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LibertyBallers Sixers Mailbag Volume 10 - Embiid and Okafor Weight Loss, Nerlens Hands, and more

In Volume 10 of Liberty Ballers Sixers Mailbag, we talk about Joel Embiid and Jahlil Okafor losing weight, Nerlens Noel improving his hands, getting Robert Covington better shots, and more!

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome back to 10 edition of the LibertyBallers Sixers Mailbag. Busy week, with the Sixers first home win of the season (in incredible comeback fashion), followed up by one of the worst performances of the season, with a completely inconsequential trade and a Tony Wroten rumor mixed between them. Fun times.


If the Sixers draft Jahlil Okafor, do you think Coach Brown slims him down to play the 4? Do you think he's capable of that?

I mentioned this the other day. I think you're already seeing a slimmer Jahlil Okafor than what you saw in high school, and I think if you put him in a world class conditioning program day in, day out, for multiple years, it's possible you could see a substantial improvement in his conditioning level. Brett Brown doesn't talk about conditioning, nutrition, and sports science ad nauseam for no reason.

Can it be enough for him to (effectively) defend the power forward spot? I'm not so sure. It's certainly done wonders for guys like Marc Gasol and Kevin Love (although not necessarily as a defender, in Love's case), and I would have never predicted Gasol to become the defender that he has. Can I rely on that happening? Am I banking on him being a plus defender at the 4? Probably not. But I am interested in what a guy like Brown could get out of what is a seemingly eager student.


Q: What do you think of Embiid's shooting ability? Can he shoot 3-pointers?

I think it shows flashes. His form is mechanically solid. He has nice touch. Like virtually all aspects of his game, he's a quick learner. It's not a guarantee, and he's streak right now even in practice, but there are reasons for optimism, and he is able to occasionally hit from three point range in practice.

Three point range? To the point where you actually want him regularly attempting three's in games? That may be a ways away. And, unless he does end up getting paired up with Okafor, perhaps not something you ever truly want to make a staple of his game. If he's paired up with what is now a more conventional stretch 4, the biggest thing I want to see in terms of Embiid's shooting is his free throw shooting becoming really consistent. But I think there's some hope for him becoming at least a reliable enough midrange shooter to help a potential Okafor/Embiid pairing work on the offensive end.


Q: We get 2nd pick and Okafor is gone, do you draft Mudiay and trade MCW? What can MCW fetch us in a trade?

I've mentioned before that Karl Towns is second on my big board, and that's who I would take if Okafor is gone, unless somebody blows me away on an offer for Michael Carter-Williams (which I don't see happening with the way he's playing right now) or, after I get a chance to watch more of Mudiay's play this season, my evaluation of him improves substantially. But right now Towns is my (2nd) guy.


Q: Why the heck aren't we better at alley-oops?! I was really looking forward to that this year.

It is a little bit frustrating at times. I think the combination of some of our guards not being the most accurate of passers, combined with some of our big men not having the best of hands, probably doesn't help. A lack of floor spacing to make hard cuts in the half-court also probably plays a factor. The best opportunities we have right now are in transition.


Q: Do you remember watching Nerlens in college? Was his offensive game this weak or did it look better against weaker/younger competition?

I mean, I write for a scouting website and it was less than 2 years ago that he played. I would hope I remember the guy we had rated as the best prospect for most of the year.

His offensive game has always been weak. He had slightly more success posting up in college due to not being as over-matched from a strength perspective every night, but we expected him to transition to more of a face-up and pick and dive player in the pro's, which he mostly has. But his game was always very raw.

The one area of his offensive game game that I'm most disappointed in has been his hands. Which brings us to our next question.


Q: Nerlens Noel's hands are not good.  Is this a teachable skill in basketball and if so, how?

His hands are not good, which is a situation that the Sixers brass is definitely aware of.

I think one thing that is hopefully in his favor is that his hands aren't really small, which was the bane of some players problems, such as Kwame Brown, which was pointed out by Kyle Neubeck on our latest podcast. So hopefully that gives some hope for the future.

I think it's also something that could be helped by having stronger hands, so hopefully his natural progression in terms of physical development will help limit this problem.

But I also think a large part of it is hand-eye coordination, something that is best improved by doing. I'm sure the Sixers are trying to put him in as many situations as they can where he's catching the ball in traffic. Hopefully with repetition he'll get more comfortable, the game will slow down for him, and it will become second nature. But it's a legitimate concern.

Also, better floor spacing would probably help as well.


Q: I know the cover story for sending Embiid home from the West Coast trip was to get him back on a proper PT schedule, and I buy that to an extent.  But there were several murmurs from the beat writers and then Coach Brown himself about Embiid's "noticeable" weight gain.  I understand the kid can't run and is adjusting to pro life, blah blah blah, but this strikes me as a major issue.

Yao is on record as saying he had to keep his weight down to keep the pressure off of his recurring foot problems, and his career was still derailed.  Embiid said that he gained 50 pounds after he left Kansas and that was in September. Why isn't this a bigger story?

Well, let's keep in mind that Yao's playing weight was 311 pounds. It's this weight, the weight that he's trying to play through the injury on, the weight that he's running on, the weight that he's landing on, that was the major cause of concern for Yao having recurring problems with the Navicular bone.

It needs to be pointed out that Embiid's playing weight is closer to Michael Carter-Williams' current weight than it is to Yao Ming's playing weight. So Yao gaining any weight on top of his 311 pound playing weight was a huge (pun intended) deal.

Right now, Embiid's bone isn't being subjected to real running and jumping while he's carrying this extra weight, so the cause isn't that grave. However, I also think that's one of the reasons Brown is incredibly focused on getting his fitness back in check now, because when he is cleared to start doing more basketball activity, they want the weight to be where it should be.

It's certainly not an optimal situation, but I don't think it's entirely unexpected, nor the end of the world. He hasn't been able to do a whole lot physically. Looking at his body type in college, and even where the weight has been added now, I think he gets back into shape with relative ease.


Q: Let's say the Sixers end up with the #2 overall pick and the 14th overall pick in next years draft.  Using their 2nd round picks, could they possibly move up to #1 from #2 and which of those picks would it cost them?  How far could they possibly move up from #14 by packaging that pick with a second round pick or two?

Moving up to #1 is always impossible to predict until pretty much right before the draft. Especially at the top of the draft, who teams value, and the depth of the draft, drastically alters draft pick value. If the team who has the #1 pick has a need for Jahlil Okafor and think he's, by far, the best prospect, you're not getting that #1 pick from them with the #14 pick and a million 2nd rounders.

Moving up from #14 is more feasible, but I think it's going to take more than a combination of 2nd round picks.


Q: What do you think of the Sixers taking a flyer on former pick Maurice Harkless? He’s still just 21 years old and a former 15th pick, but is in his 3rd year in the league. He’s buried in Orlando, but I think there’s potential there, especially with playing time.

Mo is definitely languishing on the bench a little bit for the Magic, and he has shown some potential. It all depends on what it would take to get him. With the Sixers having to make a decision on him relatively soon, and with the Sixers not really having much in terms of late first round picks, I'm not sure I see a fit. But he does seem like the type of player they would target.


Q: Does it seem like the Sixers run very few plays for Covington? Is this a lack of athleticism on his part to get open?

I think the biggest problem with Covington's usage right now is there just aren't very many shot-creators on the Sixers. That's led to Covington to try to force the issue a bit too much, and he really doesn't have much of an off-the-dribble jumper game.

You can see this in his shot distribution. 75% of his catch-and-shoot opportunities are contested, an astoundingly high percentage for a guy who is mostly a catch and shoot player. By comparison, a guy like Wesley Matthews has 60% of his catch-and-shoot opportunities contested. Even Kyle Korver, with one of the quickest releases in the game and able to get his shot off with almost no space, doesn't have 75% of his catch-and-shoot attempts contested.

When Covington has had uncontested catch-and-shoot opportunities, he's converted them at a rate that would be 3rd best in the league among players who have as many attempts as he does. The skill is there, all we need to do is find a guy who can attract a double team and pass it out to him.


One area that I would like to see improvement in Covington's game though is shooting coming off of a screen. He does this fairly infrequently, and doesn't look all that comfortable when he does. Having an ability to shoot off the move could help him get quality looks at the basket without relying on a great shot-creator to be on the roster.


Q :Do you see any assets sitting on the end of benches that could be attainable for the sixers? I understand how ridiculously difficult of a question this is; however it seems like guys like Nik Stauskus and Tyler Ennis might be attainable for a combo of Kirilenko/Richardson/Sims/2nd rounders/ca space/whatever. We have only had one Hinkie deadline so I am curious to see what happens.

I would be surprised if rookies are going to be moved. It just doesn't happen frequently, especially for former first round picks.

Also, guys like Kirilenko and Richardson have no value, especially with the Sixers not needing to trade them to match contracts.

The question is mostly impossible to answer, as there are so many bench guys. The Sixers will make moves, it's just hard to figure out what.

One interesting name is Nate Wolters, who is reportedly being waived by the Bucks.


Q: I know you’ve been discussing 76ers fans interest in Wiggins over the last few weeks. Out of curiosity, where would you rank him in your latest draft big board? Also, I know you’ve mentioned this before, but do you think it’s plausible for the 76ers to swing a deal for him by giving up their first round pick in 2015.

Given everything I’ve heard Flip Saunders say (and the chaos of that organization), it seems like they aren’t married to him being a long-term cornerstone. Also, as a fan of the 76ers, the idea of having two college teammates as friends seems like too much fun.

Last week I showed where Embiid, Nerlens, and etc would be on my Sixers board. Wiggins I'd slot at #3, behind Okafor and Towns. He's playing exceptionally well for the last two weeks, and having more success than I anticipated. He'd still be #2 on my 2014 big board, behind Embiid, just like he was on draft night last year. But he's playing very well.

That being said, I wouldn't say the Wolves are not committed to him, nor would I assume he's available just because the Wolves are at times dysfunctional. They just invested a lot in Wiggins, and he's showing plenty of signs of life for them to have faith.

Whether I'd trade our #1 pick largely depends on where it ends up landing. I would not trade the #1 or #2 pick for Andrew Wiggins, at least not as of now.

My 2015 Sixers Big Board

Pick Player Position College Class
1 Jahlil Okafor C Duke Freshman
2 Karl Towns C Kentucky Freshman
3 Kristaps Porzingis PF Sevilla
4 Emmanuel Mudiay PG Guangdong
5 Stanley Johnson SF Arizona Freshman
6 Mario Hezonja SG Barcelona
7 Justise Winslow SF Duke Freshman
8 Kelly Oubre SF Kansas Freshman
9 D'Angelo Russell PG/SG Ohio State Freshman
10 Willie Cauley-Stein C Kentucky Junior
11 Myles Turner C Texas Freshman
12 Trey Lyles PF Kentucky Freshman
13 Kevin Looney PF UCLA Freshman
14 Christian Wood PF UNLV Sophomore
15 Caris LeVert SG Michigan Junior

That will wrap it up. Thanks to everybody who submitted questions, and my apologies if I didn't answer yours. If you want to submit a question for next week, either hit me up on twitter (include #sixersmailbag in the tweet) or send me an email.

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