Another crack at projecting the Sixers' starting 5 this season

Another crack at projecting the Sixers' starting 5 this season

The Sixers are going to look different this upcoming season compared to last and it begins with the starting lineup. With a new rookie and veteran free-agent additions, what you saw in the past will not be what you see when the team takes the court this fall. 

Last season, the Sixers rolled out 30 — yes, 30 — different starting fives. They wrapped their final game with T.J. McConnell, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, Justin Anderson, Alex Poythress and Richaun Holmes. Not exactly what you would have expected back in training camp. 

Who the Sixers will start for the 2017-18 season has been a hot topic this summer, especially when it comes to the roles of Ben Simmons, Dario Saric and Robert Covington. Let's look at the questions surrounding the projected starting five. 

Point guard/power forward
How the Sixers address these roles will be an ongoing storyline. The two positions are linked because of Simmons. 

Simmons said he is a starting point guard. From president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo’s point of view, Simmons doesn’t necessarily have to start at the one-spot to be the main ball handler.

The Sixers drafted point guard Markelle Fultz No. 1 overall because of his ability to complement Simmons’ playing off the ball. That doesn’t mean Fultz has to start at the two. 

It remains to be seen how the Sixers make their defensive assignments: 6-foot-4 Fultz or 6-foot-10 Simmons on opposing point guards? It seems likely Fultz will take that matchup. If Simmons did, there would be mismatches at power forward. Several NBA point guards I spoke to last season said they did not expect Simmons would defend the one. 

The Sixers' lineups are going to be positionless in many instances and this is one of them. It really doesn’t matter who is labeled the point guard when it comes to Fultz and Simmons. They have the backcourt skill sets to play off each other, but defensively, Fultz is the better matchup to guard the one. 

Shooting guard
The Sixers got a shooter, a veteran leader and a starting-caliber player when they signed JJ Redick to a one-year, $23 million contract. Redick was a starter for the last four seasons on the Clippers. He has not come off the bench since April 2014 when he was returning from a lengthy injury. 

Redick will give the Sixers another go-to scorer in the starting lineup in addition to Joel Embiid. Redick averaged 15.0 points last season and will spread the floor in this system. 

There are some who believe Redick should come off the bench in a scenario in which Simmons and Fultz start at the one and the two. One of the biggest impacts Redick will make, however, will be the way he makes his younger teammates better when he is sharing the court with them — leading by example, in-game huddles, those short conversations shared during free throws. The development of Fultz, Simmons and Embiid will be enhanced from playing alongside this proven veteran. 

Small forward
Covington vs. Saric: This has been one of the bigger debates on social media. A starting five needs more than just offense. Brett Brown is a huge fan of Covington’s defense, especially for the criteria on the Sixers’ “effort charts.” Take away those recurring three-point struggles that Covington gets criticized for, that’s not why he’s on the court. 

Last season, Covington averaged 12.9 points and 6.5 rebounds. He led the NBA with 4.2 deflections per game, ahead of John Wall and reigning Defensive Player of the Year Draymond Green (both averaged 3.9). 

Speaking of that award, Covington finished fourth in the voting. Green, Rudy Gobert and Kawhi Leonard ran away with the ballots. Covington received a second- and third-place vote to finish one point better than LeBron James. Covington also garnered two All-Defensive first team votes. 

So where does Saric come into play in the small forward discussion? Let’s say Covington retains his starting role from last season and Simmons starts at power forward. That would mean Saric would come off the bench. Saric really thrived in the second half of last season in the starting lineup. He was doing it at power forward, though, and also as the main offensive go-to because of injuries. Saric, at this point, is better suited to defend fours. 

People will compare Covington and Saric because in many hypothetical lineups this would be the position up for grabs, but why force him to play small forward just to keep him in the starting five? There is potential for Saric to succeed in a sixth-man role where he most likely would receive more touches. If the Sixers are going to make a push for the playoffs, they will need depth in their second unit and Saric can anchor that. 

Given Embiid's restrictions last season, there is the possibility Simmons will have them as well in his first season back from a foot injury. The Sixers can turn to Saric in those situations. 

The question about the center position is not who will be the main starter, but rather who will be the backup.

The starting role belongs to Embiid when he is available. It remains to be seen just how many games he will play after only 31 last season and if he will be under restrictions (he previously could not play in back-to-backs). 

And so here we are again: Jahlil Okafor or Holmes? There was no clear-cut answer to that question last season, and each player had varying roles. 

Will the Sixers start Okafor when Embiid is out and bench him when Embiid is starting? Will Holmes only be Embiid’s backup or did he do enough to earn a starting spot when Embiid is out? It is hard to overlook Holmes’ 13.6 points, 6.9 rebounds and 1.2 blocks after the All-Star break. 

The starting five will change throughout the season, whether through experimentation, injuries, trades or finding unexpected combinations that click. At this time in the offseason, Fultz, Redick, Covington, Simmons and Embiid seems likely.

Is Joel Embiid's trash talking starting to get old?

Is Joel Embiid's trash talking starting to get old?

Each week, our resident basketball analysts will discuss some of the hottest topics involving the Sixers.

Running the Give and Go this edition are NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com producer/reporters Matt Haughton and Paul Hudrick.

In this edition, we examine whether Joel Embiid’s trash talking is starting to get old.

Absolutely not.

First, look at it from a team perspective. The Sixers thrive off of Embiid’s emotion. Look no further than Friday night’s triple-overtime thriller against the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Sixers were sleepwalking through that game for much of the night until Embiid mixed it up with Carmelo Anthony following an and-one with a few minutes left in the fourth quarter. Embiid got the crowd juiced up and his teammates fed off that energy during the critical 11-0 run to close out regulation.

When Embiid’s trash talk spills over to social media, he does try to keep things light and playful. That’s his personality and that’s his realm, so none of what he’s doing really comes from a position of genuine malice.

On the bigger scale, this is what the NBA has been about long before Embiid came along. From Larry Bird’s bravado to Michael Jordan’s ruthlessness to Shaquille O’Neal’s blatant disrespect of opponents, the league has a long list of trash talkers.

As LeBron James said when the Cavaliers came through the Wells Fargo Center right after Thanksgiving, players today are just too sensitive.

Let’s just let Joel be Joel.

The guy came over from Cameroon, knowing very little about the game and getting teased by his teammates in high school. After overcoming that and landing at Kansas, injuries took away the end of his only season there and then his first two NBA seasons. He was the brunt of jokes as the Sixers continued to lose and he had to watch from afar. He’s earned the right to feel himself a little bit.

What I see is a kid having fun. I have to give Philly fans credit. Flamboyant characters don’t usually do well here. In a city that (still) obsesses over the play of a quiet, hard-nosed guy like Chase Utley and has fallen head over heels for the humbleness of Carson Wentz, Embiid doesn't fit the mold. But he's been embraced and beloved.

Here’s the other thing: he’s backing it up. If he was out there talking trash but shooting 30 percent from the field and not running down the reigning MVP for a blocked shot in a triple-OT game, that would be a different story. He’s put this team on his back and has them poised for a playoff berth.

Let the man live.

'Dots don't connect' for Sixers on inbound confusion

'Dots don't connect' for Sixers on inbound confusion

Of all the scenarios that transpired over the Sixers’ triple-overtime loss to the Thunder on Friday, there is one moment that stands out.

Fast-forward to the end of the second overtime. The Sixers had the opportunity to take the final shot after Dario Saric grabbed a defensive rebound. Joel Embiid motioned for a timeout before Saric put the ball on the floor. 

The Sixers huddled and prepared for a half-court play they had practiced before, confident they could execute it with 1.2 seconds on the game clock.

However, as they went to set up, the officials told them the inbound was actually full court. Saric had dribbled the ball before the timeout was called, they were told. That change wiped out the play they had initially planned. 

“They asked us what side of the floor did we want to advance it to, and so we told them,” Brett Brown said. “We drew up a play to try to score. Then we walked out and they said no you can’t advance it, it goes full court. When you look at the tape, you can see Joel and myself calling a timeout with 1.2 seconds. They said Dario dribbled, yet there were still 1.2 seconds. The dots don’t connect.”

The last-second shift in inbound position left the Sixers scrambling. Embiid said the team was “caught off guard.” Ben Simmons considered the call to be “huge.” 

“We weren’t told that we couldn’t progress the ball up the floor until we actually had to run the play,” Simmons said. “That kind of messed us up. We got into a late play, which didn’t convert.” 

The Sixers didn’t connect on their final possession. There’s no guarantee the shot would have gone in, but they would have been prepared to get a good look. 

“[It changed] everything,” Robert Covington said. 

Instead of pulling off a last-second game-winner, the Sixers went into triple overtime. They were edged out by two points, 119-117 (see game recap)

"That kind of like messed up in our minds, but that’s not an excuse," Embiid said. "We shouldn’t have an excuse for losing that game."