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Amid busy summer, Justin Anderson eager for 1st full season with Sixers

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Amid busy summer, Justin Anderson eager for 1st full season with Sixers

Justin Anderson has been busy this summer. Training, getting to know his new teammates, traveling to China with the Yao Ming Foundation, finally getting settled into an apartment in Philadelphia instead of a hotel. 

His time also included appearing at the Sixers' Camden Youth Basketball Clinic, twice in three days this week. Jahlil Okafor also attended on the second day. 

“For me to even be invited is dear to me,” Anderson said. 

The camp, presented by Virtua, hosted over 900 children from the Camden, New Jersey area. It included basketball drills, dance lessons and fitness tests. Anderson addressed the campers and stressed the importance of health, respecting parents and school. He handed out boxes of Nike sneakers as well.

Anderson held a demonstration wherein campers stood on a basketball. Each second they could balance on the ball represented one season in the NBA. Then, he asked them to stand on a stack of textbooks. Each second represented a year of opportunities afforded to them because of their education. The seconds on the books far outlasted the seconds on the basketball. 

“It’s such a vital moment for them education-wise,” Anderson said. “I just want to put myself in a position to be a role model, be a mentor, and open up and allow these kids to see it’s cool to be in school, it’s cool to have fun with it, and also be able to be a good athlete as well.”

Anderson showed a natural ability to connect with the campers and lead a crowd. He plans to bring those aspects to the Sixers this season, too. 

“We want to make as strong of a playoff push as we can, and we really do confidently believe that we can make that happen,” he said. 

Anderson was traded in mid-February from the Mavericks in the Nerlens Noel deal and basically lived out of a suitcase for the remainder of the season. He considers not being settled for those months “the toughest moment” of his NBA career. Anderson can relate to those who are new to the team and aims to help them get acclimated. 

“[I want to] show these guys that even though I’m only 23 years old, I’m a leader in my own type of way,” he said. 

He looks to bring an even-keeled approach to the season. The Sixers are positioned to make a noticeable improvement from last season’s 28-54 record. Anderson understands this doesn’t always happen overnight. 

“Expectations are for us to go through growing pains but us to have fun going through them,” he said. “Us understanding that we’re going to create an identity of being very tough, hard-nosed under Coach (Brett) Brown. Obviously, we have a lot of young talent trying to figure it out, along with myself. But the best thing is being able to grow together.”

On the court, Anderson wants to contribute versatility on both ends. He could earn the backup small forward role behind Robert Covington, and also has the ability to play multiple positions. Last season, Anderson averaged 8.5 points, 4.0 rebounds and 1.4 assists in 24 games for the Sixers. He started the final eight games in place of Covington (knee). 

“I think my role is going to be one that allows to play different positions, guard multiple positions, being able to shoot the ball from deep, close, whatever the case may be,” Anderson said. “My athleticism being off the charts and being that energy guy who’s going to be one that brings that spark to the team. I’m just excited.”

Anderson is ready to get the season underway. He’s simply looking forward to participating in a full practice at the Sixers' training complex, something he didn’t have the opportunity to do because of the team's crammed game schedule after the All-Star break. 

“I wish training camp was tomorrow,” Anderson said. 

What Sixers need more and less of in second half

What Sixers need more and less of in second half

Now that the dust has settled on the NBA's All-Star festivities, the Sixers will reconvene this week and turn their attention back to the playoff push.

With 27 games remaining in the regular season over a 49-day stretch, it will be a sprint to the finish.

So how can the Sixers capture their first postseason berth in six seasons? Let's take a look at what the team needs more and less of down the stretch.

More: Healthy Embiid
What injury? Joel Embiid shook off right ankle soreness to participate in three events during All-Star weekend as a shining representation of the up-and-coming Sixers.

"There was never really a thought about missing out on any of these events," Embiid said Friday after the Mtn Dew Kickstart Rising Stars game. "It's my first time, so I'm going to have fun."

The big man is always about having fun, but now it's time to get down to business. Even though the Sixers' competition appears to lighten up after the break, the schedule does not (27 games with six back-to-back sets).

The Sixers are 27-17 when Embiid plays and just 3-8 when he doesn't suit up. They need the center healthy and on the court.

Less: Turnovers
Way less, actually. 

As you know by now, the Sixers have a bit of an issue holding onto the basketball. They simply don't respect each possession enough, evidenced by their 17.5 turnovers per game. That's good enough for dead last in the NBA and it's a full 1.5 turnovers more than the closest team (Los Angeles Lakers).

And it's not just the miscues. Teams are capitalizing, too — the Sixers also rank 30th in opponents' points off turnovers (19.4).

Of the "Four Factors" statistic on the offensive end, which breaks down weighted factors that help a team win a game — shooting (40 percent), turnovers (25 percent), rebounding (20 percent) and free throws (15 percent) — the only category that the Sixers rank outside of the NBA's top 10 in is turnovers.

If they can cut down on the giveaways just a little, it will go a long way toward their goal.

More: Early execution
However, not all of those possessions end up with the Sixers running back on defense after a turnover.

With more legit scoring options on the roster this season than any previous time during Brett Brown's tenure, they have shown the ability to execute a play to perfection for a bucket.

It's a stark contrast to the days when they couldn't even get the ball in on an inbounds play.

That level of scoring punch has been particularly evident at the start of games. The Sixers are tied with the Cleveland Cavaliers for fourth in the league in first-quarter points per game (28.7) and are even with the L.A. Clippers for seventh in first-half points a night (55.2).

The Sixers must continue to apply that pressure on teams at the outset of games, especially if their woes finishing off opponents is going to persist.

Less: Bad Covington
Ah, the curious case of Robert Covington.

Has any player in NBA history ever looked like they could make a push for an All-Star spot for two months only to appear as if they belong in the G League the next few months?

Covington has always been a streaky shooter, but this season has been extreme. He shot 44.7 percent from the field and 43.1 percent from three-point range in October and November to help secure his multiyear extension. 

Since that point, the swingman has connected on just 37.6 percent from the field and 32.4 percent from long distance.

Whether it's the weight of the big contract or the nasty spill he took against the Cavs in December, Covington hasn't looked the same on the floor in several months. The team needs him to get it together and the sooner the better.

More: Killer D's
While Embiid's presence on both ends and Ben Simmons' wizardry at the point have put the Sixers in position to snag a playoff bid, the team didn't really hit its stride until a certain pairing found its footing: Dario Saric and defense.

Much like his rookie season, Saric struggled to find his role at the start. But that's long in the rearview mirror now. The second-year forward has increased his production each month and has been rolling so far in February (18.6 points, 51.7 percent field goals, 46.3 percent threes, 6.9 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game).

That surge has coincided with the Sixers' tightened grip on defense. In seven games this month, they've allowed 96.1 points per game on 41.4 percent shooting.

The type of balance Saric offers offensively and the overall lockdown defense won't only make the Sixers a postseason team, it will also make them a tough out. 

Less: Fultz speculation
This is a big deal that the Sixers could make very small with a clear decision on the No. 1 pick's immediate future.

Markelle Fultz reportedly continues to ramp up his rehab workouts for his ailing shoulder, even after team president Bryan Colangelo said earlier this month that the guard could return soon or be shut down for the season.

The franchise should obviously give Fultz every chance to come back and contribute, but that ruling should be made at the first opportunity.

It's after the All-Star break and having that type of deliberation hovering over the team isn't exactly fair to the other players. Not to mention, for a guy that has apparently dealt with questions regarding his confidence, possibly dropping him into the thick of a playoff race doesn't really do him any favors either.

Our NBA All-Star challenge — describe Embiid in one word

Our NBA All-Star challenge — describe Embiid in one word

LOS ANGELES —  From trash talking on the court to expressing himself on social media, Joel Embiid is a player of many (many) words. So if his fellow All-Stars had to describe him in just one, what would it be? 

Draymond Green: "'Funny.' He's hilarious. The stuff he says, he goes on TV talking about (Kevin Durant's) burner account, he's talking how he's a savage. His Instagram locations, pretty funny. He's a good guy." 

Andre Drummond: "I’d probably say 'charismatic,' 'funny,' 'savage.' He don’t care, he just does what he wants to.”

Paul George: “Personality,' in all caps."

(Why all caps?)

“Because he’s a big dude.”

John Wall: "He's just 'himself.' He's very confident."

Anthony Davis: “'Savage.' Cool dude, he lives by his own rules. He’s just enjoying life and having fun.”

Jimmy Butler: "'Remarkable' in the fact that his game on the court is insane. Then the way he's always saying something to somebody on social media is really 'remarkable.'"

Bradley Beal: “'Wild.' He has no filter, he doesn’t care. That’s my boy, but he just has no remorse, doesn’t care."

LaMarcus Aldridge: “'Entertaining,' because he’s always on TV expressing how he feels. So, entertaining.”