Injuries at point guard forcing Sixers to get creative with ball handlers

Injuries at point guard forcing Sixers to get creative with ball handlers

NEW YORK -- The Sixers are heading toward the end of the season the same way it began: dealing with a point guard injury.

First, it was Jerryd Bayless in training camp. Now it is Sergio Rodriguez. He will miss a week after suffering a strained left hamstring in Sunday's game against the Pacers.

"It's a little strain," Rodriguez said. "They say it's going to be about a week, then they'll see how it goes afterward. I feel good. It's a mess because there's no pain at all."

Rodriguez strained his hamstring during the first half Sunday. He continued to play and told the Sixers' trainer he thought he pulled it "a little bit." When he woke up on Monday morning, he felt some discomfort and wanted to have an MRI to check it out. The scan on Tuesday revealed a strain.

Rodriguez had been hitting his stride as of late. In his last two games, he was averaging 14.0 points, 2.5 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 1.5 steals and 2.0 turnovers. Brown credited him for being a key player in the Sixers' win over the Bulls last Friday.

"It was great to have the opportunity to be playing more," Rodriguez said. "It hurts not to be able to play tonight because of this little thing."

Here's where the depth chart gets interesting: Nik Stauskas moves over from the two-spot to become the backup point guard. Stauskas has done this during the season and was comfortable in that role in Tuesday's 106-101 victory over the Nets (see game recap). He scored 11 points with four rebounds and two assists while playing a combination of point and shooting guard, but more importantly, he was a plus-10 while at the point.

"When you don't have Sergio and you're searching for other point guard options, we have tried this sporadically before with Nik," Brown said. "It was excellent. I think we all see his skill package with the ball. He's big enough to rise up behind a pick-and-roll and punish it if people go under."

Stauskas is comfortable at point guard. He works on dribbling drills after practices and before games.

"The ball is in my hands and I think that's when I'm at my best, when I'm able to make plays," Stauskas said. "When I get to play the point guard I'm excited just because I know I'm going to be in the pick-and-roll a little bit and I know I'm going to have a chance to handle it and get guys involved. I feel like the offense was running pretty smoothly when I was out there."

In the chance that both starting point guard T.J. McConnell and Stauskas are unavailable while Rodriguez is out, Brown would look to Dario Saric as the next option. Saric isn't about to become a point-forward, but if the Sixers had to go that far down the roster to find a ball handler he would get the call.

"I think if you put another four-man on Dario Saric, he's going to have no problem bringing the ball up the floor," Brown said. "Sometimes the elite defensive four-men, like Draymond Green, may make me pull some of that back. But [Saric] has guard skills. We've seen it in the open court. We've seen enough to know my comments aren't outrageous. In the situation we're in, you could connect some of those dots."

Even though he can't play, Bayless has been staying a part of the team. He injured ligaments in his left wrist in October, came back in November and appeared in just three games before reinjuring it and undergoing season-ending surgery.

Bayless has been with the Sixers on road trips, including the five-city swing they wrapped up in Brooklyn. The Sixers signed the veteran to complement Ben Simmons with his ability to play both point and shooting guard. Since both players are sidelined, they have been building chemistry during their travels.

On the court, Bayless has been working on his shot after shootarounds. He also does cardio on the treadmill to stay in shape. 

Jerryd Bayless working on his shots after shootaround. The majority went in from different spots on the court. #sixers

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"It feels good," Bayless said. "It's still rehabbing and whatnot. It's not a lot I can do with this wrist yet. It's still going through it. It'll take a little bit, probably another month until it's totally back to a hundred percent."

After missing all but three games this season, he is glad to get in reps even if it's in sweats and not a uniform.

"Being able to be back on the court, honestly, is probably the best part," Bayless said. "I missed it. I missed it. So it's good to actually be able to do things again."

Give and Go: What should Sixers be thankful for the most?

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Give and Go: What should Sixers be thankful for the most?

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

Running the Give and Go are NBC Sports Philadelphia anchor/reporter Marshall Harris, NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com producer/reporter Paul Hudrick and NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com producer/reporter Matt Haughton.

In this edition, we examine what the Sixers should be thankful for the most on this Thanksgiving.

At first glance, you take a look at Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons and remember that they combined for 31 games last season and the impulse is to say health. However, we can’t ignore the injuries that have befallen the team outside of those two engines. The Sixers have been hurting without the likes of Markelle Fultz, Jerryd Bayless, Nik Stauskas and Justin Anderson at their full disposal of late. So health hasn’t been their thing, really.
What the Sixers should be thankful for is that despite being shorthanded, they made it through 17 games of the season with a winning record. That’s in spite of 10 of those games being on the road and two games each against Golden State and Houston already in the books. 

Since a 1-4 start, the Sixers have lost just three times in their last 12 games, and two of those losses were to arguably one of the greatest teams in history in the Warriors. Suddenly everyone is reaching for their abacus or calculator, and they should be. Who had the Sixers with a winning record at Thanksgiving?
Here’s the thing, two weeks ago Jim Lynam told me the Sixers would be a top four seed in the East. I wasn’t ready to embrace that idea. I’m ready to admit my 39-win prediction may not be up to the task. Perhaps we all need to recognize that the Sixers, youth and all, are up to the challenge of not just squeaking into the playoffs. At their current rate of growth, they look like a team that could get the 45 wins they’re already on pace to achieve and maybe even more.

Health is the obvious thing to be most thankful for, but I'll take it a step further. The Sixers should be thankful that the best is yet to come.

Any other season during The Process, Markelle Fultz's situation — being the No. 1 overall pick that the team traded up to acquire that suffered a weird injury the team appeared to mishandle — would be considered a catastrophe. To say Fultz has become an afterthought would be a stretch, but his situation has certainly taken a backseat to Embiid, Simmons and the Sixers' success.

We won't know the full extent of Fultz's impact and role for quite some time. But the thought of Embiid, Simmons and Fultz on the court together should still tantalize Sixers fans. I'm still dying to see what Fultz can do in pick-and-roll situations with Embiid and even Simmons.

Am I worried about the jumper? Yeah, a little. But this is a guy who took five threes a night in college and shot 41 percent from distance. He then went on to shot 38 percent on five treys a contest during three summer league games. I still believe the shot is there. He just needs to get his confidence back and his shoulder healthy.

And don't listen to the doubters. Markelle Fultz is an excellent basketball player and was the top pick in the draft for a reason. He's not Anthony Bennett or Andrea Bargnani. This kid can play.

And the Sixers should be thankful when looking at his future.

While Embiid already shared what he’s thankful for on this holiday, the Sixers can only look back on how they landed the budding big man and smile.

Let’s rewind a bit. Embiid was well on his way to being the No. 1 overall pick in 2014 as he averaged 11.2 points on an insane 62.6 percent shooting, 8.1 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game during his lone season at Kansas. That was until he suffered a stress fracture in his back late in the season that sidelined him for the Big 12 and NCAA Tournaments.

Even after the back injury, Embiid appeared on his way to locking up the top spot in the draft … until the next setback. This time it was a broken foot suffered just before the draft that cast serious doubt about his long-term health.

As Sixers fans know all too well, that troublesome foot caused Embiid to miss his first two NBA seasons. However, what they’ve witnessed since has been nothing short of spectacular. In just 46 career games, Embiid has averaged 21.0 points (48.2 percent shooting), 8.9 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 2.3 blocks. His superstar ability has captured the hearts of the team’s faithful, and his huge social media presence has only made them love him even more.

As for the two players taken before Embiid, their careers don’t exactly appear to be trending in the same direction. No. 1 overall selection and Embiid’s Kansas teammate, Andrew Wiggins, has shown flashes of brilliance. However, his production with the revamped Minnesota Timberwolves is down this season after signing a massive extension of his own, and questions remain about whether he can go from being a very good player to great. As for No. 2 pick Jabari Parker, he’s been a stud on the court for the Milwaukee Bucks but is recovering from a second left ACL tear since 2014.

All in all, Embiid is the prize of the crop and fell into the Sixers’ laps. So this Thanksgiving the Sixers should take a moment to reminisce about the process that brought them “The Process.”

Joel Embiid has plenty of reasons to be thankful

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Joel Embiid has plenty of reasons to be thankful

Joel Embiid is very appreciative. He is healthy, signed a mega-contract and has become the face of a franchise on the rise. 

The night before Thanksgiving, following a 20-point win over the Trail Blazers, Embiid reflected on why he is thankful.

“I’m thankful for my family,” Embiid, who grew up in Cameroon, said. “I live by myself, they don’t live here. But my mom is actually here.”

Embiid’s mother took in Wednesday’s action from courtside at the Wells Fargo Center and was all smiles as her son put up 28 points (11 for 19 shooting), 12 rebounds and two blocks in the 101-81 victory (see game recap).

Embiid also recognized the Sixers’ faithful, who have pulled for him during injury after injury and never wavered from their trust in the process.

“I’m thankful for the city of Philadelphia,” Embiid said. “This has become my home and I hope to be here for the rest of my career. I’m just thankful for the fans and just everybody around me, people that have been supporting me.” 

Embiid even gave a shoutout to the media, which doesn’t always happen, especially after a team struggled for so long.

“You guys hype me up so much,” he said. “So thank you.”

And last but not least, the player with 1.02 million followers on Twitter and another 1.4 million on Instagram, Embiid is grateful for every like and retweet. 

“I’m thankful for social media,” he said. 

#Fitting. #Thankful. #HappyThanksgiving