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NBA Daily: Cavs and Sixers Executing Opposite Strategies

Cleveland and Philadelphia have taken different approaches in nurturing their young guards – which could ultimately affect how their careers turn out, writes Matt John.

Matt John

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When you draft a talented young guard, how do you acclimate him into the NBA?

Do you throw him to the wolves right away by inserting him in the starting lineup, or do you force him to prove his worth by having him start off the bench? Cleveland and Philadelphia have decided to take opposite approaches with their young guards.

The Sixers have elected Markelle Fultz as their starting point guard – or as one of their starting guards depending on how you view Ben Simmons – while the Cavaliers have elected to have rookie Collin Sexton come off their bench.

Both moves have been seen as peculiar ones to make, but could either one be the correct call? Well, it depends on both the player and the team that he is playing for.

Remember that Markelle Fultz and Collin Sexton are in completely different situations with their respective teams. Fultz is on a team who hopes he can play a pivotal role in their next expected postseason run. Sexton is on a team who hopes he can make an impact no matter which way they go.

In regards to the players themselves, since both are in different circumstances, it’s only fair to take a look at them individually.

Markelle Fultz

Fultz was supposed to be the final puzzle piece of the process in Philadelphia. When the Sixers acquired his rights as the first overall pick in the draft from Boston, nobody questioned why the they made the move. Now, the script has been flipped.

Fultz has been surrounded by nothing but questions since entering the NBA, with the latest one being, “Why is he starting?” It’s a good question. The Sixers proved to be a tough competitor when they started JJ Redick opposite Simmons as the other guard last season. It is mystifying that this season, Philadelphia opted to go with the unknown in Fultz rather than the proven product in Redick.

Many believe that Fultz’s issues last season were mental more than anything else, so the common belief is that guys like him should be worked into the NBA slowly, or, in other words, start their career off by coming off the bench. Coach Brett Brown obviously thought otherwise.

By starting Fultz, Brown has shown him that he has faith in his abilities, which could help Fultz in the long-run. If he had Fultz come off the bench, that could potentially be very hard on the former No. 1 pick’s psyche. By having him play with the starters on a team that hopes to go far into the playoffs this year, Brown has shown Fultz that he can play with the big boys. The confidence boost Fultz gets from that could take him a long way.

That doesn’t mean it’s all hunky-dory from here. If Fultz fails to prove himself in the starting lineup, then it may not be long until Brown re-inserts Redick into the starting lineup, which would not be good for his confidence. The biggest challenge is that he plays next to Simmons, a non-shooter who needs the ball in his hands to be effective. In order for Fultz to work well with Simmons, he has to prove himself as a capable shooter off the ball.

So far, leading up to last night, the returns from Fultz have not been great.

Game One vs. Boston: Five points, two assists, three turnovers on 2/7 shooting in 24 minutes
Game Two vs. Chicago: 12 points, five assists, six rebounds on 5/15 shooting in 32 minutes
Game Three vs. Orlando: Eight points, seven assists, four rebounds on 4/11 shooting in 23 minutes

And this nugget from Zach Lowe will make anyone squirm.

Tuesday night, though, Fultz put up his best stat line against Detroit. In just 21 minutes, Fultz put up 13 points on 6-for-9 shooting, including a deep ball and six rebounds. If that’s a sign of things to come, then the Sixers will make good on their strategy with Fultz. Some will call it slow, but as anyone in Philadelphia will tell you, it’s a process.

Collin Sexton

As of right now, Sexton is supposed to be the future of the Cleveland Cavaliers. Following LeBron James’ departure and being basically the last remnant of the Kyrie Irving trade, Sexton is believed to be the heir apparent in “The Land.” In order to be that, he has to start from the bottom up.

Sexton had an encouraging Summer League performance in Las Vegas. The speedster’s skillset was on full display, as he averaged 19.6 points on 43 percent shooting along with 3.6 rebounds and 3.4 assists. His shot form didn’t look the smoothest, but Sexton looked every bit like the young stud Cleveland had hoped he would be.

Even with that, the Cavaliers have elected to have Sexton come off the bench to prove that he can be a starter in this league. Although somewhat surprising, Sexton is playing next to experienced players young and old – such as George Hill, Jordan Clarkson, Rodney Hood and, potentially, J.R. Smith.

While making sure the rookie gets a fair amount of burn will be important, letting him know where his place is as a first-year player could actually show him that his career won’t just be handed to him. By doing this, it pushes Sexton to show the Cavaliers what he’s made of. There are a fair number of players who come into this league entitled to a starring role.

Unlike Philadelphia, Sexton appears to have no mental hurdles so far since entering the NBA. His biggest challenge may not be about anything he can do, but what his team does. Cleveland enters as a team that could either try for the playoffs or start from scratch. If they don’t show any improvement from their 0-3 start to the season, then they may not have a choice.

So far, Sexton has shown flashes but looks like he will be a work in progress.

Game One vs. Toronto: Nine points, three rebounds, four turnovers on 2/7 shooting in 18 minutes
Game Two vs. Minnesota: 14 points, two rebounds on 6/9 shooting in 23 minutes
Game Three vs. Atlanta: Four points, two assists on 2/11 shooting in 28 minutes

His outputs have been uneven, but the season is still young for him. Cleveland is just trying to work out the kinks of their squad. Expect Sexton to gradually earn a bigger role as the season continues. Hopefully, with a little more experience, he should continue to grow as a player.

At the end of the day, neither strategy is right or wrong. The player ultimately decides if his team made the right move by how he responds to the way he’s used. For all we know, Sexton and Fultz may be better served if they’re put in the others’ position rather than the one they are in now. It’s important that, since the season is still young, both Philadelphia and Cleveland remain patient. Even if Fultz and/or Sexton prove to be a work in progress, drawing quick conclusions on them could be a poor decision.

Teams have regretted giving up on young point guards early. In 1997, the Celtics drafted a young floor general out of Colorado by the name of Chauncey Billups with the third overall pick. Billups’ numbers were okay for a rookie – 11.1 points and 4.3 assists per game on 39 percent shooting and 34 percent from three – but clearly weren’t impressive enough for Pitino, as the rookie was traded mid-season to Toronto. Billups may not have fully found his stride until he got to Detroit four years later, but one can’t help but wonder what could have been had Billups gotten to play with Paul Pierce.

Some young players are ready right away, while others need some time to get up to speed. The season is still young and there’s plenty still left unknown. For now, neither Philadelphia nor Cleveland should pull the plug so hastily, though they may decide to change a few things if their strategies don’t work. The best move for them is to keep moving forward with what they have because, if they don’t, they may wind up in the same boat as Boston after they traded Billups.

Full of endless regret.

Matt John is a staff writer for Basketball Insiders. He is currently a Utah resident, but a Massachusetts native.

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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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NBA Daily: Bruno Fernando Is Ready To Take On The NBA

After his sophomore season at Maryland, Bruno Fernando is confident that he is ready to take on the NBA, writes James Blancarte.

James Blancarte

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The 2019 NBA Draft Lottery kicked off the draft season in a shocking way as numerous teams jumped into the top four due to the new draft structure. After the Lottery, it’s a bit easier to predict the order in which Zion Williamson, Ja Morant and R.J. Barrett will be selected. Who gets drafted after that, and in what order, is still very much unclear. There are some consensus players in the upper half of the first round. After that, things get very interesting.

Expect the mock draft boards to be all over the place as we move closer to this year’s draft, especially after going through the Combine. Many once less-heralded players show up to the Combine with eye-opening physical measurements, impress in workouts and scrimmages and demonstrate a level of professional polish, among other things.

Last year, after his Freshman season as Maryland, center Bruno Fernando participated in the draft process. Fernando did not sign with an agent and ultimately returned to Maryland where he continued to raise his profile. This year, Fernando again participated in the Combine and spoke with Basketball Insiders.

“I think what’s different this time around is just how much easier it’s gotten. For me, how much more comfortable I am. How much easier it is. Obviously, you know what to expect,” Fernando told Basketball Insiders. “I think just really being here and being around the guys on the team has been a completely different experience than I had last year. This year I know a lot more of the guys. I’ve been working out with a lot of different guys. I think it’s just been a much, much better experience.”

Starting all but one game his sophomore year, Fernando averaged 13.6 points, 10.6 rebounds, 1.9 blocks and two assists per game. These averages were a significant jump over his freshman year. Fernando uses an aggressive, mobile game at and around the basket to do his damage. After solidifying his game on the court, he felt comfortable enough signing with an agent and letting Maryland know he wouldn’t be returning for his junior year. Fernando is now confident about his positioning in the draft, which played a factor in his decision to not play in five-on-five scrimmages.

“Last year I was in a position where I didn’t really know where I stand as much. Last year I had to find out a lot of things coming into the combine,” Fernando said. “And this year I think I am in a position just by talking to my agent and my coaches where I feel like I’m in a position where I’m a lot comfortable compared to last year, in a much better place. Having that that feedback from teams really, my agent really felt like that was the best decision for me not to play five-on-five.”

Fernando’s offensive prowess and athletic upside have him looking like a solid first-round pick. According to the Basketball Insiders version 3.0 mock draft, Fernando is projected to go anywhere from 14th- 29th overall. Tommy Beer projects him to go 25th. Being drafted in the first-round, in general, portends a better career as teams find themselves with a greater financial stake in the player and accordingly will be pinning higher hopes for that prospect.

At 6-foot-10, Fernando projects as a low post threat with excellent handwork who can score with a variety of moves down low as well as a lob threat. Fernando also occasionally takes advantage of steal and breakaway opportunities to run the floor and score easy points with his ferocious dunking ability. He didn’t do much damage from distance, although his shooting stroke and mechanics make that part of his game a potential future weapon in his arsenal. Fernando addressed that very point.

“The part of my game that is unseen so far is my ability to space the floor. My ability to dribble the ball and put the ball on the floor, take guys off the dribble and my shooting ability,” Fernando told Basketball Insiders. “I really think my shooting ability is something that people don’t notice that I am able to shoot the ball. Just because of my situation in Maryland where I didn’t really take many shots. You know, I never really had to come outside and try to play outside. You know we had a lot of really good players on the perimeter. I think it’s really just a matter of me staying to true to myself, who I am and trying to win in the best way possible.”

Any team in need of a possible pick-and-roll threat who can score down low should keep an eye on Fernando. Whether a team believes that Fernando can also be successful as a stretch big is not as clear. Where Fernando ends up is still totally up in the air. Regardless, he’s grateful for the opportunity to be the first representative from his own home country of Angola to play in the NBA and made it clear that he has been hearing from other Angola natives.

“Sending a lot of love and positive energy, lot of words of encouragement for me and I think it is really special to get those text messages,” Fernando told Basketball Insiders. “Having people from home texting me every single day. Just knowing that a whole nation is behind me. I’m here fighting and sacrificing to make a dream come true, something that will not just benefit me but a whole nation.”

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NBA Daily: Who Is Cam Reddish?

An underwhelming season at Duke casts a shadow over Cam Reddish, who oozes talent and potential. Shane Rhodes looks to answer the question: Who is Cam Reddish?

Shane Rhodes

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“I’m Cam Reddish.”

Cam Reddish gave the tongue-in-cheek response Thursday at the 2019 NBA Draft Combine when asked “who he is” as a basketball player.
But who is Reddish?

A former high school phenom, five-star recruit and projected top pick, Reddish was expected to flourish at Duke University under the watch of Mike Krzyzewski. When R.J. Barrett and Zion Williamson later followed him to Durham, North Carolina, the three were expected to take the NCAA by storm.

Things didn’t quite go as planned.

While he is still a projected lottery pick, the jury is out on just who Reddish is and how his game will translate to the NBA. A dominant force in high school, the reserved 19-year-old took a backseat to Barrett and Williamson as the three tried but failed to capture a National Championship in their lone season together at Duke.

When compared to the sky-high expectations that were set for him, Reddish underwhelmed mightily as a Blue Devil, and that played a major part in their failure. Relegated to the role of a spot-up shooter and the third option on offense, Reddish averaged an okay, not good 13.5 points on just 12 attempts across 36 games. He managed a meager 35.6% from the field (33.3% from three) and dished out just 1.9 assists per game. When he had the ball, he often deferred to Barrett and Williamson, too often for some.

The focal point of his high school team at Westtown School, Reddish was lauded for the ability that made him a top recruit. He oozed (and still oozes) athleticism – Reddish, who weighed in at 208 pounds, was measured as 6-foot-8 with a 7-foot wingspan at the Combine – and is as versatile as they come. At Westtown, Reddish ran the point, while he spent most of his time at the two-guard or in the front-court at Duke. He was an aggressive, efficient scorer that had no problem getting what he wanted on the floor with the ball in his hands.

But at Duke, that player that Reddish was, the aggressiveness and ease at which he operated, seemed to disappear for long stretches. Those struggles have cast a large shadow over someone that had the look of a future superstar, and Reddish’s draft stock has taken a hit as a result. While some still stand behind him and his talent, plenty of others have faded Reddish in favor of other prospects.

But, at the Combine, Reddish isn’t dwelling on what was or what could have been at Duke. He just trying to learn and get back to being that do-it-all force that he was.

“I’m just trying to learn about the NBA process,” Reddish said. “I’m just trying to get back to who I can be, who I am.”

But that begs the question: who, exactly, is Reddish, and what could he do at the NBA level?

“I feel like I can do everything,” Reddish said. “I was more of a shooter this year – I don’t want to classify myself as just a shooter. I feel like if I just go out there and play my game, I can do a variety of things.”

“Once I show that, I should definitely move up [draft boards].”

There were plenty of flashes of that player during his short stint at Duke. Reddish, at times, seemed to will the ball into the basket, while his shooting stroke appeared to be as good as advertised. He had a knack for performing in the clutch, with multiple shots to win or tie the game for Duke, or keep them in it down the stretch when the others started to fade. The wing managed double-digit points in 23 games, 15 of which he posted 15 or more points (with 20 or more points in eight of those). Reddish managed 18 multi-steal performances and recorded a block or more in 16 games as well.

Wrap all of that up with his plus-defensive ability, and Reddish could very well prove the type of player that could do a little bit of everything for an NBA squad. But he can bring more than that, not only on the court, but off the court as well.

While some may perceive his passiveness alongside Barrett and Williamson as a negative, a lack of “mamba-mentality” or killer instinct that many teams hope for in their top draft picks, Reddish could (and probably should) just as easily be applauded for his willingness to share the ball and step into an ancillary role on a team loaded with talent. As we saw this season with the Boston Celtics, who were projected by many to go challenge the Golden State Warriors for the Larry O’Brien trophy but flamed out against the Milwaukee Bucks after a season fraught with discontent, that can be hard to do on the biggest stage.

And, while he is the quiet type, Reddish made it a point to say that evaluators shouldn’t confuse that for laziness or lack of effort.

“I’m kind of reserved – my personality is kind of reserved – some people might take that as lazy or too laid back. But that’s not just who I am, I’m just a naturally reserved, calm guy.”

There were certainly issues, however.

Despite flashes, Reddish wasn’t the player he could be on anywhere near a consistent basis, even in a smaller role. His time at Duke revealed some major deficiencies in his game and presented some serious causes for concern; a penchant for bad shots, struggles close to the basket and the inability to maximize his athletic gifts. On more than one occasion, he looked to have turned the corner, only to drop another underwhelming performance soon after.

All of that doesn’t exactly bode well for Reddish’s transition to the NBA, regardless of the team that picks him on draft night.

But, the potential is there for him to be great. Now it’s on Reddish to capitalize on that potential.

Reddish could very well prove the most polarizing prospect in the 2019 Draft Class. His ability to maximize his natural talent and recapture the aggressiveness that pushed him to the top of his recruiting class could prove the difference between him becoming the next Jeff Green or the next Paul George

Or, should he really find himself at the next level, he could become the first Cam Reddish.

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