Pair of Sixers Receive MVP Odds

By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)

Embed from Getty Images

Online sportsbook Bovada (which will always remain Bodog in my heart) released its early NBA MVP odds for the 2017-18 season, an event which always gets people interested. How does the court of public opinion stack up to whatever calculations the quants ran in their secret super computers? Suprisingly, both Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons were listed among the top-25 most likely to win the award, with JoJo going off at 50/1 and Simmons listed at 66/1.

Asking Ben Simmons to be in the MVP race as a rookie is too tall an order; in my opinion, you’d just be throwing your money away. Backing Embiid seems far more interesting and would basically be a long-shot bet that he has an exceedingly healthy year. Let’s say he plays close to 70 games, only missing when the team gives him a pre-determined rest day on certain back-to-backs. If Embiid even builds slightly on his absurd averages from last year of 20.2 points, 7.8 rebounds, 2.1 assists, and 2.5 blocks (which isn’t outlandish considering he was on a minutes restriction), that’s enough to get him in the conversation. If the Sixers were to improve by around 20 wins (going from 28 to the mid-to-high 40’s), the buzz around the team would be incredible. I’m not saying it’s likely, but at 50/1, it’s something to consider.

Regardless, it’s incredible that Sixers players are even listed so highly. It again speaks to the interest around the franchise and the promise this young roster has for the future.

Sixers homerism aside, here’s where I truly find the best value in the above list:

Kawhi Leonard (13/2) – Kawhi was in the discussion for MVP last year and the two guys who finished ahead of him (Russell Westbrook and James Harden) have both added high-profile stars to their teams to cut into their counting stats and credit for success. Kawhi basically has to duplicate his efforts from last season, which considering he’s improved every season he’s been in the league isn’t that crazy, and you’d be getting who I feel is the favorite at the third-highest odds.

Giannis Antetokounmpo (17/2) – Here’s the list of players who have ever averaged at least 22 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists, 1.5 steals, and 1.5 blocks in a season: Giannis Antetokounmpo. That’s it. The Greek Freak already had a historically great season last year and he’s still only 22 years old. The Bucks are an up-and-coming team in a weak Eastern Conference. If everything clicks right and they’re battling for the 3 seed in the East, Giannis is going to receive serious MVP consideration.

Jimmy Butler (75/1) – Among those players with long odds, I love Butler’s candidacy the best. Only Westbrook, Harden, LeBron James, and Butler averaged at least 23 points, 6 rebounds, and 5 assists last season. That reads like a shortlist for potential MVP candidates. Butler also has a flair for clutch play, which voters seem to love. If the Timberwolves finally return to the playoffs, Butler will be seen as the catalyst. I think there are a handful of players with much better MVP chances, but his odds at 75/1 are far too long and seem worth a flyer.

Sixers Full Regular Season Schedule Released

By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)

Embed from Getty Images

Schedule release day is one of the most highly anticipated days of the NBA year. After the league had already provided tasty appetizers with the season opener in Washington, the Christmas Day game in New York, and the “home” game against Boston in London in January, Sixers fans were given the main course Monday with the release of the full 82-game schedule.

On a team where Joel Embiid serves as a franchise cornerstone, the issue of rest is understandably foremost on people’s minds. The topic has been of paramount importance with the league also, as the NBA cut back on the number of preseason games and moved the start of the regular season up by a week. As a result, the NBA completely eliminated all 4 games-in-5 nights this season and scheduled fewer back-to-backs per team.

The Sixers will play 14 back-to-backs this season, slightly below the league average of 14.4. We won’t have to wait long to see how the team treats their oft-injured young center; Philadelphia’s first back-to-back set will come in the opening weekend of the season, with the home opener against Boston on October 20 immediately followed by an October 21 date in Toronto. Embiid’s durability will also be further tested on the team’s two 5-game, 9-day road trips, one in mid-November and one at the end of December.

Continuing the theme of increased expectations for the Sixers this offseason, basketball fans outside the Philadelphia area are going to see a lot more of Embiid, Ben Simmons, Markelle Fultz, and company this season. The Sixers will play 23 nationally televised games (14 if you don’t count those contests on NBATV), with 9 each on ESPN and NBATV and 5 on TNT. The season finale on ESPN at home against the Bucks could wind up being a fun battle with playoff implications between two young, up-and-coming teams.

Of course, there will be plenty of marquee match-ups along the way. The Sixers will play the Warriors twice in mid-November, with the defending champions coming to Philadelphia on November 18. First overall pick Markelle Fultz will face off against second overall pick Lonzo Ball for the first time in Los Angeles on November 15th; the Big Baller Brand bandwagon will first arrive in Philadelphia on December 7. The new backcourt dynamic duo of Chris Paul and James Harden takes the Wells Fargo Center court on October 25, while the star-studded tandem of Russell Westbrook and Paul George arrives December 15. Finally, always a big draw, King James and the Cavaliers make a pair of stops in the city of brotherly love, November 27 and April 6.

82 games on the calendar. During which the Sixers will definitely come away with wins somewhere between 0 and 82 times, likely somewhere in-between. Even moreso than most seasons, it should make for a fun ride.

Sixers set to play Christmas Day

By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)

Embed from Getty Images

With the last two top overall picks ready to hit the court and everyone around the team talking playoff expectiations, excitement surrounding the Philadelphia 76ers is ramping up to levels not previously seen in the post-Iverson era. Apparently, the league concurs with that sentiment and has decided the Sixers are ready for a bigger stage.

The Christmas Day games are an unofficial barometer of who the NBA wants to showcase when all eyes are on the league. In the span of two years, the Sixers have gone from being a 10-win team to being a marquee draw. For fans that stuck through the years of losing, this was the end game. Like Andy Dufresne, we crawled through a tunnel of the most vile substances imaginable and have come out on the other side.

Joel Embiid matched up against Kristaps Porzingis sounds like a terrific present for Sixers fans to find under their Christmas trees this holiday season. It also means we’ll get to see Sixers Christmas jerseys in real life! I’m sure the marketing department wishes the Holiday brothers and Nerlens Noel were still around.

In addition to the news of a Christmas Day game, we also received word of when we’ll first see this new juggernaut out on the court together.

Camp begins in a little over 6 weeks. The hype train is getting ready to pull out of the station; grab a seat next to Mike Trout and enjoy the ride!

Sixers release preseason schedule

By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)

Embed from Getty Images

With rookies Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz, along with free agent acquisition J.J. Redick, joining a (hopefully) healthy Joel Embiid, it’s not surprising that Sixers fans are eagerly anticipating what the improved product will look like on the court. We now know when we will catch our first glimpses of the new group in a competitive game setting, as the team released its full preseason schedule on Thursday.

10/4 vs. Memphis – 7:00pm
10/6 vs. Boston – 7:00pm
10/9 at Boston – 7:30pm
10/11 at Brooklyn – 7:30pm (Nassau Veterans Memorial Colisuem / Uniondale, NY)
10/13 vs. Miami – 8:30pm (Sprint Center / Kansas City, MO)

Note that there are fewer preseason games than in previous years, part of the league’s effort to move the regular season up and reduce number of back-to-back contests for teams. The Sixers did not provide television listings for either the Brooklyn or the Miami games, so, unfortunately, it appears fans may have to find a pirated stream or settle for radio broadcasts of those contests.

The home-and-home meetings with Boston should be fun, as the usual rivalry with the Celtics has been goosed up by the high-profile recent trade between the two clubs. Hopefully, Markelle Fultz’s ankle is 100% to go up against Jayson Tatum, enabling everyone to draw wide-swathing conclusions based on an extremely limited sample size about who won the trade. Joel Embiid playing in Kansas City, not far from where he played college ball for the Jayhawks, should also make for a fun atmosphere.

Here’s to a 5-0 preseason and the playoffs hype train really starting to roll!

Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot diagnosed with knee tendonitis

By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)

Embed from Getty Images

In a rare turn of events, the likes of which we’ve never seen before, a Sixers player is dealing with knee-related problems. The latest news involves Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, with Sportando reporting that the 22-year-old has patellar tendinopathy and will miss the Eurobasket tournament with the French national team.

Tendinopathy is another word for tendonitis; this condition is commonly referred to as jumper’s knee. Rest and stretching/range-of-motion exercises are the best treatments for the condition. We have no idea of the level of seriousness for Luwawu-Cabarrot; there’s no reason to think he shouldn’t be ready for training camp in the fall.

If TLC was experiencing any discomfort, it may explain his poor showing in summer league play. The rising NBA sophomore was expected to take on more of a leadership role in Salt Lake City and Vegas, but struggled on the court, averaging just 8.88 points on 36.9% shooting across 8 games. Maybe the knee has just started to bother him, or he may not have mentioned anything until now, but it wouldn’t be shocking if the crack Sixers training staff missed yet another diagnosis.

While there’s every possibility this is just a short term issue, this summer seems like a waste of developmental opportunity for Luwawu-Cabarrot, especially after he finished the regular season of his rookie year so well. In 6 April games with the Sixers, Luwawu-Cabarrot averaged 18.3 points on 44.9% shooting and 1.8 steals. Now, he’s had a subpar summer league, needing to get stitches in his lip along the way, and will miss going up against strong competition in EuroBasket.

With J.J. Redick and Furkan Korkmaz arriving, and Jerryd Bayless back healthy, minutes will be much more crowded on the wings this upcoming season. However minor, this knee tendonitis is not a good harbinger for TLC makes the leap and carving out a significant role for himself going forward.

Jonah Bolden to play in Israel this season

By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)

With Philadelphia’s summer league season plagued by losses of both games and the team’s first overall pick, one of the main bright spots was the 36th overall pick in the draft, Jonah Bolden. I wrote a piece on FanRag Sports regarding his strong summer league play over the weekend. The tl;dr version is that Bolden was a hyperactive athlete with excellent, two-way potential as a stretch big.

Sixers fans were understandably hopeful that Bolden would find a way to crack the roster and show what he can do against NBA competition this season. However, following the latest report Monday, it appears we won’t be seeing the Australian big man on this side of the Atlantic this season.

Bolden will be transferring from his former team, Red Star Belgrade in Serbia, to Israel’s Maccabi Tel Aviv. Maccabi plays domestically in the Israeli Premier League and internationally in the Euroleague, widely considered the world’s top league outside of the NBA (sorry Big 3). As David Pick points out, it’s a much better basketball situation for the former UCLA Bruin.

Obviously, having Bolden suit up for the Sixers this season was what many fans were hoping for after seeing him terrorize opponents on the defensive end in summer league play. However, playing for Maccabi for at least a year might be best for all parties involved.

With Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Dario Saric, Richaun Holmes, and Amir Johnson already holding down rotational spots in the frontcourt, there wasn’t a clear path to playing time for Bolden with the big club. The second-round pick still needs to refine his game, particularly in regard to shot selection, and regular playing time is the best way to do it. Going up against Euroleague competition will likely be better for his development than playing in the G-league. Personally, he’ll also make more money overseas than if he signed one of the NBA’s new two-way contracts.

From the Sixers perspective, they’ll push the timetable on Bolden’s first contract back another year into the future. Although it doesn’t seem like it at the moment, the salary cap will be somewhere Philadelphia will need to think about before too long, as guys like Embiid and Robert Covington get new deals and the team looks to make a big splash in free agency. Having guys like Bolden, who can help the team as a rotational player on a cheap contract, will be incredibly valuable down the road.

Keep perfecting that jumper, Jonah, and enjoy Israel. We’ll see you in 2018.

Lonzo Lifts Lakers Past Sixers

By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)

Lakers 103, Sixers 102 – Box Score

It was a star-studded evening in Sin City with LeBron James on hand to watch his future Lakers teammates (following a Klutch Sports workout with Ben Simmons, also in attendance). While the first overall pick remains out with a sprained ankle, the second overall pick put on a show. Lonzo Ball went off for 36 points on 12-22 shooting, 8 rebounds, 11 assists, 5 steals, and 2 blocks. It was the first 30-point, 10-assist game summer league game since at least 2004 (when they began tracking these things). Lonzo flung the ball around the court like a pre-neck surgery Peyton Manning.

Ball stepped up in the clutch too, converting a three-point play with 21 seconds left to put the Lakers in front. After James Blackmon scored to give the Sixers a 1-point lead, Ivica Zubac was fouled and hit both free throws to secure the win for Los Angeles.

Despite the loss, there were plenty of positives to take away from Philadelphia’s perspective. Furkan Korkmaz had his best game stateside, leading the team with 19 points on 8-14 shooting, and even showing off some passing ability with 3 assists. It was definitely the most aggressive we’ve seen Korkmaz handling the rock, and though he didn’t have a great night from behind the arc (2-8 from threes), we did catch a glimpse of his ability to create separation for himself and knock down a long-range bomb.

Alex Poythress played well again with 16 points and 5 rebounds in 21 minutes. This summer, he has shown some ability to protect the rim, guard in space, stretch the floor, and get up and down the court in transition. The Sixers don’t necessarily have a roster spot from him, but it’s hard to see Poythress not getting another shot somewhere soon at the NBA level.

Jonah Bolden didn’t have a great game shooting the basketball, but he displayed some passing ability we hadn’t really yet seen from him, recording 4 assists with some nice bounce passes out of high-low action. He also once again terrorized the opposition defensively, tallying 4 steals and 2 blocks. The en vogue thing right now is for teams to find the next Draymond Green, and while that’s largely a fool’s errand, Bolden at least has a lot of similar qualities to the Golden State all-star.

Like Poythress, Larry Drew doesn’t have a viable path to a roster spot, but has continued to perform admirably in summer league play. He dropped 15 points and 8 assists in 25 minutes, and looks like a viable break-in-case-of-emergency G-league call-up if injuries strike the point guard position at any point.

With the loss, the Sixers are eliminated from the Vegas summer league playoffs; they will play a consolation game against the Bulls Friday at 8:30pm EST.

Celtics drop Sixers for second time this summer

By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)

Celtics 88, Sixers 83 – Box Score

Boston and Philadelphia played down to the wire last week in Utah, with Jayson Tatum hitting the game-winning shot with seconds left. The two sides ran it back in Sin City Tuesday night, except this time around, the Sixers were missing Markelle Fultz. But they did have second-round pick Mathias Lessort making his NBA debut after receiving clearance from FIBA to participate in summer league, so, fair exchange?

Once again, Tatum carried a heavy load for the Celtics, especially after “7-11” compatriot Jaylen Brown sat out the second half with a bruised thigh (suffered in a mid-air collision with Jonah Bolden). Tatum recorded 15 points and 6 rebounds, including a crucial bucket in the game’s final minute, as Boston did just enough to keep the Sixers at bay.

With the loss, the Sixers are now 1-2 in Vegas, and will enter the elimination, playoff bracket portion of the week Wednesday.

Game Notes:

  • Thank goodness for Jonah Bolden, the breath of fresh air in a mostly stagnant performance. He didn’t have the best performance from the field overall (4-12 FG), but hit 3 of 6 three-point attempts, showing off true NBA range from all parts of the arc. His final line was 13 points, 8 rebounds, and 2 steals, including a terrific swipe of Tatum that showed off his lightning-quick hands once again.

  • Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot was sporting a bandage on his lip in his first game back since getting 5 stitches, and led the team with 16 points, albeit on 4-13 shooting. He did go 3-5 from behind the arc, which is all he’ll really need to do offensively when he plays with the main roster. A for Effort just for lacing them up tonight, though.
  • As mentioned, Mathias Lessort made his Sixers debut, scoring 4 points and grabbing 4 rebounds in 13 minutes. He showed off pretty good range with a made jumper (and another that came just after the shot clock expired), which was a pleasant surprise. Lessort does need to adjust to the different physicality/officiating over here, as he was whistled for 4 fouls in his limited time on the floor.
  • Melo Trimble had a hot night shooting, knocking down 3 of 5 triples for 13 points in 13 minutes. We’ll see if can string together a couple good performances in a row.

Interview with former Butler star Mike Green

By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)

A native of Philadelphia, 6’1″ guard Mike Green played two seasons at Towson before transferring to Butler, where he played two seasons from 2006 to 2008, with the Bulldogs making the NCAA tournament both years. The 2007-08 campaign was Brad Stevens’ first year as a head coach there, during which Green flourished, averaging 14.6 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 5.1 assists as he took home Horizon League Player of the Year honors.

Despite his collegiate success, Green went undrafted, but participated in summer leagues over the years with five different NBA clubs. He played for his hometown Sixers in the 2010 Orlando Summer League, averaging 5.0 points and 1.8 assists in 17.9 minutes across 5 games with the club.

Green has since carved out a career for himself in Europe. He played in Turkey last season, but has also been signed to teams in Italy, Russia, and France over the years.

At the moment though, Green is back in the States trying to secure his share of the $2 million grand prize in The Basketball Tournament. Sunday morning, he recorded 13 points, 7 assists, and 3 steals to help lead his team, the FCM Untouchables, to a 91-57 win over the Paul Champions.

The Untouchables will now advance to the Super 16 round in Brooklyn. After the game, Green took a couple minutes to speak to me about his Butler connections and the summer league process.

You played at Butler, conference player of the year, in Brad Stevens’ first year as coach. Did you ever foresee the kind of rapid ascension to all the success he’s having in the league right now? 

Once he signed in the NBA, I saw it. You’re talking about he got six years, guaranteed, so an organization like the Celtics not gonna just give you six years guaranteed. So once I saw the contract, it’s like, yeah, he’s gonna be good in the NBA. But yeah, same as college. He adjusted in no time.

Are you still in contact with him?  

Yeah, we send text messages back and forth. Actually, I went to Game 2 of the Conference Finals. Bad game, but he made sure he took care of me and my friends. Unfortunately, the game didn’t go how he wanted it. But yeah, we’re still very much in touch.

They just signed Hayward, also a Butler product. He arrived a year after you, but as an alum, do you have any kind of relationship with him?

I never talked to him much, but I got to see him coming in. When they were coming out [to Butler], I was going to NBA workouts, going city to city to city. I actually got to stay there for about four days, so I watched the guys play over at the gym. I saw that first open gym, I came and told him [Stevens] in the office, “Hayward is a pro. Good job.” I told him that. You could just see it.

You’ve had a few stints in summer leagues over the years. What was that like as a guy who’s just trying to show people what he can do? You were with the Sixers when they had Evan Turner as a rookie and they’re trying to gear him up for the season. What was the kind of dynamic like being on the team? 

You kind of take it for what it’s worth. There’s not a big chance you’re gonna make the team, unless you just go out there and do something outstanding. But you’re not in a position to do something outstanding, because it’s set up for guys like their draft picks, the Evan Turners, you know. But it’s a good experience, man. You go there, you work out and use their facility. You get to interview in front of all the teams. You got Europe teams, you got China, you got all the NBA teams. So it’s pretty much an interview process. It’s a pretty good process.

The Basketball Tournament Round of 32 Coverage

By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)

A day after battling in the opening round of the Basketball Tournament, 8 teams in the Northeast Regional were back to play for the right to advance to the Super 16 in Brooklyn. After winning Sunday, the remaining teams will be just 4 wins away from their share of the $2 million prize money.

Read Saturday’s Round of 64 coverage

FCM Untouchables 91, Paul Champions 57

The Paul Champions, who fought hard in the Jamboree to grab one of the final 4 spots in this tournament field, then pulled out a close victory against the Talladega Knights, finally met their match against the Untouchables. One of the favorites in the tournament, the Untouchables dominated the action from start to finish. They forced 19 Paul turnovers (while committing just 11 themselves), creating a lay-up line of easy buckets in transition. The Paul Champions couldn’t buy a bucket in the first half either, shooting just 25.9% from the field in the opening frame as they fell behind by 25 at halftime.

Former St. John’s star Marcus Hatten dropped a game-high 25 points, hitting 7 of his 12 attempts from downtown. Mike Green, who was conference player of the year in his 2007-2008 senior season at Butler, recorded 13 points and 7 assists. The Untouchables became the first team to advance to the Super 16 in Brooklyn, where they’ll face Team FOE.

Team FOE 82, Sideline Cancer 75

Something about trailing in the second half just seems to bring the best out of Team FOE. After coming back from a double digit deficit Saturday, the Morris twins-coached squad trailed Sideline Cancer 60-52 with just under 11 minutes remaining. Once again, spurred on by a loud, local contingent of fans, Team FOE ratcheted the defense into another gear and went on an 18-5 run to take command of the game.

Five Team FOE players finished in double figures, with Vincent Simpson leading the way with 15 points. Ex-Kansas Jawhawk Tyshawn Taylor had 13 points and 5 assists and former Drexel Dragon Scott Rodgers added 10 points. It was a strong effort by Sideline Cancer particularly former St. Joe’s Hawk Aaron Brown, who led all scorers with 21 points.

Boeheim’s Army 106, Gael Nation 100 (2OT)

It will probably go down as the most exciting game of this entire tournament. Of course, it didn’t look like it when Boeheim’s Army opened up a 22-point lead in the second half. But then, Gael Nation’s Steve Burtt, who had hit the game-winner a day before, went absolutely Super Saiyan. Burtt hit 4 three-pointers in under a span of three minutes, part of a 20-2 Gael Nation run to climb back into the game. He finished with a game-high 34 points.

Knotted at 84, neither team was able to score in the final minute of regulation. In the first overtime, an alley-oop to Donte Greene (team-high 32 points) and an open corner three from Eric Devendorf (23 points, 10 rebounds) gave Boeheim’s Army a 5-point lead and looked like it might end things. But Burtt hit yet another three and D’Angelo Harrison sank a runner with 19 seconds remaining to send things to a second extra frame.

Finally, in the final minute of the second overtime, Boeheim’s Army was able to put the game away for good. Rick Jackson scored inside to put them ahead, and as Burtt and Harrison both missed three-point attempts, Devendorf and Greene finished the game at the foul line. I would say it was the craziest game some of these Syracuse guys have ever been a part of, but that would ignore Devendorf and co. playing in a 6-overtime game against UConn back in 2009. Let’s just call it the craziest game of TBT 2017 and call it a night.

Team Fancy 82, SuperNova 74

SuperNova entered the tournament as one of the clear favorites to win it all. And why not? They’re a group of Villanova alums used to playing with each other, with Final Four and even National Championship experience. So it was perfectly reasonable that when the reporter sitting next to me came back from interviewing the Syracuse guys saw a 19-point lead on the scoreboard, she asked, “I assume SuperNova is winning?” Actually, no.

Nova trailed by as many as 21 points, shooting 11-34 (32.4%) from the field in the first half. On the other sideline, Team Fancy was doing a terrific job attacking the basket, a perfect 13-13 from the foul line (they finished 25-26 on the game). Former Rhode Island Ram Delroy James was incredibly impressive throughout the game, finishing with 21 points and 8 rebounds. The 6’8″ forward has a strong inside-outside game, knocking down 3 of 6 threes, and relentlessly getting to the rim.

The talented SuperNova squad finally got some shots to fall in the second half. Corey Fisher and Malcolm Grant combined to make 5 of 10 threes, each recording 15 points. They chipped away at the lead, eventually cutting to deficit to 4 inside of a minute left. But Grant’s three was slightly off and Maurice Sutton’s putback attempt didn’t fall, as Team Fancy held on. Fans are denied an old school Big East battle between the former Syracuse and Villanova guys, but Team Fancy will surely put up another good fight.