76ers

Brett Brown: Jahlil Okafor 'not in the rotation'

Brett Brown: Jahlil Okafor 'not in the rotation'

CAMDEN, N.J. — It’s almost Halloween, and like a ghost, Jahlil Okafor has been invisible through the Sixers' first five games.

And don’t expect that to change anytime soon.

After practice Friday, head coach Brett Brown admitted that the former No. 3 pick is “not in the rotation.”

“I’m playing Amir (Johnson) ahead of him and that’s just the situation,” Brown said. “[Okafor] doesn’t let people know. He comes in and his head’s good and his spirit’s good. And he and I talk all the time, but that is the bottom line. He is not in the rotation.”

Okafor — who was not made available to the media Friday — has appeared in just one game this season, the second game of a back-to-back when Joel Embiid was unavailable. Okafor played 22 minutes, contributing 10 points on 4 for 7 shooting, nine rebounds and two blocks — an encouraging sign — in the Sixers’ lopsided loss to the Raptors. 

Not bad. So what’s the deal?

Right now — and for well into the foreseeable future — Johnson is the go-to guy when Embiid is on the bench. 

“I think it’s going to be Amir’s spot to lose,” Brown said. “If I see that there’s a decline in performance, then it’s going to be his spot right now to lose. It’s always competitive, but the competitive nature has shifted toward Amir’s performance." 

The Sixers have to make a decision by Oct. 31 whether or not to pick up Okafor's fourth-year option of $6.3 million for next season. According to ESPN's Chris Haynes, the Sixers are still trying to trade Okafor and their decision with his option is based on how those talks develop. 

Johnson hasn’t exactly been lights-out when filling in for Embiid. Johnson, who signed a one-year, $11 million deal with the Sixers in July, has appeared in all five games but is averaging just 3.6 points and 5.0 rebounds per game on 30 percent from the field. 

With Johnson struggling and trade-bait Okafor toiling away on the bench, why not give the newly slimmed down Okafor a look? He can’t be much worse than Johnson, and if the Sixers are willing to trade Okafor — as they have made very apparent in the past — they’ll need to showcase him to garner any interest in the third-year pro. 

But that doesn’t seem to be in the cards for Brown and Co. In fact, Dario Saric seems to even be ahead of Okafor right now (see mailbag). The Sixers have used Saric sparingly at times this season in the five-spot when Embiid or Johnson get into foul trouble. With Ben Simmons a giant at point guard, it’s like a twisted version of small ball. 

Saric has struggled with the adjustment, and he failed to score for the first time in his career in Wednesday’s loss to the Rockets. Saric seemed outmatched physically and was a liability on defense, as James Harden drove to the basket with ease. Brown took the blame for that one but seems committed to giving Saric a try down low. 

“Like the other night (vs. Houston) was such an outlier, where there was so much switching,” Brown said. ... “At times that doesn’t favor him with some of those guys, (Eric) Gordon and Harden, driving Dario Saric is not, really at times, wise for me to put him in that position.

“I think at times (Dario)’s also trying to juggle the four-spot and the intellect now of the five, when we get in foul trouble and other circumstances. I like playing him at some five because he can pull people out. The knowledge base of what that means from a structural standpoint and a play-call standpoint, it’s a different position and sometimes I think that that weighs on his mind too much, where he’s not playing as free.”

Johnson and Saric don't seem like a reliable duo to back up Embiid — especially with the limited minutes and games Embiid typically plays. But help is on the way.

Richuan Holmes, dealing with a fractured wrist, is inching back and has been cleared to practice on a limited basis. He will be reevaluated next Thursday.

“I think we’re gonna have another conversation soon, here comes Richaun — and here we go again," Brown said. "And that’s a good thing. It’s pro sports and it’s my job to figure it out.”

With all of the uncertainty surrounding the Sixers’ big men, one thing is clear: So long as Embiid is playing (fingers crossed), we won’t be seeing Okafor anytime soon as Brown looks to solidify his rotation as the season gets underway.

“But all coaches seek a level of consistency with rotation, you don’t want to get into a juggling act,” Brown said. “You want to get into some type of symmetry with who you’re playing and how you’re playing them, and have some type of semblance of order in what they can expect from a rotation standpoint."

Markelle Fultz progressing, but not ready to return to Sixers yet

Markelle Fultz progressing, but not ready to return to Sixers yet

Updated: 2:45 p.m.

CAMDEN, N.J. -- Markelle Fultz isn't cleared to play just yet.

The Sixers rookie was reevaluated Sunday for right shoulder soreness and scapular muscle imbalance and will be reevaluated again in approximately 2-3 weeks, the team announced. 

His return date will be based on how he handles training and practices. An examination by Dr. Ben Kibler, Medical Director of the Shoulder Center of Kentucky at the Lexington Clinic, showed Fultz's soreness and muscle balance is improving. Fultz met with Kibler on Oct. 29 and has seen multiple shoulder specialists. 

The rehab plan is for Fultz to continue with physiotherapy treatment.

"Just the fact we expect to get back into full basketball activity soon," Brett Brown said after practice Sunday, "I don't know the exact timeframe of that, but the news is good in relation to the improvement of his shoulder, enough for us to put out a press release saying what I just said and look forward to bringing him into the team and playing basketball again."

The No. 1 pick in the 2017 NBA draft has appeared in only four games this season, averaging 6.0 points, 2.3 rebounds and 1.8 assists off the bench. He has been battling the shoulder discomfort since training camp, and his shot was visibly affected by it.

Fultz has been traveling with the Sixers. He is staying engaged with the team during his own pregame warmups, assisting with rebounding after practices and staying incorporated with teammates off the court. 

Bayless to return
The Sixers anticipate getting one player back from injury Monday.

Brown expects Jerryd Bayless (left wrist) will play against the Jazz. Bayless went through practice Sunday. Brown looks forward to having Bayless' veteran experience, playmaking, and on-ball defense back in the mix. Bayless has missed the last six games and doesn't plan to have any minute restrictions on his return. 

"It's feeling OK," Bayless said of his wrist. "It's feeling like it's ready to go. I'm excited to play and be back out there." 

Justin Anderson (left leg) and Nik Stauskas (right ankle) remain sidelined. As a result of all the injuries, guards T.J. McConnell and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot have seen a bump in minutes. 

Young Sixers learn crucial lessons from 2 losses to NBA elite Warriors

Young Sixers learn crucial lessons from 2 losses to NBA elite Warriors

BOX SCORE

The Sixers received a crash course in top-caliber NBA basketball from the Warriors with two games in eight nights against the defending champions. 

Both were winnable games for the Sixers in the first half. Both were blown open by the Warriors in the third quarter. Both resulted in a Sixers loss.

This time, it was a 124-116 loss Saturday night at the Wells Fargo Center (see observations).

Instead of taking silver linings and pats on the back, the Sixers are absorbing lessons, tried-and-true experience-based lessons from competing against the best in the league and watching it slip away. 

“They didn’t flip a switch,” Joel Embiid said Saturday. “We were just bad in the third quarter. But you’ve got to give them a lot of credit. They were aggressive and they were physical with us, especially in the second half. They did what they had to do, and they got a win.”

Protect the third quarter
On Saturday, the Sixers scored a scorching 47 points in the first quarter and led the Warriors 74-52 at halftime. That edge far surpassed their one-point deficit in last weekend’s game and put them on a commanding path at home.

The Warriors quickly dashed any hopes of an upset by outscoring the Sixers, 47-15, in the third. Steph Curry scored 20 of those points. That quarter set the tone for a Warriors' comeback win. Similarly, the Warriors outscored the Sixers by 15 points in the third during their 135-114 victory on Nov. 11.

“After coming out of halftime, we knew what we were getting into,” Embiid said. “We knew that the first game, we knew that tonight, that needed to stay locked in. We didn’t do a good job the first time and then the second time we definitely didn’t do a good job.”

Play aggressive and smart at same time
The Sixers committed seven of their 12 turnovers in the third, which led to 14 of the Warriors’ 47 points. Ben Simmons echoed Embiid’s opinion of needing to be more focused. The rookie point guard also noted the Sixers should have been better with defensive assignments and played more aggressively. The Sixers shot 1 for 7 from long-range and didn’t get to the foul line once in the third.

Simmons only attempted one field goal in the quarter. Brett Brown noted he played Simmons the entire second quarter and the first eight minutes in the third. The combination of a shorthanded eight-man rotation and the effects of coming off a West Coast road trip factored in. 

The Warriors, meanwhile, stayed cool and collected in the face of a 22-point halftime deficit. They bounced back to shoot 62.2 percent from the field in the second half. The Sixers noticed the Warriors’ unwavering self-assurance even as they fell further and further behind in the first half.

“There’s a confidence that they have in what they do and who they are that over the course of a full game," JJ Redick said, "if they play the right way, they’re going to have a chance to win."

Breaking the double team
The Warriors stifled Embiid in their first matchup (12 points). After watching his 46-point performance against the Lakers, which head coach Steve Kerr deemed “terrifying,” the Warriors knew they had to be extra cognizant of the big man, especially on his home court.

They once again swarmed Embiid with a double team, a defensive look he’s still adjusting to. Embiid felt the pressure. He committed three turnovers in the game-changing third quarter (five on the night). 

“I’m more impressed by what they do defensively,” Embiid said. “Especially for me, they really had me guessing. They double-teamed me the whole night, from the top, from the baseline, from the post fader. They really had me guessing.”

Remember what caused the loss
The Sixers had chances to hand the Warriors a loss, both at home and on the road. When they plan for the rest of the season, the months and months ahead, they can point to what they did right and just as importantly what went wrong in competing against a team as dangerous as the Warriors. 

"We feel good about how we played for large majorities of the game and then you just blink and you get hit in the mouth," Brown said. "The repetition of playing the NBA champs and feeling like you're there and then all of a sudden to zoom in and say why aren't we? Why weren't we? Where did the game change? And understand that better and try to fix it, try to arrest it. That's the benefit to playing them in close proximity."