Sixers should draft Michael Porter Jr. if he slips because of injury history

Sixers should draft Michael Porter Jr. if he slips because of injury history

The Sixers have become quite familiar with drafting players with injury issues.

There was Nerlens Noel’s knee and Joel Embiid’s foot, both of which the team had knowledge of beforehand. Then there was Ben Simmons’ foot and Markelle Fultz’s shoulder, both of which occurred after those players were selected.

With what the Sixers have dealt with, they’re uniquely qualified to deal with injured young players. So if Missouri’s Michael Porter Jr. slips to 10, the team shouldn’t be able to get the pick to the podium fast enough.

News broke Thursday that Porter Jr., the No. 1 or 2 recruit coming into the 2017-18 college season, cancelled a pre-draft workout because of hip spasms. This is on the heels of the 6-foot-10 wing missing all but three games of his one-and-done season with the Tigers because of a back injury that caused him to undergo a microdiscectomy on his L3-L4 spinal discs.

However, Porter reversed course on Friday, as his agency informed teams that his workout was back on. Yahoo Sports’ Shams Charania reported that Porter had a clean MRI of his hip on Thursday with “‘an even more positive review’ compared to a recent examination.” Teams will have the opportunity to evaluate him and assess his health in person at Friday’s workout.

Chances are teams won’t let Porter fall all the way to the Sixers, but if he does, the team needs to seriously consider drafting the 19-year-old. This is a player that was the MVP of the McDonald’s All-American Game. He’s long, athletic and armed with a silky smooth shooting stroke. If he’d been healthy and had even a decent year at Missouri, he likely wouldn’t get out of the top five.

There’s still a chance he won’t. Thursday, ESPN’s Jonathan Givony put out an extensive report on Porter Jr.’s cancelled workout and what it might do for his draft position. His stock was actually on the rise as teams began reviewing his medical records, and that was before Porter's decision Friday to hold the workout. Even with this news, a team like the Mavericks, who could gamble on a player like Porter Jr. at five, could be a good landing spot. As one NBA executive said in the story, “No one wants to miss out on another Joel Embiid."

And it all comes full circle. There may have been bumps along the road, but look how far the organization and the player have come in the Embiid situation. In missing his first two years, Embiid dealt with the stories about his love for Shirley Temples and media members speculating that he’d never play a game. Now he’s coming off an impressive second season and has flashed moments of sheer dominance.

Simmons missed an entire season, but thanks to Brett Brown and the team’s veterans, Simmons was kept in the loop with everything going on with the team and was able to step right in this year. Simmons showed off how great he may become in tandem with Embiid during a stellar rookie season.

The Fultz situation was flat out weird. We’ll never get a square answer to what exactly happened with Fultz’s shoulder and shot but we know this: Brown will stop at nothing to make Fultz maximize his potential. He just turned 20 – only about a month older than Porter Jr. – so the sky is still the limit.

So do the Sixers make a “safe” pick like Villanova’s Mikal Bridges or Michigan State’s Miles Bridges, or if Porter Jr. falls, do they make the bold pick? Both Bridges look like they’ll be fine players that should contribute immediately. But Porter Jr. has a chance to be a star. Do the Sixers need another star? Maybe not, but could having four young players on their way to NBA stardom be a bad thing?

The whole “Process” has been bold and gotten the team this far. If Porter Jr. slips, roll the dice again.

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Sixers Injury Update: Joel Embiid, Josh Richardson out for Saturday's game vs. Cavs

Sixers Injury Update: Joel Embiid, Josh Richardson out for Saturday's game vs. Cavs

The Sixers will be down two starters Saturday night when they return to Wells Fargo Center to play the Cavs.

Josh Richardson will miss his fifth consecutive game with right hamstring tightness, while Joel Embiid is out with a left hip contusion.

A team source told NBC Sports Philadelphia that Embiid reported discomfort after the Sixers' 119-113 loss to the Wizards on Thursday night and is being treated for the injury.

Embiid had 26 points, 21 rebounds and eight turnovers Thursday.

Richardson and the Sixers have been cautious with his hamstring. He told reporters in Washington, D.C., that this is the first hamstring injury he's dealt with and admitted that it's been a frustrating process.

“A hamstring is one of those things where you can think that you’re fine and then you take a wrong step and it’s a week or two-week setback," he said. "I don’t really want to get into that whole cycle. ... It’s just one of those things where I just don’t really know where I’m at most of the time. It always feels like I’m tiptoeing, trying not to do too much.”

The Sixers' preferred starting five of Embiid, Richardson, Ben Simmons, Tobias Harris and Al Horford have played just 102 minutes together this season, posting a plus-21.3 net rating. 

Furkan Korkmaz has started the past four games in place of Richardson. Without Embiid, the Sixers will need to plug in another spot starter and perhaps search for further big man depth. Kyle O'Quinn hasn't played since Nov. 23, but he might be called upon vs. Cleveland.

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How Joel Embiid can improve with the subtleties of screening and rolling

How Joel Embiid can improve with the subtleties of screening and rolling

The Sixers, through 22 games, have run the fewest pick-and-rolls in the NBA, and at the worst efficiency

Joel Embiid is in the bottom top 10 percent of the league in efficiency as a roll man. 

None of those stats are encouraging at first glance.

That said, are there any positive signs for Embiid’s progress as a screener and a roller? And how can he get better?

Rolling isn’t always the right option

While Brett Brown said after practice Wednesday that he wants Embiid “screening and rolling more than popping,” rolling isn’t always the right option for the All-Star center.

Because Ben Simmons frequently stations himself in the “dunker spot,” Embiid often needs to float out behind the three-point line for the Sixers to maintain proper spacing.

When opposing big men drop on the pick-and-roll, there’s typically not much to be gained by Embiid rolling.

Embiid pops on the play below against the Raptors, and it’s a reasonable move with Marc Gasol dropping into the paint on Josh Richardson’s drive. Ultimately, the bigger issue is he settles for a mid-range jumper instead of either taking an open three or putting pressure on Gasol to guard a drive to the rim. 

A game-winning variation  

Before Richardson’s hamstring injury, the Sixers were incorporating the action above more into their offense. It’s a basic look — Richardson rubs off a screen to the top of the key, then Embiid steps up to give him a ball screen. 

Embiid’s game-winning dunk on Nov. 12 vs. the Cavs came from a smart variation. After Embiid’s roll to the rim, he set a strong down screen for Tobias Harris, flowing into a perfectly executed high-low.

On most of the occasions Embiid rolls to the rim and doesn’t receive the ball initially, a deep post-up is the next best option. Instead of finding Embiid on the high-low Nov. 15 in Oklahoma City, Al Horford swung the ball to Harris and created a good angle for a post catch. Embiid will score or get fouled in these positions more often than not. 

Getting snug

The “snug pick-and-roll” is, in theory, a way to allow Embiid and Simmons to both be near the rim at the same time without the only result being claustrophobic spacing. 

Embiid set a hard screen on RJ Barrett, forced the desired switch and got an and-one Nov. 29 against the Knicks. 

“We've been trying to do that bit by bit over the years,” Brown told reporters. “I think that you have a deep pick-and-roll with those two, a lot of times they do switch. I thought Ben did a good job of finding that and if they don't switch you got Ben going downhill, and we're trying to just continue to work on his finishing. And it is a look that I think, especially in crunch-time environments, interests me a lot.” 

The obvious problem with the snug pick-and-roll is there’s minimal space for anything to develop. Simmons has little margin for error with his first read. 

Though Embiid eventually had the switch the Sixers wanted against the 6-foot-5 Malcolm Brogdon on the play above, Simmons had already committed to a righty jump hook on Myles Turner and didn’t have room to change his mind. 

Developing the tricks of the trade 

Embiid’s value as a roller increases against teams that aggressively hedge the pick-and-roll.

He didn’t even roll very far on this play from Nov. 8 in Denver — just a couple of feet after screening for Richardson — but the scheme the Nuggets were using meant Will Barton had to tag Embiid before flying out to Furkan Korkmaz. Barton couldn’t recover in time.

Embiid’s chemistry with his new teammates is predictably not yet at an advanced stage. Richardson has a tendency to snake back in the opposite direction of his initial drive, and Embiid still seems to be figuring that out. 

They were on different wavelengths here. 

Since Embiid draws so much respect from opposing defenses, many pick-and-roll actions involving him are going to be inelegant. Especially late in games, teams often know what’s coming and load up to stop it.

He can still be helpful in those situations by focusing on doing the simple things. The technique isn’t textbook on this play, but his screen on Donovan Mitchell gets the job done. 

One of the next steps in Embiid’s evolution as a screener and roller will be applying a few of the dark arts that are prevalent across the NBA, whether it’s stealthily using his upper body like Horford or giving the ball handler space to drive by sealing his man in the lane.

He did the latter well vs. Larry Nance Jr. and the Cavs. 

As a 7-foot, 280-pound player with diverse offensive skills, Embiid is a threat as a roller, at least on paper.

It often won’t be as easy for him as just rolling with purpose to the rim and being rewarded with dunks, but he’s shown he has the ability to help himself and his teammates get good looks. 

For Embiid, it’s clearly important to work on dealing with double teams, refining his post game, limiting turnovers and hitting open three-point shots at a decent rate. 

But the 25-year-old big man also has plenty of room to improve as a screener and roller. 

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