76ers

De'Aaron Fox believes his guard versatility fits Ben Simmons, Sixers

De'Aaron Fox believes his guard versatility fits Ben Simmons, Sixers

CHICAGO — The Sixers plan to start Ben Simmons at point guard next season, but that doesn't rule out drafting a player at the same position in June. 

De'Aaron Fox thinks there's room for two point guards on the Sixers and that he, as he sees it, is the top candidate in the draft.

"I feel like I'm the best," Fox said Friday of the point guards in his class.

Fox is a projected top-five prospect and a legitimate possibility for the Sixers with their first-round pick or picks, depending on how the ping-pong balls fall Tuesday. 

Fox met with the Sixers, along with seven other teams, at the NBA Draft Combine this week. The Sixers also interviewed projected top pick, Markelle Fultz. Lonzo Ball, the projected second overall pick, did not attend the event. 

Fox sees a place for himself on a young team like the Sixers that has been in search of a consistent point guard. 

"Talking to them, they wanted to see how I fit with Ben (Simmons) and Joel (Embiid)," Fox said. "I liked it. They have a lot of young pieces … they haven't really had a point guard in a few years. That could be the missing piece to what they need."

He added: "I feel like they have a bright future."

So how would a backcourt duo with Simmons work? Fox has an idea. He is friends with Simmons and already familiar with his game after the pair played in the same basketball circuit for two years in high school.

"They asked me about it, Ben being able to bring the ball up the court and being a facilitator," Fox said. "I feel like I'm shooting it a lot better. Once I'm getting back to how I shot it in high school, I feel like I could really fit with Ben. He's fast. I feel like the position he plays, not many people can grab a rebound and push it with the speed and vision that he has."

Being paired with Simmons would mean playing without the ball in his hands. Fox wants to prove he is more able to do that than his 24.6 percent three-point shooting demonstrated last season as a freshman at Kentucky.

"I am comfortable moving off the ball, but I have to show people that I can do it," he said. "No one really thinks I can do it because I struggled shooting it in college. I started shooting it well at the end of the year and I feel like if I'm knocking down shots, I'm very comfortable off the ball."

When it comes to Embiid, 31 games was enough for Fox to envision how he could complement him. 

"Playing with any good big, it's a positive," Fox said. "It kind of takes the pressure off of you. You throw it in there and they're going to double team and do whatever they can to stop him. It's going to get me open looks, and I just have to show that I can knock them down."

Fox is confident in his talents and ability to enhance the areas where he needs work. He wants to improve his strength (he weighed in at 169.6 pounds and the fourth-lowest body fat, 4.5 percent, of all players measured at the combine), shot and get adjusted to the pace of the NBA. He considers his speed and ability to finish at the basket to be his most NBA-ready skills, which have earned him comparisons to John Wall. 

"I've been able to finish over bigger guys my whole life," he said. "Now you're going to have guys like D.J. (DeAndre Jordan) … he's putting his shoulders at the top of the glass, so it's going to be tough but I know it's something I'll be able to work through."

Fox made the unconventional decision to attend the combine as a top prospect. He always has wanted to experience the pre-draft process. Fox also believes the face-to-face interaction could make a difference in a team's decision-making. 

"Getting these 30 minutes with teams could change some minds," he said. "I wanted them to learn more about my personality than they already knew."

Fox was not swayed by Kevin Durant's recent comments in which the former No. 2 pick spoke out against his experiences in 2007

"That's his opinion. Everybody has their own opinion," Fox said. "K.D. said it's a waste of time, but then you have other players say that the combine really helped them. It's all about your perspective. Everybody's going to have a different perspective."

Fox hopes talking with NBA teams in Chicago will give them a better perspective of him on draft night.

Sixers-Trail Blazers observations: Smothering defense in win

Sixers-Trail Blazers observations: Smothering defense in win

BOX SCORE

Any time the Trail Blazers are on the schedule, the main objective is limiting the backcourt duo of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. The Sixers held off one, which was enough, in their 101-81 win over the Trail Blazers.

With the victory, the Sixers improved to 10-7 this season and went three games above .500 for the first time since Brett Brown guided the team to a 3-0 start in his first year at the helm. 

• Joel Embiid battled a true center in the 7-foot, 275-pound Jusuf Nurkic. He came up with his eighth double-double of the season: 28 points (11 for 19 from the field), 12 rebounds, and two blocks. Embiid did not get to the free throw line after the first quarter. 

• Lillard scored an unsurprising 30 points, but McCollum netted just five. The pair averaged a combined 47 points heading into the game. McCollum was scoreless in the first half and shot 1 for 14 from the field overall. 

• Ben Simmons finished four seconds shy of a new-career high in playing time. He played 39:03 and neared a triple-double with 16 points (8 for 20 from the field), eight rebounds and nine dimes. Simmons attempted only two free throws. 

• The Sixers took the Blazers out of the game from the start. They ran off with a 16-0 lead and held the Blazers scoreless (0 for 13) for the first seven minutes. (Count the misses here.) The Sixers led 26-14 after one. 

• Lillard scored 12 points in the second quarter to try to get the Blazers back into the game. The Sixers edged them out with balanced scoring among the starters. Even though the Sixers committed 10 turnovers and shot 33.3 percent from three in the first half, their early run was enough to give them a 50-37 lead at halftime. 

• Embiid scored eight points in the third to nearly neutralize Lillard’s nine. The Sixers and Blazers scored 20 points apiece in the quarter. Neither team shot the ball well from three, combining to go 1 for 11. 

• The Blazers’ 81 points were a season low by a Sixers’ opponent and the Trail Blazers’ season-low scoring total. 

• Embiid swatted a Lillard shot attempt all the way back to Portland late in the third. OK, so the ball obviously didn’t go that far, but it was a monster block nonetheless that got me thinking about this moment at shootaround in San Francisco.

• Amir Johnson continued to attack the glass. This time, he balanced his rebounding efforts with five offensive and six defensive boards in 18 minutes off the bench. 

• “Trust the process” took a seat to a new chant late in the game. Fans chanted “We want Okafor” with less than a minute to play and the Sixers up 22. Jahlil Okafor did not get in the game. Furkan Korkmaz, though, played the final 2:09. 

• The Sixers’ turnover problem kept at bay the Trail Blazers’ poor shooting. The Sixers committed 18 turnovers but the Blazers, who shot 33.7 percent from the field, only translated that into 18 points. 

• Injury update: Justin Anderson (left leg), Markelle Fultz (right shoulder) and Nik Stauskas (right ankle) were sidelined for the Sixers. Al-Farouq Aminu (right ankle) was out for Portland. 

• The rosters were filled with former players on either side. The Sixers drafted Turner (2010) and Maurice Harkless (2012). Jerryd Bayless played for the Trail Blazers his first two seasons (2008-10). 

• Speaking of Turner, his days in Philadelphia are long gone but not forgotten. Turner didn’t live up to the expectations of his draft value and so, years later, this happened:

• Rapper Lil Uzi Vert was at the game again.

Sixers praise Amir Johnson as MVP of win over Jazz

Sixers praise Amir Johnson as MVP of win over Jazz

BOX SCORE

Ben Simmons scored a career-high, Joel Embiid recorded a double-double, and still, the highest praise was directed to an unlikely player after the Sixers’ 107-86 win over the Jazz: Amir Johnson.

“He was the MVP of tonight,” Embiid said. 

Johnson embraced the ultimate role player mentality. He didn’t know until shortly before the game if he was going to start in place of Embiid or come off the bench. Embiid, who had been dealing with left knee soreness, ended up playing. So Johnson waited for his name to be called and stepped right into action. 

Johnson began the game with five rebounds in four first-quarter minutes. He finished with 13 boards, eight points and four blocks in 21 minutes. Johnson pulled down 10-plus rebounds for the 98th time in his career (see observations)

“I feel like my job is just to find ways I can help my teammates,” Johnson said. “Knowing Joel, Ben and those guys are going to get the majority minutes, but when I come in I want to be effective at the same time.”

The 13-year veteran has been studying game film. Even though he didn’t get on the court in either of the Sixers’ matchups against the Warriors and played a combined 28 minutes in three road games in California, Johnson has been staying ready. 

“It’s huge for us,” Simmons said of Johnson’s defense. “Having a guy come off the bench and play a role like that. As a vet, he’s one of the leaders. He comes in, plays hard, doesn’t ask for more minutes or anything like that. He’s a great player.”

The Sixers signed Johnson to a one-year, $11 million contract this summer. He proved what he could do on the court since entering the league out of high school in 2005, but the even bigger draw was what he could add to the locker room. Brett Brown reached out to some of Johnson’s former teammates and the assessments echoed one another. Now the Sixers are seeing what those who played with Johnson were talking about. 

“It was amazing, to a man, how consistent the reviews were,” Brown said. “People skills, work his butt off, could handle sitting and swinging a towel or coming in and making a difference. He’s a good person and he’s a pro. 

“To be able to bring him in the game, and not worry about is he happy, is he fresh, is he in shape, does he need 10 shots isn’t ever on my mind with Amir. He’s a perfect teammate.” 

Redick bounces back in 2nd half
JJ Redick is at a point in his career where he isn’t worried about a slow start. He went scoreless in the first half and still ended up with 20 points. 

“Maybe five or six years ago I probably would have been a little more stressed at halftime,” Redick said. “But I just knew there would be some opportunities and stayed patient.”

Brown noticed Redick getting better looks after halftime. He evenly distributed his scoring with 10 points in both the third and the fourth quarters. He shot a perfect 4 for 4 from the field in the third. 

“I’m always going to be aggressive. There just weren’t opportunities to get shots off in the first half,” Redick said. “I scored 20 in the second half, but didn’t feel like I was forcing anything. The opportunities were there. Sometimes that happens within a game.”

Simmons, too
Simmons showed the same kind of poise, even more notable because he is a rookie. Simmons shot 2 for 9 in the first half, shook off the early struggles, and scored a career-high 27 points. He scored half of the Sixers’ 28 points in the third quarter off an efficient 7 for 9 shooting stretch. 

“I thought I was going to have more, honestly,” Simmons said. 

Simmons took advantage of the Jazz missing center Rudy Gobert in the middle. He became the only Sixer since 1963-64 to score in double digits in each of his first 16 games. Simmons is averaging 18.7 points, 9.2 rebounds, 7.6 assists and 2.0 steals per game.