Noah Levick

2020 NBA mock draft: Trading up for Kira Lewis Jr. in this Sixers-only mock draft

2020 NBA mock draft: Trading up for Kira Lewis Jr. in this Sixers-only mock draft

It looks like we’ll be waiting a while for the NBA draft, which was originally scheduled for June 25. The New York Times' Marc Stein reported that some teams now expect the draft to be held in September. For the time being, we’ll continue to consider possibilities for the Sixers, who would have picks No. 22, 34, 36, 49 and 59.

In this Sixers-only mock draft, the team moves up in the first round to take a point guard and selects a combo guard early in the second. 

16. TRADE — Kira Lewis Jr., PG, Alabama 

We have the Sixers trading No. 22 and 34 to the Timberwolves for No. 16. With Lewis, it feels obligatory to list his sophomore averages: 18.5 points, 5.2 assists, 4.8 rebounds and 1.8 steals. Those per game stats are slightly inflated because he played 37.6 minutes a night, but they’re impressive nonetheless.

The Sixers might think about Lewis as a trade-up option primarily because of his ability as a shot creator. While he sometimes played a loose style at Alabama, turning it over 3.5 times per contest last season, he has a natural talent for sizing up a defender and blowing past him. He is extremely fast, which makes him a threat in the open court and also means he doesn’t need to gain a tremendous edge on his man with a dribble move to beat him — a sliver of space is often enough. 

When he gets into the paint, however, Lewis isn’t the most reliable finisher. At 6-foot-3, 165 pounds, his size makes life more difficult for him around the rim. His weight is likely a larger concern defensively, although Lewis is capable of working over ball screens — something he’d be asked to do often in the Sixers’ scheme — and his speed is an asset when he’s trailing the play or jolting into a passing lane.

Lewis’ shooting numbers are positive, too — 36.6 percent from three-point range and 80.2 percent from the foul line — though he has a low release point he might have to tweak for the NBA. He just turned 19 years old in April and will need to add muscle, but with Lewis’ college production, it’s not as if the Sixers would be banking purely on potential.

36. (via New York) — Jared Butler, G, Baylor 

Butler’s game matches the Sixers’ needs well. He’s an advanced ball handler, full of behind-the-back, between-the-legs and spin moves, and confident in the pick-and-roll. While he’d be undersized for an NBA shooting guard at 6-foot-3, 190 pounds, Butler is dangerous both on and off the ball. He hit 38.1 percent of his three-point attempts this season on 6.7 attempts per game. 

In the NBA, it’ll be interesting to see if Butler is able to guard multiple positions effectively. He has a sturdy build, is a good lateral mover and had 2.2 steals per 40 minutes for a Baylor team that finished 26-4, all of which is encouraging. 

TRADE — No. 49 for Memphis’ 2021-second round pick and cash considerations 

The Sixers have been very willing to sell second-round picks in recent years, and with the team projected to be in the luxury tax, it would not be remotely shocking if they did it again. In this deal, they’re at least getting back a future pick in addition to the cash. 

59. (via Lakers) — Killian Tillie, C, Gonzaga 

Tillie endured a slew of injuries at Gonzaga, which is one reason he might be available this late in the draft. The 6-foot-10 Frenchman has a lot of skill for his size and shot 44.4 percent from three-point range in college. He has real stretch four/stretch five potential in the NBA, especially with his ability as a passer. 

For the Sixers, his diverse skill set would have to be intriguing here. They don’t have any young backup big men on the roster, and Tillie has the tools to be a productive rotation player — if he stays healthy. That caveat would be worth accepting with the 59th pick. 

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Don't overlook Billy Cunningham when debating all-time Sixers greats

Don't overlook Billy Cunningham when debating all-time Sixers greats

Professional basketball is, by and large, a nomadic occupation.

Even if a player, coach or executive has a prolonged stint in a city, there’s persistent movement from place to place. You win in New York, then ship up to Boston. Lose in Boston, then catch some sleep on a flight to Los Angeles. You wake up and try your best, yet again, to perform well for a few hours. There are a lot of business trips that blend together.

Billy Cunningham, a Brooklyn native, was not exempt from this life of perpetual motion, but it’s easy to feel like he was. The “Kangaroo Kid” was a fixture of the Sixers organization, a figure who overlapped eras and stood for excellence and competitiveness. He leaped high for rebounds, paced up and down the sidelines and won a lot of basketball games. 

“I was blessed to have been involved in the Russell-Chamberlain era and then the Bird-Erving era,” Cunningham told NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Marc Zumoff in a recent interview. “Just two great eras of the game of basketball.”

In the nine seasons Cunningham was with the Sixers as a player, the team went 439-296. The season after he left for the ABA — he won 57 games in 1972-73 with the Carolina Cougars in Larry Brown’s first year as a professional head coach and took home the league's MVP award — the Sixers went 9-73. As a head coach, Cunningham’s record was 454-196. That’s a .698 winning percentage, the fourth-best in NBA history.  

Shifting from playing success to coaching success is not always easy. Intelligence is inevitably one part of a great player's arsenal, but instinct usually is, too. There are exceptions, but evidence of deliberate thought on the court often coincides with inaction and slowness. You also can’t teach how to block shots like Wilt Chamberlain or dunk like Julius Erving.

An NBA champion as a 23-year-old player in the 1966-67 season and as a 39-year-old coach in 1982-83, Cunningham was clearly cut out for both jobs. The memories of his playing days weren’t too distant. As his Sixers were attempting not to squander another 3-1 series lead to Boston in the 1982 playoffs, Cunningham thought back to 14 years earlier, when he’d watched glumly as Chamberlain, Hal Greer, Chet Walker and company lost three straight games for the first time all season at the worst possible moment. 

“That’s right there with winning the championship,” Cunningham told Zumoff of the Sixers’ Game 7 win over the Celtics. “I sat on the bench in the ’67-68 season — I’d broken my wrist against the Knickerbockers in the playoffs. We were up 3-1 and lose, and then the Celtics go on to beat the Lakers. Then I experience [losing after being up] 3-1 in [1980-81], when the Celtics came back and beat us. And here we are. 

“The media was questioning everyone’s heritage the day before. … It was just one of those games where we played flawless basketball. It was just a beautiful game from a coaching standpoint — every button you pressed, it worked.” 

The Sixers fell to the Lakers in the Finals that season but returned the next year and, thanks in no small part to MVP Moses Malone, pulled off a sweep. (NBC Sports Philadelphia is re-airing that series this weekend.) They haven’t won a championship in the 37 years since, of course, and Cunningham regrets that he couldn’t personally deliver another one. 

“One thing I’ve always been a little disappointed with myself about," he said, "is I couldn’t find a way to get us back to that level of playing that we did in [1983]. … Every button and anything I tried to do, I wasn’t able to get them back there mentally, more than physically, to the level we were the previous year.” 

The Sixers franchise has three titles in 71 years. With Cunningham involved, they had two championships in 17 seasons. 

Even though he traversed the country on many occasions, Cunningham will be remembered as a Sixer, Brooklyn accent and all. That sure seems fair enough. 

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Sixers will begin phased reopening of practice facility Wednesday

Sixers will begin phased reopening of practice facility Wednesday

The Sixers will begin a phased reopening of their practice facility in Camden, New Jersey, on Wednesday for voluntary, individual workouts, the team announced.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy announced Tuesday that professional sports teams in New Jersey are now permitted to resume training and competition, which opened the door for the Sixers.

NBA teams had been allowed to hold individual workouts for players beginning on May 8 with strict restrictions in place. Because of coronavirus-related restrictions imposed in New Jersey, the Sixers hadn’t been among the teams holding workouts. However, general manager Elton Brand did say that Ben Simmons had been allowed to use the team’s practice facility to do rehab work for a nerve impingement in his lower back.

“Ben and others have been given permission to use our facility,” Brand said on May 5. “It’s essential that they have the proper equipment to workout and rehab, so he’s been doing that ever since the first week. We were able to get him access there. Joel Embiid’s been working out. He’s conditioning, he’s focused, he’s asking about when his trainer can come in, when he can get on the court.

"So I wouldn’t bet against him. He’s going to be ready and ramped up. Tobias [Harris] is a similar situation. He’s been getting treatment on and off. Most of our players are in market, by the way. Tobias is in market and he’s been getting treatment also.”

ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Zach Lowe reported last week that teams expect the league to issue guidelines around June 1 on recalling players who have left their markets, and for workouts to expand around the same time.

The NBA announced Saturday that it is engaged in “exploratory conversations” about resuming the 2019-20 season at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, in late July. The season has been suspended since March 11 because of the coronavirus pandemic. 

On May 15, head coach Brett Brown said he thought a three-week ramp-up period would likely be sufficient before returning to play. 

“The notion of how the players come in influences kind of everything,” Brown said. “The three-week thing I think can be achieved as long as the fitness base of the players coming in is at the standard that I’m saying,” he said. “With that … I feel comfortable that we could go play basketball again.”

Though the team's facility reopening for individual workouts is not a massive step, it does appear that the NBA is moving toward a resumption. Wojnarowski has reported that, "barring something unforeseen," the widespread expectation is that commissioner Adam Silver will clear a return in June. 

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