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NBA 2017-18 Eastern Conference Outlook: Are the Sixers ready for primetime with Markelle Fultz?

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NBA 2017-18 Eastern Conference Outlook: Are the Sixers ready for primetime with Markelle Fultz?

NBC Sports Washington is looking around the league as we prepare for the 2017-18 NBA season. Today, we break down the Philadelphia 76ers' outlook...

2016-17 record: 28-54, 14th in East
Coach: Brett Brown
Key additions: PG Markelle Fultz, SG J.J. Redick, PF Amir Johnson
Key losses: SG Gerald Henderson
Projected lineup: PG Markelle Fultz, SG J.J. Redick, SF Ben Simmons, PF Dario Saric, C Joel Embiid

Biggest questions:

1. Can Embiid and Simmons stay healthy?

'The Process' has netted the Sixers some very intriguing young players but two of them - Embiid and Simmons - have major injury concerns. Embiid has played in just 31 games since he was drafted in 2014 due to various ailments involving his back, knee and feet. He had surgery to repair a torn meniscus in March. Simmons missed his entire rookie year because of foot surgery.

Both are crazy talented, but if the Sixers can count on them full-time isn't clear quite yet. Embiid was on a minutes restriction this past season and is coming off surgery. Simmons has yet to return and foot injuries can be tricky. Hopefully, for the game of basketball's sake, both can show what they're made of this season.

[RELATED: BROOKS KNOWS RE-SIGNING STARS ISN'T EASY]

2. Is Fultz ready for an instant impact?

In addition to Embiid and Simmons, the Sixers have another blue chip prospect in Fultz, the No. 1 overall pick in this summer's draft. They traded a lot to get him and hope he is the missing piece to complete an important stage of their rebuild. With Simmons, the Sixers will be adding the last two No. 1 picks to their lineup.

Fultz was a phenom in college. He adapted very quickly, averaging 23.2 points, 5.9 assists and 5.7 rebounds per game. That's impressive, but offers no guarantee he will find early success at the NBA level. There are a ton of good point guards out there and Fultz will find that out soon with John Wall and the Wizards awaiting him opening night in D.C.

3. Can they make a playoff push?

The Sixers pulled off one of the most blatant tank jobs in sports history to collect a group of young players that is undeniably impressive. But they can't keep tanking forever. Is this the year they finally become a competitive NBA team?

Their fans (and Coach Brown) have been very patient, but it seems like this would be a good time to take the next step and actually gun for a playoff spot. The signing of Redick in free agency to a $23 million deal suggests they are ready to go for it and it will be interesting to see if they can make some noise with such a young team or whether it will take a few years for them to gel.

More 2017-18 previews:

Boston Celtics

Chicago Bulls

Cleveland Cavaliers

Milwaukee Bucks

Indiana Pacers

Toronto Raptors

[RELATED: CAN WALL FOLLOW THROUGH ON KOBE'S CHALLENGE?]

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Wizards pick up Kelly Oubre, Jr.'s contract option with bright future ahead

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Wizards pick up Kelly Oubre, Jr.'s contract option with bright future ahead

The play of Kelly Oubre, Jr. over the past calendar year had made the Wizards picking up his contract option an increasingly easy decision. On Saturday, they opted to keep him for the fourth year of his rookie contract, the 2018-19 season, and did so with a week to spare before the deadline.

Oubre, 21, has emerged as a key contributor for a Wizards team with expectations of a deep playoff run. He is still finding his trule role in the NBA, but with his youth and potential, and the fact he's still on a rookie deal, Oubre has a unique place on their roster.

John Wall and Bradley Beal have already emerged as stars. Otto Porter still has room to get much better, but has already arrived and earned a max contract. Oubre, though already established in their rotation, has plenty of room to grow.

Oubre, the 15th overall pick in 2015, doubled his minutes last season to 20.3 per game under head coach Scott Brooks with averages of 6.3 points, 3.3 rebounds and 0.7 steals per game. He earned Brooks' trust mainly on the defensive end with his versatility and high motor.

Consistency is where Oubre needs to improve, but through two games this season he appears to have taken another step. Oubre added two inches to his vertical leap over the summer despite rehabbing from platelet-rich plasma treatment on his right knee. He also gained some muscle, allowing him to make strides as a rebounder. Oubre has 15 rebounds through two games and said it's specific focus of his.

[RELATED: WALL TALKS LONZO AND LAVAR BALL]

The Wizards are a good enough offensive team currently to where Oubre can focus on defense and rebounding. But his growing confidence on offense has been evident so far this year and especially in the preseason. He has worked on dribbling with his right hand and the result is more aggression attacking the rim. Though still not a polished product, Oubre is taking small steps to emerge as a more dangerous scoring threat.

The Wizards will have another decision to make on Oubre this time next year. One day before the 2018-19 regular season begins, they will have to choose whether to hand Oubre a rookie scale contract extension. They weren't able to beat that deadline with Porter and the next summer he received a $106.5 million max deal after hitting the market as a restricted free agent. 

Oubre at this very moment wouldn't command that type of money in free agency, but the same was said about Porter at this point in his career. Porter was able to improve significantly in his fourth season.

Wizards majority owner Ted Leonsis said this summer that he would love to have Oubre force the issue with his performance on the court.

"He's going to come back and work really, really hard and challenge us to pay him a lot of money, too, which I'm glad to do," Leonsis said. 

It's early in the season, but Oubre may be on his way towards making the Wizards ponder his long-term future.

The Washington Post first reported Oubre's contract option getting picked up.

[RELATED: WALL EXPLAINS WOLF SEASON]

 

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John Wall doesn't hold LaVar Ball's talking against Lonzo, but knows 'he'll be targeted'

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John Wall doesn't hold LaVar Ball's talking against Lonzo, but knows 'he'll be targeted'

Clippers guard Patrick Beverley made a point to embarrass Lakers rookie Lonzo Ball in the latter's NBA debut. After dominating him on the court, Beverley said he had to "set the tone." 

On Wednesday, Wizards point guard John Wall will get a crack at Ball when Washington plays the Lakers at the Staples Center. Wall knows why Beverley went after Ball like that, but says he doesn't blame Ball himself.

"I think his dad put him in a situation where guys are going to target him," Wall said on the Wizards Tipoff podcast, referencing LaVar Ball. "Lonzo is one of those kids that is very talented. He's been a good player for years, he just don't say much. I think his dad does all the talking for him."

Ball, 19, was the second overall pick in this June's NBA Draft. He had just three points on 1-of-6 shooting against the Clippers on Wednesday, but bounced back for 29 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists against the Suns on Friday. 

Wall thinks Ball will be fine as long as he can keep up his production on the court to back up his dad's trash-talking.

"He's a great kid from what I've seen on the outside looking in," Wall said. "A lot of people in this league are going to take it personally. It's not the son's fault. He went back and had a better game [vs. the Suns]. That's all he's gotta do is go out there and play. He's not gonna do any talking anyways. If he gets killed or don't get killed or kills somebody, he's not going to be the guy talking."

Wall is as competitive as they come and will give Ball a tough challenge on Wednesday night, but it doesn't sound like he plans to pull a Beverley and overtly embarrass him.

Listen to Wall's full 1-on-1 interview on the Wizards Tipoff podcast:

[RELATED: WALL SAYS HE'S THE BEST SHOT-BLOCKING PG EVER]