76ers

NBA stars taking notice of Sixers' rise

NBA stars taking notice of Sixers' rise

The Sixers have been rising steadily in the standings and players around the league are taking notice. 

The young squad improved to 31-25 with a victory over the Bulls Thursday. They have won six straight and have not lost at the Wells Fargo Center in 2018. That totals up to the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference, only two games behind the Wizards for the fourth spot and two games ahead of the Heat for the eighth. 

"I like them," Timberwolves guard Jimmy Butler said at the All-Star break. "They've got a lot of great young talent. We do as well. But I think the way that they're going and how they play so hard and play so together, that's how you win basketball games. They're going to be really, really good for a long time."

The Sixers turned heads with a statement win over the Rockets in only their seventh game of the season. From there, they have defeated playoff teams, including a rare sweep of the Spurs, while struggling against sub.-500 opponents. 

They have 26 games remaining to make a postseason push. Of their upcoming opponents, only 10 games are against current top-eight teams in their conferences. Brett Brown has emphasized they can't take any team lightly. This is the time for the Sixers to maximize their schedule and show they learned from previous letdowns.

"They look good," Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard said. "Obviously as a young team, it takes time to learn how to win. ... The mature, really high-level teams, they find a way to get it done. I think for them, that's what their record shows. You play against them and it's hard to play against them. 

"They're really talented, they play hard, they play for a great coach. It's just those nights where you might not have it, having that understanding and that experience that'll lead you to more wins. I think once they get to that point, that's when maybe nine or 10 games that they've let slip, maybe they win those games."

The Sixers wrapped up the majority of their Western Conference schedule prior to the All-Star break. They have only the Timberwolves, Nuggets and Mavericks left to play. Those in the conference still are keeping an eye on the Sixers' progress, even if they may not face off again for months. 

"Everyone definitely sees the talent there," Warriors guard Klay Thompson said. "Any time you've got Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid to build around, they've got a very bright future. I think everyone had very high expectations, but it's hard to have high expectations with a team that's got a lot of first-, second-year guys that have never been in the playoffs. 

"But you can tell that they're going to be in the playoffs for, shoot, the next decade or so, probably be upper echelon pretty soon."

Kevin Knox, Zhaire Smith to have 2nd workout for Sixers

Kevin Knox, Zhaire Smith to have 2nd workout for Sixers

The Sixers are taking another look at two prospects two days before the NBA draft, in which they hold pick No. 10.

Kentucky forward Kevin Knox will be back at the training complex again Tuesday for an individual workout. Last week, he participated in a group setting.

Texas Tech guard Zhaire Smith also will return for a second group workout.

Both stood out their first time in Camden, New Jersey.

“He walked into the gym, it’s not hard to see the intrigue with his size and mobility, his frame,” senior director of basketball operations Vince Rozman said of the 6-foot-9 Knox last week. “He’s 18, so there’s a lot to develop from.”

Knox, who averaged 15.6 points (34.1 percent from three), 5.4 rebounds and 1.4 assists as a freshman, was confident following his first performance for the Sixers.

“They’re really interested in me,” Knox said. “They love my game, they love the way I can shoot the ball. That’s something they really like to do is shoot a lot of threes. My versatility, being able to take guys off the dribble is something that would complement really well with Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid.”

The 6-foot-5 Smith posted 11.3 points, 5.0 rebounds and 1.8 assists his freshman season. He was focused on demonstrating shooting, decision-making and playmaking during his first workout.

“He’s got great length,” vice president of player personnel Marc Eversley said last week. “He’s a terrific, terrific athlete. He didn’t shoot the ball as well throughout the year, but he came in here today and shot it pretty well.”

The Sixers additionally hold picks No. 26, 38, 39, 56 and 60. Tuesday’s group workout also will include La Salle guard-forward B.J. Johnson, USC guard De’Anthony Melton, Fairfield guard Tyler Nelson, Kansas guard Malik Newman and Wichita State guard Landry Shamet.

More on Sixers, NBA draft

• Knox thinks he would fit with Sixers

• NBA draft profile: Kentucky's Knox

NBA draft profile: Texas Tech's Smith

NBA draft profile: UCLA PG Aaron Holiday

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NBA draft profile: UCLA PG Aaron Holiday

Aaron Holiday

Position: Guard

Height: 6-0

Weight: 187

School: UCLA

Sixers fans should recognize the name. Aaron Holiday is the brother of former Sixers first-round pick Jrue Holiday and Bulls wing Justin Holiday. Aaron is the youngest — and smallest — of the three. 

A three-year player at UCLA, Holiday developed into one of the most prodigious scorers and shooters in Bruins history. He was the first UCLA player to lead the Pac 12 in scoring (20.3 points per game) since some guy named Reggie Miller. For his efforts, he was named to the All-Pac 12 first team.

For his college career, Holiday averaged 14.3 points and 4.7 assists per contest in 101 games (65 starts). He also hit 180 treys, shooting 42 percent from three.

Strengths
Holiday’s most obvious and translatable NBA attribute is his jump shot. He shot over 40 percent in all three of his seasons at UCLA and is capable off the dribble, off screens and in catch-and-shoot opportunities. He also has NBA range and is not afraid to pull up from any spot on the floor.

For his size, he’s a good, creative finisher and features a pretty nice floater. He understands how to attack defenses, especially in the pick and roll. He’s excellent at changing his pace and lulling defenders to sleep. He’s a good and willing passer. Defensively he has excellent instincts. He’s aggressive and does well at getting his hands in passing lanes.

Weaknesses
Size is a huge issue for Holiday. The other big issue is, he’s just an OK athlete that lacks quickness and explosion while driving to the basket. Defense is always going to be an issue as he’ll struggle to guard some of the bigger and more explosive point guards in the league. He also struggled with turnovers.

NBA comparison
Aaron Brooks, most recently of the Minnesota Timberwolves. Both players make up for their size with excellent perimeter shooting. Brooks was more explosive coming out of Oregon, but also has a good change of pace to confuse opponents. Holiday has better feel and vision. Brooks has struggled defensively at the NBA level and Holiday will likely encounter the same issues.

How he'd fit with Sixers
It’s tough to project Holiday to the Sixers. His shooting would play well here and playing with a 6-foot-10 point guard would certainly help his cause, but where would he fit? He won’t be a starter right away and the Sixers already feature T.J. McConnell off the bench. McConnell provides energy and top-notch defense that Holiday cannot.

Draft projection
The modern NBA is all about the three so teams will be interested in Holiday as a backup point guard and shooter off the bench. He could go anywhere from the late teens to the mid-20s.

More on the Sixers and the NBA draft