AS WE'VE ALL become accustomed to when talking about the 76ers over the past four seasons, measuring success goes way deeper than wins. The hope is that this process comes to fruition sometime in the near future. Gazing into the future has been a common practice for fans for quite some time. And, with injuries this season to Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid and Jerryd Bayless, and the trades of Nerlens Noel and Ersan Ilyasova, that practice has continued.
Those benefiting from the absences, however, have shed some positive light into the future of the program, as a few players have really proved their worth while getting more minutes than imagined. Perhaps no one has profited more than Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot.
At the beginning of the season, coach Brett Brown loved the swagger of Luwawu-Cabarrot, the swingman from France taken with the 24th overall pick last June. Luwawu-Cabarrot possessed the gunslinging style that Brown thinks is the way his team needs to play. Right from the beginning of training camp, TLC showed little hesitation when it came to attempting open jump shots, or creating his own. He played a gutsy, physical style of defense and showed an athleticism that even surprised the coach a bit.
Back then, the open shots didn't fall much. Forays to the basket usually wound up awkwardly, either with his shot being blocked, him missing badly or running over a stationary defender.
Confidence, however, does different things to a player on the court. The drives to the basket become more successful, either with makes or visits to the foul line. Jump shots, so hurried at the beginning of the season when defenses seem faster than expected, become fluid and seemingly effortless.
Luwawu-Cabarrot isn't all the way there yet, but he has turned his game into something that could be very complementary next season. He uses his athleticism very well on both ends of the court, and for a team that is always going to be in need of perimeter defense, that is a huge asset. His floor vision has improved to the point where he is a legitimate triple threat when the ball is in his hands. He hasn't even really had the chance to play with Embiid yet, which could be so helpful in opening lanes and giving more time for jumpers. He was someone I penned would be playing for the Delaware 87ers next season, but his added playing time has changed my mind. TLC has room for improvement, but there is also room for him in the rotation next season, no matter the additions made to the roster in the offseason.
"I feel the thing that I was most attracted to was his competitiveness and athleticism," Brown said. "He really was more of a track star than basketball player when we had him early. Lately, he's used his competitiveness and track-star qualities and become a far more polished basketball player. When you watch him catch and shoot, it has a real good chance of going in. His ability to create straight-line drives by himself is elite. He can get to the rim by himself. In a halfcourt game, that stands out. He can run, he's a flier. We all knew that. But the halfcourt part of making threes, doing something with the motion we're running and finding a gap in the lane, he's gotten better.
"When he hears me talk for a year about the defensive stuff, that's where he really is going to separate himself. There is a comfort level with me and it lets him play with more freedom. It's just a hybrid of all those things. That's where he is now."
Luwawu-Cabarrot has gained enough confidence from his coach that he has gotten the starting nod in each of the past two games, logging a career-high 33 minutes in Saturday's loss to the Clippers and posting a career-high 18 points in Sunday's win over the Lakers. Quite impressive when you consider the first half of his season was littered with DNPs and very limited and scattered minutes. A season in which he was expected to play mostly in the D-League has been quite profitable for TLC with the big club.
"It's very rare for a late draft pick to get on an NBA court, no matter what team he's with. With us, 'cause we've been so injured and at the stage we're at, it has provided daylight where I can keep him in a game, I can give him minutes. The best thing about Timothe is that he never died on the vine, always kept alive by practicing and playing hard. That gives me the desire to test-drive him. His progression has presented him an opportunity of minutes and he has taken it and run with it. We're very pleased how much his game has improved."