76ers

Sixers Mailbag: Who plays point guard when Markelle Fultz returns?

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NBC Sports Philadelphia

Sixers Mailbag: Who plays point guard when Markelle Fultz returns?

This edition of the Sixers Mailbag prompted so many questions I couldn't fit them all in one article. So stay tuned for more Thursday and thanks to all who participated with #SixersMailbag.

Ben Simmons is the Sixers' starting point guard. As for the bench, T.J. McConnell — once again — has settled into that reliable backup role. His minutes nearly have doubled since Markelle Fultz was ruled out (shoulder). He is averaging 6.8 assists and, notably, only 2.2 turnovers in 27.8 minutes over the past six games. Brett Brown knows what he’s getting out of McConnell and teammates like Simmons have been jelling with him on the court. 

The Sixers drafted Fultz because he can play off the ball, but he’s struggled with his shot because of his injury. The team will wait for his shoulder to get healthy before he returns. If he’s back to “the old” Fultz when he does, he can complement McConnell in the second unit just as the original plan was for him to be paired at the two spot with Simmons in the starting lineup.

This season is all about growth for 20-year-old Furkan Korkmaz. Even though the G League no longer has the word “development” in its name, that’s what Korkmaz is spending time with the Delaware 87ers to do. Having an affiliate so close to Philadelphia provides the Sixers with the opportunity to send players there for short stints. They previously assigned Korkmaz to the 87ers for a practice when they had an off day, a car ride back and forth. 

Or, the Sixers can have him log minutes in a G League game (as they did Tuesday) if they know he wouldn’t get playing time for them. Korkmaz averaged 13.0 points, 6.5 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 1.5 steals (30.4 minutes) in two games while the Sixers were in Salt Lake City. 

Korkmaz came to the NBA to play this season, but he also came here to adjust to the league and progress as a player and he will get more of a chance to do that with the Sevens.

Jerryd Bayless has been the subject of a lot of scrutinies this season, but I don’t agree. Bayless is not going to score 25 points per game. He’s not on the team to be a knockdown shooter like JJ Redick. Bayless’ role is not one of Simmons or Joel Embiid where he is looked to as the main scoring option. And that’s OK. 

The Sixers signed Bayless last summer for a few reasons, experience and backcourt versatility among the top. He brings intangibles to the team, like having a veteran presence alongside Simmons as he got adjusted to the NBA starting lineup or sliding into the second unit as an offensive boost off the bench. Bayless can step in where (point guard or shooting guard) and when needed. 

His performance isn’t tied to the Sixers’ future with Redick. They are two different players with different roles in this system.

Some coworker participation in the mailbag today.

The Celtics, Pistons, Magic, Raptors, Sixers, Knicks, Wizards and Pacers are the top eight teams in the Eastern Conference standings today. Wow. Who thought we’d be saying that? 

The Sixers are only 10 games into the season and it’s too soon at this point to know how other teams will look after the trade deadline and closer to the playoffs. What I do know is the Sixers have jelled a lot quicker than expected. They got through challenging matchups like the Rockets and are rolling on a five-game winning streak in an early-season schedule that initially seemed rocky. Finishing above .500 is not a stretch. 

Before the season started, I predicted the Sixers would finish seventh in the East behind the Cavaliers, Celtics, Raptors, Wizards, Bucks and Hornets. At this point early on, I would bump the Sixers ahead of the Bucks and Hornets. When it comes to making a playoff push, I don’t rule out veteran teams that have been there, done that. That’s why I’m not wrapped up in the Cavaliers' early struggles. I’m also not ready to write off the Wizards after last season’s playoff run. I’d look for them to make moves to enhance their roster. 

The Sixers certainly have the talent to make the playoffs this season. Their postseason expectations have been heightened by their early success.

Thinking ahead to playoff ceilings, that depends on matchups and health. It’s a topic we’ll be revisiting many times, and we'll have a clearer picture once the standings start to take shape later in the season. 

Former Sixers guard named HOF finalist

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USA Today Images

Former Sixers guard named HOF finalist

Former Sixers player and head coach Maurice Cheeks on Saturday was named a finalist for the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

Other candidates include Grant Hill, Steve Nash, Jason Kidd and former Sixer Chris Webber.

Cheeks, a four-time All-Star point guard and member of the 1982-83 championship team, spent 10 seasons with the Sixers before stints with the San Antonio Spurs, New York Knicks, Atlanta Hawks and New Jersey Nets. He averaged 12.2 points, 7.3 assists and 2.3 steals a night in 853 career games. Cheeks ranks in the top-five in NBA history in both assists (7,392) and steals (2,310). He was also voted to the NBA All-Defensive team five times.

Currently an assistant with the Oklahoma City Thunder, Cheeks was the Sixers' head coach from 2005-2008, but was fired after a slow start to the 2008-09 season. He was also the head coach of the Portland Trail Blazers and Detroit Pistons. He has a 305-315 career record and has made the postseason three times in nine seasons.

Sixers show they're ready to take over the world

Sixers show they're ready to take over the world

LOS ANGELES — The Sixers made their mark among the NBA’s top young talent on a global scale.

Joel Embiid (Cameroon), Ben Simmons (Australia) and Dario Saric (Croatia) all started for Team World Friday in the Mtn Dew Kickstart Rising Stars game. They helped kick off All-Star weekend with a 155-124 victory over Team USA. 

Simmons recorded a double-double, which is becoming clockwork for the point guard (22 in the regular season, six triple-doubles). He posted 11 points off a perfect 5 for 5 from the field and 1 for 1 from the line. Simmons added 13 assists, six boards and four steals. 

This game was, in a way, a double statement for Simmons. It was an an opportunity to make a case for Rookie of the Year, with fellow contender Donovan Mitchell competing on Team USA. Mitchell notched seven points (3 for 10 from the field, 1 for 6 from three), seven assists, two rebounds, five steals and two blocks.

The Rising Stars contest also was a chance for Simmons to start an early bid for the 2019 All-Star team. He was popular among the fan votes but was not selected as one of four replacements required because of injuries. 

Simmons projects he will be playing in the All-Star Game “hopefully next year.” When it came down to why he was not on this season’s list, Simmons replied, “I think just votes.” 

Saric continued his offensive momentum with 18 points, including 4 for 7 shooting from three. He has scored in double digits in his last 35 games leading into the All-Star break. Saric also grabbed three rebounds and dished five assists. 

“I’ve always got the wish or dream in my life one day to be part of something big like this, even if it’s the Rising Stars game,” Saric said of participating in All-Star weekend. “I think it makes my family proud, my friends from my hometown, or all the people who were around me during my [growth as] a basketball player.”

Embiid logged the least playing time of the Sixers’ trio as he prepares to compete in the Taco Bell Skills Challenge Saturday and start in the All-Star Game Sunday. He missed the Sixers’ last game on Wednesday because of right ankle soreness. Embiid scored five points and two rebounds in less than nine minutes. 

“On Sunday, I expect to go harder,” Embiid said (see story). “I’m going for that MVP. Guys better make sure they find me because I’m looking to have a good game.”

Not listed on the box score: Embiid and Simmons going 2 for 2 as roving reporters. Check out their journalistic skills when they got the mic Friday to interview each other (see video).