On the Beat: Long Showed Promise When Called Upon
PHILADELPHIA - Shawn Long adopted a productive summer league mindset, one that he succinctly captured with a quote following the 76ers’ July 13th win over the NBA Development League Select Team.
“I think I made the best of the opportunity,” he said of the game, after going eight for nine from the field and two for two from the free throw to finish with 21 points in just 16 and a half minutes.
The mantra not only served Long well that night, but for the entirety of the time he spent with the Sixers earlier this month. The burly 6’9” tall, 245 pound Louisiana-Lafayette graduate was used off the bench in all but one of his eight appearances; however, he emerged as a steady, dependable option when called upon.
“Just opportunity,” said Lloyd Pierce, the Sixers’ lead coach in Las Vegas, when asked about the decisive factor in Long’s output versus the NBADL Select squad. “He’s been the odd man out, got his opportunity, and responded with a great performance.”
Indeed, Long had been slotted behind rising second-year big men Richaun Holmes and Christian Wood, before Wood inked a deal with Charlotte, in the Sixers’ summer frontcourt rotation. Towards the end of the Sixers’ stay in Las Vegas, though, Long’s role increased. He averaged roughly 19 minutes over his final three outings, after logging nine minutes per tilt his first five games.
“If his coach weren’t screwing him,” Pierce joked in Las Vegas, “then he’d have an opportunity to play a lot more."
“The coaching staff, they know what I can do,” Long said. “They’ve just been helping me develop as a player. They’re some things I need to work on, but they also know the things I’m good at.”
As for the encouraging signs that Long showed, his offense, like it was on July 13th, proved efficient. From start to finish, between Salt Lake City and Las Vegas, he averaged 9.1 points in 13.0 minutes per game. Of further intrigue was that Long connected on seven of 13 total three-point attempts. Against the NBA D-League Select Team, he was a perfect three-for-three from the perimeter.
“I can shoot the ball. I’d like to think I can shoot the ball, anyway,” said Long smiling. He was a 34.1 three-point shooter in college.
“It’s just something I’m going to continue to work on. It’s one of my strong points, and hopefully it gets stronger.”
Long also contributed on the defensive end. He accounted for 3.5 rebounds per game, which, on a per 36 minute basis, translated to 9.7 boards. The Morgan City, Louisiana native turned aside 10 shots in summer league play as well.
The Sixers quickly bought into Long’s potential, signing the undrafted rookie to a free agent contract on July 8th.
“Plays hard, he’s shown his athleticism, his toughness, has knocked down some shots, finishes around the basket, it’s encouraging,” Pierce said. “We know we’ve got him coming into camp. It’s encouragement from there, what we’ve seen in the summer, knowing that he’s going to come in competing like the rest of the guys for roster spots.”
Upon reviewing the resume that Long compiled at Louisiana-Lafayette, there should, perhaps, be little surprise that he was able to hold his own amidst his first venture into professional hoops. The 23-year old was tabbed the 2016 Sun Belt Player of the Year, and concluded his NCAA career as the conference’s all-time leader in minutes played and total rebounds. Long ranks second in Sun Belt history in points and blocks.
“Just a blessing, a humbling experience,” said Long about landing with the Sixers. “I’m very thankful for the opportunity the Sixers have gave me. I’m going to continue to build, work with the coaching staff, and make the best of it.”
An approach that, so far, has worked in Long’s favor.