76ers

The case for Kansas' Frank Mason III as a Sixers' 2nd-round pick

The case for Kansas' Frank Mason III as a Sixers' 2nd-round pick

Over the weeks leading up to the 2017 NBA draft, we'll be making cases for the Sixers to draft several prospects. Our series will kick off with options at No. 3 (or trade downs) followed by second-round possibilities. The 2017 NBA draft will take place on June 22 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.

Frank Mason III
Position: PG
School: Kansas
Height: 5-11
Weight: 185 pounds
Wingspan: 6-3¼

If you've watched any Kansas basketball the last four seasons, you've seen plenty of the little engine that could. After starting slow as a freshman, Mason averaged more than 30 minutes a game in each of his last three seasons for the Jayhawks with his points per game average ballooning from about a dozen as a sophomore and junior to 20.9 with 5.2 assists per contest last year. Under Bill Self, the Petersburg, Va., native has had the opportunity to play with several NBA talents, including Joel Embiid, Minnesota's Andrew Wiggins and Washington's Kelly Oubre.

Mason earned 2017 Naismith Player of the Year accolades and won 116 games in his collegiate career, helping the Jayhawks to four Big 12 titles. And in a guard-heavy draft, Mason's experience helps him stand out among a group of younger backcourt players. Even if the Sixers do go with Markelle Fultz at No. 1, they still could use more firepower at the guard spot — but there are also reasons to question whether Mason's college performance will ultimately translate to the pros.

The case for Mason
Even though Mason has already passed his 23rd birthday, his growth still continues. His averages in points, rebounds and assists have remained constant or increased every year, and as a senior, Mason shot close to 50 percent from beyond the arc (47.1). Working out for Sixers brass Monday morning, he showed off the quick trigger on his jumper — an ability that a Duke guy like myself is now well aware of after Mason drained a game-winning stepback jumper over Matt Jones in the 2016 Champions Classic last November.

Mason also knows the exact role that the Sixers would need him to fill. At Kansas, he was a point guard first with plenty of weapons around him to dish the ball out to, but also a scoring threat and a crucial defender. With Fultz, Mason would be a bench piece that could step into the game and bring firepower with his lightning-quick first step. He explodes to the basket, drawing 6.6 free throw attempts per game, and has shown an improved pick-and-roll game that will allow him to mesh into the NBA style.

"Not too many people know [how athletic I am]," Mason said after his workout with the Sixers.

Perhaps, most crucially, Mason is a winner. The Jayhawks have captured 13 consecutive Big 12 regular-season titles and Mason played an integral during his time in Lawrence to keep that streak alive. He also led Kansas to a Big 12 tournament crown in 2016 and Elite Eight appearances each of the last two seasons. He suffered just 29 losses in his entire collegiate career and is a lead-by-example kind of guy that could add a winning mentality to a Sixers team that has had plenty of defeats over the course of the last few seasons.

The case against Mason
You don't have to look at Mason for long to realize why he's not like most NBA players. According to 2016 data as calculated by FanSided.com, the average point guard height is just a bit taller than 6-foot-2. But there were almost no PGs under the 6-foot mark and the recent trend is actually for bigger guards like the 6-5 Lonzo Ball. 

Even though Mason does make up for some of his lack of height with quickness, it's easy to see why he'd struggle in his initial adjustment to the pro game. This deficiency would impact him on both ends of the floor. Plenty of pros would be able to get their shot off over top of him and his ability to get to the lane would be limited despite weighing in at 185 pounds. 

Then, there's also the fact that he's just old for NBA rookies today. Five guys on the Sixers' current roster are younger than Mason and more than half their roster is 23 or younger.  Mason has plenty of wear and tear on his body after playing 145 college games and there are lots of young point guard options for the Sixers (see Frank Jackson or Edmond Sumner).

Analysis
The Sixers are going to get their point guard at No. 1, which immediately diminishes the need for a second true PG. That being said, Mason's pedigree as a winner immediately makes him a natural fit. He can shoot, he's confident with the ball in his hands and even despite being a shorter guard, he's a tenacious defender.

Still, I think his height comes back to haunt him. Right now, DraftExpress projects Mason as the 47th overall pick to Indiana (right after the Sixers pick at No. 46). He's got the talent to be a solid NBA role player, but I'm not entirely sure that Philadelphia would be his best landing spot.

What Sixers need more and less of in second half

What Sixers need more and less of in second half

Now that the dust has settled on the NBA's All-Star festivities, the Sixers will reconvene this week and turn their attention back to the playoff push.

With 27 games remaining in the regular season over a 49-day stretch, it will be a sprint to the finish.

So how can the Sixers capture their first postseason berth in six seasons? Let's take a look at what the team needs more and less of down the stretch.

More: Healthy Embiid
What injury? Joel Embiid shook off right ankle soreness to participate in three events during All-Star weekend as a shining representation of the up-and-coming Sixers.

"There was never really a thought about missing out on any of these events," Embiid said Friday after the Mtn Dew Kickstart Rising Stars game. "It's my first time, so I'm going to have fun."

The big man is always about having fun, but now it's time to get down to business. Even though the Sixers' competition appears to lighten up after the break, the schedule does not (27 games with six back-to-back sets).

The Sixers are 27-17 when Embiid plays and just 3-8 when he doesn't suit up. They need the center healthy and on the court.

Less: Turnovers
Way less, actually. 

As you know by now, the Sixers have a bit of an issue holding onto the basketball. They simply don't respect each possession enough, evidenced by their 17.5 turnovers per game. That's good enough for dead last in the NBA and it's a full 1.5 turnovers more than the closest team (Los Angeles Lakers).

And it's not just the miscues. Teams are capitalizing, too — the Sixers also rank 30th in opponents' points off turnovers (19.4).

Of the "Four Factors" statistic on the offensive end, which breaks down weighted factors that help a team win a game — shooting (40 percent), turnovers (25 percent), rebounding (20 percent) and free throws (15 percent) — the only category that the Sixers rank outside of the NBA's top 10 in is turnovers.

If they can cut down on the giveaways just a little, it will go a long way toward their goal.

More: Early execution
However, not all of those possessions end up with the Sixers running back on defense after a turnover.

With more legit scoring options on the roster this season than any previous time during Brett Brown's tenure, they have shown the ability to execute a play to perfection for a bucket.

It's a stark contrast to the days when they couldn't even get the ball in on an inbounds play.

That level of scoring punch has been particularly evident at the start of games. The Sixers are tied with the Cleveland Cavaliers for fourth in the league in first-quarter points per game (28.7) and are even with the L.A. Clippers for seventh in first-half points a night (55.2).

The Sixers must continue to apply that pressure on teams at the outset of games, especially if their woes finishing off opponents is going to persist.

Less: Bad Covington
Ah, the curious case of Robert Covington.

Has any player in NBA history ever looked like they could make a push for an All-Star spot for two months only to appear as if they belong in the G League the next few months?

Covington has always been a streaky shooter, but this season has been extreme. He shot 44.7 percent from the field and 43.1 percent from three-point range in October and November to help secure his multiyear extension. 

Since that point, the swingman has connected on just 37.6 percent from the field and 32.4 percent from long distance.

Whether it's the weight of the big contract or the nasty spill he took against the Cavs in December, Covington hasn't looked the same on the floor in several months. The team needs him to get it together and the sooner the better.

More: Killer D's
While Embiid's presence on both ends and Ben Simmons' wizardry at the point have put the Sixers in position to snag a playoff bid, the team didn't really hit its stride until a certain pairing found its footing: Dario Saric and defense.

Much like his rookie season, Saric struggled to find his role at the start. But that's long in the rearview mirror now. The second-year forward has increased his production each month and has been rolling so far in February (18.6 points, 51.7 percent field goals, 46.3 percent threes, 6.9 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game).

That surge has coincided with the Sixers' tightened grip on defense. In seven games this month, they've allowed 96.1 points per game on 41.4 percent shooting.

The type of balance Saric offers offensively and the overall lockdown defense won't only make the Sixers a postseason team, it will also make them a tough out. 

Less: Fultz speculation
This is a big deal that the Sixers could make very small with a clear decision on the No. 1 pick's immediate future.

Markelle Fultz reportedly continues to ramp up his rehab workouts for his ailing shoulder, even after team president Bryan Colangelo said earlier this month that the guard could return soon or be shut down for the season.

The franchise should obviously give Fultz every chance to come back and contribute, but that ruling should be made at the first opportunity.

It's after the All-Star break and having that type of deliberation hovering over the team isn't exactly fair to the other players. Not to mention, for a guy that has apparently dealt with questions regarding his confidence, possibly dropping him into the thick of a playoff race doesn't really do him any favors either.

Our NBA All-Star challenge — describe Embiid in one word

Our NBA All-Star challenge — describe Embiid in one word

LOS ANGELES —  From trash talking on the court to expressing himself on social media, Joel Embiid is a player of many (many) words. So if his fellow All-Stars had to describe him in just one, what would it be? 

Draymond Green: "'Funny.' He's hilarious. The stuff he says, he goes on TV talking about (Kevin Durant's) burner account, he's talking how he's a savage. His Instagram locations, pretty funny. He's a good guy." 

Andre Drummond: "I’d probably say 'charismatic,' 'funny,' 'savage.' He don’t care, he just does what he wants to.”

Paul George: “Personality,' in all caps."

(Why all caps?)

“Because he’s a big dude.”

John Wall: "He's just 'himself.' He's very confident."

Anthony Davis: “'Savage.' Cool dude, he lives by his own rules. He’s just enjoying life and having fun.”

Jimmy Butler: "'Remarkable' in the fact that his game on the court is insane. Then the way he's always saying something to somebody on social media is really 'remarkable.'"

Bradley Beal: “'Wild.' He has no filter, he doesn’t care. That’s my boy, but he just has no remorse, doesn’t care."

LaMarcus Aldridge: “'Entertaining,' because he’s always on TV expressing how he feels. So, entertaining.”