NEWS OF THE MORNING
No. 1: Sixers focused on development— The “process” is in the next phase for the Philadelphia 76ers. Gone are the days of the tear down. And now comes the focus on development of talented youngsters like Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid, Dario Saric and the rest of a talented young roster. Keith Pompey of Philly.com details the Sixers’ plan and how coach Brett Brown plans to execute it this season:
Midway through his annual preseason media luncheon, Brett Brown was asked his expectations for the season. While the 76ers coach declined to disclose how many wins he expects, he revealed that this season will be sort of like the previous three – minus the tanking.
“The difference is everybody is going to want to win some games,” the fourth-year coach said Thursday in the second-floor dining room of Lo Spiedo at the Navy Yard. “Let’s call it for what it is. I feel like that we are going to want to see growth on the court as it relates to wins.”
But the team that won just 10 games last season and a combined 47 in Brown’s first three campaigns is still heavily focused on player development.
Yes, the Sixers will run a purposeful offense and defense.
“And we are going to see the path of these young guys slowly start to look like they belong on an NBA court,” Brown said. “And we all say, ‘Wow, project Joel Embiid out in two or three years.’ ”
Embiid was expected to be an elite player since the time the Sixers selected him third overall in the 2014 draft. However, two operations on the navicular bone in the 7-foot-2, 275-pounder’s right foot prevented him from playing in the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons.
The Sixers will have him on a minutes restriction. Embiid also isn’t expected to play on back-to-back nights. They won’t know if he’ll start at center against the Oklahoma City Thunder in the season-opener until after consulting with the medical staff.
This year’s first overall pick, Ben Simmons, won’t have the same restrictions. Look for the 6-10 point forward to play 30-plus minutes a night while initiating the offense. There’s a lot of excitement because of his ability to play anywhere from power forward to point guard.
There’s also excitement surrounding Dario Saric. Acquired in a 2014 draft-day trade, the 6-10 power forward will make his NBA debut after playing the last two seasons in Turkey.
“I think we are all going to look back [on this season] and see did certain people improve,” Brown said. “I think we are all going to look back and see did we start to figure out a rhythm beat, a rhythm to our season of who’s actually playing.”
Ultimately, Brown’s job will be to win games. However, he probably won’t win more than 25 even with the free-agent additions of Jerryd Bayless, Gerald Henderson, and Sergio Rodriguez. The team is young and still several seasons away from being a serious NBA title contender.
Brown’s goal is to help Embiid, Simmons, Saric, and the other young players reach their potential.
That’s why he remains focused on developing a culture and teaching his offensive and defensive philosophies. He and his staff also intend to show the proper way to put in work in the weight room and scout opponents.
“Those things ultimately matter,” said Brown, who won four NBA titles during five Finals appearances as a San Antonio Spurs assistant. “Maybe not so much to the outside world, but if you really want to grow a program [it does]. I’ve seen what championships look like. I’ve seen five times what it takes to play in June. . . . So the growth sometimes might not be as quantifiable to the outside world. But I know it.”
No. 2: Jennings hungry as ever — Brandon Jennings is putting injuries, tumult and everything else behind and will play with urgency this season in New York. Playing on a one-year deal has a way of motivating players in ways that they haven’t since they entered the league. Ian Begley of ESPN.com explains:
Brandon Jennings said back in July that he felt some around the NBA questioned his love for the game. It sounds like he’s looking to prove that perception wrong this season.
“I’m as hungry as I’ve ever been now. I’m on a one-year deal. I’m coming off an Achilles injury, everybody [wrote] me off. So right now I’m hungry, I’m more hungry than ever,” Jennings said last week on The Stashed’s “33rd & 7th” podcast with Anthony Donahue.
The New York Knicks are hoping that Jennings can provide points for a second unit that could prove to be a bit thin. The club used about 88 percent of its available cap space this summer on starters; Phil Jackson & Co. filled out their bench with a mix of returning veterans (Lance Thomas, Sasha Vujacic, Kyle O’Quinn) and unproven free agents.
New York is banking on one of the new faces (Justin Holiday, Willy Hernangomez, Mindaugas Kuzminskas, Maurice Ndour, Marshall Plumlee, Ron Baker, Chasson Randle, J.P. Tokoto) shouldering a significant role.
But if Jennings can carry the scoring load on a nightly basis, that will make things easier for Jeff Hornacek & Co.
A six-year veteran, Jennings flashed brilliance in Milwaukee before enduring injury-riddled stints with the Pistons and Magic. He suffered a torn left Achilles in January 2015, and in the last half of the 2015-16 season with the Magic he produced 20 points or more on three occasions, as well as a pair of double-digit assist outings.
He signed a one-year, $5 million deal with New York over the summer; he’s expected to provide insurance for Rose and provide a spark as the first player off the bench.
Jennings said in July that Jackson expects him to win the NBA’s Sixth Man award this season. He’s fine with those expectations, as well as coming off the bench in New York after starting 90 percent of his first 460 regular-season games.
“At the end of the day, right now I just want to win, man. I just want to be in a winning environment,” Jennings, whose teams have won 45 percent of the games he’s played in, told Donahue. “I’m in the biggest market, the greatest basketball city, the Mecca, so who cares [about coming off the bench]? Let’s just win. We win, the whole city loves us.”
The Knicks have missed the playoffs for the past three seasons. But Jennings, who has worked out with Carmelo Anthony, Joakim Noah, Kristaps Porzingis, Vujacic and others over the summer, believes New York can snap that drought this season.
“Playoffs is good, but just making the first round isn’t good enough,” he said. “So I’m going to go out on a limb and put a little more pressure on us. If we make the playoffs, we’ve got to get out of the first round.”
No. 3: Lakers won’t rush Ingram — Having been an integral member of the coaching staff that helped developed the Golden State Warriors into a championship bunch,Luke Walton knows better than to skip any parts of the building process in his new role as coach of the Los Angeles Lakers. That helps explain his thinking when it comes to the development of the Lakers’ young core, including rookie top pick Brandon Ingram. Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News explains:
The Lakers also hope the team’s young players develop more effectively under Walton than Scott, who received mixed reviews for his stern approach toward young players. Walton, who spent most of his 10-year NBA career with the Lakers, appears to have a more personable touch.
Hence, Walton might change the Lakers’ four two-a-day sessions scheduled next week in Santa Barbara. Some team-bonding activities could await.
“It depends on how quickly guys pick things up and how hard they work,” Walton said. “We have some things we’re talking about that could be fun to do. But we’re not going to do them if things aren’t going in the right direction.”
Walton’s affection for his young players also will not guarantee playing time. He touted the mentorship presence free-agent pickups Timofey Mozgov, Luol Deng and Jose Calderon could provide. Walton also insisted he has not outlined a depth chart.
Despite praising rookie forward Brandon Ingram for his playmaking and versatility, Walton said “we’re not going to throw him into the starting lineup right away” out of concern how he handles a grueling 82-game schedule.
“You develop the young core by rewarding them when they play well,” Walton said. “If there’s 10 games left in the season and out of the playoffs and there’s some vets that played long minutes all season, maybe you play all your young guys to finish out the season. But when you’re going through the season, you’re not doing anyone any favors just by playing young guys so they can play if they’re not out there playing the right way.”
No. 4: Young relishes fresh start with Pacers — As a member of the Brooklyn Nets, Thaddeus Young understood exactly what was expected of him as a piece of a veteran core. But he’s not afraid of something new, which is exactly what he’ll get in his fresh start with the Indiana Pacers in every way imaginable, as Mark Montieth of Pacers.com lays out:
This time last year, after previous four-man David West opted out of his contract, Pacers president Larry Bird and coach Frank Vogel believed their best approach was to place skinny wings at power forward and hope the quickness of those players more than negated their lack of bulk. Paul George, returning from a broken leg, was blunt in his hesitancy to try it, then C.J. Miles boldly volunteered for it and paid the price with injuries that shortened his season.
Ultimately, small ball was abandoned and more natural fits were given the assignment: Lavoy Allen started 28 games at power forward and Myles Turner 30. Allen, however, was ineffective in the playoff series with Toronto and Turner is being groomed to start at center in the upcoming season, so that leaves a hole Young will try to fix.
West’s absence was sorely felt last season – literally in the case of Miles, who missed 22 games, many of them related to the beating he took trying to defend opponents weighing 20 or 30 pounds more than him. Young doesn’t believe his playing style is all that similar to West’s, but it seems likely he’ll fill a similar role.
“Go out there and bring a lot of intangibles to the game,” Young said. “I do a lot of things very well; nothing overly great. I’m a man of many traits. I can rebound, I can score, I can pass, I can get steals, I can defend. There’s a lot of different aspects to my game that can show. When we’re down I can bring the energy.”
McMillan has seen enough in the informal workouts at Bankers Life Fieldhouse to be convinced he has a veteran replacement for the veteran who left a gaping hold last season.
“We get that true four we’ve been looking for (since West),” McMillan said. “In today’s game, (Young) is a true four. He has the ability to handle the ball, he shoots the ball well, which is something we haven’t seen in Brooklyn or Minnesota. He takes the challenge of defending. He enjoys the defensive end of the floor. He’s a two-way player who should allow us a lot of versatility.
“He knows how to play the game.”
Young has the look and sound of a future coach. His father coached him – with tough love – when he was growing up in Memphis, and he was an assistant coach at Victory University in Memphis when enrolled there to work on his degree during the NBA lockout in 2011. He also has an academic bent, though. His mother sent him off to a boarding school in Connecticut after his sophomore year in high school, and he earned good grades throughout. He was called on to speak to junior high school students while in high school, to motivate them to study hard.
Although he left Georgia Tech after his freshman year in 2007 to enter the NBA draft (and become the 12th overall pick by the 76ers), he has earned a degree in Business Administration, mostly with online courses. His wife did as well. She’s planning to go on to earn a Master’s degree. He’s thinking about it.
For the moment, he’s inclined to pursue a front office position after his playing career ends, but as a 28-year-old with nine seasons of experience he qualifies for coach-on-the-floor duties now.
“He’s doing a lot of teaching,” McMillan said. “He looks like a quiet guy. I’d never really seen him be very vocal on the floor when we played against him. But he’s been here since early August, and in the drills he’s stopping young players and teaching them. It wasn’t something the coaches told him to do. It’s good to see veterans helping teammates as far as how to screen, what to do once you screen, those kind of things.”
The mystery of Young’s game is his 3-point shooting, given the inconsistency in the quality and quantity of his shots behind the line. He’s taken as many as 292 attempts in the 2013-14 season, and as few as four in the 2011-12 season. He’s shot as well as 35 percent in the 2009-10 season, and as poorly as 12 percent (hitting 1-of-8 shots) in 2012-13. He hit 23 percent of his 30 attempts last season with the Nets.
He’s up for whatever the offensive system calls for, but he continues to work on his perimeter shooting after practice and on his own. He believes accuracy will come with opportunity and the coach’s blessing.
“It depends on who the coach is,” he said. “Some coaches give you freedom to do certain things and some coaches don’t.”
Says McMillan: “We’re going to have to let him go there some.”
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