What to watch from trio of Sixers at All-Star weekend

What to watch from trio of Sixers at All-Star weekend

LOS ANGELES — The Sixers have not one, not two, but three players representing the team in Los Angeles during the 2018 All-Star weekend.

Joel Embiid, Dario Saric and Ben Simmons will be teammates in the Mtn Dew Kickstart Rising Stars game before Embiid moves on to the Skills Challenge and All-Star Game.

Each player likely will have different takeaways from the action-packed weekend. 

Simmons making his mark
Simmons had been the front-runner for Rookie of the Year until the Jazz's Donovan Mitchell joined the conversation (see story). The two will compete on opposing teams Friday in the Rising Stars game, Simmons on the World Team (Australia) and Mitchell on the U.S. Team.

Simmons has more to show than just a matchup between first- and second-year players. He had been considered a candidate for replacement spots in the All-Star Game. Andre Drummond, Goran Dragic and Kemba Walker were selected instead.

Simmons is averaging 16.4 points, 7.8 rebounds, 7.3 assists and 1.9 steals in 34.9 minutes. He ranks third in the NBA with six triple-doubles, behind only Russell Westbrook and LeBron James. 

Embiid playing student to All-Star vets
Embiid wants to take in as much as he can being around his fellow All-Stars this weekend. On his curriculum: observing tools of professionalism as he strives to be a leader at only 23 years old.

"I still don’t know how to be a professional," Embiid said last month. "I want to go out there, hang around them, learn from them, learn their ways, get back and help my team.”

That will include learning a bit from Team Stephen mate Draymond Green. 

"Hopefully, I’m going to learn a little bit from him about trash talk because he’s one of the best," Embiid said. 

Embiid was selected to the Rising Stars game, Skills Challenge and as a starter for the All-Star Game. His status for all three events is to be determined after he missed Wednesday's game because of right ankle soreness.

Saric showcasing international pride
Saric traveled from Philadelphia to Los Angeles to show fans watching from around the world what Croatian basketball looks like in the NBA. He will play for the World Team for the second year in a row. 

“To represent the world, to represent my country, to have a flag of my country on my jersey, for me it means a lot,” Saric said when he was selected. “Maybe I cannot bring tourists to visit Croatia, but in some way, I can represent my small, beautiful country.”

Saric has scored in double digits in his last 35 straight games. He averaged 19.4 points and 6.6 rebounds in the Sixers' sweep of their five-game homestand heading into the All-Star break. 

In last year's Rising Stars game, Saric had 17 points on 7 of 10 shooting with five rebounds and four assists in the World Team's 150-141 win.

Sixers crush Grizzlies for 40th win of season

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Sixers crush Grizzlies for 40th win of season


The Sixers turned up the heat against the Grizzlies on a snowy Wednesday night to win, 119-105, and improve to 40-30. 

The Sixers built a 30-point lead by the end of the third quarter, allowing the starters to rest in the fourth. Brett Brown cleared the bench, including both two-way contract players: James Young and Demetrius Jackson. 

This extra time off comes at the perfect moment for the Sixers, who will travel to Orlando for a back-to-back Thursday. Brown has been trying to find ways to give the high-minute players, especially Joel Embiid, a break amid the packed game schedule. 

• Talk about a balanced effort. The Sixers got nearly identical offensive contributions from Robert Covington, Dario Saric, JJ Redick, Marco Belinelli (15 points each), Embiid (14 points) and Ben Simmons (13 points). 

• Inconsistently-utilized players like Richaun Holmes and Justin Anderson are hungry to play and exhibit that on the floor with high energy. Holmes threw down dunks, causing the bench to react like this: 

• The opponent’s starting center struggled for the second straight game. Like Dwight Howard of the Hornets, Marc Gasol scored well below his season average with just five points. Gasol is posting 17.7 points per game this season.

• A win over the subpar Grizzlies wasn’t a guarantee. The Grizzlies beat the Sixers, 105-101, back on Jan. 22 in Memphis. That night, Tyreke Evans scored 10 points in the fourth quarter as they staged their biggest comeback victory of the season. The Chester, Pennsylvania, native was inactive Wednesday.

• Amir Johnson did his best Simmons impression with a behind-the-back pass to, appropriately, Simmons. 

• The Sixers gave away two free hot dogs at halftime for all those who came to the game in the snow. Fans filed out of their seats with 30 seconds left in the first half to get ahead of the lines on the concourse. 

Ben Simmons' rookie season vs. other Sixers greats

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Ben Simmons' rookie season vs. other Sixers greats

Ben Simmons has been better than advertised. That's not easy to do when you were the No. 1 overall pick in your draft class, and when you consider he’s been on the national radar since he was in grade school in Australia. Not to mention being the subject of a documentary his lone year in college. So it’s pretty remarkable to be somewhat taken aback at just how good he’s been his rookie season.

He's the ultimate stat-sheet stuffer at the ripe old age of 21. Simmons is averaging 16.2 points — not bad for a guy with a range of about seven feet and in. He’s dishing out 7.9 assists per contests while corralling 7.8 rebounds. He’s been better defensively than many anticipated, picking up 1.7 steals per game. And he’s shooting 53.5 percent from the floor.

So let’s put Simmons' rookie season in historical perspective with other Sixers rookies of note to see how he measures up. Keep in mind, organizational greats like Julius Erving and Moses Malone began their careers elsewhere.

And Wilt Chamberlain's rookie and career stats are so far and away superior that he can only exist in his own stratosphere. He is the hands-down G.O.A.T. So excluding him, here are my rankings of the other Sixers rookies on the list. This is clearly subjective, but my order is based in part on immediate impact on the team, league, wins from the previous season, and the eye test, having watched all but Wilt play in their first seasons. This is not based on body of career. 

5. Michael Carter-Williams
His numbers were in large part a product of no one else on the team being able to do anything. Not special. 

4. Charles Barkley
Having two Hall of Famers and three others who were phenomenal NBA players hurts Charles a bit in this ranking. His role was somewhat limited that season. But you could see what was coming. 

3. Joel Embiid
The 31 games played impacts him. He very likely would rank first had he played more ... his production was that mind-blowing. Even more remarkable is the fact that he sat out essentially two and a half seasons prior to last year. 

2. Allen Iverson
Yes, he also played on a bad team his first season, but you could see from the jump that he was a game-changer. Despite his tiny frame, he was the guy opposing coaches game planned to stop. The NBA culture changed the moment he stepped on the floor. A dominant force. 

1. Ben Simmons
He's the choice for top rookie season from a Sixer because of the across the board impact. Scoring, rebounds, assists, defense. He plays every night. And the turn-around in his club from 28 wins last year to potentially 48 this year can't be overlooked.