Five things to be thankful for in the NBA

Everyone has something to be thankful for come holiday season. With Thanksgiving passing yesterday it’s time to reflect on the things we are thankful for in sports.

The NBA season has been filled with twists and turns. Many teams and players have created a different narrative to this year’s NBA. The teams that have dominated both conferences are not the ones on top. Players have both emerged and fallen from last season. However we are thankful for many things that make the NBA entertaining. Here are five of the things that have made the NBA the most interesting this season.

The 76ers’ young guys

If you haven’t watched Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Robert Covington play you should. The three of them are making the 76ers more than exciting to watch. They are something to be thankful for due to the elevated play in the East. Having a team emerge with great young talent to compete every night with the top teams in the East is definitely something to be thankful for.

Simmons is averaging 19, 9 and 7 and Joel Embiid is averaging a double-double. Covington is shooting 46 percent from three while shooting just under eight a game. The 76ers are 10-7 and are sitting in the sixth spot in the East. Simmons has been terrific, taking defensive rebounds and turning them into points.

The Sixers have been off to a good start and are just a couple games back in the East. They should continue their pace and be a tough out for a top team in the East come playoff time.

The Gordon Hayward-less Boston Celtics

Well now the Cavaliers don’t like the superior team in the East. Gordon Hayward went down in the first quarter of the season and the Celtics rallied around that. They have the best record in basketball and have beaten the Warriors already this season.

Many thought the season was lost for the Boston Celtics without Gordon Hayward. Instead, they are continually proving they belong. They have the best defensive unit in the league right now and previously held the best offense in the NBA to 88 points. Finally the best team in the East doesn’t look like the Cavaliers, it only took a few years.

Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant

Everyone loves a little conflict and soap opera. What Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook have created is flat out chippy and fans can’t take their eyes off of it. Many cheer against Kevin Durant for his choice to join the Golden State Warriors and Russ has “poked the bear” in a sense.

Russell Westbrook has felt disrespected due to Kevin Durant’s decision and has made it an on the court conflict. It has made games that are normally not as interesting and turned it into prime time television.

A new villain has been created

NBA

Lonzo Ball, (Thewinningtake.com).

Lonzo Ball is a villain. Like it or not LaVar Ball has made fans not like his son but in a way it has made the NBA better. Teams look forward to playing the Lakers to watch the opposing point guard play him tough.

This is exactly what his dad wanted to do by making a below average Lakers team relevant and putting his son in the forefront because of it. People now are drawing attention to an 8-11 team with a point guard who is shooting under 32 percent.

I still find myself thinking about how thankful we are to have a person to cheer against every night. It’s like fantasy sports because it makes fans care about games that they wouldn’t normally. So in a way, LaVar deserves a thank you.

The Timberwolves in playoff position

Obviously it’s very early in the season but the Timberwolves look very good. They have a big three in Karl Anthony-Towns, Jimmy Butler and Andrew Wiggins. They are competitive every night and look poised to finally make the playoffs. We always cheer for things that don’t happen often right? Well the Timberwolves have been absent from the playoffs for a while.

It would be good for basketball to have a shake up in playoff teams. It gets boring seeing the same teams make the playoffs year in and year out. The Minnesota Timberwolves haven’t made the playoffs since the 2003-04 season. This could be the season that they finally break that extremely long drought. The Timberwolves round out the Thanksgiving list because they are finally relevant and create a tough playoff opponent for anyone they face.

 

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Joel Embiid and the rising 76ers

It’s pretty early in the season, but the Philadelphia 76ers are off to a good start. They are 8-6 and have been led by young stars Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid.

Ben Simmons has been showing that being a point forward is very possible in the NBA. Joel Embiid is showing that he can play with just about anyone. In a league that is shifting away from traditional centers, Joel Embiid is showing just how complete his game is.

Joel Embiid’s Early Career

Joel Embiid

Joel Embiid, (Si.com).

I guess it would be fair to say that all of his career is also his early career due to him being in just his second playing year in the league. To be fair, Embiid has been a star for the 76ers in almost every game he’s played in.

Given he has only played 43 games in his NBA career Embiid notched a career high Thursday night against the Lakers. He had 46 points on 14/20 shooting, had 13 rebounds, seven assists and seven blocks. He dominated a weak interiored Laker team and was extremely efficient while doing it.

He is also continuing to prove he can hurt a team in more ways than one. This season he is shooting 58 percent from inside the arc. That statistic is over eight percent better than last season and shows that he can hurt you from inside as well as from outside. Embiid has struggled with his outside shot as of this season. Last year he shot 34 percent from three and this season he is sitting right at 24 percent. If he can get back to his consistent shooting ways then he is in for an even bigger impact.

The Last Few Games

Joel Embiid

Joel Embiid, (ESPN).

In his last two games, Embiid is averaging 39 points on 25-40 shooting which is good for 62.5 percent. He is 25-35 from the free throw line in that span and has grabbed 31 rebounds. He also has nine assists and eight blocks. Embiid has done a little bit of everything for his team and it has earned them wins in the last two games.

In wins this season Embiid has averaged 27 points and is shooting 59 percent. In losses this season, he has averaged 17 points and is shooting just 40 percent from the field. In translation, the versatile big man has been very important to this young teams success.

Team Outlook

As of right now, the 76ers only go as far as Embiid and Simmons take them. They have a lot of good role players to mix and match around them, but the NBA is all about star power. Until Markelle Fultz gets healthy and Dario Saric picks up his play a little, Simmons and Embiid have to carry most of the load.

One guy who does not get enough credit is Robert Covington. Covington is shooting 50 percent from three this season and he attempts seven a game. He’s averaged 17 points per game and he and J.J. Redick have helped open up the lane for both Simmons and Embiid to do their damage.

The 76ers are a very dangerous ball club. They have the ability to play with anyone and beat anyone on any given night. With Embiid and Simmons leading the way, the 76ers are in good position to make the playoffs. Barring any serious injuries, the 76ers should end up in the 5-7 spot in the Eastern Conference playoff race. With Embiid playing at borderline MVP quality, the 76ers could shake up the Eastern Conference playoffs.

 

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2017 Eastern Conference predictions: 76ers and Celtics

With what feels like the most compelling offseason in NBA history, there will be no lack of storylines to follow this season. There is a ton of grey area when it comes to how things are going to shape up in the Eastern Conference so here are two bold predictions for the East this season.

Philadelphia 76ers make the playoffs

2017 Eastern Conference predictions: 76ers Celtics

(MetroUS)

Trust the process has been the motto in Philly for what feels like an eternity and fans in the area haven’t seen a winning product since the 2011-2012 season where they made it to the conference semi-finals. Since then there has not been any hope or optimism surrounding the franchise besides receiving the number one pick a few a times, but this year feels much different.

The 76ers have been plagued with injuries and mismanagement for five seasons but the process is finally coming to fruition. With what seems to be a healthy Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons the world will be able to see how this team of high picks will be able to play together. There have been reports of minutes restriction for Embiid but for this case were assuming he will start.

Being in the Eastern Conference gives this young team a chance to be in contention for a playoff spot and they’re going to sneak into the eight or seven spot. With players like Dario Saric and Robert Covington stepping up last season and the influx of the young guns like Fultz, Simmons and Embiid, this team is much more interesting.

After finishing in the bottom of the barrel last season, they have a chance to completely turn around the entire identity of the franchise. Adding free agents like J.J. Reddick and Amir Johnson brings important veteran leadership to one of the youngest teams in the league that will have a huge impact on them moving forward.

With many teams in the Eastern Conference getting worse like the Pacers, Knicks, Bulls and of course the Nets, there is no reason to think that the 76ers don’t have a shot to make the playoffs this season and finally give Philly fans something to be proud of.

Celtics No. 1 seed again

2017 Eastern Conference predictions: 76ers Celtics

(Sporting News)

After the blockbuster trades and the huge free agent signings, the Celtics are poised to be one of the top dogs of the Eastern Conference. After the Celtics managed to lock up the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference last season, they are in an even better position to repeat that this year as well.

There are only three other teams that are in the discussion for the No. 1 seed: The Cavaliers, Raptors and Wizards. The reason  the Celtics have the best chance is simple. They got better while everyone else more or less stayed the same besides the Cavs.

The reason the Cavs won’t be able to win the Eastern Conference this season is because the injuries to Isaiah Thomas, and the fact that they really don’t care where they end up. I still think a fully healthy Cavaliers have the edge in playoffs against the Celtics, so they just don’t care whether they’re the first or second seed.

Don’t get me wrong, I would not be surprised if the Cavaliers still manage to get the one seed, but with Isaiah out until the All-Star break and the Cavaliers being one of the oldest teams in the league, they won’t be taking every game as seriously as other teams.

The Cavs basically want to get one of the top three seeds and will plan for the playoffs because the regular season is essentially a formality to them. Knowing LeBron, he will be looking to send a message when they play the top teams in the league but he won’t mind taking a few games off like he did last season.

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Philadelphia 76ers 2017 NBA Draft

Philadelphia 76ers 2017 NBA Draft Profile

Day three of NBA Draftmas is here to trust the process. Philadelphia fans are itching for their team to become contenders. This year they take another step closer to becoming a playoff team.

Summary

Philadelphia 76ers 2017 NBA Draft

(Photo Credit: ohn Geliebter-USA TODAY Sports)

Philadelphia has not made the playoffs since 2012. Their overall record since then is 109-301. The future is beginning to look bright despite the recent failure. The 76ers improved their win total by 18 from last season, showing that the process is indeed working.

Not all signs are pointing in the right direction though. Last year’s first overall pick, Ben Simmons, did not play a single game due to injury. Their franchise center, Joel Embiid, also dealt with injuries. Embiid was looking like the hands down rookie of the year until he went down with a foot injury. This is his third major injury, and it is never a good sign when big men have multiple knee or foot injuries. If he can remain healthy, he is going to be a top-three big in the NBA.

The 76ers struggled offensively, averaging 102.4 points per game, which ranked 25th in the NBA. They shot 44.2 percent from the field and 34 percent from behind the arc. Those percentages ranked 27th and 25th, respectively. They also turned the ball over at an alarming rate with 16 per game, ranking dead last.

Defensively, the Sixers gave up 108.1 points per game. Opponents shot 46.1 percent against the Sixers. Philly needs to improve both offensively and defensively.

Like many teams drafting early, youth and inexperience plagued the 76ers. To develop into a playoff team, the talent inside the organization needs time on the court together. Simmons and Embiid must remain healthy for this team to start pushing for the playoffs. If they remain healthy and this year’s pick pans out, the 76ers should be geared to dominate the East relatively soon.

Picks & Needs

The 76ers have five picks in the draft, four of which are in the second round. This gives Philly wiggle room to possibly move up for a second first round pick.

First Round: No. 3 (via Sacramento)

Second Round: No. 36 (via New York), No. 39 (via Dallas), No. 46 (via Miami), No. 50 (via Atlanta)

The Sixers have a very solid frontcourt made up of Embiid, Jahlil Okafor and Dario Saric. Brett Brown has publicly stated that Simmons will play point guard. The Sixers still need a very reliable shooting guard who can get buckets.

They could also use some depth at the small forward position. Robert Covington is average at best and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot is still young and developing. It will be highly unlikely that the 76ers draft five players. One of their late second-round picks could be used on a foreign player who may stay overseas for a few seasons, but five rookies would be too much on an already extremely young team.

Targets & Thoughts

Philadelphia 76ers 2017 NBA Draft

(Photo Credit: Getty Images)

Pick #3: Malik Monk, SG, Kentucky

The Sixers need scoring help from the guard position badly, and Malik Monk is a scoring machine. The SEC Player of the Year averaged 19.8 points per game in his freshman season at Kentucky. Monk shot 45 percent from the field and 39.7 percent from behind the arc.

Every now and then Monk would go off with impressive scoring games. Monk scored 47 against North Carolina, 34 at Ole Miss, 37 versus Georgia and 33 against Florida. He showed just how great of a scorer he is. At his age, he can develop into an ever better scorer in the NBA.

Pick #36: Jaron Blossomgame, SF, Clemson

Jaron Blossomgame is one of the oldest players in this draft. He will have maturity and experience that a lot of draftees won’t have. Blossomgame will be a solid scorer off the bench. He has nice length and size to be a quality NBA defender as well, but will need development in that area.

Pick #39: Frank Mason III, PG, Kansas

Frank Mason III could become one of the best backup point guards in the NBA. Mason has a natural ability to push the ball and creates quick offense. He isn’t afraid to attack the rim to get to the free throw line. Mason will be able to come in and play anywhere from 20 to 25 minutes per game and be a solid role player.

Pick #46: Alpha Kaba, PF, France

Alpha Kaba already has connections on the Sixers. Kaba played with current 76er Timothe-Luwawu-Cabarrot in France. Kaba is able to stretch the floor, something the Sixers could use from a big. Alpha Kaba would not come to the NBA this season and the Sixers could allow him to continue his development for a few seasons overseas.

Pick #50: Aleksandar Vezenkov, F, Bulgaria

Aleksandar Vezenkov is a raw European prospect who is capable of some good outside shooting. Philly will keep Vezenkov overseas until they need him. He has the talent to play in the NBA one day.

Conclusion

The Sixers have another top-three pick that will help them continue the process. Drafting Malik Monk would push the Sixers into playoff contention next season. It isn’t going out on a limb to say Philadelphia will be a seven or eight seed in the East next season. Getting to the playoffs would be the first step. They need that valuable playoff experience for their young core.

In the second round, the Sixers have four more picks that would allow them to be flexible in the draft. They will draft a few players who will stay overseas. Philadelphia is not far from contending for a championship and this draft will push them much closer.

Thanks for checking out the Philadelphia 76ers 2017 NBA Draft profile and tune in tomorrow for day four of NBA Draftmas to see what the Phoenix Suns are going to do.

Day 1 Draftmas: Boston Celtics

Day 2 Draftmas: Los Angeles Lakers

 

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The Philadelphia 76ers Only Have Two Stars, But Maybe That’s OK

As the season progresses, it’s becoming more evident that the Philadelphia 76ers simply don’t have enough of a core to build around. With the trade deadline less than two months away, it’s time for the team to start focusing on tooling for the future.

The Sixers have spent the past five years stockpiling assets at the top of the draft lottery. The result has been a logjam in the front court, and one that needs a solution before the trade deadline.

Monday night’s game against the Sacramento Kings serves as a decent benchmark for where this team is headed for the future. Former #3 draft pick Joel Embiid scored 25 points and grabbed eight rebounds with a plus/minus of +3. Meanwhile, Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor (fellow highly drafted big men) were rendered ineffective and the team was outscored when they were on the floor.

Throughout the game, Embiid flashed the talent that has made him one of the best young big men in the league. Defensively he guarded the paint and the perimeter, recording two steals and two blocks. In the post, he showed finesse and bullied Demarcus Cousins in the paint throughout the game. Outside the paint, he flashed his three point prowess and showed some breakaway speed on fast breaks. Better yet? He’s been doing it all season.

 

Joel Embiid Highlights from Dec. 26th 

 

Noel only played 3 minutes during the game, a testament to the pileup of big men in the roster. When Noel has seen the floor, he has struggled to score and rebound. He is a prominent defender who just can’t seem to put it together on this team.

Similarly, Okafor has also struggled throughout the season despite his promising rookie campaign last year. His post game remains impressive, but his inability to rebound and defend against many of the first units in the league would make it difficult to build a team around him.

Interestingly, his game compares well to a fellow third overall pick, Enes Kanter. Both big men are able to score well off the bench despite their inefficiency on the other end of the floor.

Many teams around the league could use a scoring presence like Okafor. Talent dry teams like the Brooklyn Nets could use his presence to help inject talented youth into their lineup. Teams like Portland and Boston could use him to build depth off of the bench.

The problem, however, is that Philadelphia has lost their leverage over the past few years. Nerlens Noel becomes a restricted free agent after this year and Okafor has only one more year left on his deal. The addition of Dario Saric and the impending return of Ben Simmons has created a need to clear space in the Philly frontcourt.

Realistically, Simmons and Embiid are the only future starters on this team and Simmons hasn’t even seen a minute in the NBA yet. Regardless, it’s hardly time to panic about the team’s future.

Saric, along with Robert Covington and Sergio Rodriguez, look like they could be a nice presence of the bench in the future. Hopefully, the team can capitalize off of Okafor and Noel before the deadline this year. Most importantly, the 2017 NBA draft approaches quickly.

This looks like yet another lost season for the Sixers in the “Trust the Process” era. Hope, however, lies in the draft.

This looks to be one of the most promising draft classes in years with a plethora of potential stars in the NCAA right now. Additionally, many of the highly ranked players are guards and wings which are holes the Sixers desperately need to fill. They will likely end up with two top ten picks this year and will no doubt be able to find playmaking and scoring at the top of the draft.

Another struggling season seems to be yet another embodiment of “The Process” for the woeful 76ers, but the future appears to be much brighter. A new year could bring a healthy Ben Simmons and a limitless Joel Embiid. February could open up the roster for more young stars. The Process just may be coming along.

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