76ers

Sixers draft target: PF Adreian Payne

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Sixers draft target: PF Adreian Payne

In this installment of our series before June 26’s draft, we look at a swingman who can shoot:

Adreian Payne
Position: PF
Height/Weight: 6-10/239
School: Michigan St.

Did you watch the Delaware game? You really should have watched the Delaware game.

In Michigan State’s NCAA tournament opener, Payne throttled the poor Blue Hens. Payne scored 41 points on 10 for 15 shooting from the floor. He had eight rebounds. He made all 17 of his free throws. And he hit 4 of 5 three-point attempts. He was fantastic. The Blue Hens never had a shot. Those are the same Blue Hens who are called “basically an NBA team” by some people.

OK. Fine. No one calls the Blue Hens that. But still. Quite a game. It was the kind of game that made people notice. The kind of game that can help raise a prospect’s draft profile, which is exactly what’s happened. Before the NCAA tournament, he was projected as a late first-round pick. Now Payne appears to be a mid-first rounder.

Payne averaged 16.4 points, 7.3 rebounds and nearly a block per game for the Spartans last season.

Strengths
Payne is a big guy with some solid low-post moves. He rebounds well. He makes free throws (79 percent on 4.5 attempts per game). And, most encouraging of all, he spent the last two years going from a traditional paint player to a power forward who can step outside and hit the three.

In his first two years at Michigan State, Payne didn’t shoot from the perimeter. In his junior season, he took 1.2 per game and made 38.1 percent. That’s not a lot of looks. But last year, in his senior campaign, he averaged 3.4 attempts and hit 42.3 percent. Much more encouraging.

Regardless of where Payne shot in college, he was an efficient scorer. He had a 60 true shooting percentage as a sophomore, 63 TS percentage as a junior and 61 TS percentage as a senior. He also increased his player efficiency rating to 25.5 last season.

On the offensive end of the floor, he’s gotten better as he’s gotten older. Which brings us to some of the issues certain teams might have with him.

Weaknesses
Payne is 23. He’ll be 24 before next year is out. That’s not old for most people entering the professional workforce, but Payne is not most people and his new job doesn’t involve sitting behind a desk somewhere in middle America.

He’s not a great passer. At present, his 10.2 assist rate makes him just about average for his position in this draft class.

Meanwhile, his blocks have dropped off somewhat. He averaged more than a block per game in his sophomore and junior years. Last season, he blocked 0.9 shots per game. That’s not a huge slip, but he managed to improve in so many other areas that it was somewhat surprising he regressed slightly as a rim protector. He accounted for 32.4 percent of the Spartans' blocks as a junior but 19.7 percent as a senior, and his block rate fell from 5.6 to 3.8.

Defensively, he can look a step slow at times. Does he have the quickness to move with athletic NBA power forwards?

How he’d fit with the Sixers
The Sixers like to get out and run. That might be an issue. He’s not doughy (8 percent body fat according to NBA.com), but he could definitely get in better cardio shape. Offensively, his game would fit nicely. He can stretch the floor or score inside. He gets to the line and hits free throws. And he can rebound. Defensively, if he improves his footwork, he could be serviceable. Having Nerlens Noel around would certainly help compensate at the defensive end.

NBA comparison
He’s been mentioned with Drew Gooden and likened to Robert Horry. Neither of those feel quite right.

For the purpose of other important comparisons, here is a quick and unsolicited ranking of Adreians/Adriens/Adrians:

5. Adrien Broner

4. Adrien Brody

3. Adreian Payne

2. Adrian Balboa

1. Adrian Peterson

I toyed with putting Payne in the two spot, but the Lady Balboa gets it just for flying all the way to Russia for the Drago fight. Long flight. Lots of snow.

Draft projection
First round. Could go anywhere from just outside the lottery to the mid 20s.

Banged-up Markelle Fultz is latest chapter in Sixers' painful rookie history

Banged-up Markelle Fultz is latest chapter in Sixers' painful rookie history

CAMDEN, N.J. — Brett Brown has been here before. The scenario isn’t as drastic in the past, but it’s familiar nonetheless: starting the season with an injured rookie for the fifth straight year.

Markelle Fultz will begin his first NBA season dealing with ongoing right shoulder and right knee soreness. The No. 1 pick is expected to play on opening night Wednesday, but will come off the bench after appearing in only two preseason games. 

Brown has learned to manage this type of situation after years of experience. Nerlens Noel missed Brown’s entire first season because of an ACL injury. Joel Embiid sat out the following two seasons with foot injuries. Ben Simmons suffered a season-ending foot fracture in last year’s training camp. 

The biggest lesson? 

“To go slow,” Brown said. “To not put them in a position where it’s going to produce some difficult times.” 

Fultz was likely to be a starter when the Sixers traded up to draft him first overall in June. The 19-year-old guard hasn’t had that much experience since then thanks to injuries in both summer league and preseason. 

The Sixers face John Wall, Kyrie Irving and Kyle Lowry in the first three games alone. That would be a tall defensive task if Fultz were to start. 

“This league is driven by men, this league is driven by veterans,” Brown said. “To just put him in that environment is just, I think, poor coaching and I’m not doing it.”

Just as Simmons took advice from Embiid during his injury, he is offering words of wisdom to Fultz.

“[You’ve] got to to take your time and you definitely have to take care of your body,” Simmons said. “Put your body first. There’s no need to rush.”

The Sixers have the backcourt depth to adjust without Fultz in the starting lineup. They have been turning to veteran Jerryd Bayless at shooting guard alongside Simmons, their intended backcourt pairing last season. 

In the meantime, Brown will balance Fultz’s health, his growth as an NBA player, and the team’s success. 

“The end game needs to be developing Markelle Fultz," Brown said. 

Joel Embiid disappointed Brett Brown has him on another minutes limit

Joel Embiid disappointed Brett Brown has him on another minutes limit

CAMDEN, N.J. — Joel Embiid would like to play 48 minutes every game. The Sixers are looking at a maximum of 20 for opening night.

"I don't really know if there's a solid number," Brett Brown said Monday after practice. "I can tell if you were to choose a number, it's somewhere in the teens."

Embiid was hoping for more playing time on Wednesday against the Wizards, his first regular-season game since Jan. 27 (left knee surgery).

"I didn't know about that, but that's very disappointing," Embiid said Monday of the minutes restriction. "I feel great and hopefully that changes based on today's practice and tomorrow's practice."

The Sixers are being cautious with Embiid, who has both a lengthy history of injuries and a massive new contract extension. He clocked 15 minutes in both of his preseason games last week. Embiid felt he could have played twice as many minutes.

While the Sixers aren't ready to go as high as 30 minutes yet, they could exercise some wiggle room based on the flow of the game.

"There will be some minutes restrictions, but it's also a judgment of how is the game being played, not just looking at rote, rigid number," Brown said.

The NBA's new timeout rules could impact Embiid's playing time. The updated format changes include a decrease in the maximum number of timeouts allowed (18 to 14), 75-second team timeouts and fewer timeouts in the final minutes of the game. 

"One of the things that we're doing this year unlike previous years is there's a little bit of a looseness in relation to it doesn't have to be rigid if the game didn't dictate some track meet," Brown said. "This is like I'm coaching in the London Olympic Games again. The game moves. I can have guys at a scorers table for two minutes with no stoppage. So sometimes the torrid pace of a game doesn't favor Jo where you go flying up and down."

In addition to individual games, it remains to be seen if Embiid will be cleared this season for back-to-backs. The Sixers face their first set of consecutive games this Friday and Saturday against the Celtics at home and the Raptors in Toronto.