Sixers Mailbag: Pressure on Joel Embiid, Brett Brown?

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Sixers Mailbag: Pressure on Joel Embiid, Brett Brown?

Training camp begins this month, so you know what that means … another edition of the #CSNSixersMailbag. From playoff expectations to Embiid’s back-to-backs to the guards’ roles, these are the questions on your mind about the Sixers.

All three could be on the court at the end of a game. Of course, that depends on matchups and if the Sixers are going big. In this scenario, Simmons could be at the one, Covington at the three, and Saric at the four. The Sixers will have the flexibility to experiment with numerous lineups throughout the season. Because so many players can play different positions, they won't have to rely on just one unit in tight games.

Confidence always has been key to Nik Stauskas' game. He should enter this season carrying it over from the previous one. Stauskas shot career-bests with 39.6 percent from the field and 36.8 percent from three-point range in his third year, ran the point in a pinch and also focused on improving his defense. He will have the invaluable opportunity of picking the brain of one of the best shooters in the league, JJ Redick.

I am interested to see what the Sixers end up doing with Stauskas this season. He is in the final year of his contract, which automatically puts him on my trade watch list. Stauskas boosted his value last season and the Sixers are overcrowded at the two spot. Will he play the entire season in Philadelphia? That is an uncertainty worth keeping an eye on.

The Sixers signed Jerryd Bayless last season for reasons that still are applicable on this revamped roster. Let's start with on the court. Bayless has combo guard skills that allow Brett Brown to play him at the point and shooting guard. Originally, the plan was for him to complement Ben Simmons while Simmons ran the floor. That changed when both players missed last season because of injuries. This season, Bayless can either be the point guard or play off the ball at the two. 

Off the court — and this cannot be overlooked on a young team — Bayless was brought in to be a leader. The Sixers will be relying on two rookies, Simmons and Markelle Fultz, who have never played an NBA game to take on starting roles. Players like Bayless and Redick will be instrumental in their development. Bayless already formed a mentor-like relationship with Simmons last season while both were rehabbing.

If it were up to Joel Embiid, he would play 48 minutes in 82 games. But it's not. Embiid's playing time will be determined, once again, by the team. He has the pressure to stay in shape and well-conditioned, especially with the possibility of a contract extension. Beyond that, the Sixers will map out how frequently he's on the court.

More pressure will be on Brett Brown as long as the Sixers are healthy. If he has a fully available roster, this will be the first time he will actually be able to coach for a whole season. Brown had a brief window of opportunity last January when the team went 10-5 before Embiid was sidelined.

Back-to-backs will be a storyline all season. The Sixers held Embiid out of consecutive games after he missed his first two seasons because of injuries. He is entering his second season, coming off knee surgery in March and has not played in a game since Jan. 27. In June, Brett Brown said the idea of Embiid and Ben Simmons playing without minute restrictions is "ambitious."

I would expect the Sixers to proceed with caution and hold him out of the majority of back-to-backs. With 14 back-to-back series, my prediction is he plays in two sets of consecutive games. The Sixers' priority is keeping Embiid healthy for the long-term and playing two straight nights in December, let's say, isn't worth the risk.

Ben Simmons joins elite company with triple-double in Sixers' 1st win

Ben Simmons joins elite company with triple-double in Sixers' 1st win


DETROIT — Sixers coach Brett Brown was well aware of the risk when he asked Ben Simmons, who played forward in high school and college, to run his team’s offense.

It was a gutsy call, at the time, that many critics scoffed and questioned.

Not anymore.

In just his fourth career NBA game, Simmons pieced together a memorable triple-double Monday night to become just the third player in history to accomplish the feat in such a time span, and more importantly, help lead the Sixers (1-3) to their first regular-season win.

“It’s awesome to have a triple-double, but at the same time, it’s even better to have that win,” Simmons said. “Especially with these guys and a young team like this.” cbdz

It wasn’t a do-or-die game for the Sixers by any stretch, but Monday night’s 97-86 win in Detroit certainly rejuvenated a fan base that may have started casting doubt as to whether the Sixers are a legit playoff-caliber team (see observations)

Moreover, it served as much-needed validation for Brown and his young, talent-packed squad, following three straight losses, including Saturday’s 34-point blowout loss in Toronto.

“I’m happy for our guys,” Brown said. “They really came into the building knowing that we needed to get a win. To get rewarded with the win, it just validates some of the work that everybody has put in.”

Particularly Simmons, who entered this season with the eyes of Philadelphia watching his every move during his first tour around the NBA after missing all of last season nursing a fractured foot. 

“We won, and, honestly, that means so much than stats for me,” said Simmons, who finished with 19 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists. 

Simmons doesn’t fit the mold of a prototypical point guard, but — then again — the NBA has evolved into a position-less league. Players of all shapes and sizes do everything nowadays. And Simmons — just four games into his NBA career — is among those leading the charge.

“I mean, we all see how gifted he is physically,” Brown said. “Him, with the ball, able to do the things he does, produces a lot of these mismatches and numbers. 

“We’re able to post him. He’s able to seal the pick-and-rolls. You see how gifted he is in open court. He’s got that breakaway speed that is jaw-dropping. And he’s 6-foot-10.”

Simmons, to his credit, was extremely humble when asked about his triple-double accomplishment after the game. But it’s possible the 21-year-old phenom was unaware of the elite company he joined and how rare a feat it was to put up a triple-double just four games into his career. 

When Simmons notched his 10th assist on Joel Embiid’s layup with slightly more than minute to play, he became the first player with a triple-double in his first four career games since Hambone Williams in 1967. The only other player in NBA history to do so? Oscar Robertson, in 1960. 

“I feel like this stat line, we’ve kind of seen a snapshot of it the first three games,” Brown said. “It just seems a bit more special when it’s associated with a win.”

Win or not, Simmons has made it abundantly clear Monday night that — even with Markelle Fultz in the mix — he’s the Sixers’ point guard. No ands or buts about it.

When it was made clear in April that Brown wanted the versatile rookie to play point guard, the controversial decision was met with raised eyebrows. But Brown, to his credit, hasn’t wavered. And today, by all accounts, that gamble is paying off. 

“You know, the decision to make him our point guard is challenged in some some way,” he said. “But as an organization, we stayed strong that that’s where we want to play him.”

It was a gutsy call by Brown at the time, and while the Sixers may only be four games into the season, it’s proving to be the right call.

Sixers-Pistons observations: A Simmons triple-double and Embiid stars in 1st win

Sixers-Pistons observations: A Simmons triple-double and Embiid stars in 1st win


DETROIT — In a much-anticipated matchup Monday night featuring two elite centers, it was the Sixers’ big man Joel Embiid who stood above the rest.

Back in the starting lineup after sitting out Saturday’s blowout loss in Toronto, Embiid out-shined Detroit’s franchise player Andre Drummond to lead the Sixers to their first regular-season win — a much-needed 97-86 victory over the Pistons at Little Caesars Arena in downtown Detroit.

Embiid wasn’t alone with a stellar performance. Rookie Ben Simmons notched a triple-double to become just the third player to accomplish the feat within his first four games (Oscar Robertson in 1960 and Art “Hambone” Williams in 1967).

It was a much-needed win for the Sixers, who entered Monday winless and one game removed from a 34-point blowout loss in Toronto. 

Embiid showcased his polished shooting stroke, highlighted by a three-pointer to close out the first quarter, and put his athleticism on full display en route to a team-high 30-point performance. 

The 23-year-old center logged 28 minutes after playing 27 minutes on Friday. He took advantage of every minute, making 11 of 15 shots, grabbing nine boards and hitting 7 of 8 free throws. A second-quarter dramatic slam dunk over Drummond, who was held 14 points, capped Embiid’s impressive night. 

The Sixers took a 56-43 lead into the half, but nearly squandered a 21-point lead after the Pistons cut their lead to 81-78 with less than eight minutes to play before pulling away late.

• After falling just shy of a triple-double on Saturday, Simmons pulled it off Monday in the final minutes to become the third player in NBA history to record a triple-double within the first four career games. Simmons finished with 21 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists to extend his career-starting double-double streak to a fourth straight game. In doing so, he became the first player since Shaquille O’Neal to record a double-double in each of his first four career games. O'Neal's stretch lasted 11 straight games.

• Markelle Fultz was held two just two points and failed to leave a strong offensive impression for the fourth straight game. Fultz consistently managed to get into position for open looks, but appeared hesitant to pull the trigger. When he did, he struggled to make shots outside the paint, including a wide open 15-footer in the first quarter. Fultz, who is battling a sore right shoulder, was limited to 16 minutes of action — the fewest minutes he’s logged this season.

• During Monday’s morning shootaround, head coach Brett Brown stressed the need for his team to cut down on turnovers and commit fewer fouls. The Sixers struggled with turnovers, committing 21 after averaging 17 the first three games, but managed to overcome early mistakes and limit the bleeding.

• Pistons fans didn’t take kindly to their home team’s sluggish first-half performance, showering Detroit with boos after Jerryd Bayless hit a three-pointer to put the Sixers up 51-30 in the second quarter. The Pistons announced a near-sellout crowd in what was the team’s second regular-season game at their new home, Little Caesars Arena. However, dozens of empty rows and a sea of red seats were spotted throughout the game. 

• Embiid quickly made his presence felt with six points (2 of 3 shooting) in the first five minutes before being subbed by former Piston Amir Johnson. Johnson, who finished with three points, has played on four teams throughout his 13-year career, and faced all three of his former teams (Pistons, Celtics and Raptors) in the last seven days.