Injuries at point guard forcing Sixers to get creative with ball handlers

Injuries at point guard forcing Sixers to get creative with ball handlers

NEW YORK -- The Sixers are heading toward the end of the season the same way it began: dealing with a point guard injury.

First, it was Jerryd Bayless in training camp. Now it is Sergio Rodriguez. He will miss a week after suffering a strained left hamstring in Sunday's game against the Pacers.

"It's a little strain," Rodriguez said. "They say it's going to be about a week, then they'll see how it goes afterward. I feel good. It's a mess because there's no pain at all."

Rodriguez strained his hamstring during the first half Sunday. He continued to play and told the Sixers' trainer he thought he pulled it "a little bit." When he woke up on Monday morning, he felt some discomfort and wanted to have an MRI to check it out. The scan on Tuesday revealed a strain.

Rodriguez had been hitting his stride as of late. In his last two games, he was averaging 14.0 points, 2.5 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 1.5 steals and 2.0 turnovers. Brown credited him for being a key player in the Sixers' win over the Bulls last Friday.

"It was great to have the opportunity to be playing more," Rodriguez said. "It hurts not to be able to play tonight because of this little thing."

Here's where the depth chart gets interesting: Nik Stauskas moves over from the two-spot to become the backup point guard. Stauskas has done this during the season and was comfortable in that role in Tuesday's 106-101 victory over the Nets (see game recap). He scored 11 points with four rebounds and two assists while playing a combination of point and shooting guard, but more importantly, he was a plus-10 while at the point.

"When you don't have Sergio and you're searching for other point guard options, we have tried this sporadically before with Nik," Brown said. "It was excellent. I think we all see his skill package with the ball. He's big enough to rise up behind a pick-and-roll and punish it if people go under."

Stauskas is comfortable at point guard. He works on dribbling drills after practices and before games.

"The ball is in my hands and I think that's when I'm at my best, when I'm able to make plays," Stauskas said. "When I get to play the point guard I'm excited just because I know I'm going to be in the pick-and-roll a little bit and I know I'm going to have a chance to handle it and get guys involved. I feel like the offense was running pretty smoothly when I was out there."

In the chance that both starting point guard T.J. McConnell and Stauskas are unavailable while Rodriguez is out, Brown would look to Dario Saric as the next option. Saric isn't about to become a point-forward, but if the Sixers had to go that far down the roster to find a ball handler he would get the call.

"I think if you put another four-man on Dario Saric, he's going to have no problem bringing the ball up the floor," Brown said. "Sometimes the elite defensive four-men, like Draymond Green, may make me pull some of that back. But [Saric] has guard skills. We've seen it in the open court. We've seen enough to know my comments aren't outrageous. In the situation we're in, you could connect some of those dots."

Even though he can't play, Bayless has been staying a part of the team. He injured ligaments in his left wrist in October, came back in November and appeared in just three games before reinjuring it and undergoing season-ending surgery.

Bayless has been with the Sixers on road trips, including the five-city swing they wrapped up in Brooklyn. The Sixers signed the veteran to complement Ben Simmons with his ability to play both point and shooting guard. Since both players are sidelined, they have been building chemistry during their travels.

On the court, Bayless has been working on his shot after shootarounds. He also does cardio on the treadmill to stay in shape. 

"It feels good," Bayless said. "It's still rehabbing and whatnot. It's not a lot I can do with this wrist yet. It's still going through it. It'll take a little bit, probably another month until it's totally back to a hundred percent."

After missing all but three games this season, he is glad to get in reps even if it's in sweats and not a uniform.

"Being able to be back on the court, honestly, is probably the best part," Bayless said. "I missed it. I missed it. So it's good to actually be able to do things again."

Report: Sixers thought about packaging Markelle Fultz and picks to go top 5

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Report: Sixers thought about packaging Markelle Fultz and picks to go top 5

As you buckle in for what might end up being a pretty wild NBA draft night, there’s already a bit of news that’s bubbled to the surface. 

This possible trade might be dead, but according to The Athletic’s Michael Scotto, the Sixers internally batted around the idea of packing last year’s No. 1 pick Markelle Fultz, along with No. 10 and 26 to move up into the top five.

That would qualify as a pretty huge move. And it’s interesting, considering the Sixers are reportedly reluctant to include Robert Covington or Dario Saric in a deal.

The target of this possible move to the top five? 

“The target was (Michael) Porter during these discussions,” Scotto writes.” However, that thinking dampened with Porter’s back remaining a major question mark. If JJ Redick leaves in free agency, Fultz is the favorite to start at shooting guard.”

That’s certainly interesting. 

Porter is a pretty big question mark heading into draft night. He’s talented and the Sixers’ obviously really like him as a player, but it seems like no one is sure what to make of his back, which needed surgery in November. 

The top of Scotto’s mock draft is full of juicy nuggets like that involving possible trades. 

Eventually, Scotto has the Sixers taking Villanova’s Mikal Bridges at No. 10, a move that would make plenty people very happy. He then has them taking Grayson Allen at 26 before going back to Nova to draft Jalen Brunson at 38. 

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Haughton's 2018 Sixers mock draft 2.0: Kevin Knox now at No. 10

Haughton's 2018 Sixers mock draft 2.0: Kevin Knox now at No. 10

Now that NBA draft night is officially upon us, we take one final crack at what the Sixers might do with their selections. Here is Matt Haughton’s final Sixers mock draft.

First round (10th overall): Kevin Knox, SF/PF, 6-9/215, Kentucky
Brett Brown is new to this whole front office thing, so forgive him if the typical draft smoke screen scenario isn’t yet his forte. 

That means while reports keep circulating about the Sixers looking to move up for a top-five prospect, their actions have shown they’ve zeroed in on Knox. After all, Knox worked out in a group setting for the Sixers last Friday and was already back at their training facility for an individual session on Tuesday.

Knox made his mark during his lone season at Kentucky by averaging 15.6 points, 5.4 rebounds and 1.4 assists in 32.4 minutes per game. The versatile forward proved he could contribute while at the same time just scratching the surface of his ability.

It’s that potential that I believe will make the Sixers pull the trigger on Knox. While there could certainly be more established commodities on the board at No. 10 such as Mikal Bridges or Miles Bridges, the fact that Knox is still just 18 years old and possesses a sky-high upside will be too much for the development-minded Brown to pass up.

First round (26th overall): Gary Trent Jr., SG, 6-6/209, Duke
With 11 players currently under contract and plans to chase big-name players in free agency, this pick could certainly be on its way out of town or devoted to a draft-and-stash prospect. 

If they do hang onto it, the Sixers obviously have eyes for Texas Tech high-flyer Zhaire Smith, who also worked out twice for the team. But he’s unlikely to make it to No. 26.

Instead, the Sixers opt for a Duke guard here, but perhaps not the one you were thinking (Grayson Allen). Trent has arguably the best shooting stroke in the entire 2018 class and has been trending up draft boards.

Trent, who averaged 14.5 points per game for the Blue Devils as a freshman, hit 40.2 percent of his shots from long range on a healthy 6.5 attempts per game.

With another former Duke guard potentially walking in free agency in JJ Redick, the Sixers could slip Trent in to help take on some of those dead-eye shooting duties.

Second round (38th overall): Elie Okobo, PG/SG, 6-2/180, France
The Sixers already started dealing off their stockpile of second-round picks on Wednesday when they reportedly shipped No. 39 to the Los Angeles Lakers for a 2019 second-rounder and cash.

Look for them to find a way to keep their final roster options open by selecting Okobo, who has even been getting some first-round consideration as of late. The Sixers hosted him for a workout a season ago before he removed his name from draft consideration and again during this pre-draft process.

The French combo guard increased his production virtually across for France Pro A squad Elan Bearnais Pau-Lacq-Orthez this past season as he recorded 12.9 points on 47.6 percent field goal shooting and 39.4 three-point shooting to go along with 4.7 assists and 2.7 boards a game.

Second round (56th overall): Arnoldas Kulboka, SF, 6-10/220, Lithuania​
In another decision to keep roster slots fluid, the Sixers go the international route again with Kulboka.

The wing has tremendous size for the position and is just beginning to see his potential. Kulboka made his first foray into Italy’s second division league, Serie A2 Basket, this past season. He played for Orlandina Basket and posted 9.0 points on 39.0 percent field goal shooting and 37.4 percent from distance. He added 4.0 rebounds in 26.7 minutes a contest.

Kulboka definitely needs to bulk up and add some more seasoning against a higher level of competition, but if he develops, he could be a steal at this point in the draft.

Second round (60th overall): Trade
There are always teams that jump up with a trade offer at the last minute in an attempt to get a coveted player in those final few slots. Expect that to happen here and the Sixers to oblige.

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