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Sixers will prioritize need over selecting best player available in second round of NBA draft

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Sixers will prioritize need over selecting best player available in second round of NBA draft

CAMDEN, N.J. — The Sixers’ current situation — just four players fully guaranteed to be on the roster next season — suggests that they might be searching for players who can contribute immediately in the second round of the NBA draft. They own four selections in the second round (Nos. 33, 34, 42 and 54) as well as the No. 24 pick.

Following the Sixers’ pre-draft workout of six prospects Friday — Bryce Brown, Christ Koumadje, Adam Mokoka, Zach Norvell Jr., Josh Sharma and Justin Simon — senior vice president of player personnel Marc Eversley gave some insight into what the team will value in the second round.

“When you’re picking in the second round, you’re probably picking for need as opposed to best player available,” he said. “With respect to a certain position, it’s certainly something that we’ll look at in the second round.”

Perimeter defense, three-point shooting and a backup behind Joel Embiid are specific areas the Sixers might target. Eversley acknowledged the Sixers will “definitely look at big people in the draft.”

Norvell and Brown fit the outside shooting criteria. Norvell shot 37 percent from three-point range on 7.1 attempts per game as a redshirt sophomore for Gonzaga, while Brown made 41 percent of his threes and took 8.6 per game as a senior for Auburn. 

Brown had a very clear idea of how he’d fit with the Sixers.

“To be honest, similar to JJ [Redick]. I see a lot of how their offense runs for him coming off screens and it reminds me a lot of how we did that for me at Auburn,” he said. “I can see myself fitting in as something like that. And then at times you can put me at combo and I can bring the ball up the floor, play make and get others open as well.”

Both guards often played in the national spotlight during college, experience Eversley said the Sixers “put a ton of value in.” 

“I just feel like it’s prepared me for the NBA because I competed against the best of the best,” Brown said.

Norvell is leaning on his former Gonzaga teammates Rui Hachimura, Josh Perkins and Brandon Clarke, all of whom are in the midst of the same whirlwind pre-draft process. Perkins worked out for the Sixers on Thursday.

“We talk almost every other day, actually,” he said. “Since we left Gonzaga, it’s been a lot of traveling by ourselves and stuff like that. So just checking in, making sure everybody’s taking the process seriously. We’re a pretty close group.”

Big man on campus 

Koumadje, a four-year player at Florida State, is an inch taller than the 7-foot 3 Boban Marjanovic. The big man averaged only 15.5 minutes as a senior, recording 6.6 points, 5.6 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game, but there’s no doubt he’s an intriguing prospect. 

Eversley said he was impressed by Koumadje’s defense and foot speed during the workout. Koumadje attributed his agility to the fact that he played soccer and ran growing up. 

If he plays in the NBA, Koumadje would be the first player to ever do so from the country of Chad.

“It definitely would mean a lot for my people, for my brothers and sisters, for the neighborhood,” he said. “It would mean a lot.”

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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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