76ers

Sixers don't win NBA draft lottery but these 5 players could help at pick 24

Sixers don't win NBA draft lottery but these 5 players could help at pick 24

No, the Sixers didn’t win the draft lottery Tuesday night, but they still have work to do ahead of June 20.

At his end-of-season press conference, GM Elton Brand actually got pretty specific in describing the kind of player he’d like to add at pick No. 24 and beyond.

“Where we are in our trajectory, we need players that can play, players that can add to our team now,” Brand said. “We’re looking for maybe older players. For sure, defensive-minded players and we always place a premium on shooting. But defensive-oriented players that can contribute now, we may look at, I don’t want to tip my hand too much, but that may be something we’re looking at.”

Here are five players that fit that description to an extent and could be there in the first round. 

Matisse Thybulle, G, Washington

Out of all the players that could be available, Thybulle may be the most attractive. He’s 22, he’s athletic and long, he’s defensive-oriented and he’s flashed the ability to shoot. In his four years at Washington, he put up crazy steal (2.4) and block (1.3) block numbers and shot 36 percent from three.

The Huskies’ zone does muddle the evaluation some. Will Thybulle be able to guard 1-on-1? He has the athleticism and quick feet to do so. His three-point shooting also dipped to 31 percent last season. Teams interested will hope that shooting season was an outlier.

Cameron Johnson, F, North Carolina

The biggest knock on Johnson is that he’s 23 years old. No worries for Brand. Johnson has intriguing skills as a 3-and-D combo forward. The Pitt transfer shot 46 percent from three last season. He’s also strong shooting off the dribble and in the mid-range because of his 6-foot-9 frame and ability to shoot over the defense.

Other than age, Johnson does have an injury history. He’ll have to put on muscle to be able to hang with bigger and stronger NBA fours. He’s not the most athletic, but he has potential to be a versatile defender because of his length. 

Carsen Edwards, G, Purdue

You want a shooter? If you followed the NCAA Tournament, you know Edwards is one. He had a pair of 42-point performances, including one against Virginia. He shot 36 percent from three, which doesn’t seem that impressive, but he took 10.6(!) treys a game. He can shoot off the dribble, excels moving off the ball, has a lightning quick release and understands spacing.

He’s 6-foot-1. If he was 6-4, he’d likely be a lottery pick. He struggled with turnovers and isn’t a great playmaker, but that might not matter for the Sixers. He can be a microwave scorer off the bench and would be an excellent complement to Ben Simmons on a second unit.

Daniel Gafford, C, Arkansas

Gafford is a little on the younger side at 20, but he’s a crazy athlete and as active as any player in college basketball. He’s a rim-to-rim big. He’s a decent shot blocker and excels rolling to the basket and finishing off lobs with authority.

His offensive game is incredibly raw. He doesn’t have much in the way of post moves and while he’s worked on his jumper, he still has a long ways to go. For the Sixers, the athleticism and activity is something they sorely lacked out of their backup fives — outside of Jonah Bolden, who is more of a combo big. Gafford is 233 pounds, but has strength and room to add a little more weight to his frame.

KZ Okpala, F, Stanford

Okpala doesn’t really fit Brand’s criteria, but man, he has tools. He’s 6-foot-9 and has a 7-2 wingspan, but displays guard-like skills at times. He’s a great athlete who took a big a step in his sophomore season. He showed an improved handle and his three-point shooting went up by 14 percent.

Tools are great, but he is raw and skinny. Do the Sixers think he could immediately fill a role as a versatile defender capable of hitting the occasional trey? He is crazy intriguing to me, but Brand is likely looking for a more developed player.

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THAT is the version of Shake Milton the Sixers are expecting

THAT is the version of Shake Milton the Sixers are expecting

Shake Milton had a forgettable night last Saturday. In his first game as the Sixers’ point guard in the new-look starting lineup, Milton struggled on the court and had a heated exchange with Joel Embiid that was caught on camera.

What a difference a day or two can make.

On Monday, Milton looked like a totally different player, hitting a game-winning three with 6.1 seconds left to give the Sixers a wild 132-130 win over the Spurs (see observations).

The second-year guard’s poise has been one his greatest assets early in his NBA career. That’s why that moment in a loss to the Pacers seemed so out of character.

The version of Milton we saw Monday, the guy who was bloodied by an elbow to the mouth a few minutes prior and still hit a clutch shot, seemed more like the player people in Philadelphia have come to know.

“Yeah, and we needed it,” Brett Brown said in a video conference postgame. “Any time a player cannot make stuff up and they react to what the sport says, and he wasn’t guarded, they threw him the ball, and he didn’t think, he just shot it. 

“And Shake, for all of you, I know you’ve interviewed him and you listen to him, it’s quite clear he is an articulate, intelligent young man. And the poise and kind of grace he goes about his business with I think was reflected in that moment. He just was very calm, took a lot of belief in himself and ended up with maybe one of the biggest shots of his career.”

And the first player to find Milton for a high-five at half court after he hit the shot? Joel Embiid, of course.

You can’t make this stuff up.

“I was really happy,” Embiid said. “It’s good to be in that situation and hit the game-winner. I’m extremely happy for him. He’s been working really hard this season and it’s showing off. And that was a big shot he hit — it gave us the win.”

Embiid had another strong outing, posting 27 points, nine rebounds and five assists. 

It’s become a regular occurrence for Embiid to face double teams all game long. It was no different against San Antonio. Just like the Pacers, the Spurs were forced to put out a very small lineup because of injuries. Against both teams, Embiid was decisive and strong with the basketball when the doubles came. In the waning moments of the game, who else would the Sixers go to?

With 10.4 seconds left and Milton inbounding, his man, Dejounte Murray, fronted Embiid in the post while big man Jakob Poeltl stood between Embiid and the rim. Instead of throwing something toward the rim and risking a turnover, Milton got the ball to Al Horford at the top of they key. While Horford looked for a way to try to get the ball to Embiid, Murray took another step closer to the paint.

Then Horford’s eyes went back to Milton, who was left uncovered after inbounding. Milton, who finished with 16 points, took one dribble and calmly hit a dagger.

“It probably was no secret who we wanted to go to,” Brown said. “And just because of that crowd and the fact that you had somebody that could pass the ball in and make a shot proved to win us the game as a result of Shake’s sort of confidence. Because normally a lot of people aren’t going to fall in love with that shot and he didn’t hesitate, and to your point, given his performance in the first game it’s a great way for him to help us get that win.”

The reaction couldn’t have been anymore Milton, either. He strutted back to the Sixers’ bench nodding while his teammates took turns mobbing him.

Even his reaction on social media seemed to perfectly encapsulate the man and the moment.

“Just seeing how much his confidence grows,” Josh Richardson said. “From the beginning of the season to now, he’s a different player. Before the pandemic and everything happened, his confidence was growing at the end of the season.

"Hopefully, we can keep nurturing that, because he’s a young player and there are going to be ups and downs. But if I can stay in his ear, if guys can stay in his ear just to stay positive and keep pushing, I think he’ll be all right.”

Though the 23-year-old had a rough first outing, having Monday’s version of Milton be the starting point guard seems like it might just be crazy enough to work.

Luckily for the Sixers, that version seems much more like the real Milton.

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Shake Milton comes up clutch as Sixers pull out wild win over Spurs

Shake Milton comes up clutch as Sixers pull out wild win over Spurs

Though nothing about the NBA’s restart is typical, one thing we’ve been able to say with confidence about the Sixers throughout this season is that they usually win home games.

Shake Milton's three-pointer from the right wing with 6.1 seconds to go helped the team escape with a 132-130 win over the Spurs on Monday night and make it 30 of 32 “home” victories in the 2019-20 campaign.

After stifling the Spurs' Jakob Poetltl at the rim, the Sixers sealed the win and improved to 40-27. 

The Sixers next play the Wizards on Wednesday at 4 p.m.

Here are observations on their wild win Monday: 

A better night from the backcourt 

The starting backcourt of Milton and Josh Richardson that combined for just four points against Indiana had 35 vs. the Spurs.

Richardson (19 points on 5 of 15 shooting) was much more assertive offensively. Instead of using Ben Simmons as a point guard in the Simmons-Richardson-Furkan Korkmaz-Horford lineup, Brett Brown put the ball in Richardon’s hands plenty. It helped Richardson find a rhythm as he hit back-to-back threes in the middle of the first period and had 10 points in the opening frame.  

Milton’s 16-point effort in 26 minutes was an important bounce-back showing, and the clutch shot should decisively shrug off any suggestion that he's not cut out for the starting lineup or major minutes. The 23-year-old scored at all three levels, kept things simple and wasn’t perturbed by ball pressure the way he’d been against the Pacers. 

Though Milton was never in foul trouble for this game, Brown kept Raul Neto in his 10-man rotation. One could argue that Brown should’ve given the effective Milton a few more minutes and perhaps had a nine-man rotation vs. the Spurs. Glenn Robinson III (left hip pointer) and Mike Scott (right knee soreness) both were out, while Kyle O’Quinn was not eligible to play after missing his coronavirus test Sunday. 

Defense lagging again 

The Sixers’ defense wasn’t sharp to start this game after conceding 46 points in the fourth on Saturday. DeMar DeRozan had little issue getting to his favored spots and scored 11 of San Antonio’s first 17 points. The Spurs started 16 of 26 from the floor and 5 of 7 from three-point range. Simmons was, for the second straight game, noticeably a few rungs below his best. 

San Antonio guards managed to navigate by their men too easily, leaving the defense in a difficult spot. The rotations were not precise when the Spurs whipped the ball around the perimeter. And, on several occasions, players were simply too slow to close out on three-point shooters. This didn’t look like the team that was sixth in defensive rating before the NBA’s hiatus and seemingly had the potential to be even better.

Brown turned to a zone briefly in the middle of the fourth quarter, but nothing slowed down the Spurs. The Sixers let San Antonio score 43 points in the final period. 

Simmons was limited by foul trouble and didn’t score until he went coast-to-coast after a second-quarter steal.

He fouled out with 2:12 remaining and had eight points and five assists in 25 minutes. 

A solid showing by Horford 

Horford was a minus-26 during the Sixers’ loss Saturday as the 14 minutes without Embiid on the court were a major struggle for the Sixers. 

His performance was improved Monday, and he actually played about two more minutes than Embiid in the first half. On one sequence, he found a cutting Tobias Harris for a layup and then, after a jab step, nailed a three on the Sixers’ next possession.

Both Horford and Embiid did look vulnerable at times when Sixers guards failed to get on top of ball screens. Horford had nine points, six rebounds and two assists. 

Embiid can’t maintain ultra-high level ... but still pretty good

With LaMarcus Aldridge out for the rest of the season after having surgery on his right shoulder, the Spurs are an undersized team. They should’ve been in danger when Poeltl, the only traditional frontcourt player in their starting lineup, picked up two fouls in the first 1:09 and was replaced by Drew Eubanks.

However, Embiid was less aggressive than we’re accustomed to and had only nine points in the first half. He bizarrely had just one rebound in the first two periods after grabbing 21 against the Pacers. To his credit, he was double teamed (and even triple teamed) often and mostly responded well when encountering extra bodies. 

The three-time All-Star found a groove down low in the third quarter on his way to 27 points and nine rebounds. 

Harris’ mentality 

Harris (25 points on 10 of 17 shooting) is a competent mid-range shooter, but Brown wants him “hunting threes” and constantly looking for opportunities to score. 

He’s done exactly that in the Sixers’ first two seeding games and has rarely hesitated once he’s started a downhill drive. He’s more frequently seeking the paint and inviting contact, although a mid-range miss late in the fourth quarter that didn't hit the rim when Harris was guarded by Derrick White was a poor possession. 

Home-court advantage? 

Ron Brooks’ taped rendition of the national anthem was one of the ways the Sixers tried to make this first “home” game in Florida feel something like the Wells Fargo Center. All Sixers again kneeled during the anthem in protest of racial injustice. 

PA announcer Matt Cord also brought his usual energy to a pre-recorded introduction of the Sixers starters.

Cord’s volume and enthusiasm were a bit jarring in an empty arena, but nevertheless a good reminder of the routine heading into a usual home game.

“Sixth man” Alan Horwitz was in virtual attendance and appeared to enjoy the experience.  

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