CAMDEN – Amidst the abundance of youth and inexperience that comes to characterize the core of a summer league team, having a few relatively seasoned players in the fold never hurts.
For the 76ers, several players invited to this week’s mini-camp, which continued Friday, fit this profile, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot chief among them. While he might not be the oldest person in attendance, the 22-year old Frenchman does boast the most career NBA games played, with 69.
Less than three months removed from his final outing as a rookie, Luwawu-Cabarrot is now being asked to assume a leadership role for the youthful Summer Sixers. He wouldn’t go as far as to label himself a “veteran,” but he realizes he’ll likely be leaned on as an elder statesman of sorts these next three weeks.
“I have the experience of one year behind me,” Luwawu-Cabarrot said Thursday, when the Sixers gathered for their first summer league practice. “I just have to talk to the guys, and just make sure they understand everything.”
Currently in a setting in which his NBA repetitions far exceed those of the Sixers’ other mini-camp participants, Luwawu-Cabarrot feels comfortable and natural carrying a leadership mantle. At the same time, the charge is somewhat unfamiliar.
Before latching on with the Sixers last year, the swingman competed professionally in Europe, doing so almost exclusively in his home country of France, until joining Mega Leks of the Adriatic League in 2015-2016. Each stop along his journey, Luwawu-Cabarrot’s been one of the greener members of his clubs.
“I started playing professional when I was 16, so I was kind of the young guy on the team,” he said. “I had to listen to the leader of the team, just to learn about them. I’m just trying to do the same right now.”
These days, wherever Luwawu-Cabarrot goes on the court, a cheery, upbeat disposition usually follows. But as quick as the 24th pick of the 2016 draft is to flash a smile or wry grin, he also has a serious side. This purposeful approach seems to be tied directly to the example Luwawu-Cabarrot wants to set for the Sixers’ mini-campers, in hopes of getting them “right.”
“Like make sure they know the plays, they always focus, and they just don’t get their mind somewhere else,” he said.
Luwawu-Cabarrot’s act at the moment is one requiring balance. As much as he’d like to have a positive influence on the players the Sixers have brought to Camden this week, he’s very much aware that summer league represents a crucial period for his own development, too.
The Sixers certainly didn’t need to twist Luwawu-Cabarrot’s arm about returning to Salt Lake City and Las Vegas this month. He wanted to go, eager to play in a free environment that will allow him to work on his game.
“I can tell you what he needs to do to become a better basketball player, and that is just continue to hunt 3-point shots, and be able to knock them down,” said Billy Lange, the Sixers’ assistant who will coach the team in the Utah Jazz Summer League. “That’s really the game of any sort of wing position in the NBA. What he does really well, that I think everyone say last year, is he moves without the ball great – he’s a really good floor-runner, he’s really good at just cutting and moving without the basketball to half court.”
The necessity for the Sixers to have a player cut from this cloth becomes that much more important when accounting for Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, and the potential spacing the Sixers could gain from having the two blue-chip prospects on the court.
“If we can develop a 3-point shot a little bit better, Timmy will play a lot,” said Lange.
Luwawu-Cabarrot’s stats from last year were solid – 6.4 points, 2.2 rebounds, 1.1 assists in 17.2 minutes per game. He shot 40.2 percent from the field, and hit 50 3-pointers.
The chart below, however, reinforces one of Lange’s points. In respect to Luwawu-Cabarrot’s perimeter efficiency, there’s room for improvement. He knows opportunities were available, and noticed his stroke getting better as the season moved along.
“I’m the kind of guy who doesn’t need the ball to get open shots,” Luwawu-Cabarrot said. “Just have to move, and get to the right spot at the right time, and get some open looks.”
Before injuries thrust Luwawu-Cabarrot into the Sixers’ starting line-up for the team’s final 19 games, he put in plenty of extra time to fine-tune his skills. The coaching staff loves his motor, and the effort paid off. He pumped out 12.9 points per game over the final month of the year.
The encouraging finish only strengthened Luwawu-Cabarrot’s sense of self-belief.
“My understanding of basketball here is better,” Luwawu-Cabarrot said Friday, when asked about his growth. “My shape, maybe, is better, my confidence is higher. My body feels good, my shooting is better, my passing ability is better, everything is better. I have the experience of one year behind me, so I’m good.”
And seemingly in a good place to help take the leadership reigns in a summer league context.
• Billy Lange thought that Markelle Fultz, this year’s No. 1 pick, looked more settled during Day 2 of the team’s mini-camp.
“He’s got so much ability, his shake-and-bake game is very old school, so as he’s understanding nomenclature and positioning, we can then go out and do things that are just natural for him,” Lange said. “His ability to drive and absorb contact, change direction in a split-second and you can see some of that today and see more as he gets comfortable.”
Fultz felt he had a “great” practice Friday. He said he measures his progress by trying to eliminate the mistakes he made the day before.
“As long as I feel I put my best foot forward, I’m happy with myself,” Fultz said, “but my biggest thing is just trying to learn. I’m asking the coaches questions, just trying to figure out everything.”