76ers

Sixers 124, Heat 114: Markelle Fultz's ugly free throw overshadows win

Sixers 124, Heat 114: Markelle Fultz's ugly free throw overshadows win

BOX SCORE 

The Sixers beat the Heat on Monday night, 124-114, in their final contest before the debut of Jimmy Butler on Wednesday night. 

Sadly, a second-quarter free throw by Markelle Fultz overshadowed everything else that happened in the game.

• Fultz’s free-throw form has not been trending in the right direction over the last couple games. What happened Monday night wasn’t exactly out of the blue, but it was still extremely alarming.

With 6:09 left in the second quarter, he made the first of two free-throw attempts. He then brought the ball up to shoulder height to take his second free throw and jerked it up as if he was about to shoot. The problem was, the ball didn’t come out. Fultz then lowered the ball a couple inches and finally released it. While a convincing pump fake, it was the opposite of how a free throw should look. 

Despite all the remedial work Fultz did on his shot this summer, there’s still something terribly wrong, whether it's the “yips” or something else. There’s no doubt he’d made progress with his shot after the bizarre tribulations of his rookie season, even making four three-pointers in the Sixers’ first seven games. His midrange attempts didn’t look too bad on Monday night. Still, that free throw was an ugly, painful step backwards.

• Brett Brown went with a starting lineup of Ben Simmons, Fultz, JJ Redick, Wilson Chandler and Joel Embiid. 

If you replace Fultz with Butler, that lineup makes a lot of sense for the Sixers.

Chandler has plenty of experience as a starter and as a small-ball four. Without Covington and Saric, the shooting (and spacing) Redick provides is essential.

As for Fultz, that free throw should unfortunately erase any possible consideration of him as a starter. Landry Shamet started in Fultz’s place in the second half.

• The Sixers’ first-round playoff matchup last season vs. the Heat was defined by sneaky elbows, not-so-sneaky slaps to the head (remember Goran Dragic on Ben Simmons in Game 5?) and constant contact off the ball.

Jimmy Butler is the kind of player who you want on your team in those feisty, physical series. Along with the shot creation and perimeter defense he brings to the table, his no-nonsense, ultra-competitive personality will be a welcome addition to the Sixers come playoff time. 

• A masked Mike Muscala returned after breaking his nose and suffering a facial laceration in a collision at practice Tuesday. He had 13 points and eight rebounds.

• Joel Embiid returned to form after an off night in Memphis, with 35 points and 18 rebounds. He's one of the best players in basketball right now, without question.

• Furkan Korkmaz has made a strong case that he’s deserving of a bench role in the Sixers’ last two games. He nailed three three-pointers in the second period, including a four-point play. He scored 16 points, topping his career high from Saturday. While his shot is currently his only plus NBA quality, it’s a skill the Sixers could use. 

• JJ Redick’s shooting slump is officially a thing of the past. After scoring 20 points against the Grizzlies, he went for 25 on 11 for 20 shooting in Miami. 

• Just about all of what I wrote feels irrelevant. Fultz’s free throw is a much more important story than this individual game. The Sixers probably thought most of the questions they’d be asked after this game would be about Butler, who has his introductory press conference Tuesday morning in Camden.

Instead, Fultz’s pump-fake free throw is all anyone will be talking about.

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2020 NBA draft profile: Payton Pritchard's elite ball handling, unlimited range should entice Sixers

2020 NBA draft profile: Payton Pritchard's elite ball handling, unlimited range should entice Sixers

Payton Pritchard

Position: PG
Height: 6-2
Weight: 190
School: Oregon

The NCAA Tournament being cancelled will likely affect several draft prospects. Oregon’s Payton Pritchard seems to be one of them. The senior guard led the Ducks to a 24-7 record and the team won the Pac-12 regular season title with a 13-5 mark. Pritchard leading a strong tourney run could’ve helped his draft stock.

As it stands, Pritchard’s resume is still pretty darn impressive. He was a consensus All-American in 2019-20 and won Pac-12 Player of the Year. He averaged 20.5. points, 5.5 assists, 4.3 rebounds and 1.5 steals per game in his final collegiate season.

Strengths

Pritchard has a reputation as a tireless worker and dogged competitor. As mentioned, he was the true leader of an Oregon team that had a chance to do serious damage in the NCAA Tournament. He excelled in a much larger scoring role his senior season.

He seems to have the ball on a string with advanced handling skills. His father told a reporter that his son practices dribbling “until his hands bleed.” While he’s not the most explosive guard, his ability to change speeds and understanding of when to do so is a huge asset.

He also has good vision and awareness. Despite a high usage rate, Pritchard’s turnover numbers didn’t grow exponentially. He averaged 4.6 assists and two turnovers a game during his time in Eugene.

Outside of a down season in 2018-19, Pritchard has proven to be an elite shooter. He’s fearless with unlimited range. This play against Washington in overtime got a much deserved “ONIONS!” call from Bill Raftery.

https://youtu.be/3N1YHHz-EYM?t=58

That game was sort of a microcosm of Pritchard. Oregon struggled against Washington’s zone for much of the game. Pritchard patiently picked his spots but took over at times when his team needed him to.

Despite being just 6-foot-2, Pritchard is solidly built and did flash potential as an off-ball defender with 1.5 steals a game. He’s also a solid rebounder for his height, which helps him be able to push the pace.

Weaknesses

The height will likely be an issue at the next level. He also doesn’t have long arms or the lateral quickness it would seem to take to defend NBA guards. It’s hard to gauge against the zone, but he may also struggle to battle through screens.

He’s not particularly athletic or explosive. Though his ball handling skills are excellent, he does struggle to turn the corner on quicker defenders. The lack of explosion also led to him struggling to finish against length at the rim.

While he has NBA skills, he does not possess a strong physical NBA profile.

Fit

As a player that can play with and back up Ben Simmons, Pritchard could be a decent fit. Pritchard's ability as a shooter and advanced ball handling would mesh well with Simmons' elite ability as a screener and roller. Simmons’ size and defensive prowess could help cover Pritchard’s deficiencies. 

While he took on a scoring role this season, Pritchard isn’t the type of player to force things. As a point guard that likes to push the ball up the floor, he could fit in well with the Sixers’ pace and space style.

Because of his lack of height and athleticism, he will likely be around for the Sixers in the middle of the second round. He seems worth a flyer there because of his steady improvement and work ethic. He's not the type of player you bet against despite his physical limitations.

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Joel Embiid's 'mentality just completely changed' after All-Star Game success

Joel Embiid's 'mentality just completely changed' after All-Star Game success

The coronavirus pandemic has altered our everyday lives. It’s caused many to self-reflect and find out new things about themselves.

So, what has Joel Embiid found out about himself with all this time on his hands while the NBA season is suspended?

“I’ve discovered that I’m not that good at video games,” Embiid said to NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Marc Zumoff.

The All-Star center, whose game of choice is still FIFA, went on to explain the evolution of his player in career mode. That’s not to say Embiid hasn’t been taking the situation in our world seriously. Embiid pledged to donate $500,000 to COVID-19 medical relief efforts back in March.

Even as the NBA appears to be closer to a return, Embiid is still emphasizing safety — though he misses playing in front of the Wells Fargo Center crowd.

“First of all, I want everybody to remain safe. I want to be safe,” Embiid said. “This is nothing to play with. You don’t know what can happen. But when the time is right and everything is safe and I can be on the court, I feel like what I’m going to be missing the most is just being out there, winning for the city of Philadelphia, representing the city of Philadelphia, and just going out there and dominating.”

The 26-year-old felt like he was turning a corner before the stoppage. He had two of his more dominant outings of the season after the All-Star break, including putting up a career-high 49 points against the Hawks.

It was an odd first half to the season, but outside of a shoulder injury that cost him five games, Embiid was looking more like his old self after the break.

“I feel like before the season got shut down, I was on that path,” Embiid said. “Especially after that All-Star Game, my mentality just completely changed. First part of the season, it wasn’t up to my standards — not even close. I was on that path to just changing all that and making it happen.”

Of course, what would an article about Joel Embiid be if health and fitness level weren’t mentioned? Embiid’s career has been mired by injuries. When he’s missed time, whether because of injury or load management, he’s admitted that he can get out of shape quickly. He hasn’t played a game since March 11.

GM Elton Brand said earlier this month that he “wouldn’t bet against” Embiid coming back ready to play. His head coach took it even a step further.

“Joel's always a topic. We get it,” Brett Brown said back on May 15. “The importance that he represents as being a complete parallel to can you win a championship or not, is real. I've had many conversations with Jo. I spoke with him 30 minutes ago, and he's got a real desire to be at a playing weight that equals his best since he's been in the league.”

No matter what the format looks like, the Sixers won’t have an easy road ahead if/when the NBA resumes play. It seems like they could meet the Celtics in the first round, a team that knocked the Sixers out of the playoffs in 2018.

Like anyone missing basketball, Embiid watched “The Last Dance” documentary. There are some parallels to be made as Embiid and Ben Simmons have had their share of disappointment in the postseason. Much like Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen did with the “Bad Boy” Pistons, the Sixers’ All-Star duo may have to overcome their playoff boogeymen in Boston and Toronto.

Embiid believes he can push his teammates the same way Jordan once did.

“I did watch it. It was interesting,” Embiid said. “I saw a lot of similarities and a lot of people have told me that. … I can also be that guy, I just need to keep putting in the work and that’s what I’ve been doing.”

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