76ers

Sixers' draft pick curse is still alive and wreaking havoc

Sixers' draft pick curse is still alive and wreaking havoc

The Sixers' rookie curse of the 2010s is easing up, after years of debilitating injuries and oddball afflictions stretching from Nerlens Noel to Zhaire Smith — or, at least, it seemed to be. All of a sudden, Philly product Mikal Bridges, who the Sixers drafted in 2018 and immediately flipped to the Phoenix Suns for Smith, appears to be broken.

Just like Markelle Fultz before him, Bridges is struggling to find his game at the pro level, and recent videos of a weird, mid-shot hitch beg the question: did the Sixers' curse destroy Bridges' shot, too?

Take a look at this video and judge for yourself:

How in the world does a player end up with a shot like that?

Sure, coaches like to nudge young players' shooting forms towards more replicable motions. And sure, the ball is somehow going in the hoop. But that shot simply is not what you want to see from a professional basketball player. It basically looks like two, unrelated parts of a shot, squished together to create some Frankenstein form. It's definitely bad.

For reference, this is what Bridges' shot looked like when he played at Villanova:

Sure, Bridges had a "slightly unorthodox" shot in college, in that it wasn't perfectly center when he went up with the ball, but it worked in games. He shot 43.5 percent from three-point range his final year at Villanova on a whopping six attempts per game.

This season, his second year in the NBA, Bridges is shooting a paltry 29.7 percent from deep after shooting 33.5 percent as a rookie.

There's obviously an adjustment period, going from the college three-point line to the professional three, but Bridges is trending the wrong way, and now his shot looks like ... that. No one is safe.

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Remembering Kobe Bryant's legendary reunion with his high school point guard

Remembering Kobe Bryant's legendary reunion with his high school point guard

Ideas for sports content are a bit like jump shots. Sometimes you’re Kevin Ollie and it’s brick city for days. Then once in a rare while an idea takes on a life of its own, the stars align, the hoop starts to look like an ocean, and you drop 81 and it’s a masterpiece.

That latter was the case for the segment The700Level Show did back in 2015 when Kobe Bryant played his final NBA game in Philadelphia against the Sixers.

We were lucky enough to have The Evster writing and working for the site. Evan was quite the baller in his day and was a point guard for Lower Merion back in the 90’s and teammates with Kobe during the future NBA legend’s junior year there.

It was a great idea to pair Kobe with his old high school point guard but if you’ve ever worked in the sports media world, you know you can absolutely never count on athletes to help deliver on any creative ideas you may be working on.

But you can always shoot your shot.

As you can see in the final product, Kobe and Ev’s relationship was real. The chemistry was still there decades later. All the planning and prep work in the world can’t produce that.

The final video is hilarious. It was one of those rare instances where the final product was even better than you could have hoped for.

Perhaps my favorite part of it all is similar to one my friend Ev will remember as well, “the fact that so many people said we were able to show a side of Kobe they’d never seen.”
 

Our thoughts go out to Ev and all of those affected by the tragic events in Calabasas.

Joel Embiid honors Kobe Bryant, channels his own 'Mamba Mentality' in return

Joel Embiid honors Kobe Bryant, channels his own 'Mamba Mentality' in return

It was a strange night at the Wells Fargo Center. Then again, everything has felt strange since we found out that Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna and seven others tragically died in a helicopter crash Sunday.

But on Tuesday, it was time for Joel Embiid and the Sixers to play basketball again. The team honored Bryant, the NBA great and Philadelphia native, in a touching pregame tribute.

Embiid did it by returning to the floor after missing nine games and scoring 24 points in a 115-104 win over the Warriors (see observations), drawing upon the way Bryant played his decorated 20-year career.

“It was tough,” Embiid said. “Like I keep saying, Kobe meant something different than anybody else. It was tough, but I know just looking at his career and what he was about, that 'Mamba Mentality.' It was about outworking your opponent, outworking everybody else and I know he would want everybody to go out and compete hard and play the game and try to win. That's what he was about. It was tough but that's how you honor him.”

Beyond his play on the floor, Embiid reached out to another Hall of Famer for help to honor Kobe.

Bobby Jones’ No. 24 was retired by the Sixers in 1986. Known as “The Secretary of Defense,” Jones was a five-time All-Star and an 11-time All-Defensive Team pick. Sixers equipment manager Scotty Rego, who’s been with the team for over 32 years, had a hand in helping arrange everything. A phone call was arranged for Embiid and Jones earlier in the day.

Jones’ only caveat was that Embiid have a strong defensive effort — like Jones and Bryant, a 12-time All-Defensive Team pick himself.

“Bobby, he's a legend,” Embiid said. “He's got his number retired. He's a Hall of Famer. It's always tough to be in that situation, but he was incredible. He was forthcoming. I'm really grateful that he let me have this opportunity to wear that number. It's a tough decision, but he was all for it and I'm really thankful.”

Will he continue to wear it?

“No, I'm not keeping it. It was just for one game. You can't disrespect the greatness of Bobby Jones. He was a great player at his time. His number is retired. Like I said, I'm extremely grateful that he let me have that opportunity to wear that. I'm back to my number.”

Embiid getting the opportunity to play and wear the number wasn’t a forgone conclusion. Embiid was listed as questionable pregame and had to be cleared by a hand surgeon. He'd missed the past two and a half weeks after tearing a ligament in the ring finger of his left hand. 

When he spoke to reporters last week for the first time since his surgery, he mentioned the team’s spot in the standings has fueled him to want to get back in the lineup faster. With their win tonight, the Sixers are a half game ahead of the Pacers for the fifth seed and just 2 ½ games behind the Raptors for No. 2.

They also have a difficult stretch of games upcoming. After traveling to Atlanta to take on the lowly Hawks, they finish the road trip with games against the Celtics, Heat and Bucks — all teams ahead of them in the conference.

Embiid is gearing up for that slate but didn’t look all that rusty Tuesday aside from his five turnovers. Most importantly, he said his finger wasn’t in any pain.

“No, it's not,” Embiid said. “I'm fine. I'm wearning a lot of straps on it. I will probably blame that on the amount of turnovers I had today. So that was the reason, but I'm wearing a lot of straps on it so takes a lot of adjustment, but it's fine.”

With the Sixers beginning to pull away in the fourth, Embiid got the ball in the post on Eric Paschall. It was an obvious mismatch and Embiid went to work. With a double team looming, Embiid turned toward the baseline.

He hit a fadeaway. Wearing No. 24. Earning his 24th point of the game.

“Well, that was cool. I didn't know it was actually 24 points as I shot that fadeaway — that was what [Kobe] was about. I actually yelled ‘Kobe.’ A lot of us, since I started playing basketball, that's how we've always done it. You shoot something in the trash and you just go ‘Kobe,’ so that was cool. And then for it to be the 24th point and me wearing 24 means a lot.”

It was a fitting end to a difficult night.

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