76ers

Sixers Mailbag: Joel Embiid back-to-backs and toughest opponents

Sixers Mailbag: Joel Embiid back-to-backs and toughest opponents

The release of the NBA schedule is a highly-anticipated announcement every summer. Now we know what the next 82 matchups will look like for the Sixers, and there is so much to discuss regarding their opponents, road vs. home contests and frequency of games.

One of the most popular questions I received was about individual tickets for home games. Those will go on sale in September. Ticket information for the Jan. 18 game in London is available here.

Thanks to those who submitted questions with #CSNSixersMailbag.

When the schedule was released, I first looked to see the home opener. Then I counted the number of back-to-backs, of which there are 14.

The number of consecutive games is significant for the Sixers because of the restrictions placed on Joel Embiid last season. Embiid did not play both games during his rookie year, his first after recovering from injuries.

I expect the Sixers will have a back-to-back restriction on Embiid again this season. Perhaps not every time — I wouldn’t be surprised it if they tried to get a sense of where he is at with conditioning and workload — but the majority of the season. I put my prediction at Embiid playing in two back-to-back series.

I would think Simmons would face similar restrictions in his rookie season as Embiid did, and I would not be surprised if Simmons does not play in any back-to-backs. The Sixers have yet to see how he performs in an NBA game. They are going to be extremely cautious with the 2016 No. 1 pick when he makes his debut after suffering a Jones fracture last year in training camp.

The Sixers will take a closer look at these situations during training camp once they get to see both of them on the court. When it comes to the health of Embiid and Simmons, it’s all about the career longevity, not a race to play 82 regular season games.

The Sixers' schedule is a tale of two seasons: Western Conference vs. Eastern Conference. They will play 11 games against the West by Nov. 22, including twice against the Rockets, Warriors and Trail Blazers in less than a month. Meanwhile, the second half of the season includes only four Western Conference opponents.

Those aren’t the only early challenges. The Sixers open the season facing some of the best teams in the East, with the Wizards, Celtics and Raptors three games in a row. They encounter another tough Eastern Conference stretch in late November against the Cavaliers, Wizards and Celtics (on a back-to-back).

So what does all this mean for their record? The Sixers are positioned to improve, and despite these challenges I still expect them to make the playoffs. There will be a lot of bumps in the road early on, though, with a new team — a young team at that — learning to play together. So if they start out struggling against this stacked lineup of opponents, that won’t be cause for panic. The Sixers have a lot of areas in which they will need to grow and these matchups will be a good test for them. It is more beneficial to face these teams early on than coast through an easy schedule for the first few months, get comfortable playing against lesser competitions and then run into these contenders.

The second half of the season favors the Sixers if they are making a run at a playoff berth. Among their opponents, they play the Nets three times in a month and the Hawks twice in two weeks to close out the regular season.

The games in this question are Nov. 11 at Warriors, Nov. 13 at Clippers, Nov. 15 at Lakers and Nov. 18 vs. Warriors at home compared to Nov. 27 vs. Cavaliers at home, Nov. 29 vs. Wizards at home and Nov. 30 at Celtics.

I am going with the Western Conference matchups.

The three games in this question are part of a five-game road trip that runs Nov. 7 through Nov. 15 with the first two games in Salt Lake City and Sacramento. The Sixers will be facing the defending champions at Oracle Arena, where the Warriors went 36-5 last regular season.

From there they will go to the Staples Center. That game against the Lakers will be just as much about basketball as it will be about the Lonzo and LaVar Ball storylines. Based on the Summer League crowd in Las Vegas, I’m sure Lakers fans will be ready for this one. It will be a test of focus for the Sixers.

Then it’s welcome back home to face the Warriors again. I don’t know many teams that want to play the Warriors twice in eight days. 

Rookie of the Year down to 2 and Ben Simmons' odds slipping

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AP Images

Rookie of the Year down to 2 and Ben Simmons' odds slipping

Donovan Mitchell continues to creep closer to Ben Simmons in the NBA Rookie of the Year race, and the gap in Bovada's odds for the two is as close as it's been all season.

Simmons is now -250 to win the award, meaning a $250 wager is required to win $100. 

Mitchell is at +170, meaning a $100 wager wins you $170.

In the most recent odds update in January, Simmons was at -650; Mitchell was +400.

It's a clear two-man race at this point.
 
Simmons is averaging 16.4 points, 7.8 rebounds, 7.3 assists, 1.9 steals and 0.9 blocks this season. No player in recorded history has hit all five criteria in the same season.

Mitchell, however, has been on fire for the NBA's hottest team. The Jazz have won 11 straight games to test the Pelicans for the 8-seed, and over that span, Mitchell has averaged 21.3 points, albeit on 41 percent shooting.

For the season, Mitchell is at 19.6 points, 3.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.5 steals. He's made 35.4 percent of his threes and 83.6 percent of his free throws.

Both are stars in the making, but it's worth noting that the Jazz are playing better than they have all season and Simmons is still the favorite. Where Utah ends up will be a determining factor in the Rookie of the Year race — if the Jazz can somehow end up the 7-seed in a loaded West, arguments for Mitchell will grow louder.

Both Simmons and Mitchell were two of five guests this week on NBA TV's Open Court: Rookies Edition. Interest talking points from the special: 

• Mitchell referenced former Sixer Jrue Holiday as an under-the-radar tough player to guard, saying he watches film of Holiday every day.

• Simmons recalled LeBron attacking him frequently in the first quarter of their first meeting, saying he wasn't surprised LeBron wanted to send a message by going right at him.

• The Morris twins were mentioned by Simmons and Jayson Tatum when asked about the most imposing players in the league. Everyone cited DeMarcus Cousins.

• Simmons downplayed the importance of his NBA redshirt season, saying you don't really know what it's like to play back to back and deal with the hectic travel schedule until you're involved in it every day.

Hinkie's old boss expected Giannis to be a Sixer

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USA Today Images

Hinkie's old boss expected Giannis to be a Sixer

The 2013 NBA draft was one of the strangest in recent memory. There was no consensus first overall pick, which is how Anthony Bennett happens.

Nerlens Noel was viewed as a candidate to be the top pick before tearing his ACL late in his lone college season. The Sixers, then under Sam Hinkie, bought the upside on Noel and traded Jrue Holiday for the sixth overall pick to take him. 

Five picks later, the Sixers took another big, athletic, upside-based player in Michael Carter-Williams.

Four picks after that ... Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Rockets general manager Daryl Morey, Hinkie's boss before the protege left for Philly, said on The Bill Simmons Podcast this week that he was convinced the Sixers were set to take Giannis.

"I was actually really surprised Philly didn't take him," Morey said. "They ended up taking the Rookie of the Year (MCW) so they did fine. But [Giannis] was this super-high-upside guy. We had bet that [Hinkie] might take [Giannis] because we were like, 'Super-high upside, might as well go for it.'"

Could you even begin to imagine ...

Keep in mind, though, that these types of what-if conversations require more context. Had the Sixers taken Giannis then, they're probably not bad enough to pick high enough to get Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons in two of the next three years. (Same concept to remember whenever someone says the Sixers should have taken Kristaps Porzingis over Jahlil Okafor. Of course they should have, but if you draft Porzingis, you probably don't get Simmons.)

Giannis was by far the best player in that draft, with Rudy Gobert (27th), C.J. McCollum (10th) and Victor Oladipo (2nd) the only other standouts. Otto Porter (3), Dennis Schroder (17) and Steven Adams (12) are good players, but that's pretty much it. Everyone else in that 2013 draft is either a fringe rotational player, a non-factor or out of the league. 

That was a rough draft for GMs to navigate, as opposed to the year before when Anthony Davis was the consensus No. 1 and Bradley Beal, Damian Lillard and Andre Drummond were all top-10 picks. The only surprise outside the top 10 that previous year was Draymond Green, a huge steal but one of the only steals of 2012.

The Giannis draft (2013) was Hinkie's first as the Sixers' GM. Though Hinkie was a swing-for-the-fences type, perhaps even he couldn't justify trading an established player in Holiday for the ultimate risk-reward player in Antetokounmpo. Not many execs had seen the Greek Freak more than a few times, and it was difficult to gauge how his work against inferior competition would translate to the best league on Earth.

Alas ...

Hinkie's final days
Morey clearly still rides for Hinkie, and he had an interesting take on how his former colleague's tenure with the Sixers ended.

Should Hinkie have been more front-facing?

"If you know it's gonna end how it's gonna end, I think he would say for sure," Morey said when Simmons referred to Hinkie as "Howard Hughes-ish." 

"He felt like he had ownership's support there to execute on the plan and part of the plan was to not be as out there, especially during the down times," Morey continued. "Sam can be more communicative, it's just he thinks it's better for the team, especially at that point when he was there, it didn't make sense to be that communicative.

"That said, if he knew he didn't have the support (from ownership) that he thought he had, I'm sure he would have been out there more.

"Hopefully, someone will give him a shot. I think he can obviously help a lot of teams."