76ers

Robert Covington seeking to expand game beyond 3-point shooting

Robert Covington seeking to expand game beyond 3-point shooting

Robert Covington led the Sixers in three-point attempts the past two seasons. That most likely will change, not just because of the additions of guards JJ Redick and Markelle Fultz.

This summer, Covington has been expanding his offensive game as he enters his fifth NBA season. 

“I’ve been working on a lot more stuff off the dribble, a lot of different finishes, different floaters, different ways to get to the basket,” Covington said last week at the Sixers’ Summer Shore Tour in Stone Harbor, New Jersey. “[I’ve been working on] creating also because I know a lot of people know I can shoot already, but I have to broaden aspects of my game.”

Covington shot 33.3 percent from three off 6.1 attempts per game. He took 413 shots from long range compared to 210 at the rim, according to BasketballReference.com

The small forward’s outside looks will be dispersed with his new teammates. The Sixers invested $23 million in Redick to be a sharpshooter, among other roles. Last season, Redick attempted 468 treys, tied for 14th in the league with Kyle Lowry. 

Covington is on board with changing up his shots to fit into the Sixers' system.

“The core is going to be dynamic because it’s so versatile,” he said. “There’s so many skill sets that a number of guys can play different positions. We have that chemistry, that grit, that fight in us. Guys want to make us get better. The intensity of everything is going to be heightened this year because of the guys we have."

Covington and Joel Embiid likely will be the only two starters that carry over from last season. Fultz, Redick and Ben Simmons are likely to round out the starting five, with the 6-foot-10 Simmons taking on point guard responsibilities.

“It’s going to be very good for us because we’re going to be able to switch a lot,” Covington said. “It’s going to make us that much more versatile, that much more deadly as a team. Then we’re going to have depth, guys on the bench that can come in and do the same thing. To have people that come in and fill that void that we have, there won’t be much letdown.”

Covington’s first three seasons with the Sixers were about rebuilding and trying to build a foundation amid injuries. That includes Covington, who underwent surgery in April to repair a meniscus tear in his right knee. He said he “absolutely” will be ready for training camp in late September. Feeling healthy on a revamped roster, Covington finally can look ahead beyond the regular season. 

“It’s thrilling because we've got that same expectation [as the fans to make the playoffs],” he said. “The way things are opening up, opportunity is definitely there. It’s just a matter of us seizing it."

Joel Embiid doesn't want Sixers to end up like OKC

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Joel Embiid doesn't want Sixers to end up like OKC

Joel Embiid doesn't want the Sixers to end up like the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Not the 2017-18 Thunder, but OKC circa 2011-12.

Embiid is convinced that at some point soon, the media will turn on him and the Sixers. 

Speaking specifically about the core trio of Embiid, Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz, Embiid told ESPN's Ramona Shelburne:

"I think with everything, the main thing we have to do is just stay together because I feel like there's going to be some type of situation where people say who is better between us three. And that's how it splits."

Shelburne, who wrote a long and interesting feature on Embiid this week, told more of the story Wednesday on Zach Lowe's podcast.

She recalled talking to Embiid about his social media presence at All-Star weekend in 2016, when he told her, "I'm just trying to have as much fun before everybody turns on me."

Shelburne pointed out the uniqueness of a then-22-year-old — who had been in the United States just seven years — understanding the "fame cycle" well enough to know that things could soon turn.

"I saw what happened in Oklahoma City with (James) Harden, (Russell) Westbrook and (Kevin) Durant and I don't want that to happen here," Shelburne recalled Embiid saying.

If the Sixers get to that point ... it'll probably be a good problem to have. Just prior to the 2012-13 season, the Thunder traded Harden to Houston in one of the worst trades in recent NBA history. OKC did it for several reasons — salary cap, personalities, only having enough shots to go around. And really, who knows if Harden would have been able to grow into this superstar had he been sharing the ball the next handful of seasons with two other alphas?

Embiid and Fultz have already grown close, and it's important to Embiid that the three young Sixers don't get caught up in the "Who takes the last shot?" conversations or "Who should be the All-Star" questions that inevitably come up. 

Luckily for the Sixers, Embiid, Simmons and Fultz have different enough skill sets that they should be able to coexist. It's not directly analogous to the OKC situation where all three players needed the ball in their hands. The Sixers were built this way for a reason. 

Right now, it's clear Embiid is the alpha of the group. He's the go-to guy in crunch time and again has a top-five usage rate. When Simmons eventually becomes more comfortable with his jump shot and Fultz finally makes his impact on the court, we'll see whether or not Embiid was prescient.

Joel Embiid puts back pain aside to get Sixers 'needed' OT win

Joel Embiid puts back pain aside to get Sixers 'needed' OT win

BOX SCORE

MINNEAPOLIS — Joel Embiid's presence was arguably the biggest factor in the Sixers’ snapping their four-game losing streak on Tuesday.

The center was especially key in the final two minutes of regulation and in overtime, as the 76ers defeated the Timberwolves, 118-112 (see observations).

Embiid assisted on Ben Simmons' go-ahead dunk with 1:17 remaining in regulation and hit the game-tying free throws with 14 seconds remaining. He then scored seven points in overtime, including a three-pointer that gave the Sixers a seven-point lead with 1:39 to go.

Embiid finished with 28 points and 12 rebounds in 39 minutes (see highlights), despite missing the two previous games in Cleveland and New Orleans with back tightness.

"I would not have expected him to play as well as he played or as many minutes as he played," Sixers coach Brett Brown said. "… He obviously was massive."

Embiid said he didn't feel 100 percent going into Tuesday's game and added that his back was really tight before the game against New Orleans. He said he didn't have the lift during Tuesday's game that he typically does but that he knew his back would get tight while sitting.

"We needed this," he said of the win.

Embiid’s being in the lineup changes how the 76ers' offense operates, rookie Ben Simmons said. Embiid changes the team's spacing but also gives the Sixers an offensive presence in the post.

"You have to find your spot, but it's a big help also," Simmons said.

Simmons finished with just seven points, as Timberwolves wings Jimmy Butler and Andrew Wiggins guarded him most of the night. However, the rookie was key down the stretch as he scored all seven points in the final 6:17 of regulation and overtime (see highlights).

Brown noted how Simmons ended up with a rating of plus-3 despite the below-average point total. He said he loved that Simmons and Embiid were able to connect for big plays late.

"It wasn't statistically one of his best games," Brown said of Simmons, " … [but] for him to help us get that win on the road, that's a good night."

The win also snapped the Sixers’ recent run of fourth-quarter letdowns. The 76ers trailed by nine with six minutes remaining Tuesday, but they went on a 14-4 run to take a 91-90 lead with 2:17 remaining in regulation. Richaun Holmes completed the run with a three-point play.

Brown said he thought JJ Redick, Simmons and Embiid executed well during that stretch and made note of a three-pointer Redick hit to start the run. 

"To me, that was the tipping point when things started to run," Brown said of the shot.

The coach added that the Sixers will need to cut down on turnovers in order to achieve their goals. The Sixers had a season-high 24, though none came in overtime.