SI Vault
Ian Thomsen
December 23, 2002
Van Hailin'The Nets made Keith Van Horn a goat, but the Sixers sing his praises
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December 23, 2002

The Nba

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Van Hailin'
The Nets made Keith Van Horn a goat, but the Sixers sing his praises

Keith Van Horn helped lead his team to the Finals last season, but instead of getting a pat on the back he got shoved out the door. Though he led the Nets in rebounding (7.5 per game) and ranked second in scoring average (14.8 points), they shipped him to the 76ers in August amid complaints about his leaky defense, streaky shooting and lack of toughness inside. Van Horn still wonders why New Jersey focused on his faults and discounted his contributions. "It was frustrating because you felt like you gave everything to an organization, you sacrificed a lot to get to the championship level," says Van Horn, who was dealt with Todd MacCulloch for Dikembe Mutombo.

Part of the problem, the 6'10" Van Horn believes, was that he never fit into the Nets' Princeton offense. "It was difficult for me to get a smaller defender into the post and take advantage of mismatches," he says.

That's not an issue in Philadelphia, where coach Larry Brown tells Van Horn loudly and frequently to play close to the basket. While Brown admits that he made the trade mainly to give the 76ers more depth and payroll flexibility, he was eager to develop the 27-year-old Van Horn as a post-up scorer who could relieve pressure on Allen Iverson. The Sixers don't call many plays for Van Horn, but he is rewarded with early shots in transition when he races to set up on the block. "And at the end [of the shot clock] there are a lot of plays for me to duck in and get a post up," says Van Horn.

The early results have been promising. At week's end Van Horn was Philly's leading rebounder (8.5 per game) and No. 2 scorer (16.1 points) while shooting 47.2%—all improvements over last season. By establishing himself down low, Van Horn has found it easier to pop out beyond the arc, where through Sunday he was hitting at a career-high 39.1%. He has also earned the respect of Iverson, who, unlike the Nets, appreciates that Van Horn battles on defense and on the boards even when his shots aren't falling.

While the trade improved the 76ers offensively, it left them without a dominant shot blocker for the first time in Brown's six-year tenure. "We don't have any quickness with our big people," he complained last Friday after a 99-91 loss to the Suns dropped Philly to 15-8. But it must have surprised Van Horn that for once he wasn't made the fall guy for a fourth straight defeat. "I'm 99 percent of the problem," said Iverson, who seemed to run out of energy in the fourth quarter. "I'm stinking out the gym. I don't think I should even be getting paid for the way I've been playing the last couple of games."

Asked how he likes the makeup of the team, including Van Horn, Iverson said, "I love it."

Hot Prospect Darko Milicic
7-Footer May Be A Few Days Short

High school sensation LeBron James was spectacular during a nationally televised game last week, but his 31-point performance also raised concerns about the consensus No. 1 pick in 2003. One scout counted at least 10 times that James failed to get back on defense. Added one G.M., "You have to worry that his sense of entitlement is so great after being spoiled by the AAU system, the agents and all the publicity."

There are no such worries about the potential No. 2 pick, Darko Milicic of Yugoslavia, who sleeps on a pullout bed, is warmed by a space heater and earns approximately $20,000 for the small club Hemofarm. A 7-foot lefthander with size-18 feet, Milicic can do it all—score inside and outside, run the floor, pass and block shots. His only shortcoming at the moment? His age.

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