76ers

A Philly kid, Duke's Amile Jefferson ready to take the next step

A Philly kid, Duke's Amile Jefferson ready to take the next step

CAMDEN, N.J. — Leadership, toughness, and a Philly kid.

Those were the words used by Sixers vice president of player personnel Marc Eversley to describe Duke's Amile Jefferson — one of six prospects the team brought to its training facility Monday morning for possibly the last of its group workouts prior to Thursday's draft.

Although Jefferson's name has flown well under the radar — especially compared to fellow Blue Devils Jayson Tatum, Luke Kennard and Harry Giles — the 6-foot-9 forward's booming voice echoed throughout the gym during 3-on-3 scrimmages, and his presence was certainly felt by those in attendance.

DraftExpress, along with pretty much every other mock draft, has yet to put Jefferson among those selected. In fact, the Friends' Central alum isn't even on their top 100 prospects list.

But the 2015 national champion and four-time All-ACC academic team honoree certainly has the pedigree to develop further and ultimately make it as a professional.

"It's amazing ... just to be here and see that Sixers shirt and have that feeling after growing up watching Allen Iverson and Aaron McKie," Jefferson said. "Just being able to come back and have this opportunity for the team that I loved growing up was nothing short of amazing."

The Gatorade Pennsylvania Player of the Year in both his junior and senior seasons at the Wynnewood, Pa., private school, Jefferson made a name for himself on the Philly basketball scene. ESPN had him ranked as the No. 25 high school prospect when he graduated in 2012 and headed to Durham to join Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski's perennial powerhouse. 

And despite playing alongside a number of NBA-level guys like Rodney Hood, Jabari Parker and Jahlil Okafor, it wasn't until his senior season that Jefferson began to fully emerge as the player many thought he could be. Yes, Jefferson was always a leader, but in the first nine games of the 2015-16 season, he averaged a double-double (11.4 points and 10.3 boards per game) until a right foot fracture forced him to redshirt the remainder of the season.

Jefferson, a guy many would describe as the consummate team player, returned to Duke for a fifth year and picked right back up where he left off. He led Duke in both rebounds and blocks and helped the Blue Devils put together four wins in four days for a title at the 2017 ACC Tournament.

His numbers have never been flashy, but neither is Jefferson.

"In the NBA, I'm a guy that can really rebound," he said. "I can play a lot of positions — especially guard a lot of different positions. I bring a grit, leadership, being vocal. I'm a worker and I'm a player. I think I can do a lot of things, both offensively and defensively."

"The league is getting smaller and being able to guard two through five, those are ways I think I can really get in and help a team."

At times, it's hard to see where Jefferson fits into the NBA game. He's definitely a tweener with his 6-9, 225-pound frame, and although his rebounding skills match up with almost any player in this year's class, his shooting touch does not fit that of a four in the modern pro game. Jefferson never attempted a three-pointer in his college career and is just a 57.5 percent shooter from the charity stripe.

On the other hand, though, he's a leader. The only three-time captain in Duke history, Jefferson seemingly garnered praise from his Blue Devil teammates every time out. And when he was forced to the bench for much of the 2015-16 season, you could always hear Jefferson's deep tenor from the Duke bench.

For all of the Blue Devils who have gone at the top of the draft in recent years, there have also been the journeymen like Seth Curry and Quinn Cook who have had to play their way through the D-League onto an NBA roster. So whether or not Jefferson's name is called Thursday in Brooklyn, don't expect him to fade away anytime soon.

"[My best asset is] just being a player, using all the tools you've learned over my career to help you and guide you through this process," Jefferson said. "It's been an amazing one and I appreciate everyone who's given me the opportunity."

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).