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Timothe Luwawu Is Still A Ways Away, and That's Okay

Expect the French first-rounder to spend extensive time in Delaware building his identity as a basketball player.

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot is one of the more fascinating prospects in the NBA. Last season, as the lead toy for Misko Raznatovic's BeoBasket agency-run Mega Leks squad, Luwawu, surrounded by young prospects, was (very much deliberately) put on display to run the floor with the best of the Adriatic League's athletes. His athletic strengths relative to Adriatic League competition were augmented, his outside shot finally started to fall after a rough showing in France the season prior and he ran (and dunked) all over his opponents in transition.

Despite his waning interest on defense aside from some gambling and flashes, with the help of a dreary 2016 wing class and the physical tools Mega Leks expertly paraded out, it was hard not to ask yourself, "Could this be the 3-and-D guy this class desperately lacks?"

But then it kind of stopped happening. After starting out the year shooting over 40 percent from distance through November, and holding steady at 36 percent from the outside through January, his shooting fell off and his stock fell with it. He shot 39 percent from the floor and 32 percent from deep from February through May, including a dreadful 5-of-20 showing during the team's short-lived postseason push, and the nature of the questions changed dramatically. "If he can't shoot, what can he do?" "What's his real identity as a basketball player?"

Well, in doing his best to answer that question for us up to this point, the results have been mixed. His ball-handling shortcomings are real, in both the ability and confidence departments. The driving lanes he found in Serbia with his first step but still loose handle are going to continue to be swallowed up by NBA length. And not to mention, his defense in Summer League was pretty rough at times given his inconsistent intensity, slight frame and instinctual adjustment to different speeds and brands of basketball.

That being said, it wasn't all bad. There's a reason he was still a really nice pick-up so late in the draft. He showed an encouraging ability to adapt quickly, sliding into lineups selflessly as an off-ball shooter, heady cutter and talented transition player. And the shot looked decent, too.

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What also popped with Luwawu right off the bat, at least for the diehards who took time out of their lives to watch Mega Leks basketball, is the way his athleticism and physique translated on the floor early on. You'll notice from the vines that invaded your timeline last year that TLC's explosiveness, especially in transition, really separated him from the competition (and seemingly the American crop). But I'd expect him to be more of a below-the-rim player at this level, and seeing the way he's played thus far, that shouldn't be too surprising to anyone. He'll need to pack on more muscle for the sake of his finishing at the rim and his defense (when he hits an NBA screen he looks like he's emerging from a twelve-car pile-up), but realistically, he probably won't showcase the type of verticality that brought him to your attention last season. If he does, it certainly won't be anytime soon.

And again, that's okay! Luwawu still played his ass off for long stretches of last season against grown men (albeit bad ones), and his combo of tools and savvy is super interesting given the lack of exposure to real top-end competition beyond Pro B and the Adriatic League. The mid-late first was the really the best place for him to be drafted. The lottery hype was reasonable given the weak class, but it was definitely too soon. Being the second pick for a team was really ideal, as the team has time to invest in his development with significantly less pressure to rush him along.

But this is also what makes him so tricky. Luwawu made his living off of slashing and finishing at the basket, and/or getting to the charity stripe. The immense difficulty he will have doing that at the NBA level in conjunction with his inconsistent shooting and wavering defensive effort is what left him in the Sixers' lap so late in the first round, and he's going to need an identity overhaul. That's not particularly easy.

So, the Sixers staff has its work cut out for them. Brett Brown will certainly give TLC a shot in the back-end of the rotation, but behind some of the established vets and the young but more capable fixtures, it's hard to find a real place for him right now. What he needs most is time - his biggest question marks are rooted in confidence and exposure right now, and throwing him straight into the fire could severely limit his growth into, as the team would hope, a solid two-way role player. I'd expect him to dig into a lot of his game in Delaware where he can adjust to playing real, structured basketball and get the necessary reps in.