76ers

Next step in Joel Embiid's evolution is disciplined preparation

Next step in Joel Embiid's evolution is disciplined preparation

A shade over 20 points, nearly eight rebounds and over two blocks per game — all on a minutes restriction after being sidelined for the previous two years because of foot injuries.

Joel Embiid dominated over 31 contests as a rookie last season. Yet, there still is room for development from the 23-year-old big man. As Sixers head coach Brett Brown sees it, some of the most significant growth will happen away from the court. 

“I think it has nothing to do really with his game. It’s not his jump hook. It’s not his defense. It’s his health,” Brown said last week while previewing his Coach’s Clinic. “Helping him better understand how to consistently play NBA basketball is most on my mind.”

Embiid underwent season-ending arthroscopic surgery in late March to repair a meniscus tear in his left knee. He has not played in an NBA game since Jan. 28. There has been no definitive timetable set for his return this coming season. Embiid has been working out at the Sixers’ training complex, but he has not been participating in 5-on-5 activity. The objective of his rehab is to be healthy for opening night on Oct. 18. 

“To take basketball away, as it has been taken away because of injuries, there’s a sullenness, there’s a body language that you feel for him,” Brown said. “He’s had some rough luck. I see an excited player starting to come back. We sure will be excited to have him back.” 

Once again, Embiid will have to practice patience. He was limited to 28 minutes a night and held out of consecutive games last season. The Sixers have 14 pairs of back-to-backs on the 2017-18 schedule. It is unlikely Embiid will start the season without some type of restrictions. 

“The competitive side that Joel possesses is not to be denied,” Brown said. “Helping him really prepare his body, helping him be able to play NBA basketball in multiple games and back-to-backs, all those types of things, that’s a health thing, that’s a discipline thing.”

Embiid already proved what he can do on the floor. Next step, staying healthy for a full season.

“The preparation to go play a game, the pre-hab stuff, the discipline of getting yourself ready is always an evolution for any player,” Brown said. “Joel’s no different.” 

Joel Embiid disappointed Brett Brown has him on another minutes limit

Joel Embiid disappointed Brett Brown has him on another minutes limit

CAMDEN, N.J. — Joel Embiid would like to play 48 minutes every game. The Sixers are looking at a maximum of 20 for opening night.

"I don't really know if there's a solid number," Brett Brown said Monday after practice. "I can tell if you were to choose a number, it's somewhere in the teens."

Embiid was hoping for more playing time on Wednesday against the Wizards, his first regular-season game since Jan. 27 (left knee surgery).

"I didn't know about that, but that's very disappointing," Embiid said Monday of the minutes restriction. "I feel great and hopefully that changes based on today's practice and tomorrow's practice."

The Sixers are being cautious with Embiid, who has both a lengthy history of injuries and a massive new contract extension. He clocked 15 minutes in both of his preseason games last week. Embiid felt he could have played twice as many minutes.

While the Sixers aren't ready to go as high as 30 minutes yet, they could exercise some wiggle room based on the flow of the game.

"There will be some minutes restrictions, but it's also a judgment of how is the game being played, not just looking at rote, rigid number," Brown said.

The NBA's new timeout rules could impact Embiid's playing time. The updated format changes include a decrease in the maximum number of timeouts allowed (18 to 14), 75-second team timeouts and fewer timeouts in the final minutes of the game. 

"One of the things that we're doing this year unlike previous years is there's a little bit of a looseness in relation to it doesn't have to be rigid if the game didn't dictate some track meet," Brown said. "This is like I'm coaching in the London Olympic Games again. The game moves. I can have guys at a scorers table for two minutes with no stoppage. So sometimes the torrid pace of a game doesn't favor Jo where you go flying up and down."

In addition to individual games, it remains to be seen if Embiid will be cleared this season for back-to-backs. The Sixers face their first set of consecutive games this Friday and Saturday against the Celtics at home and the Raptors in Toronto.

Markelle Fultz likely to start season on bench for Sixers

Markelle Fultz likely to start season on bench for Sixers

CAMDEN, N.J. — Brett Brown likely will bring Markelle Fultz in off the bench to start the season. 

The No. 1 pick missed the majority of the preseason because of soreness in his right knee and right shoulder. Fultz played a total of 47 minutes over just two games. He practiced Sunday.

When asked if Fultz will start, Brown said “I don’t believe so” and noted the lack of in-game experience. The Sixers face the Wizards’ dangerous backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal in the regular season opener Wednesday. 

“He hasn’t played much basketball in preseason,” Brown said Sunday. “He’s been out for a while. He hasn’t been with our group. I think the decision like, do you put him into the fire right away and have him play against starting NBA defensive players, especially with the little foundation that he has? I don’t think that’s smart.”

Fultz, last season’s Pac-12 leading scorer, struggled offensively in the preseason games in which he did play. He shot 2 for 13 from the field (0 for 3 from three) and scored four points in the opener against the Grizzlies. Facing the Celtics, he scored 12 points off of 5 for 11 shooting from the field (no three-point attempts).

“At the end of the day, I want to do whatever I’ve got to do to help my team win,” Fultz said. “So if that’s coming off the bench, I’m fine with that. Just contribute any ways I can.”

All the while, the change in his shot form has been in the spotlight. He missed the second preseason game against the Celtics because of shoulder soreness. He previously described the injury as ongoing and did not point to a specific moment of injury (see story). Fultz was sidelined for the final two preseason games with right knee soreness.

“My shoulder is bothering me, so that’s the reason my shot’s like that,” Fultz said. “At the end of the day, I’m not going use that as an excuse, like I said before. But my shoulder is the main reason why my shot’s doing that.”

The Sixers traded up to draft Fultz first overall largely because of his ability to complement Ben Simmons off the ball. The pair hasn’t played together much since then, though. Jerryd Bayless started four of the five preseason games at shooting guard alongside Simmons.

“You have a plan in your head. It’s deviated from the summer, lots of it because of his injuries and lack of availability,” Brown said. “But we’ll all sort of see how I use him and how he uses himself. It will all be driven out of, how do we develop him and still win games?”

Fultz’s role could change throughout the season. The Sixers will work through his minutes, guard pairings and ball-handling responsibilities. These considerations will be based on Fultz’s health, matchups and the availability of his teammates, all the while trying to be successful. 

“The balance of development and winning is a slippery slope because he hasn’t played basketball and he’s really had an erratic preseason,” Brown said. “How we are fair in delivering him to an NBA court and situations that I put him in and volume of minutes he gets with the notion he’s the first player chosen, we understand the microscope, the pedestal that he is on. But the reality with all those other things that I just said are also my responsibility to figure it all out. Ultimately, you’ve got play and develop him and take some hits so that he can grow with us.”