76ers

Markelle Fultz working on 'defense first' at Las Vegas Summer League

Markelle Fultz working on 'defense first' at Las Vegas Summer League

LAS VEGAS -- While Markelle Fultz doesn’t want to limit himself to one improvement, the Sixers plan to hone in on a specific aspect of his game during Las Vegas Summer League. 

“He’s going to work on defense first,” assistant coach Lloyd Pierce said after practice Friday. “That’s my area of emphasis. That’s an area that he’s come into our organization wanting to address.”

Fultz’s offensive abilities are unquestioned. He led all freshmen in the Pac-12 and the entire nation in scoring last season (23.2 points). Fultz, in his first taste of the NBA, averaged 20.0 points in two games this week in Utah Jazz Summer League. 

When assessing his skill sets as a whole, defense has been the area that could use work on the pro level. Often a college team’s record can be viewed as a reflection of its best player. In Fultz’s case, Washington went 9-22 last season. 

“He’s been criticized, probably unfairly,” Pierce said. “People associate their record with his defense and any deficiencies he may have had.”

Fultz had been texting with Pierce throughout the week to go over his performance in preparation for Las Vegas. He is open to what the coaching staff has to say about what it has seen. 

“I want criticism that’s going to make me better as a player to help this team,” Fultz said. “Once I step out in here in Vegas, I’m working on my defense, keeping my man in front, screen, getting through screens, being tough on the defensive end.”

The Sixers drafted Fultz No. 1 overall with the outlook that he can develop on the defensive end. 

“We really think Markelle could be a really good two-way player,” president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo said on draft night. “We just have to now get him to think that way and begin to play that way all the time.”

Fultz is up for that challenge. He knows the caliber of competition in the NBA will greatly surpass those he easily handled in high school and college. In the past, he said he “stayed on his heels a little bit too much” but now is zoned in on keeping his man in front of him. 

“Here everybody is skilled,” Fultz said. “Any given day people get blown by, everybody can pass you and everybody can score the ball. So, it just has to do with being more mental until you lock it in and just trusting my bigs when screens come, not looking back. It’s going to be a challenge every night coming out to guard whoever is in front of me, so that’s what I’m looking forward to.”

Fultz will be under a spotlight in summer league. That comes with the territory of being the first pick. The 19-year-old is ready for it. 

“He’s a competitor,” Pierce said. “When you’re a No. 1 pick and you’re as talented as he is and he’s a young guy that’s still learning, when he hears something, you see his competitive side come out and you see him wanting to address it.”

Sixers focused more on themselves than Round 2 opponent

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Sixers focused more on themselves than Round 2 opponent

CAMDEN, N.J. — Tuesday’s series-clinching victory was a monumental achievement for the Sixers. And while the team briefly savored Brett Brown’s first playoff series win as a head coach in memorable fashion, they were back at practice Thursday afternoon, with their focus shifted to Round 2.

“It was fun,” Joel Embiid said of the celebration with Brown. “I was happy for him because obviously after what he’s been through, two years ago he had a team that only won 10 games and this year he’s at, what, 56? I was really happy for him, and that was the first playoff series that he won, so it was something we felt like we needed to celebrate. But we’re on to the next one.”

That next opponent will be either the Celtics or the Bucks. Boston leads the series, 3-2, and can advance with a win in Game 6 Thursday night at 8 p.m. If the Celtics win, the Sixers will play Game 1 of the second round in Boston on Saturday night.

“Because we don’t know who you’re going to play, you don’t have that luxury of time,” Brown said. “No matter who you play, you better get back in transition defense and you better rebound. But it’s easier for sure when you can zoom in and say, ‘OK, you got Giannis, or you got Marcus Smart.’”

Though they don’t have the advantage of knowing their opponent, the Sixers do have a few extra days to recover from what was an extremely physical series against the Heat. They also have a chance to hone their own sets and to sharpen their execution. Ersan Ilyasova mentioned that, among other things, the Sixers worked on creating space for Embiid post-ups.

“At the end of the day, whoever comes out, I think it’s up to us,” Ilyasova said. “Recently, the way we’ve played, we have to focus on ourselves and if we do the right things, it’s going to be in our favor.”

Boston or Milwaukee is just not the primary concern at the moment. Sure, the Sixers will tune into Game 6 with interest. Embiid said he’ll be watching at home as usual with Markelle Fultz and Justin Anderson. But the intense, team-specific preparation won’t start in earnest until that series concludes.

“We just prepare for both teams,” Embiid said. “We’re going to be ready for whoever. We played them in the regular season, so we have a lot of scouting reports, so I’m sure the coaches will do their job to get us ready.”

The Sixers went 1-3 against the Celtics in the regular season, while they had a 2-2 record against the Bucks. However, Kyrie Irving, who is out for the playoffs with a left patella injury, played in three of those matchups against Boston. And the Sixers crushed the Bucks in the regular-season finale, 130-95. Regardless of who they play, the Sixers will be favored. If they play close to the level they’re capable of, they should advance to the Eastern Conference Finals.

Playing in his first postseason, Embiid gave the mature answer of a seasoned veteran when asked if he’d prefer to face Milwaukee or Boston.

“It’s the playoffs. I don’t think it matters,” Embiid. “As long as you play your game and stick to your concepts, you’re going to be fine.”

Ben Simmons dominating NBA playoffs as a rookie

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Ben Simmons dominating NBA playoffs as a rookie

July 20, 1996.

Watching Ben Simmons play in the postseason, it’s easy to forget the Sixers rookie point guard is only 21. 

Simmons has been handling the pressures of his first playoff run with a maturity beyond his years and a basketball savvy that’s putting his achievements among elite players that came before him in the NBA. 

The postseason stage did not prove to be too big for Simmons in the first round, and he’s just getting started. 

“On to the next series,” Simmons said after the Sixers eliminated the Heat in Game 5. “We've got to focus on that. For me, this is my first season playing so this is what I'm going to expect now.”

Simmons averaged 18.2 points, 10.6 rebounds, 9.0 assists, 2.4 steals and 4.0 turnovers in 37.4 minutes during the first round. He recorded a triple-double in Game 4, the first Sixer to do so since Charles Barkley on April 27, 1991. Simmons also became the youngest player with a playoff triple-double since LeBron James on May 13, 2006.

Simmons is tied with James, Anthony Davis, Russell Westbrook and LaMarcus Aldridge for the most double-doubles so far in the postseason. The last rookie to reach at least four double-doubles in his first five playoff games was Tim Duncan during the 1997-98 season.

“He didn’t have a bad game,” Dwyane Wade said after the Heat’s Game 5 loss. “You knew from the first time you saw him in summer league that he was special … I think the thing that was impressive about him all year is he just continued to get better and better and better. To the point where it’s like that guy in Cleveland — doesn’t have bad games. The imprint that [Simmons and James] put on the game is more than just scoring. [Simmons] does so much.”

Simmons’ poise and composure was tested by the Heat in the opening round. He was on the receiving end of tough plays during an extremely physical series. 

During the Sixers’ closeout game, Simmons was taken out at the legs by Josh Richardson and slammed into the ground with a bruise on his back to show for it. Later in the game, Goran Dragic was whistled for a technical after swiping Simmons in the head. Unnerved, Simmons took both incidents in stride.

“First play when I fell, he (Richardson) didn’t see me. It was just a hard fall,” Simmons said. “The second one, I think I just got under Dragic’s skin. But I’ve got nothing but respect for those guys. They play hard every night and they made us a better team.” 

Simmons has escalated his game all season through adversity and challenges, from stepping up in the absence of an injured Joel Embiid to being looked over for the All-Star team to shaking off criticism of his eligibility for Rookie of the Year. He remains unfazed amid it all, keeping a calm expression on his face that translates into a collected style of play. 

“It’s just the way I am,” Simmons said. “Nothing really bothers me on the floor. I might get frustrated but I never let it take over what I’m doing on the floor.”

Spoken like a player who's been to the postseason before; only he hasn't.