Sixers' workout resembles Villanova practice with Josh Hart, others — pep band excluded

Sixers' workout resembles Villanova practice with Josh Hart, others — pep band excluded

CAMDEN, N.J. – No, the Sixers did not import Villanova’s pep band for the workout the team staged for potential draftees Thursday morning at its practice facility.

But they could have.

Three of the six players who took part – Josh Hart, Darryl Reynolds and Dylan Ennis – spent all or part of their collegiate careers playing for the Wildcats.

Also, Jay Wright looked on. And former 'Nova assistant Billy Lange has been part of the Sixers’ staff for a while now.

All of which was “very weird,” in the estimation of Reynolds, a willowy 6-foot-9 forward taking part in his first workout for an NBA team.

“But it was comfortable,” he said, “and I’m glad that my first one was with some guys that I knew, some familiar faces.”

Three other guys – Oregon forward Dillon Brooks, Davidson guard Jack Gibbs and French forward Tidjan Keita – also participated. 

Of the six, Brooks and Hart have the highest profiles. Brooks was the Pac-12 Player of the Year, while Hart earned the same honor in the Big East and also took home the Julius Erving Award as the nation’s top small forward.

Hart was shaking his head afterward about the way he shot the ball (see story), while the 6-foot-7 Brooks nailed one jumper after another.

“It raised my competitiveness when we played three-on-three,” Brooks said. “I just took shots I practiced, and they were falling today. There’s great players out there, who raised their intensity. That’s what I love.”

Brooks averaged 16.1 points while shooting 48.8 percent from the floor and 40.1 percent from 3-point range for the Ducks, who went 33-6 and lost by a point to North Carolina in the national semifinals. The Sixers are the 12th team to invite him in for a workout, but he said he is none the worse for the wear.

“I always find a way to pick myself up when the competitiveness starts, and try to give my best, every time I come out and play,” he said. “I love the game, so regardless if my legs are tired or I’m feeling some kinks or something … somehow, some way I get past it and play.”

Ennis, a 6-foot-2 guard who has been Brooks’ teammate at Oregon the last two years, participated in his ninth workout. He and Brooks became the third and fourth Ducks to audition for the Sixers, following Joey Bell and Tyler Dorsey.

Ennis began his collegiate career at Rice, then spent the 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons at Villanova. He followed that by taking the graduate-transfer route to Oregon, in hopes of improving his stock as a point guard.

But he hit another detour when he broke a foot and missed all but two games of the 2015-16 season, as his former teammates were winning a national championship. After petitioning the NCAA for a sixth year of eligibility he averaged 10.9 points in 2016-17 for the Ducks, shooting 48.4 percent from the floor and 35.8 percent from the arc.

Now 25, he is certainly well-seasoned, and he showed in the sliver of the workout open to the media that he is vocal.

And, he said, “I’m gritty. Anything you ask me to do, I’m going to go do.”

That was a common refrain on this day – not exactly a surprise, given that this was a de facto job interview for fringe prospects.

Reynolds, a Lower Merion grad who averaged 4.5 points and 5.4 rebounds for the Wildcats this past season, said he wanted to show that he was “going to compete and do everything.”

And Brooks believes he is a “high-motor guys can fit in a lot of places” – that with the Sixers he could provide scoring off the bench, “just feeding off (Joel) Embiid and (Jahlil) Okafor and those guys.”

But Thursday morning’s session was more of a Villanova feeding frenzy – pep band not included.

NBA Notes: Bulls' Mirotic suffers broken bones in fight with teammate Portis

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NBA Notes: Bulls' Mirotic suffers broken bones in fight with teammate Portis

CHICAGO -- The Chicago Bulls say forward Nikola Mirotic suffered multiple broken bones in his face as well as a concussion in a fight with teammate Bobby Portis during practice.

The team says Mirotic will likely need surgery and is out indefinitely. They say they are "evaluating disciplinary action" after Tuesday's incident.

Mirotic averaged 10.8 points over his first three seasons with Chicago. A restricted free agent, he signed a two-year contract that could pay as much as $27 million in September. The club holds an option on the second season.

A 2015 first-round pick, Portis has averaged 6.9 points and 5 rebounds.

The Bulls open at Toronto on Thursday. Chicago is rebuilding after trading Jimmy Butler and parting with Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo (see full story).

Nuggets: Jefferson reportedly agrees to deal
DENVER -- Michael Malone knows all about Richard Jefferson. Just not Tuesday, with the deal for the veteran forward still waiting on official word.

"Who's Jefferson?" the Denver Nuggets coach coyly said after practice.

Jefferson will join the Nuggets on a one-year deal, a person with knowledge of the negotiations confirmed to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the agreement hasn't been disclosed by the team. ESPN first reported the deal, which it said is worth $2.3 million.

After weeks of fine-tuning his roster through training camp and the preseason, Malone suddenly has to juggle things around. Not that he minds carving out minutes for a player he can't even name just yet. Jefferson adds another leadership presence to a young, playoff-hopeful roster (see full story).

Jazz: Timeline unknown for injured Exum
SALT LAKE CITY -- Dante Exum knew he had a significant injury the moment he awkwardly hit the floor during a preseason game against the Suns on Oct. 6. The diagnosis was a separated shoulder, and the Jazz guard and the team took the next 10 days to decide what to do.

Exum saw three doctors and spoke to several more before deciding to have a surgery on Oct. 24 that will keep him out for an unknown amount of time.

"Even just walking back (to the locker room), obviously I was frustrated," Exum said. "Everything was going through my head. I remember just looking up at everybody and they were just speechless. Didn't know what to say. A lot of people within the Jazz organization know how hard I've worked to get to the point I was. To get an injury like that and the way it took place just sucked."

There were non-surgical options for Exum, but the decision was made in his long-term interest after talking to family, his agent and the organization. That, however, complicates things in the short term financially. The 2014 No. 5 overall pick was hoping to have a breakout year as a restricted free agent.

Exploring the Sixers' 3 options to back up Joel Embiid

Exploring the Sixers' 3 options to back up Joel Embiid

Joel Embiid will be restricted to less than 20 minutes per game early in the season, that much is known (see story). How Brett Brown fills the remainder of the minutes at the center position remains to be seen.

Brown has three healthy big men he can play behind Embiid: Amir Johnson, Jahlil Okafor and Dario Saric. Richaun Holmes, an early candidate for backup minutes, is sidelined by a fractured wrist.

“Even without Richaun, you like the depth and versatility, the variety that is available to me at the five,” Brown said Tuesday. 

Each player is unique in their skill sets and experience levels. There’s the proven veteran in Johnson, the undersized center in Saric, and the sometime-starter-sometime-reserve-sometime-DNP in Okafor. 

Let’s take a look at Brown’s options and why he may lean toward one player over another. 

Okafor finds himself in another season of uncertainty. The third-year Sixer still doesn’t have a consistent role in the rotation. In the past, his biggest opportunity for minutes has come when Embiid is out for the entire game. Could the slimmed-down Okafor return to the starting lineup when Embiid doesn’t play? The Sixers face their first set of consecutive games of the season on Saturday. 

Brown on Okafor 
“[His role is] evolving … it’s always fluid. There are times we’ll assess Joel, say, in a back-to-back situation that might free something up. We have one in Toronto coming up. … We all respect his attitude and we respect his body. I think he’s had a good preseason.”

The 30-year-old Johnson gives the Sixers a veteran presence and assuring presence on the court. He started in 77 of his 80 games for the Celtics last season and will be an in-game leader for younger players like Markelle Fultz in the second unit. 

Brown on Johnson
“He started for a really good team last year. He’s been in the league for a while. He’s a great pickup. Bryan (Colangelo) did a really great job of signing him. He’s good people.” 

At 6-foot-10, 223 pounds, Saric is the most unlikely candidate of the three backups. Brown has seen enough from Saric in the NBA and internationally, though, to feel confident in shifting him from the four to the five. Saric showed he can hold his own against traditional bigs when he shot 5 for 8 against the Nets in the preseason. 

Brown on Saric
“He’s stronger than you think. He’s been used to guarding behind people over in Europe on switch outs with four-five pick-and-rolls. … He gives up some weight, he gives up some height. But the trade-off might be he pulls them out and makes threes like he did against (Timofey) Mozgov. You weigh it all up. It’s a little bit unconventional but it is there in our arsenal if we choose to go there.”