76ers

Sixers Mailbag: Joel Embiid's big landings; T.J. McConnell still a starter?

Sixers Mailbag: Joel Embiid's big landings; T.J. McConnell still a starter?

It’s August, so you know what that means: less than two months until the start of NBA training camp. For as many questions as the Sixers addressed in free agency and the draft, there are a lot that still remains. In this mailbag, let’s take a look at a few of those topics. If you don’t see your tweet here, I will be answering more next week. (On that note, big thanks for the huge response to mailbag questions!)

Good question, Jake. Sounds like you were one of the many who gasped whenever Joel Embiid flew out of bounds. The Sixers are tasked with the tough job of getting Embiid to find the balance between giving 100 percent on each play and having enough restraint to avoid hurdling six rows into the stands. (So it wasn’t that many rows, but you get my point.) 

One interview with Embiid that struck me last season was when he said in November, “I don’t really have my legs yet,” in regard to finishing around the rim. That showed he still was a work in progress during his rookie year, learning how to maneuver a massive 7-foot, 250-pound frame with its capabilities and areas for improvement. All the while, he still wanted to chase down every loose ball like a feisty undersized point guard. 

Sixers head of strength and conditioning/assistant coach Todd Wright takes a very methodical, sports science-based approach in his training. Each player’s workout regimen is tailored to his health and conditioning needs. After going through foot and knee surgeries, I would expect landings and balance are a focus in Embiid’s training efforts to avoid further injuries. 

T.J. McConnell has the mentality he has to fight for his job every day, in every game and every practice. He’ll do that again in his third season.

There’s no question McConnell has earned his place in the NBA. He exudes hustle on each play and can be counted on for maximum effort. Between a combination of injuries to Jerryd Bayless and Sergio Rodriguez and his own hard work, McConnell took over the starting point guard role in January. McConnell knows the situation will be different this coming season with the addition of Markelle Fultz and the returns of Ben Simmons and Bayless. Expect him to be using that to drive him this summer. 

The point guard role is going to be very non-traditional for the Sixers this season. The pairing of Fultz and Simmons looks promising because of Fultz’s ability to play off the ball. McConnell is more of a traditional point guard than a scorer, which isn’t the best fit to start alongside Simmons. The Sixers also will want to get Fultz acclimated in playing with Embiid and others in the starting lineup to further his consistency and development within the system. McConnell has come off the bench before and embraces the attitude to accept any role he is assigned.

NBA Notes: Bulls' Mirotic suffers broken bones in fight with teammate Portis

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NBA Notes: Bulls' Mirotic suffers broken bones in fight with teammate Portis

CHICAGO -- The Chicago Bulls say forward Nikola Mirotic suffered multiple broken bones in his face as well as a concussion in a fight with teammate Bobby Portis during practice.

The team says Mirotic will likely need surgery and is out indefinitely. They say they are "evaluating disciplinary action" after Tuesday's incident.

Mirotic averaged 10.8 points over his first three seasons with Chicago. A restricted free agent, he signed a two-year contract that could pay as much as $27 million in September. The club holds an option on the second season.

A 2015 first-round pick, Portis has averaged 6.9 points and 5 rebounds.

The Bulls open at Toronto on Thursday. Chicago is rebuilding after trading Jimmy Butler and parting with Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo (see full story).

Nuggets: Jefferson reportedly agrees to deal
DENVER -- Michael Malone knows all about Richard Jefferson. Just not Tuesday, with the deal for the veteran forward still waiting on official word.

"Who's Jefferson?" the Denver Nuggets coach coyly said after practice.

Jefferson will join the Nuggets on a one-year deal, a person with knowledge of the negotiations confirmed to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the agreement hasn't been disclosed by the team. ESPN first reported the deal, which it said is worth $2.3 million.

After weeks of fine-tuning his roster through training camp and the preseason, Malone suddenly has to juggle things around. Not that he minds carving out minutes for a player he can't even name just yet. Jefferson adds another leadership presence to a young, playoff-hopeful roster (see full story).

Jazz: Timeline unknown for injured Exum
SALT LAKE CITY -- Dante Exum knew he had a significant injury the moment he awkwardly hit the floor during a preseason game against the Suns on Oct. 6. The diagnosis was a separated shoulder, and the Jazz guard and the team took the next 10 days to decide what to do.

Exum saw three doctors and spoke to several more before deciding to have a surgery on Oct. 24 that will keep him out for an unknown amount of time.

"Even just walking back (to the locker room), obviously I was frustrated," Exum said. "Everything was going through my head. I remember just looking up at everybody and they were just speechless. Didn't know what to say. A lot of people within the Jazz organization know how hard I've worked to get to the point I was. To get an injury like that and the way it took place just sucked."

There were non-surgical options for Exum, but the decision was made in his long-term interest after talking to family, his agent and the organization. That, however, complicates things in the short term financially. The 2014 No. 5 overall pick was hoping to have a breakout year as a restricted free agent.

Exploring the Sixers' 3 options to back up Joel Embiid

Exploring the Sixers' 3 options to back up Joel Embiid

Joel Embiid will be restricted to less than 20 minutes per game early in the season, that much is known (see story). How Brett Brown fills the remainder of the minutes at the center position remains to be seen.

Brown has three healthy big men he can play behind Embiid: Amir Johnson, Jahlil Okafor and Dario Saric. Richaun Holmes, an early candidate for backup minutes, is sidelined by a fractured wrist.

“Even without Richaun, you like the depth and versatility, the variety that is available to me at the five,” Brown said Tuesday. 

Each player is unique in their skill sets and experience levels. There’s the proven veteran in Johnson, the undersized center in Saric, and the sometime-starter-sometime-reserve-sometime-DNP in Okafor. 

Let’s take a look at Brown’s options and why he may lean toward one player over another. 

Okafor
Okafor finds himself in another season of uncertainty. The third-year Sixer still doesn’t have a consistent role in the rotation. In the past, his biggest opportunity for minutes has come when Embiid is out for the entire game. Could the slimmed-down Okafor return to the starting lineup when Embiid doesn’t play? The Sixers face their first set of consecutive games of the season on Saturday. 

Brown on Okafor 
“[His role is] evolving … it’s always fluid. There are times we’ll assess Joel, say, in a back-to-back situation that might free something up. We have one in Toronto coming up. … We all respect his attitude and we respect his body. I think he’s had a good preseason.”

Johnson
The 30-year-old Johnson gives the Sixers a veteran presence and assuring presence on the court. He started in 77 of his 80 games for the Celtics last season and will be an in-game leader for younger players like Markelle Fultz in the second unit. 

Brown on Johnson
“He started for a really good team last year. He’s been in the league for a while. He’s a great pickup. Bryan (Colangelo) did a really great job of signing him. He’s good people.” 

Saric
At 6-foot-10, 223 pounds, Saric is the most unlikely candidate of the three backups. Brown has seen enough from Saric in the NBA and internationally, though, to feel confident in shifting him from the four to the five. Saric showed he can hold his own against traditional bigs when he shot 5 for 8 against the Nets in the preseason. 

Brown on Saric
“He’s stronger than you think. He’s been used to guarding behind people over in Europe on switch outs with four-five pick-and-rolls. … He gives up some weight, he gives up some height. But the trade-off might be he pulls them out and makes threes like he did against (Timofey) Mozgov. You weigh it all up. It’s a little bit unconventional but it is there in our arsenal if we choose to go there.”