76ers

Haughton's 2017 Sixers Mock Draft: Markelle Fultz solidifies most important position

Haughton's 2017 Sixers Mock Draft: Markelle Fultz solidifies most important position

With the NBA draft Thursday, our pundits will provide their latest Sixers mock drafts. Here’s Matt Haughton’s final version:

First round (first overall via trade with Boston): Markelle Fultz, PG, 6-4/195, Washington
What’s better than having the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA draft? Having it twice in a row.

The Sixers are poised to pull off the rare feat of selecting at the top of the draft in consecutive years when their reported trade with the Celtics becomes finalized. 

Fultz is the Sixers’ target and with good reason. He has ideal size from the point guard perspective and has the all-around game to match.

The Upper Marlboro, Maryland, native averaged 23.2 points, 5.7 rebounds and 5.9 assists per game during his lone season at Washington. Fultz shot 47.6 percent from the field and 41.3 percent from long range as a freshman.

Sure, the numbers some like to focus on are the 22 losses compared to just nine wins Fultz helped put together as leader of the Huskies. However, that can’t all be pinned on the 19-year-old, who more than held his own against stiff competition in the Pac-12.

Fultz is explosive with the ball in his hands as a playmaker or a scorer and has shown the ability to consistently knock down shots when playing off the ball. That will come in handy when Ben Simmons is facilitating the offense.

When you’re the Sixers and you’ve had 11 different players start at PG in Brett Brown’s four seasons as head coach (Sergio Rodriguez, Jerryd Bayless, T.J. McConnell, Isaiah Canaan, Kendall Marshall, Ish Smith, Tony Wroten, Michael Carter-Williams, Larry Drew II, JaKarr Sampson and Tim Frazier), you make a move to finally solidify the game’s most important position. 

Fultz should do that and much more for the franchise.

Second round (36th overall): Thomas Bryant, C, 6-10/241, Indiana
Did you think the Sixers would go very long without drafting a big man?

Even with all of the bigs the team has selected in recent years, the Sixers can still use some depth in the frontcourt. 

Bryant can provide that in a very big way. He is already large at 6-10 but covers even more ground when you consider his massive 7-6 wingspan.

Bryant puts that impressive size to use on the court. The former Hoosier combines a powerful presence with a high motor, as he averaged 12.6 points and 6.6 rebounds last season at Indiana.

What makes Bryant a bit unique for a collegiate big man is his improving three-point shot. He connected on 33.3 percent of his attempts from long range as a freshman before bumping that number up to 38.3 percent as a sophomore, something the Sixers discussed when the center worked out for them earlier this month (see story).

That amount of improvement is certainly something to be pleased with when you consider Bryant is just 19 years old and still has plenty of room for growth. He could be just what the Sixers desire to kick off their four second-round picks.

Second round 39th overall: Dillon Brooks, SF, 6-7/215, Oregon
Philadelphia loves a player with a fiery attitude, especially one that can score the ball.

Brooks is aggressive on the offensive end and improved each season at Oregon. He averaged 16.1 points while shooting career highs from the field (48.8 percent) and three-point land (40.1 percent) as a junior during the Ducks’ run to the Final Four.

Brooks has proven he can score at all three levels and has made a habit of connecting on big shots in the clutch. Plus, he does it all with an in-your-face demeanor that Sixers fans would absolutely eat up.

There are questions about Brooks’ commitment on defense and lateral quickness, but not enough to outweigh his other capabilities on the court.

With Robert Covington, Nik Stauskas, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot and Justin Anderson all potentially coming off the books for the Sixers after the 2017-18 season, the team is in desperate need of wing players. Brooks would be a good place to start adding to that position in the second round.

Second round (46th overall): Jonah Bolden, PF, 6-10/227, Serbia
The Sixers have selected at least one draft-and-stash candidate each year with Brown at the helm. And with the coach’s history in Australia, he just might convince Bryan Colangelo and the rest of the Sixers’ brass to snatch up Melbourne native Bolden.

Bolden has a wing's skill set in a big man’s frame. Even at his size, he is very fluid with his movements, has solid ball-handling ability and can shoot from range when on his game.

Bolden bolted UCLA for the professional ranks in Serbia after his sophomore season when he felt his talent wasn’t being utilized properly (Bruins head coach Steve Alford reportedly wanted him to strictly play PF and stick to the low block).

The decision appears to have paid off for the 21-year-old. Bolden averaged 12.9 points and 7.2 rebounds per game on 47.2 percent shooting from the field and 41.9 percent from beyond the arc for KK FMP Beograd as he was given the freedom to play more on the perimeter. Those numbers were good enough for Bolden to win the Adriatic League Top Prospect award, an honor that has gone to NBA draft picks Dario Saric, Nikola Jokic and Ante Zizic the past three years.

Despite a checkered past with some on- and off-court issues, Bolden is worth taking a flier on in the second round.

Second round (50th overall): Jaron Blossomgame, SF/PF, 6-7/214, Clemson
The Sixers have possibly been waiting an entire year to make this pick, but they finally get Blossomgame at No. 50.

The Clemson forward worked out for the team prior to last year’s draft before opting to go back to school for his senior season. 

The return to college didn’t necessarily help Blossomgame’s cause. His offensive numbers dipped pretty much across the board (18.7 points per game to 17.7 points, 51.4 percent shooting from the field to 49.9 percent and 44.6 percent from three to 25.5).

However, teams already understand what they’re getting from him: energy. The versatile forward hustles at all times and is active all over the court, particularly on the defensive end.

“He's a competitor,” Sixers senior director of basketball operations Vince Rozman said after Blossomgame worked out for the team again earlier this month (see story). “It's pretty straightforward for him.”

Wizards 120, Sixers 115: Studs, duds, turning point and more

Wizards 120, Sixers 115: Studs, duds, turning point and more

The Sixers put on quite a show in the season opener before ultimately falling to the Wizards, 120-115, Wednesday night (see observations).

The biggest story, of course, was Joel Embiid playing 27 minutes after head coach Brett Brown said the 23-year-old big man would play "in the teens." Both Embiid and Ben Simmons shined but it wasn't enough.

After struggling in the first half, All-Star point guard John Wall took over in the second in leading Washington to the win. Wall finished with 28 points, but it took 28 shots to get there.

Despite the loss, there was plenty to like about the Sixers' performance. They'll start the season 0-1 but have plenty to build off of going into Friday night's home opener.

Turning point
With the Sixers battling back and down just two after a Simmons layup, Bradley Beal missed a three from the corner. If the Sixers could've corralled the rebound, they would've been looking at an opportunity to tie the game. Instead, Kelly Oubre Jr. timed it perfectly for a put-back slam to make it 106-102 with 5:50 left.

After getting a stop, the Wizards came right back down in transition and Beal threw a pretty alley-oop to Wall. It pushed the lead to six and got the crowd on its feet. 

The Sixers had three different opportunities to tie the game with less than a minute left, but two killer turnovers and a missed three from JJ Redick ended the comeback attempt.

Key stat
We all knew the Sixers' three-point shooting would be improved this season with the addition of Redick (4 of 8) and a healthy Jerryd Bayless (3 of 7), but my goodness. The Sixers shot 15 of 35 as a team. And that's after starting the game 2 for 9.

Offensive stud
Speaking of threes, Robert Covington was lethal from beyond. After getting off to a horrendous shooting start last season, Covington was on fire Wednesday. He led all scorers with 29 points on 9 of 15 shooting, including 7 of 11 from three.  

Embiid and Simmons also get an honorable mention here. Embiid dominated early and late, going for 18 points, 13 boards and dishing out three assists (see highlights). Simmons looked in control as the team's point guard, finishing with 18 points (7 of 15), 10 rebounds and five assists in his NBA debut. Most importantly, Simmons had just one turnover.

Offensive dud
For the most part, the team performed really well offensively. Amir Johnson had a forgettable stretch offensively with a couple of ill-advised post-ups in the third quarter. The Sixers' newest big man finished 2 of 7 and fouled out in the third quarter.

Defensive stud
T.J. McConnell did an excellent job leading the second unit on both ends of the floor. Including pestering Wall. Before Wall got into a rhythm in the second half, McConnell held him to just 3 for 13 in the first. When McConnell was in the game, nothing was easy for Wall.

Defensive dud
Redick and Bayless certainly struggled with the combination of All-Star guard Wall and Beal. Then again, there are many across the NBA that have had the same struggles. And in reality, Redick and Bayless aren't here for their defense. They're here to make shots, which they did plenty of.

Injuries
Exhale, Sixers fans. The team got out of this game healthy.

Up next
The Sixers play their home opener against Kyrie Irving and the Gordon Hayward-less Celtics on Friday night at 7 p.m. on NBCSP.

Sixers-Wizards observations: Plenty of fight but no victory in season opener

Sixers-Wizards observations: Plenty of fight but no victory in season opener

BOX SCORE

WASHINGTON — The Sixers opened the season with a 120-115 loss to the Wizards on Wednesday night at the Capital One Arena. They were within two points with 20.5 seconds to play, but the Wizards played feisty down the stretch and JJ Redick missed a key three.

With 1:18 remaining, Robert Covington drilled his seventh three-pointer to cut the deficit to two. The Sixers had chances to tie or go ahead but committed two of their 17 turnovers on consecutive possessions. After Bradley Beal tacked on a free throw, the Sixers had one final shot. However, Redick couldn’t connect on a contested three with 15 seconds remaining.

In spite of the final score, the revamped Sixers strongly competed against the well-familiarized Wizards (see studs, duds, more). This game exemplified two obstacles they will face early on: overcoming the newness of their roster and juggling Joel Embiid’s playing time. Which leads to … 

• Embiid played 26:57 minutes, exceeding his (frustrated) expectation of 16. Brett Brown hadn’t set a hard number on Embiid’s playing time at shootaround Wednesday morning. He planned to be more flexible within Embiid’s restriction than last season. 

Embiid posted a double-double in his first 21:38 minutes through three quarters and seemed uncertain to return at that point. He re-entered the game, though, with 5:19 to play as the Sixers chased a win. Embiid recorded an 18-point, 13-rebound double-double with three assists.

• Ben Simmons attempted all of his shots in the paint and scored the majority at the basket. He also reached a double-double with 18 points, 10 rebounds and five assists. He logged nearly 35 minutes in his debut (see highlights).

• The Markelle Fultz shoulder saga continued. Fultz took a pair of free throws with an awkward form that prompted a social media frenzy. His shot didn’t look comfortable nor natural as he deals with right shoulder soreness. Fultz made up for it with a monster block on Kelly Oubre Jr. and aggressive drives to the basket. He scored 10 points off 5 for 9 shooting from the field in 18 minutes (see highlights).

• Amir Johnson got the majority of the minutes at backup center. Brown went small with Dario Saric in the fourth. (See his train of thought here.)
 
Jahlil Okafor did not play. Okafor’s minutes may come when Embiid sits out an entire game, hypothetically, in a back-to-back. The Sixers will have to address that situation on Saturday.

• A night of firsts: Embiid’s first two points were free throws less than 45 seconds into the game. (He’s making a point of that.)
 
Simmons then scored his first NBA bucket with a driving reverse layup on a fastbreak. Fultz came in off the bench to score his first points on a fastbreak layup. Redick’s first basket as a member of the Sixers was (appropriately) a three-pointer in the second quarter. 

• Covington got into a three-point shooting rhythm. He hit 7 of 11 treys for a game-high 29 points.

• The Sixers had 17 turnovers in the game compared to the Wizards' nine.

• Fultz and Simmons made their NBA debuts, but they weren’t the only players getting into game rhythm. Take a look at how long it has been since these starters played in a regular-season contest: Bayless: Nov. 25, 2016 (wrist); Embiid: Jan. 27, 2017 (knee), Covington: Mar. 28, 2017 (knee). 

• Sixers fans chanted “Trust the Process” a minute into the game. The visiting team often is well-represented in Washington, D.C.

• The Sixers will be back in action on Friday night when they host the Boston Celtics in their home opener (7 p.m./NBC Sports Philadelphia, NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the NBC Sports app).