76ers

Sixers' big men work to expand shooting range to 3-point line

Sixers' big men work to expand shooting range to 3-point line

CAMDEN, N.J. — A group of Sixers gathered at the three-point line and moved around the arc for a spirited shooting drill. They trash-talked and bantered as each pulled up from long range, a sight one would expect from the overflow of guards or perimeter players. 

Only this enthusiasm was coming from four centers — Joel Embiid, Richaun Holmes, Amir Johnson and Jahlil Okafor. The Sixers have tasked their bigs with incorporating three-point shooting into their practice routines. 

“For the most part, all of our guys, it’s not out of their wheelhouse to shoot threes,” Brett Brown said Wednesday. “Apart from the fun, competitive side of it, it’s the way our sport is trending.” 

The Sixers shot 34.0 percent from three last season, tying the Bulls for 25th in the league. They added shooters to their backcourt, most notably three-point wiz JJ Redick. Between the NBA’s position-less basketball and the Sixers’ unconventional lineup with a 6-foot-10 point guard in Ben Simmons, however, it is not unlikely to see centers stretching the floor and taking outside shots. 

“We still recognize that we like getting the bigs the ball close to the rim,” Brown said. “But when it does happen, we don’t discourage it if they’re wide open.”

Of the group, Johnson has the most three-point experience. The 13th-year veteran expanded his game in 2013 and shot 40.9 percent with the Celtics last season. 

Embiid was not shy to shoot treys as a rookie. He showed off his dream of being a guard by attempting 98 threes in 31 games (36.7 percent). Holmes also worked on drills after practice last season and shot 35.1 percent (27 of 77).

“We saw what Joel Embiid did last year,” Brown said. “We’ve seen the growth that Richaun Holmes has made. Amir Johnson has effectively reinvented himself because he now has that truly, especially in the corners, in his arsenal.”

As for Okafor, who also knocked down shots, don’t expect that to become his new go-to move. He has made one three over his two-year career and didn’t attempt any last season.

“That’s probably having more fun than it will become a part of his game,” Brown said. “But who am I to say it’ll never be a part of your game? At this stage, it’s not something that we would run a play for.” 

Injury updates
Okafor participated in 5-on-5 for limited parts of the scrimmage in Wednesday’s practice. He missed the final 11 games of last season because of right knee soreness. Okafor had been restricted to 3-on-3 for the start of camp. 

Embiid worked on shooting drills, cardio and resistance training in his rehab from left knee surgery. 

Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot (knee tendinitis) went through parts of practice and did not participate in 5-on-5. 

Joel Embiid to start Sixers' season opener, but how much will he pay?

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USA Today Images

Joel Embiid to start Sixers' season opener, but how much will he pay?

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The first starting lineup of the Sixers' 2017-18 season will be Ben Simmons, Jerryd Bayless, JJ Redick, Robert Covington and Joel Embiid.

Brown is sticking with the group that closed out preseason competition. That group has a balance of veterans and young talent, including Simmons making his NBA debut after missing all of last season with a foot injury.

"It helps a lot (starting together in the preseason) because you're learning guys and how they move and how they play," Simmons said. "I think we have a pretty good connection going into tonight's game and it's only going to get better."

Embiid will be under a minutes restriction but Brown does not have a definitive number. The big man previously said he expected to play 16 minutes. Embiid was the last one to leave the court at the conclusion of shootaround. 

"There's a range that we'll work with," Brown said. "We're going to feel it together. We'll play Joel within some parameters and go from that base." 

Markelle Fultz also will make his NBA debut. The No. 1 pick, who has battled right knee and shoulder soreness, will come off the bench in front of his hometown crowd. 

"I'm excited," Fultz said. "It's anything you can wish for."

Sixers-Wizards thoughts: Finally, a season opener with meaning

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NBCSP

Sixers-Wizards thoughts: Finally, a season opener with meaning

Sixers vs. Wizards
7 p.m. on ESPN
Sixers Pregame Live at 6:30 p.m., Postgame Live on NBC Sports Philadelphia, NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the NBC Sports app

This is different.

For the first time in a handful of years, the Sixers are set to tip off an NBA regular season with legitimate expectations and hope (see Fearless Forecast).

That all gets started in our nation’s capital as the Sixers open up the 2017-18 campaign against the Washington Wizards at Verizon Center.

Let’s take a closer look at the matchup:

• You know the numbers by now: 20.2 points, 7.8 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 2.5 blocks in 25.4 minutes per game.

Joel Embiid was an absolute force during his rookie season. After sitting out two years with foot injuries, Embiid showed the entire league just how dominant he can be when healthy. However, that lasted only 31 games before the big man suffered a torn meniscus.

That brings us back to the final section in that stat line: minutes. Embiid will be on a minutes restriction to start the season, a decision the center made clear that he does not support (see story). With the team eyeing around 16 minutes on opening night, things can get tricky. If he has it rolling early, do the Sixers still take him out at his designated time? Will they go light on playing time early to save him for down the stretch?

With the Sixers finally focused on actually winning some games and not solely on building for the future, it will be interesting to see how Brett Brown handles Embiid’s time on the floor.

• Time for take two on Ben Simmons' rookie season. Much like recent Sixers before him, Simmons sat out what would have been his entire rookie year after fracturing his foot in training camp.

While Simmons likely could have returned at some point in 2016-17, Rookie of the Year campaigns aren’t built on portions of seasons (just ask Embiid). And make no mistake about it, the Sixers’ new starting point guard has his sights set on bringing home the hardware.

Leading a team on the rise with his versatile skill set suggests Simmons will be among the frontrunners for the award. He put up 11.4 points, 6.2 rebounds, 5.4 assists and 1.4 steals per game during the preseason. 

But at some point, he will have to give teams a reason to respect his shooting ability from outside the paint. Simmons was 0 for 3 from three-point range and 9 for 22 from the free throw line during preseason action.

• Speaking of rookies, when is the last time the No. 1 overall pick has come into his first season as under the radar as Markelle Fultz?

Since being selected atop June’s NBA draft, it’s been an up-and-down transition for Fultz. The Washington product showed his scoring prowess in summer league play before going down with an ankle injury. Then a shoulder injury suffered during camp caused him to alter his shooting stroke. Finally, an ailing knee forced him to the sideline for the rest of preseason.

Now Fultz will come off the bench with the second unit. It should be a better situation for him as he can be more of a focal point and to handle the ball more often without sharing the floor with Simmons. However, if the 19-year-old continues down a rocky path to start, will he be able to handle the criticism?

• Outside of the Stephen Curry-Klay Thompson pairing, there is always debate about which team owns the best backcourt duo. Is it Toronto’s Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan? What about Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum in Portland?

Scratch all of that. Besides the “Splash Brothers” in the Bay, my money is on the Wizards’ John Wall and Bradley Beal.

The guards simply get better each season, with 2016-17 being their best yet. Wall and Beal combined to average 46.2 points (23.1 apiece), 13.8 assists, 7.7 rebounds and 3.1 steals per game.

They are simply electric. And if matchups shake out as planned, veterans Jerryd Bayless and JJ Redick could be in for a long night.

• If anyone is looking forward to tipping off a new season, it has to be Brett Brown. The Sixers' head coach has endured one of the most extensive rebuilds in professional sports history and the anguish that goes along with such a plan.

Despite a 75-253 record over his first four seasons, Brown was able to not only keep the Sixers together but also still get them to compete to their best ability on a nightly basis.

And while that is certainly to be commended, things have flipped in a hurry for the head man. Brown’s objective now is to win and a fast start would go a long way toward proving he is really the man to transition the Sixers to the next phase of their rebuild. However, with 16 of the team’s first 21 games against opponents that reached the playoffs last season, it will be far from easy.

• The Sixers took two of the three matchups against the Wizards last season to win the season series. Jahlil Okafor actually led the way with an average of 18.7 points against the Wiz.