Sixers rookie Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot starts strong in summer league

Sixers rookie Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot starts strong in summer league

SALT LAKE CITY — Being just another draft-and-stash European prospect was never in the cards for Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot. Once the Sixers selected him as the second of three first-round picks in the 2016 NBA draft, the French swingman made it his goal to pursue his NBA dreams now instead of later.

He took his first step by signing a rookie contract on Saturday and joining the Sixers' summer league team in Utah a day later.

“I just wanted to play (right away) since I got drafted,” Luwawu-Cabarrot said. “I'm just ready to play and happy to be here.”

His enthusiasm translated into a promising summer league debut on Monday against the Celtics. During a 102-94 loss to Boston, he totaled 13 points in 21 minutes, while shooting 40 percent from the perimeter.

More importantly, the Sixers got a taste of what could be ahead with the offensive synergy Luwawu-Cabarrot showed with No. 1 overall pick Ben Simmons. The two rookies combined for some of the biggest offensive highlights of the night against the Celtics.

Sixers coach Brett Brown had high praise for the French forward after watching him during his first practice on Sunday. He said Luwawu-Cabarrot brings a ton of athleticism and shows he is capable of making smart decisions in tough situations.

“He plays with a controlled pace,” Brown said after Sunday's practice. “He was not rattled today. I found that impressive. He's willing to shoot the ball. He's willing to drive the ball. He's willing to pass the ball. His athleticism, his skill and his poise stood out within these two hours here.”

Making a mark as a rookie isn't always easy to do. Luwawu-Cabarrot, however, has all of the right tools to carve out an important role this season.

Playing for Serbian club Mega Leks last season, Luwawu-Cabarrot averaged 14 points, five rebounds and three assists over 33 games. He also had a strong outing for France during the 2015 U-20 European Championship. Luwawu-Cabarrot averaged 11.6 points and 4.9 rebounds in 28 minutes per game.

His long wingspan, 6-foot-7 frame and fluid movement makes Luwawu-Cabarrot exactly the sort of player who can make an impact on both ends of the court. He's a reliable outside shooter and also a versatile defender, who is capable of switching between multiple positions.

These are the sort of skills that can give a player a long shelf life in the NBA. Luwawu-Cabarrot's goal is to make an immediate impact and create staying power for himself in the league.

"I just want to be the best possible,” Luwawu-Cabarrot said. “If I can be the best defender [in] the league, I will be. If I can be the best rookie of the year, I will be. I will do everything on the court to be the best and that's it.”

If Luwawu-Cabarrot can make good on those ambitions, Simmons may not be the only Sixers rookie drawing the spotlight before the 2016-17 season is done.

Sixers focused more on themselves than Round 2 opponent

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Sixers focused more on themselves than Round 2 opponent

CAMDEN, N.J. — Tuesday’s series-clinching victory was a monumental achievement for the Sixers. And while the team briefly savored Brett Brown’s first playoff series win as a head coach in memorable fashion, they were back at practice Thursday afternoon, with their focus shifted to Round 2.

“It was fun,” Joel Embiid said of the celebration with Brown. “I was happy for him because obviously after what he’s been through, two years ago he had a team that only won 10 games and this year he’s at, what, 56? I was really happy for him, and that was the first playoff series that he won, so it was something we felt like we needed to celebrate. But we’re on to the next one.”

That next opponent will be either the Celtics or the Bucks. Boston leads the series, 3-2, and can advance with a win in Game 6 Thursday night at 8 p.m. If the Celtics win, the Sixers will play Game 1 of the second round in Boston on Saturday night.

“Because we don’t know who you’re going to play, you don’t have that luxury of time,” Brown said. “No matter who you play, you better get back in transition defense and you better rebound. But it’s easier for sure when you can zoom in and say, ‘OK, you got Giannis, or you got Marcus Smart.’”

Though they don’t have the advantage of knowing their opponent, the Sixers do have a few extra days to recover from what was an extremely physical series against the Heat. They also have a chance to hone their own sets and to sharpen their execution. Ersan Ilyasova mentioned that, among other things, the Sixers worked on creating space for Embiid post-ups.

“At the end of the day, whoever comes out, I think it’s up to us,” Ilyasova said. “Recently, the way we’ve played, we have to focus on ourselves and if we do the right things, it’s going to be in our favor.”

Boston or Milwaukee is just not the primary concern at the moment. Sure, the Sixers will tune into Game 6 with interest. Embiid said he’ll be watching at home as usual with Markelle Fultz and Justin Anderson. But the intense, team-specific preparation won’t start in earnest until that series concludes.

“We just prepare for both teams,” Embiid said. “We’re going to be ready for whoever. We played them in the regular season, so we have a lot of scouting reports, so I’m sure the coaches will do their job to get us ready.”

The Sixers went 1-3 against the Celtics in the regular season, while they had a 2-2 record against the Bucks. However, Kyrie Irving, who is out for the playoffs with a left patella injury, played in three of those matchups against Boston. And the Sixers crushed the Bucks in the regular-season finale, 130-95. Regardless of who they play, the Sixers will be favored. If they play close to the level they’re capable of, they should advance to the Eastern Conference Finals.

Playing in his first postseason, Embiid gave the mature answer of a seasoned veteran when asked if he’d prefer to face Milwaukee or Boston.

“It’s the playoffs. I don’t think it matters,” Embiid. “As long as you play your game and stick to your concepts, you’re going to be fine.”

Ben Simmons dominating NBA playoffs as a rookie

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Ben Simmons dominating NBA playoffs as a rookie

July 20, 1996.

Watching Ben Simmons play in the postseason, it’s easy to forget the Sixers rookie point guard is only 21. 

Simmons has been handling the pressures of his first playoff run with a maturity beyond his years and a basketball savvy that’s putting his achievements among elite players that came before him in the NBA. 

The postseason stage did not prove to be too big for Simmons in the first round, and he’s just getting started. 

“On to the next series,” Simmons said after the Sixers eliminated the Heat in Game 5. “We've got to focus on that. For me, this is my first season playing so this is what I'm going to expect now.”

Simmons averaged 18.2 points, 10.6 rebounds, 9.0 assists, 2.4 steals and 4.0 turnovers in 37.4 minutes during the first round. He recorded a triple-double in Game 4, the first Sixer to do so since Charles Barkley on April 27, 1991. Simmons also became the youngest player with a playoff triple-double since LeBron James on May 13, 2006.

Simmons is tied with James, Anthony Davis, Russell Westbrook and LaMarcus Aldridge for the most double-doubles so far in the postseason. The last rookie to reach at least four double-doubles in his first five playoff games was Tim Duncan during the 1997-98 season.

“He didn’t have a bad game,” Dwyane Wade said after the Heat’s Game 5 loss. “You knew from the first time you saw him in summer league that he was special … I think the thing that was impressive about him all year is he just continued to get better and better and better. To the point where it’s like that guy in Cleveland — doesn’t have bad games. The imprint that [Simmons and James] put on the game is more than just scoring. [Simmons] does so much.”

Simmons’ poise and composure was tested by the Heat in the opening round. He was on the receiving end of tough plays during an extremely physical series. 

During the Sixers’ closeout game, Simmons was taken out at the legs by Josh Richardson and slammed into the ground with a bruise on his back to show for it. Later in the game, Goran Dragic was whistled for a technical after swiping Simmons in the head. Unnerved, Simmons took both incidents in stride.

“First play when I fell, he (Richardson) didn’t see me. It was just a hard fall,” Simmons said. “The second one, I think I just got under Dragic’s skin. But I’ve got nothing but respect for those guys. They play hard every night and they made us a better team.” 

Simmons has escalated his game all season through adversity and challenges, from stepping up in the absence of an injured Joel Embiid to being looked over for the All-Star team to shaking off criticism of his eligibility for Rookie of the Year. He remains unfazed amid it all, keeping a calm expression on his face that translates into a collected style of play. 

“It’s just the way I am,” Simmons said. “Nothing really bothers me on the floor. I might get frustrated but I never let it take over what I’m doing on the floor.”

Spoken like a player who's been to the postseason before; only he hasn't.