Game Preview | Poythress Makes Encouraging First Impression

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Sizing Up the Sixers (28-49):

First came the proverbial handshake, then the no-doubt-about-it shaking of the rim.

In the most simplified of terms, that was how Alex Poythress’ introduction to the 76ers, and the NBA, for that matter, went Sunday in Toronto.

“He will do pretty much what every player we’ve ever brought in 24 hours before you play a game,” Brett Brown said during his pre-game media availability Sunday, “in that you shake his hand, you introduce yourself, and then you put him immediately into a game. We’ve done that an abundance of time and he’ll be no different.”

Poythress’ production, however, and the swiftness with which he made his presence felt against the Raptors were both noteworthy.

Logging 24 minutes off the bench, he tallied 11 points on 4 of 8 shooting, with all but one of his misses coming from 3-point range. Poythress also went 3 for 3 from the free throw line, hauled in three rebounds, handed out an assist, and blocked a shot.

“I loved him,” said Brown, when asked afterwards to evaluate Poythress’ efforts.

The Sixers made the signing of the 6-foot-7, 240-pound forward official Sunday morning, a transaction that became possible only after the NBA granted the team a medical hardship on the heels of Robert Covington and Jahlil Okafor being ruled out for the rest of the season.

Poythress was informed of the Sixers’ interest in him Saturday, while taking part in a shootaround practice with the Fort Wayne Mad Ants of the NBA Development League. Just like that, he was removed from the workout, packed up some belongings (his suitcase was lost in transit to Toronto), and headed north to join his new club.

Prior to tip-off at Air Canada Centre, the 23-year old Kentucky product expressed confidence that he’d be ready for his big opportunity.

“I went over the plays, I went over a couple of the sets and defensive principles,” Poythress said, referring to the Sixers crash course he received. “I just hopefully get an opportunity out there, and just trying to show what I can do.”

Given the state of the Sixers roster, he not only was given a chance to play, he delivered in impressive fashion.

Throughout the evening, Poythress, who was a full-time starter on a Fort Wayne squad headed to the playoffs, seemed to show no signs of being awestruck in his NBA debut. Furthermore, for a player of his size and build, the Tennessee native appeared to have a fluidity to his game in respect to his shot, and his movements with and without the basketball. He projected a confidence and comfort that were hard to miss.

Most of all, Brown was encouraged that the four-year college man competed with toughness, and a bounce, too. Along with 3-point shooting, these three areas represent the “cornerstone” qualities Brown wants to see in players added to the Sixers’ roster. His ultimate goal is to build a team defined by defense, pace, and space.

Brown said Sunday, “Defense, space, and pace is sort of the blueprint to how we want to grow our program, and so you’re always making judgments on overlaying those three tenants to does that player fit? They don’t have to fit all three boxes, but you better go two for three. And if you can go two for three, then you may have a place to hold in our roster.

Sure enough, in Brown’s eyes, Poythress’ profile met two of those key requirements.

“He’s known to be a flyer,” said Brown. “He’s known to have toughness. I think that if he can tick a defensive [and] pace box, and go two for three, let’s see it, and let’s see that elite quality that we hope to grow if we see a foundation in him.”

In his 112-game NCAA career, Poythress generated steady stats. He had two double-digit scoring seasons at Kentucky, as a freshman and senior. Those were also the two years during which he averaged a personal-best 6.0 rebounds per game.

With Fort Wayne, however, Poythress experienced a noticeable spike in scoring. Playing just over 31 minutes per game, he cranked out 18.5 points, while shooting 52.8 percent from the field. Poythress converted 31 of 77 3-point tries (40.3%) as well, and was named an NBADL All-Star this winter.

“It expanded my game,” Poythress said Sunday of his time on the NBA Development League circuit. “I really started shooting the ball well, being more aggressive out there, just the confidence and everything just helped me a lot.”

Over the course of the season, Poythress maintained faith that if he grinded along, and worked relentlessly, the chance to latch on with an NBA organization ultimately would come. Sure enough, it has.

With one outing now under his belt, and five to go in the regular season, Poythress, who attended one of the Sixers’ pre-draft workouts last May, plans to focus on “rebounding, bringing energy, [and] playing defense” from here on out.”

“Just doing everything,” he said. “Just trying to be a spark out there.”

If Sunday offered any indication, Poythress looked capable of having that type of effect.

Sizing Up the Nets (18-59):

In their first season under head coach Kenny Atkinson, Brooklyn could be destined for a second straight 60-loss campaign. Never before in the franchise’s half century of existence has it experienced that many losses in consecutive years.

The Nets, however, have shown signs of progress in recent weeks, playing .500 basketball over their last 12 games. They’ll take the floor Tuesday on the heels of sweeping a two-game homestand against the Orlando Magic, and Atlanta Hawks.

Set to close out the season with four of their final five tilts on the road, Brooklyn has had success in certain areas. As of Tuesday morning, the Nets ranked first in the NBA in pace (103.5 possessions per game), second in drive points per game (23.2), second in bench scoring (45.5 points per game), and fifth in 3-pointers made (829).

Series History:

The Sixers, which edged Brooklyn 106-101 at Barclays Center last week, are bidding for their first season sweep of the Nets since the 2010-2011 campaign.

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