Justin Anderson emerges as leader in 'fistfight 'for rotational minutes on wing

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Justin Anderson emerges as leader in 'fistfight 'for rotational minutes on wing

UNIONDALE, N.Y. — Sixers head coach Brett Brown didn’t take it easy on the metaphors when he was asked about the state of the battle for minutes between Justin Anderson, Nik Stauskas and Furkan Korkmaz before his team’s 133-114 win over the Nets Wednesday.

Brown likened it to a fistfight and said there would probably be a “sole survivor” of the group that would receive rotational minutes to start the year. He set out clear guidelines for how he plans on evaluating the three players, who all try to add an element of offensive spacing and three-point shooting off the bench.

“It’s really simple,” Brown said. “It’s who can guard, who plays defense? The close, obvious second is: Can you make shots? The blueprint isn’t complicated. It goes in that order.”

Going by those standards, Wednesday’s contest boded well for Anderson’s prospects. The third-year player out of Virginia was the clear leader among the three in terms of meaningful minutes. Anderson spent 15:42 on the floor, much of it alongside players on the Sixers’ roster that, though reserves, have clearly-defined roles on the team, such as T.J. McConnell.

Stauskas received just 12:34 of action and did little to quell concerns about his shooting touch after he missed seven of eight shots against the Celtics on Monday. 

Wednesday, Stauskas missed five of seven shots, including his only three-point attempt. Ostensibly on the roster for his three-point shooting prowess, the fourth-year guard is struggling from distance. He has missed six of his seven shots from long range this preseason. If Stauskas’ shooting form doesn’t recover, he might not have shown enough defensively by the end of the preseason to justify a spot on the Sixers’ roster, let alone a rotational role. The Sixers were minus-12 with Stauskas on the court Wednesday and he picked up three fouls.

Meanwhile, Korkmaz was an afterthought after getting 19 minutes of run Wednesday. He was involved in just 5:10 of game action in the fourth quarter, well after the outcome had been decided. Korkmaz did hit his only shot attempt of the night, a three-pointer from the left wing.

Just a 20-year-old rookie, Korkmaz is not operating under the same kind of pressure to make the roster that Stauskas and Anderson have hanging over their heads. He can spend the bulk of 2017-18 in the G League and use the extended minutes he’d likely receive with the 87ers to tune up his defense without a second thought.

That leaves Anderson, who was probably the most impressive Wednesday night on the defensive end of the floor. The 6-foot-6 Anderson was shuffled through a host of man assignments during his run with the reserves, from 6-foot-11 forward Jarrett Allen to 6-foot-6 point guard Spencer Dinwiddie.

Anderson missed his only three-pointer but looked good contesting threes on his own end of the floor. He looked particularly solid getting a hand in Dinwiddie’s face after the guard had leaked open for a flash in the right corner late in the first quarter. The Sixers were plus-8 with Anderson on the floor.

"You’ve got to want to be a defender,” Anderson said.  "You’ve got to want to take that challenge. I took it personally tonight. I take it personally every night. I understand that I walk a very tight rope. I understand what my job is on this team."

Anderson took a step towards solidifying that job Wednesday night.

Dario Saric's shooting display could be sign of things to come

Dario Saric's shooting display could be sign of things to come

UNIONDALE, N.Y. — In a four-minute span, forward Dario Saric showed just how valuable he could be to the Sixers this season coming off the bench.

The 6-foot-10 big man sank four three-pointers to start the second quarter of the Sixers' 133-114 cruise past the Nets Wednesday night (see observations), with his assigned defender — $64 million man Timofey Mozgov — oftentimes barely in the same zip code. 

Mozgov outweighs Saric by 52 pounds, and the Sixers’ sophomore was able to use that to his advantage to generate open looks.

“It’s easy, because I can drive, too, and he’s sometimes in a difficult position,” Saric said. “If he goes to step out on me a little bit more, I can drive. If he stays too low down there, I can shoot like I did tonight. I like having guys like that.”

Mozgov committed the error of hanging too far back on Saric time and again. On Saric’s fourth and final three-pointer of his second-quarter shooting spree, Mozgov committed to staying low in the paint and turned his head away from Saric as Robert Covington drove to the rim.

Saric backpedaled to the left corner and by the time Mozgov could even raise his arms above his head to contest the shot, the ball had already left Saric’s fingertips and was well on its way towards giving the Sixers a 44-27 lead.

Coach Brett Brown said before the exhibition contest began that he planned on tightening up the team’s rotation. Saric wound up playing a shade over 24 minutes off the bench and led the team in field goal attempts (14), made field goals (10) and made three-pointers (5).

Though much of the focus on Wednesday’s game surrounded center Joel Embiid’s first action on the court since the meniscus injury that ended his 2016-17 campaign in January and his new $148 million contract extension, Saric’s performance did not go unnoticed. In the postgame media scrum, Brown asked that the second question out of reporters’ mouths touch on Saric.

After a reporter complied with the fifth-year coach’s request, Brown waxed eloquently, eventually touching on Saric’s flexibility. Saric could wind up playing significant minutes spelling different starters in various roles.

“It makes him just a really fantastic sort of teammate and an improving player,” Brown said. “You forget sometimes that he’s only going into his second year.”

The fact that Saric — who was unanimously voted to the NBA All-Rookie First Team last season — will likely spend 2017-18 coming off the bench and rotating into various spots on the Sixers’ lineup demonstrates just how far the team has come in the span of one offseason. Brown is now the beneficiary of roster flexibility and depth he never had in prior campaigns.

If Saric’s three-point shooting form can hold up once the season starts, he may become a weapon beyond what even Brown could have envisioned. Saric shot just 31.1 percent from beyond the arc last year but has hit six of his 13 shots from distance in his two games of preseason action, good for a 46.2 percent clip.

“I think that in the first game I was a little bit slow in the game, but this game I understood how to play,” Saric said. “I remember how it goes in an NBA game and of course, sometimes you need this game before the season.

“I hope I have so many games like this during the season and I hope I find myself and do the right things.”

Phillies' clubhouse reflects on life of Marlins' Jose Fernandez

Phillies' clubhouse reflects on life of Marlins' Jose Fernandez

NEW YORK — The clubhouse mood following the Phillies17-0 loss to the Mets Sunday was somber, in part because of the disastrous game that had just wrapped up, but also because of the tragic news of Marlins star pitcher Jose Fernandez’s death in a boating accident early Sunday morning.

“It was rough. People are devastated. I didn’t even know him and I was crushed,” Phillies starter Jake Thompson said. “I can only imagine how that clubhouse feels. That’s something that I wouldn’t wish upon my worst enemy, to deal with something of that magnitude.”

Both teams paused for a moment of silence before Sunday’s game and the Mets taped a jersey bearing Fernandez’s name and number onto their dugout wall.

“This morning, that was quite a surprise,” manager Pete Mackanin said of the atmosphere of the day. “I don’t think it affected the players once the game started. It was such bad news this morning that everybody was kind of melancholy.”

Fernandez had built a strong track record against the Phillies in his young career, amassing a 2.88 ERA in six starts.

“It’s kind of cliché to say but you look at the start of his career and he could have been a Hall of Famer,” Thompson said.

Asked how he would remember facing Fernandez, Mackanin was succinct.

“He was a helluva pitcher,” he said.

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