If report is true, who could Sixers target in top 5 of 2018 NBA draft?

If report is true, who could Sixers target in top 5 of 2018 NBA draft?

An interesting report from an even more interesting source surfaced Friday. 

The Sixers are reportedly “very much looking to move up to get somebody they think will go in the top five” in next week’s NBA draft. With that in mind, the question becomes: Which player are they targeting?

The top of the draft is loaded with centers, but it’s pretty safe to assume they won’t be looking for one with All-Star Joel Embiid signed long term. That means you can likely cross DeAndre Ayton, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Wendell Carter Jr. off the list. 

Here’s a look at three players that would make sense for the Sixers that will likely go in the top five.

Luka Doncic, G/F, Real Madrid (6-8/228)
Doncic would make a ton of sense for the Sixers. The Slovenian wing is known for his elite playmaking ability. He’s an excellent ball handler and has an incredible offensive feel for a player his age. He also played in the second-best league in the world and excelled, taking home MVP of the EuroLeague at just 19 years old.

The biggest concerns will be his lack of elite athleticism and a somewhat inconsistent jumper. His lack of athleticism shows on drives to the basket and when he’s asked to guard smaller, quicker players. That could be an issue with the Sixers, who switch on everything. The jumper is there (80 percent free throw shooter as a pro), he just needs to show more consistency with it.

It’d be interesting to see what Doncic can do with a big man like Embiid and a point guard with Simmons’ vision. Doncic’s ability in the pick-and-roll could be lethal when paired with a player like Embiid. His overall offensive feel should help take some pressure off Simmons as a ball handler. If Markelle Fultz develops into the player the Sixers hoped, there’s no reason to think Doncic can’t play alongside the 2017 No. 1 overall pick. 

It’s also worth noting Doncic’s draft stock has slipped every-so-slightly recently — he was projected to go No. 1 or 2 when the process started — over fears of his ability to adjust to NBA athletes. The Sixers could be gauging to see where he slips and pounce. If I were a betting man — I’m not — my money would be on Doncic as the player they’re targeting.

Michael Porter Jr., F, Missouri, (6-10/211)
Like Doncic, Porter Jr. is a bit of an enigma but for a different reason. Porter Jr., considered by many to be the top recruit coming out of high school, suffered a back injury that required a microdiscectomy on his L3-L4 spinal discs. He was only able to play in three games at Missouri and clearly lacked explosiveness.

Porter Jr. may be a better fit than Doncic from a basketball standpoint. Porter Jr. has a smooth shooting stroke, which is his most translatable NBA skill. He’s good both off the dribble and in catch-and-shoot opportunities. He’s also a good cutter and is better at playing off the ball. With his length, quickness and athleticism, he’d fit with what the Sixers do defensively with the ability to guard multiple positions.

While his shot should be there at the next level, he still has work to do on the rest of his offensive game. He doesn’t have great vision or feel and his handle will need to tighten up. Defensively, he lacks grit and physicality. He’s a poor rebounder for his size as well. There have also been questions about his maturity and whether he’s a good teammate.

With news that Porter Jr. had to cancel a pre-draft workout because of hip spasms, the injury history is a little scary. With that said, reports say his medical records are fairly clean. Given the Sixers’ recent history with injured draft picks, they’re kind of uniquely qualified to handle the situation. On the court, he should provide spacing for Embiid and Simmons with potential to grow on both ends of the floor. 

Marvin Bagley, F/C, Duke (6-11/234)
Bagley is sort of the dark horse here. Before the college season began, it was either Porter Jr. or Bagley that most considered to be the best player out of high school. Bagley is probably the safest bet of these three players after finishing an outstanding freshman season at Duke, winning ACC Player of the Year with a clean bill of health. He may also be the oddest fit for the Sixers.

Bagley is an outstanding athlete with great basketball instincts. He has the potential to have a strong jumper, shooting well from three (40 percent), but with a small sample size (58 attempts). He’s an outstanding rebounder (11.1) and plays hard and aggressively on defense. He excels in the pick and roll. He has a quick first step and has the potential to be a strong driver and finisher at the next level.

Bagley’s biggest issue is that he’s kind of a tweener. He lacks the length and girth to play the five and may not be a strong enough shooter to be a modern NBA four. He’s a little too left-hand dependent with his drives and finishes. He’s more a strong team defender than an on-the-ball one.

The Sixers are already set at center and arguably at the four with Dario Saric coming off a strong sophomore campaign and Jonah Bolden possibly coming from overseas. But Bagley could help in a few different scenarios. If the roster stays as is, Bagley could fight Bolden for minutes as a backup four and five. Saric is also a very attractive trade piece. If he’s moved in any type of deal, Bagley could be his replacement. Although it’s worth noting that if Saric is moved for a veteran piece, the Sixers will likely include the No. 10 pick in that deal and not move up. Bagley seems like the most unrealistic player to move up for, but you never know.

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Shaquille O'Neal on playing vs. Allen Iverson: ‘I was such a fan … I kind of coasted that year in the Finals’

Shaquille O'Neal on playing vs. Allen Iverson: ‘I was such a fan … I kind of coasted that year in the Finals’

Shaquille O’Neal was at the height of his very substantial powers in the 2001 NBA Finals. He averaged 33 points, 15.8 rebounds and 3.4 blocks in the Lakers’ five-game series victory and was a simple choice for MVP.

However, the Sixers took a Game 1 that Philadelphia fans will remember for a long time, led by Allen Iverson’s 48 points. O’Neal revealed on The Adam Lefkoe Show podcast that he was perhaps a little lenient toward Iverson. 

I have a little confession. D-Wade [Dwyane Wade] probably knows this,” he said. “There were four guys that when we played them, I was such a fan, I would let them do what they wanted to do. White Chocolate [Jason Williams] — I wanted him to go to work — Vince Carter, AI and Tracy McGrady. Every time we played AI … I could have blocked his shot multiple times.

“I just didn’t want to. I kind of coasted that year in the Finals where we wanted to go 16-0. We let him hit us for [48]. Listen, Iverson, he had his heart on the line, he played hard, he did it his way. I was glad to go into the Hall of Fame with him. It’s unfortunate that a lot of these great players will be judged because they didn’t win [a championship]. But listen, he’s one of the greatest to ever do it.

Given O’Neal’s 44-point, 20-rebound Game 1 performance, the notion of him taking it easy on Iverson is difficult to buy. Still, it’s evident he has a deep respect for Iverson. Wade and Candace Parker are very much in the same boat — both players chose No. 3 for that reason.

At All-Star Weekend in February, Wade crossed paths with Iverson and the two shared an emotional moment weeks after the tragic death of Kobe Bryant.

“I couldn’t do anything but embrace and tell him how much I appreciate him, tell him how much I love him,” Wade said on the podcast. “As I’ve always said, it was [Michael] Jordan, Kobe and Iverson for me. Those are the three players that I modeled my game after — that’s who I wanted to be like. I wore No. 3 probably because of Allen Iverson. … I just thanked him. It was just a good embrace that we both needed at that moment.”

A two-time WNBA MVP and five-time All-Star, Parker had a unique story on the origin of her admiration for Iverson. Her older brother, Anthony Parker, began his professional career with the Sixers in the 1997-98 season.

“I remember one day my brother came home from a game and he handed me Allen Iverson’s finger bands,” Parker said. “I wore the Allen Iverson finger bands all the way through high school. … I was obsessed with him. I remember when I met him, he was the first person I met that he shook my hand and I had no words.”

Both Parker and Wade are convinced Iverson would have benefited from the way the NBA has changed since his retirement. They cited the load management movement as one factor — Iverson led the league in minutes per game seven times and played at least 39.4 minutes a night in each of his first 12 seasons. The two also believe that the league's shift away from big men and increase in pace would have suited Iverson’s game. 

“AI’s one of the greatest players of all time,” Parker said. 

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Non-stop drama, a high-tech mask and Joel Embiid's playoff debut

Non-stop drama, a high-tech mask and Joel Embiid's playoff debut

NBC Sports Philadelphia is re-airing Game 3 of the Sixers-Heat 2018 playoff series Sunday night at 7 p.m. on NBC Sports Philadelphia. 

At 26 years old, Joel Embiid has played 19 career playoff games. The lead-up to the first one was full of frustration, drama and angst.

Minutes after the Sixers’ 17-game winning streak ended with a loss to the Heat in Game 2, Embiid posted on his Instagram story, “F---ing sick and tired of being babied.” 

He’d been a glum observer from the sidelines that night, still out with an orbital fracture of the left eye he’d sustained in a collision with Markelle Fultz on March 28, and had seen his teammates cool off from three-point range and allow a 36-year-old Dwyane Wade to score 28 points. Embiid wanted to play, thought he should be permitted to and figured it couldn’t hurt to let the world know how he felt. 

Not for the first time — and certainly not for the last, either — Brett Brown found himself fielding awkward questions about how his players were being handled medically. 

“He just wants to play basketball," he said at the podium. “He wants to be with his team, he wants to play in front of the fans and he wants to see this through. When he’s not able to do that, he gets frustrated, and I respect his frustrations. … I do know the spirit he delivered that [Instagram story] you just talked about reflects my conversations with him.

"It’s completely driven by team, competitiveness, I want to play basketball, that type of feeling more than anything.”

Thanks to a high-tech, customized mask with goggles that was made of polypropylene and embedded carbon fiber filaments, Embiid was cleared for Game 3 in Miami, resembling the "Batman" villain Bane and the rapper MF Doom. The mask was an unavoidable nuisance — Embiid removed it from his face on free throws — but it allowed him to play basketball again, shifting the drama from social media to the court.

Embiid tossed the mask up in the air, spiked it on the floor and generally didn’t treat the device with much reverence. Head athletic trainer Kevin Johnson got a good amount of screen time as the Sixers’ medical staff ran repairs and ferried masks out to Embiid. Justise Winslow was not amused by the situation. When he saw the mask lying on the ground around the foul line at one point in the second quarter, he stepped on it, then unsuccessfully tried to break it with his hands.

"He kept throwing it on the ground. I don't know if he didn't like it or what,” Winslow, who was later fined $15,000 for the incident, told reporters. “I was talking to JoJo, we were smack talking, trash talking, going back and forth. No love lost.”

The back-and-forth with Winslow seemed to invigorate Embiid, though he probably didn’t require any additional fuel.

“Little do they know, I have about 50 of them,” he said to reporters in Miami. “It’s going to take much more than that to get me out of the series. It’s going to be a nightmare for them, too.” 

It was a casually bold prognostication, and also not an entirely outrageous one. The Sixers sprinted away from the Heat in Game 3, turning a two-point lead entering the fourth quarter into a 20-point win. They were, without a doubt, the better team when Embiid played.

We haven’t actually mentioned anything yet about how Embiid played. If he didn’t have a black mask shielding his face, the cliched (but accurate) description of his performance would be that he looked like himself. Embiid had 23 points in 30 minutes, seven rebounds, four assists and three blocks. He made three threes, drew 15 free throws and protected the rim well, limiting Heat players to 4 for 14 shooting on field goals he defended. 

Mask on or mask off, regular season or playoffs, he was clearly going to be the main story more often than not. 

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