The 76ers had five draft prospects in their gym yesterday, and they all could shoot.
"Good to see, isn't it?" asked director of player personnel Courtney Witte, smiling.
This time the coaching and personnel staff were evaluating Temple's Dionte Christmas, UCLA's Darren Collison, North Carolina's Wayne Ellington, Miami's Jack McClinton and LSU's Marcus Thornton.
"It's obvious the players we've had in can shoot the ball," Witte said. "Some are twos, some are ones, some are combos. In two workouts, we've had all players who have been able to shoot."
It's just as obvious that the Sixers, holding the No. 17 pick in the first round of the June 25 draft, intend to stick to their policy of taking the player they view as the best remaining on the board. That said, given the volume of guards in the pool, that player is very likely to be someone with strong perimeter skills.
How, though, does it happen that an NBA franchise could be so desperate for one of the basic skills of the game? The Sixers, you might have noticed, finished dead last in the league in three-point shooting. Granted, they just added Jason Kapono from Toronto in a trade for power forward Reggie Evans, but one clearly is not enough. And the hope of significantly improving from within was far from sufficient.
"The players we have are good shooters, just not necessarily great long-range shooters," Witte said. "Some should be better than what they are.
"We're just looking at the 17th pick, trying to get the best basketball player. It so happens this year there are a lot of guards in the draft, a lot of guards worth drafting. We're looking for the best player and, hopefully, the best player is going to be a good shooter."
Witness yesterday's group:
Christmas: He is the first player to lead the Atlantic 10 Conference in scoring in three seasons, and is just the fourth Temple player to surpass 2,000 career points (2,043). He set Owls records with 319 career three-pointers and 107 as a senior.
This was the 13th workout for Christmas, who also is scheduled for an appearance today before multiple teams in New Jersey.
"He will not go undrafted," Witte said.
Christmas said his skills include moving without the ball and using screens.
"Some coaches tell me not a lot of guys know how to do that in the NBA," he said.
He came to the Sixers yesterday after having shown his wares to New York in a group that included projected top 10 guards Stephen Curry and Gerald Henderson.
"I think I competed real well with those guys," he said. "Those are some of the guys [who are] supposed to go [in the] lottery. I think I held my own there."
Ellington: Like Duke's Henderson, he is from Episcopal Academy, climbing to the pinnacle of the college game with NCAA champion North Carolina as the Most Outstanding Player in the Final Four.
"I've been trying to show people things they really don't know about me," he said.
What he already has shown is a 46.3 shooting percentage in three college seasons, including a career-best 48.3 as a junior. He drained 229 threes, the most by a Tar Heel in three seasons.
"I think I'll be able to come in and contribute . . . spread the floor, shoot the basketball, create some space for guys . . . Playing at such a high level at [North Carolina], I think it's going to be an easy transition for me. I played with a lot of talented guys who are also going to be pros. I think it'll be an easier transition for me than it will be for a lot of guys."
Collison: He's the winner of the Naismith Award for the best college player 6-foot and under. Of yesterday's candidates, he was the one true point guard, known for his ability to change directions, penetrate, distribute and make good decisions. He also shot an impressive 89.7 percent from the foul line as a senior.
McClinton: He spent a season at Siena, then set an Atlantic Coast Conference record at Miami, shooting 44 percent over three seasons from three-point range. He also shot an outstanding 90 percent from the foul line.
Thornton: A community-college transfer, he scored 1,347 points in two seasons at LSU, becoming the Southeastern Conference Player of the Year as a senior.
With all of those statistics, Witte said the Sixers' staff takes into account the possibility of pulled muscles and weary travelers during the workouts.
"I don't get overly excited or disappointed in these 1-hour workouts," he said.
He just keeps looking for the best players, and it certainly helps if they can shoot.
A source indicated the Sixers' Sunday session could include Virginia Commonwealth's Eric Maynor and Wake Forest's Jeff Teague . . . Darren Collison, Dionte Christmas and Wayne Ellington are among the players scheduled to work out this weekend in New Jersey. Saint Joseph's Ahmad Nivins is scheduled for a session there tomorrow . . . North Carolina State's Brandon Costner, the son of former Saint Joseph's star Tony Costner, is scheduled to audition today for the Charlotte Bobcats, along with Villanova's Dante Cunningham. *
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