76ers

Noel, Len atop NBA draft full of questions

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Noel, Len atop NBA draft full of questions

NEW YORK -- Nerlens Noel is coming off a major knee injury. Alex Len is in a walking boot.

One of them could be the No. 1 pick Thursday in an NBA draft that appears short on stardom, and neither looks ready to get his career off to a running start.

"This draft is really unpredictable, a lot of guys with injuries and you don't have any, like, LeBron James," Len said Wednesday. "So it's going to be interesting."

Ten years after James climbed on stage to start a draft that goes down as one of the best in recent memory, the No. 1 pick again belongs to Cleveland.

The Cavaliers won't find anyone who can play like James on the court -- if they keep the pick -- and even the climbing the stage part will be a challenge for the big men who opened their college seasons against each other and are competing again now.

Noel tore the ACL in his left knee on Feb. 12, ending his lone season at Kentucky. The 6-foot-11 freshman led the nation in shot blocking and his conference in rebounding, but hasn't been able to show the Cavaliers if his offensive game has grown.

The only basketball work he did during his visit to Cleveland was shooting some free throws. Perhaps the pants he wore with his sports jacket and orange tie were just too tight, but Noel was walking gingerly as he exited a hotel ballroom after meeting with the media Wednesday.

"I wanted to do more. Unfortunately I got hurt, but I mean I definitely felt right before I got injured I was really coming along as a player and just really coming into my own during that part of the season," Noel said. "But like I said, unfortunately I got hurt, so I wasn't able to show as much as I wanted to."

Nor has Len, but that hasn't stopped the 7-1 center from the Ukraine who spent two seasons at Maryland from climbing into the mix at No. 1. His left foot started bothering him around February, and he found out after the season that it was a stress fracture.

He was aware he was projected as a top-10 pick before the draft combine, but may go much higher even though his visits to teams have consisted of nothing more than interviews. He no longer needs crutches but will be in the boot for perhaps two more weeks.

So, with all these injury questions, what about playing it safe and picking a healthy guy?

"I mean, probably a lot of people wish it could be that easy," Kansas guard Ben McLemore said. "But it's a process for the teams, they've got to see what's available and what they really need. And like I said, this draft is up in the air and nobody knows what's going to happen, who's going to get drafted in which order."

Orlando has the No. 2 pick, followed by Washington, Charlotte and Phoenix.

McLemore, Indiana's Victor Oladipo, Georgetown forward Otto Porter and national player of the year Trey Burke of Michigan are among the other players who will hear their names called early at Barclays Center by NBA Commissioner David Stern in his final draft.

It's a class that won't draw any comparisons to the one that James led, which featured future Miami Heat teammates Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, along with NBA scoring champion Carmelo Anthony among the first five picks.

Brooklyn Nets general manager Billy King said a number of teams are trying to trade out of the draft and acquire extra picks for next year, which is expected to be a stronger class. But he doesn't know if there will be enough teams interested in being trade partners to get those deals done.

"There are good players in this draft, but right now, there are not impact players. What I mean by that is that there's no one you look at in this draft that within two years will be an All-Star, say like Kyrie Irving was, players like that," said Minnesota Timberwolves president Flip Saunders, referring to the guard Cleveland took with the No. 1 pick in 2011.

"And so in order for you to move up and dilute your talent pool and your roster, you've got to get an impact-type player, and I just don't believe ... there's good players, probably pretty good players in this league, but are they going to be that impact player who's going to be an All-Star or future Hall of Famer? That's what you don't see. And sometimes that's something you don't see for two or three years in a row."

McLemore has in some ways been hurt by healthy, since by being able to work out he's given teams something to nitpick. Noel and Len have been largely free of criticism while sitting on the sideline.

Instead, Len is hoping his first impression of the season is one that holds up, when he had a career-high 23 points, 12 rebounds and four blocks against Noel in Maryland's loss to Kentucky, right in the building where they will be Thursday.

"I did well against him. So, it's not up to me, it's up to teams," Len said of a team choosing between the two.

Neither player said he knows what the Cavs will do. There has been speculation they are open to dealing the pick, something teams rarely consider in a year with a clear-cut No. 1.

Noel said he had gotten no sense from the Cavs that they had concern about his knee, which could keep him off the court until early in the regular season. And in a draft full of questions, he believes selecting him is the right answer.

"I'm a good teammate, I definitely love to work," Noel said. "I want to get better. I want to be great, I want to reach my potential, be the best player I can be. I definitely do countless hours in the gym and I'm definitely working to get there."

AP Basketball Writer Jon Krawczynski in Minneapolis contributed to this report.

Brown says 'nobody has any fears' over long-term impact on Fultz's shot

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Brown says 'nobody has any fears' over long-term impact on Fultz's shot

DETROIT — If you’re under the impression Markelle Fultz’s shooting game has been affected by his sore right shoulder, you’re not alone.

Sixers coach Brett Brown thinks so, too.

“There’s no doubt that it factors into what people question right now about his shot. There’s no doubt,” Brown said prior to the Sixers’ matchup Monday night in Detroit. “You don’t just walk a certain way for a long period of your life, and then all of the sudden, start to limp.”

Brown’s comments come on the heels of another worrisome shooting performance from Fultz, who made just 1 of 5 shots en route to six points in Saturday’s 128-94 blowout loss in Toronto.

It marked the second straight game Fultz logged only six points after he made just 2 of 9 shots in the Sixers’ home-opening loss to the Boston Celtics.

“(Fultz) doesn’t let on much. He doesn’t want to let on much,” Brown said. “But nobody’s hiding anything. It’s just, none of us can dismiss that it doesn’t factor into some of the shooting concerns that he might have. 

“What I do know is that the work he puts in, the work on his shoulder, all that stuff, nobody is dramatizing it. It’s consistent and I think it’s heading into the path that we want.”

Brown acknowledged that Fultz’s shoulder woes remain a cause for concern. That said, it appears Brown has no intention of sitting the 19-year-old sharpshooter, who has yet to attempt a three-pointer in his first three regular-season games, despite shooting 41.3 percent from behind the arc in his lone season season at the University of Washington.

“I’m trying to grow him and find minutes for him, and become a part of what we’re doing,” Brown said. “He’s obviously a huge part of our future. That kind of stuff is what’s mostly on my mind.”

Asked whether he had concerns about whether continuing to play Fultz could affect his shot down the road, Brown was quick to dismiss the notion, citing the opinion of the team’s medical staff. 

“I’m advised mostly by the medical people — that’s what I get worried about the most. And nobody has any fears,” Brown said. “Like we’ve said to Markelle, this is not going to define him. This first season is not going to define him. 

“He’s so compliant. When you really dig in deeper, and not get tricked by just statistics, he’s been good. He really has been good.”

Opening week affects MVP odds of Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid

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Opening week affects MVP odds of Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid

Ben Simmons had himself a historic first week in the NBA and as a result, his MVP odds have changed substantially.

Listed by Bovada on Oct. 10 at 80/1 to win MVP, Simmons is now at 33/1, tied with DeMarcus Cousins and ahead of Marc Gasol, Blake Griffin and Damian Lillard.

Simmons became the first player since Oscar Robertson to produce at least 10 points, 10 rebounds and five assists in each of his first three career games.

Teammate Joel Embiid had a less successful start to the year, averaging 14.5 points, 13.5 rebounds and 3.0 assists in two games but shooting just 35.5 percent from the field and missing all 10 three-point attempts.

And yet somehow, Embiid's MVP odds have changed from 40/1 to 25/1. He has the same MVP odds as Karl-Anthony Towns and Kristaps Porzingis.

Griffin, at 50/1, is a sneaky good bet for MVP. The Clippers are his team now with Chris Paul in Houston, and Griffin has added long-distance shooting to his game, making three triples in each game. Two games in, he's averaging 29.0 points, 10.0 rebounds and 3.5 assists. 

If he can stay healthy (a huge if) and lead the Clippers to 52-plus wins in a loaded Western Conference, you'd have to think Griffin would be looked at more favorably in terms of MVP odds than someone on a star-studded team like any of the Warriors or Rockets, if Paul returns from his knee injury within a month and affects James Harden's stats even slightly. 

Giannis Antetokounpo and LeBron James look like the two players most likely to win MVP, but 50/1 for Griffin is good value if you think this is the year he stays healthy. If he didn't have a history of injuries, his odds right now would be closer to those of John Wall (28/1) or Towns (25/1).