Grant, all of whom could be solid rotation players.
Assuming everything works out the 76ers way, their roster next year could include Noel, Okafor, Embiid, Saric, Covington, Wroten, Grant, Kendall Marshall and four selections from the 2016 draft class. Oh, and they could have as much as $67 million in free agent cap space.
Considering where the 76ers started in May of 2013, they look to be well positioned for the 2017 NBA season.
While it’s easy to trash Hinkie and his tactics, if you look at what the plan was – reload the cupboard – he has done a great job collecting talent and assets. The next part is what will make or break the 76ers: Can it all come together into something that can contend not just for a playoff berth, but something bigger like an NBA championship? After all, that’s the plan ownership signed off on.
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NBA Daily: Luguentz Dort – A Different Kind of Point Guard
The point guard position is a clearly-defined one – perhaps the most defined – in the modern NBA.
At the one, you are either an elite shooter (both inside and on the perimeter), ala Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving and Damian Lillard, an elite passer, ala Chris Paul, Ben Simmons and Russell Westbrook, or some combination of the two.
Luguentz Dort doesn’t exactly fit that bill.
The 20-year-old combo-guard out of Arizona State University didn’t shoot the competition out of the gym – Dort managed a field goal percentage of just 40.5 and hit on a meager 30.7 percent from downtown. And he wasn’t exactly the flashiest passer, as he averaged just 2.3 assists per game in his lone season with the Sun Devils.
He’s different. But, according to Dort, he has what it takes to run the point at the next level.
“I know that I can become a really good leader on the court and create for my teammates,” Dort said at the 2019 NBA Draft Combine.
Confidence and an “I-will-outwork-you” competitive attitude are at the center of Dort and his game. Those two aspects drive the engine that has made Dort one of the more intriguing prospects in the back end of the first round. He may not be the most talented player in this class, but Dort is hyper-competitive and can out-hustle anyone on any given night.
“When I play,” Dort said, “I’m really going at people to let them know it’s not going to be easy.”
There is a hunger in Dort – a desire to win that is evidenced in his game. An aggressor on both offense and defense, Dort’s motor is always going. His primary selling point is his defensive ability; built like an NFL defensive end, Dort can bring energy and effort to any defense. He has more than enough speed to stick with smaller guards on the perimeter and more than enough strength to bump with bigger forwards in the paint.
Dort has also shown a knack for jumping passing lanes to either deflect passes or outright steal the ball; Dort was fourth in the Pac-12 as he averaged 1.5 steals per game and 1.9 per 40 minutes.
Dort has made it a point to put that defensive ability and intensity on full display for potential suitors. At the Combine, Dort said he wanted to show teams “how tough I play on defense” and “how hard I play and the type of competitor I am.”
Offensively, Dort is an impeccable cutter. At Arizona State, Dort averaged 1.289 points per possession on cuts, according to Synergy Sports. When he goes to the rim, Dort used his size and power to his advantage in order to get to the basket and either drop it in the bucket or draw a foul. He isn’t Irving with the ball in his hands, but Dort can make a move with the ball to create space as well.
Dort isn’t a superb passer, but he has a solid vision and can make, and often made while at Arizona State, the right pass as well.
But can Dort overcome the inconsistencies that plagued him at Arizona State? Dort was, at times, reckless with the ball in his hands. Whether he drove into a crowd just to throw up an ill-fated shot attempt or forced an errant pass, Dort’s decision-making must improve. His shooting is suspect and his touch around the rim – two skills critical to the modern point guard – weren’t exactly up to snuff either.
There were lapses on the defensive end as well. Sometimes Dort would fall asleep off the ball or he would be too aggressive one-on-one. If he is too handsy or unaware, NBA veterans will take advantage of every chance they get against him.
But, according to Dort, he has worked on those issues.
“My decision making got a lot better,” Dort said. “My shot, my free throws, everything. I really worked on all that this season.”
But in order to truly make an impact at the next level, he’ll have to continue to work and refine those skills further.
More work has never been an issue for Dort. However raw he may appear, he has the look of and the work-ethic required of NBA-caliber talent. Dort’s ultimate goal for the Combine, other than draw interest from NBA teams, was simple: “learn about everything, get feedback and go back to Arizona and continue to work on my game.” Whether or not teams view him as a point guard, shooting guard or something else entirely is a matter for debate, but, standing at just over 6-foot-4, 222 pounds with a 6-foot-8 wingspan and high motor, Dort has the versatility and ability to stick at, and is willing to play, a variety of different spots on the floor.
“I want to play any position a team would want me to play,” Dort said.
He may not be the prototypical point guard, but with that kind of willing, team-first attitude, Dort, at some point or another, is almost certain to make it to and have an impact at the next level.
NBA Daily: Brandon Clarke Working From The Ground Up
Because of the unusual path he’s taken to get here, Brandon Clarke has established himself as one of the more unique prospects in the 2019 NBA Draft, writes Matt John.
When the draft time comes along, teams who have the higher picks usually look for guys who have the highest ceiling. Because of this, they usually decide to take players on the younger side because they believe those who have less experience have more room to improve.
This puts Brandon Clarke at a slight disadvantage. Clarke is 22 years old – and will be 23 when training camp rolls around – and only just recently came onto the scene after an excellent performance for Gonzaga in March Madness this season.
Competing for scouts’ attention against those who are younger and/or deemed better prospects than him would be quite the challenge, but because of what he’s been through, said challenge didn’t seem to faze him one bit at the combine.
“It was a different path for me,” Clarke said. “ I’m 22 and there are some guys here that are only 18 years old. With that being said, I’m still here.”
The Canadian native has clearly had to pay his dues to get to where he is. Clarke originally played for San Jose State, a school that had only been to the NCAA Tournament three times in its program’s history – the most recent entry being 1996 – whose last alum to play in the NBA was Tariq Abdul-Wahad. Props to you if you know who that is!
Playing under a program that didn’t exactly boast the best reputation wasn’t exactly ideal for Clarke. In fact, according to him, it was disheartening at times.
“There were definitely times that I felt down,” Clarke said. “When I first went there, I was kind of freaking out because I was going to a team that had only won two or three games prior to me getting there.”
No tournament bids came from Brandon’s efforts, but the Spartans saw a spike in their win total in the two seasons he played there. The team went from two wins to nine in his freshman year, then went from nine wins to fourteen his sophomore year. Clarke’s performance definitely had a fair amount to do with San Jose State’s higher success rate, but the man praised the program for the opportunity it gave him.
“We did some really big things for that college so I’m really grateful for the stuff I could do for them,” Clarke said.
After spending two years at SJS, Clarke then transferred to Gonzaga where he redshirted for a year before getting himself back on the court. When he did, he put himself on the map.
Clarke dominated in his lone year with the Bulldogs, averaging 16.9 points and 8.6 rebounds – including 3.1 offensive boards – as well as 3.1 blocks and 1.2 steals per game. The man clearly established himself as a high-energy small-ball center at 6-foot-8 ¼ inches, and it paved the way for Gonzaga to get a one-seed in the NCAA Tournament and go all the way to the Elite Eight.
Brandon loved the experience with the Bulldogs, both for the opportunity they gave him and for what he was able to do for them on the court.
“It was a great year,” Clarke said. “I got to play with some of the best players in the country… It was everything that I ever dreamed of. I’m going to miss it a lot. From a personal standpoint, I was just really blessed that I was able to block shots… I felt that I was really efficient too and I really helped us on the offensive end taking smart shots.”
Both his age and the small sample size, unfortunately, go hand in hand so that it’s hard to pinpoint where exactly Brandon Clarke will be taken in the draft. The latest Consensus Mock Draft from Basketball Insiders has all four contributors disagreeing where he will be selected, ranging from being picked as high ninth overall to as low as 21st.
Where he will get selected will all depend on who trusts what could be his greatest weakness – his shotty jumper.
In a league where spacing is so very crucial to consistent success, Clarke’s inability to space the floor hurts his stock. His free throw shooting at Gonzaga saw a drastic improvement from San Jose State, as he went from 57 percent to almost 70. That’s not as much of a liability but not much of a strength either. His three-point shooting in that time took a dive in that time, going from 33 percent to almost 27, which definitely does not help.
To be a hotter commodity at the draft, Clarke had to prove he could shoot the rock from anywhere, which is what he set to do at the combine.
“That is my biggest question mark,” Clarke said. “I’ve been working really hard on it. So I’m hoping that they can see that I can actually shoot it and that I have made lots of progress on it, and that they can trust me to get better at it.”
The journey that Clarke has been on to get to where he is had made him all the wiser as a player. With him expected to enter the NBA next season, he had a simple yet profound message to aspiring young ballers everywhere.
“Trust yourself. Trust your coaches. Trust everybody around you that you love… Make the best out of the situation that you are in.”
NBA Daily: Nassir Little’s Climb Back up the Draft Boards
Nassir Little’s measurements and personality shined through at the Combine, leading many to believe he may be better suited for the NBA than he was for the NCAA, writes Drew Maresca.
From highly-touted prospect to reserve player and back, Nassir Little’s path to the pros has been an unusual one.
Little was a McDonald’s All-American and five-star prospect. And yet, he didn’t start a single game in his lone season at North Carolina.
He demonstrated the ability to take over a game at times – averaging 19.5 points per game through UNC’s first two games in the NCAA tournament. He also broke the 18-point barrier in six games this past season. But he also scored in single digits in 18 of the Tar Heels’ 36 games, resulting in him being labeled inconsistent by many professional scouts.
Luckily for Little, his skillset is highly sought after by NBA personnel. He is a 6-foot-6, 220 pound forward. He averaged 9.8 points and 4.6 rebounds per game as UNC’s sixth man, demonstrating the versatility to switch between both forward positions fairly seamlessly.
And he very well may be one of the few players better suited for the modern NBA game than he was for the NCAA.
Little told reporters at the NBA combine that much of his struggles can be attributed to the hesitancy he developed in his own game through the lack of clarity provided to him by the North Carolina coaching staff.
“The coaching staff didn’t really understand what my role was, especially on offense,” said Little. “So it created a lot of hesitancy, which didn’t allow me to play like myself.”
But Little assured reporters that he’ll look more like the five-star recruit we saw when he was a senior at Orlando Christian Prep.
“Throughout the year I didn’t feel like I played like myself. The guy that people saw in high school is really who I am as a player,” Little said. “And that’s the guy that people will see at the next level.”
Not only does Little expect to be back to his old self, he sees greatness in his future.
“I feel like I am going to come in as, like, a second version of Kawhi Leonard and be that defensive guy,” Little said. “Later on in the years, add [additional] pieces to my game.”
And while a Leonard comparison represents a tall order, Little’s physical tools have fueled discussion about his defensive potential – which has resulted in his climb back up draft boards. Little measured in with a 7-foot-1 wingspan and posted an impressive 38.5-inch vertical jump (second amongst all 2019 participants), a 3.09-second shuttle run (third) and a 3.31-second ¾ court sprint (fourth) – all of which translates perfectly to the NBA.
While his physical prowess will certainly help him gain additional visibility throughout the draft process, Little claims to possess another attribute that everyone else in the draft might not necessarily have, too.
“A lot of guys talk about skill set, everyone’s in the gym working on their skillset. But me being able to bring energy day in and day out is something a lot of guys don’t do.”
To Little’s point, he projects extremely well as an energetic, defensive pest. He is an aggressive and physical defender who has drawn comparisons to guys like Marcus Smart and Gerald Wallace – both of whom are/were known for their high-energy play and dedication on the floor. While his athleticism and potential can open doors, his personality will ensure that teams fall in love with the 19-year old forward. Little came across as extremely likable and candid, which should factor into the overall process, especially when considering that other prospects with less personality project to be more challenging to work with. Moreover, the fact that he was named to the Academic All-ACC team speaks volumes to his discipline and dedication.
Little alluded to the fact that he already sat through interviews with 10 teams as of a week ago, including one with the San Antonio Spurs, which makes the Leonard comparison all the more intriguing.
“Each team has different needs,” Little said. “But they like my [ability] to score the basketball in a variety of ways and my defensive potential to guard multiple positions, they really like that. And my athleticism to be on the court and finish plays.”
If Little is lucky, he’ll be selected by the Spurs with the nineteenth pick. And if that happens, he would be wise to pay close attention to the advice given to him by Coach Gregg Popovich – and not only because he sees similarities between himself and former Popovich-favorite, Leonard. Coach Popovich has a long history of developing lesser known draft picks into borderline stars – Derrick White being the most recent example.
Considering Little’s physical tools, academic achievements and easy-going personality, he has everything one would need to have a long NBA career. Just how successful he ends up being is mostly up to him.