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Myles Powell’s whirlwind journey to the NBA

Philadelphia 76ers v Boston Celtics Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

It’s been a crazy couple of weeks in the NBA. As COVID-19 cases soar, several games have been postponed and teams all around the league are depleted as more and more players enter health and safety protocols. Now, in an effort to avoid postponing games and keep the season moving forward, the NBA has increased the amount of replacement players teams can sign to bring in last-minute help.

For players like 6’2” guard Myles Powell, the Sixers’ newest addition, it’s an unexpected opportunity to showcase what they have to offer.

Powell’s scoring is what made him stand out in his four years at Seton Hall. In his final three seasons, once his playing time picked up to over 30 minutes a night, he averaged 19.8 points and established himself as a high-volume shooter, taking 8.3 threes per game and making them at a 35 percent clip. He capped off his final year in college by making the All-Big East First Team for the second time and winning the 2019-20 Big East Player of the Year.

After going undrafted in the 2020 NBA Draft, Powell took his scoring to the G League and signed with the Westchester Knicks. In 13 games in the 2020-21 season, he averaged 17.8 points with a 60.6 true shooting percentage, and again launched threes at an impressive rate — he shot 44.6 percent from deep on 6.4 attempts per game. With ability attacking off the dribble and such confident shooting both off movement and off the bounce, it’s easy to see why his skillset interested the Sixers as they were looking for reinforcements.

Seton Hall v Wofford Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Powell was born in Trenton, New Jersey and went to high school at Trenton Catholic Academy and South Kent School. As someone who grew up as a fan of the Sixers and Allen Iverson, coming straight to Philadelphia makes Powell’s arrival in the NBA even more special.

“Everyone in the locker room made me feel very welcome, starting from Coach down to the last man on the bench,” Powell told reporters after the Sixers’ 108-103 win against the Celtics on Monday. “I felt like I’ve been here. To be from Trenton, be from New Jersey, and for my first NBA game to be with the Philadelphia 76ers, it’s something that I’ll remember for the rest of my life.”

Powell has to adjust quickly now that he’s made the jump from the G League to the NBA. The day after he signed with the Sixers on a two-way contract, he joined the team and played eight minutes against the Celtics. There were a couple of familiar faces to help Powell through the transition — he already knew Danny Green and Tobias Harris as fellow basketball players from the New York area — but he only met head coach Doc Rivers for the first time in TD Garden before the game. There were a lot of quick introductions before Powell’s sudden Sixers debut.

Like so many players joining teams around the league and being thrown into roles, Powell will have to rapidly learn schemes and personnel on the fly. But his connection to the Sixers immediately made his situation a special one, and he made it clear after his first game that he feels at home.

“Like I said, it was a dream come true,” Powell added. “It’s something that I’ll definitely remember for the rest of my life. That’s something that I’ll be able to talk to my kids about. I just watched Joel Embiid go and get 40 and 10. For me to be a rookie in this league and be able to watch that for my first NBA game, it’s something that I’ll never forget.”

Powell’s transition to the NBA was a whirlwind. He’d been dealing with a knee injury for nine months and only just played his first game of the G League season on Dec. 17, which just so happened to be against the Blue Coats.

“Saturday, I traveled to Vegas with the Westchester Knicks,” Powell said as he explained how everything unfolded so quickly. “We had a layover in Dallas. When I got to Dallas, my agent called me — he FaceTimed me. He was looking at me like, ‘I was trying to find a cool way to do this, but tomorrow you will be signing a contract with the 76ers.’ I had an hour and a half flight from Dallas to Vegas, and I cried for maybe the first 45 minutes of the flight. I couldn’t call anybody, I couldn’t talk to anybody. So I found that information out and it was just like, wow. I couldn’t believe it.

“I landed and I stayed the night with the Westchester Knicks. The next morning I woke up, met with the Blue Coats. They had a game at 2 o’clock. Me, Paul [Reed] and Aaron [Henry], we got put in a group chat maybe like an hour before the game, and they said, ‘You guys are getting called up to the Sixers, so pack your things and right after the game, you’re going to be leaving.’ Coach pulled me aside, he asked me if I wanted to play with the guys, and I said, ‘Yes, I’m family now.’

“So I got to play with the Blue Coats for a game and then right after, we flew out and I was here. So that happened within probably the last 72 hours. It’s been a dream come true, though. If I could do it all over again, I would. Like I said, it’s definitely something I’ll be able to tell my family and my kids about.”

The Sixers already needed some offensive help this season. Now that Tyrese Maxey is out with a left quad contusion and Shake Milton is in health and safety protocols, they’re missing two of their main ball-handlers. The Sixers are signing Tyler Johnson to a 10-day hardship contract for more guard depth, but there are minutes available for someone like Powell to compete for right now.

The Sixers’ coaching staff knows what Powell offers as a scorer. Now, they just want him to remain aggressive and be himself.

“It’s hard, but you just told them just to play basketball,” Doc Rivers said after Monday’s game when asked about advising players joining the team with such short notice. “You’ve played basketball all your life, you’ve made it to the NBA, and you’re about to get the most cherished thing in the NBA — and that’s minutes. So go use them, go play. Don’t try to be something else. Be yourself.

“And we know [Powell’s] an aggressive scorer, and he got himself in trouble a couple times. We told him, ‘That’s OK, just be you.’ He couldn’t be anybody else tonight but him, and I thought he handled that well. And I thought defensively, he showed us a little something. He can get into the ball, and that was good to see.”

Joel Embiid has kept his advice to Powell and G League recruitments like Aaron Henry simple as well.

“Just play hard, keep the game easy,” Embiid said after beating the Celtics. “When you come in — and I’m sure they watch, and we played a few games together — you know where the ball’s gotta go. Seth [Curry] has gotta touch the ball, Tobias has gotta touch the ball, Tyrese has gotta touch the ball. So when you come in, it’s all about just playing hard offensively, defensively — especially defensively. You know you’re only coming in for two or three minutes at a time, so you’ve got to play extremely hard, pressure the ball. That doesn’t require anything, really. If you’re a basketball player and you’re put in, you’ve got to play hard. That’s what we’ve all got to do.”

As the Sixers navigate this shorthanded stretch, Powell will have opportunities to get onto the floor. He has a skillset these depleted Sixers could use right now, too. If he can make the most of his chances, however brief they may be, he’ll be able to give his career and the Sixers a boost in the process.