De'Aaron Fox

Key matchups for Sixers' 5-game road trip

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Key matchups for Sixers' 5-game road trip

The Sixers are riding high at the moment.

They rallied last Friday for a 121-110 win over the Indiana Pacers at the Wells Fargo Center. It marked the Sixers’ fourth straight win, the first time they have accomplished that feat since a stretch from Dec. 29, 2013 to Jan. 4, 2014.

The victory also pushed the Sixers’ record to 5-4. That means they are above .500 for the first time since Nov. 13, 2013.

Now comes a real test. The Sixers open up a difficult five-game road trip on Tuesday night against the Utah Jazz.

How they handle this stretch could go a long way toward determining the Sixers’ standing around the league.

With that said, let’s break down a key matchup that might help determine the outcome of each game.

Sixers-Jazz (Backup centers vs. Rudy Gobert)
You had to know it was coming. You just didn’t know when.

Joel Embiid was ruled out for Tuesday’s clash in Salt Lake City for what was deemed “load management.” The big man has played in eight of the Sixers’ nine games to this point, and with a lengthy road trip on tap, he was always likely to sit out at least once.

That means the Sixers’ backup bigs such Amir Johnson and Richaun Holmes (does Jahlil Okafor even count at this point?) will have to deal with the forceful Rudy Gobert. Gobert is averaging 13.9 points, 9.9 rebounds and a league-leading 2.5 blocks per game this season. 

About the only thing the Sixers have going for them in this instance is that the Jazz’s balanced attack allows for Gobert to have a usage rate of only 17.1 percent.

Either way, good luck climbing “The Stifle Tower” without Embiid.

Sixers-Kings (T.J. McConnell vs. De’Aaron Fox)
This spot would have been reserved for a battle of lottery selections with Markelle Fultz lining up against the speedster Fox. However, the No. 1 overall pick is still sidelined with a shoulder injury.

That doesn’t mean a battle between McConnell and Fox should be any less intriguing. 

Fox has proven to be a solid contributor early on. The No. 5 overall pick leads the Kings in points (12.7) and assists (5.0). He also averages 3.7 boards a night. Despite his sagging shooting percentages (41.2 from the field and 27.3 from three-point range), the lightning-quick lefty has provided a serious spark off the bench.

McConnell will certainly be accepting of the challenge as he relishes being a stopper on defense. He has already locked horns this season with superstars John Wall, Kyrie Irving and James Harden, so Fox will be just another high-profile name on the log.

Sixers-Warriors (Ben Simmons vs. Kevin Durant)
Ordinarily, the point guard Simmons would be matched up on is two-time league MVP Stephen Curry. But shortly into his NBA career, Simmons has proven to be anything but ordinary.

The rookie is coming off his second triple-double with 14 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists in the Sixers’ win over the Pacers. He also contributed three blocks and two steals.

While Simmons’ offensive ability is not at all in question, his defense will be put to the test against Durant. The supreme scorer has looked even more lethal coming off his first NBA championship. 

Durant is still pouring in the points with 25.2 a game. However, it’s his shooting percentages that have really set him apart to this point in the 2017-18 campaign. He entered Monday shooting career highs from the field (54.2 percent) and three-point range (49.2 percent).

Simmons will likely switch with Robert Covington throughout the game guarding Durant, but that would potentially mean he’ll just shift to Klay Thompson. Pick your poison.

Sixers-Clippers (Dario Saric vs. Blake Griffin)
Saric has started to find his footing after a bumpy start to the season.

But next Monday he’ll get a close look at arguably the best power forward playing the game right now.

After Chris Paul’s departure for the Houston Rockets, Griffin has completely taken over the offensive load for the Rockets. The veteran is averaging 23.7 points, 8.4 rebounds and 4.3 assists. More importantly, his increased offensive load hasn’t affected his efficiency as Griffin is scoring at a 49.3 percent clip from the field and a career-best 42.2 percent clip from long range.

The Clippers have cooled off (5-4) after winning their first four games to start the season. Still, Griffin is a legit early-season MVP candidate, and Saric better be prepared or he could find himself on one of those infamous posters.

Sixers-Lakers (Everyone vs. Lonzo Ball)
This one doesn’t need much setup. You all know the deal by now.

It started throughout the pre-draft process when LaVar Ball continually made it known that he wanted his son to play for the Lakers. After the storied franchise selected the UCLA product at No. 2, the elder Ball proclaimed on draft night that his son would also take the team to the playoffs. 

That evoked a tweet of “crazy pills” from Simmons, as well as Embiid asking Simmons to dunk on Lonzo Ball so hard that his dad would have to come save him (see story).

The tweets only stoked the flames as LaVar Ball proceeded to say the Sixers need to get off Twitter and get in the gym. That didn’t sit too kindly with Embiid, who bluntly said on July 4, “F--- LaVar Ball” in a video, which drew a fine from the league (see story).

Things between the Sixers and the Ball family have pretty much calmed down since that point (unless you’ve checked out the Twitter account of Simmons’ sister Olivia in the recent past).

But expect the Sixers to try to go at Lonzo early and often in that game, with LaVar likely sitting courtside for a clear view of the action.

With Markelle Fultz en route to Philly, De'Aaron Fox works out for Sixers

With Markelle Fultz en route to Philly, De'Aaron Fox works out for Sixers

CAMDEN, N.J. -- Try to forget all the rumors and speculation. Imagine the Sixers are on the clock with the third overall pick in Thursday's NBA draft. Assume Markelle Fultz is off the board, Boston-bound after the Celtics took him with No. 1.

In this scenario, De’Aaron Fox’s workout with the Sixers Saturday mattered. He’s a viable option at No. 3. Some argue he’s the right option. And no matter what’s going on between front offices, he was here, blocking out the noise, to show his worth.

“I've seen stuff, but at the end of the day, it doesn't matter,” Fox said of where he might be selected. “Wherever I'm drafted, I'm going to go there and give my best effort.”

The next question pressed the issue. Fox kept his composure and reiterated. He seems to be ready for whatever happens.

“Some people go somewhere they don't want to go and they wreck havoc,” he said. “For me, I'm coming in, I'm young, I don't have much of a say. I'm going wherever I go. Trust me, you'll see me give my best effort.”

Fox’s head is level. He’s been all over the country working out for potential landing spots. Despite the projections and the talk, he still has something to prove. He wants people to know he is the best guard in this class.

“Everyone has critics. You could be the best player in the world. I mean, LeBron (James) has critics,” Fox said. “Just showing people, prove people wrong. I can't really do that until I'm drafted and get in the NBA. I'm just working, getting better and perfecting my craft.”

His craft attracts a lot of eyes. Fox is expected to be a top-five pick. In one season at Kentucky, playing alongside fellow top prospect Malik Monk, he posted 16.7 points, 3.9 rebounds and 4.6 assists per game. He dropped 37 against UCLA in the Sweet 16, all while shutting down Lonzo Ball.

But his game has a noticeable flaw: His jump shot. That showed Friday in the portion of Fox’s individual workout available to the media. Fox received passes at spots around the arch and took uncontested shots. The quantity of the misses was more memorable than any makes. 

In answering questions afterward, Fox didn’t dance around his poor shooting numbers at Kentucky. He said he shot well in high school and, for some reason, struggled in college. But his stats came along at the season’s end. After not shooting higher than 25 percent from three in any month during the season, he converted on 43 percent of those attempts in March.

“I didn't really worry too much about it because I was getting to the rim whenever I wanted,” Fox said. “I was making free throws. So that aspect of my game, it came. I went along with it.”

This all is not to say he didn’t look good. Everyone knew his jump shot is not the focal point of his abilities, and he said he’s working to improve it. He worked over screens in a defensive drill and threw down some dunks on a fast break workout. He tossed aside the fact that this workout, most likely, was for nothing and came out and put in effort. And he was gracious when speaking with reporters, probably knowing just as well as they do who was coming in a few hours later.

He even entertained the thought of what it would look like if he did somehow end up here. Because even though he played as a ball-dominant point guard at Kentucky, one would have to assume Fox wouldn’t be used in the same capacity here; Ben Simmons is, for now, the Sixers’ point guard. That wouldn’t be a problem for Fox.

“I can work without the ball. I did it in high school,” Fox said. “Actually, one thing people don't know is — you might take this the wrong way — but me and Ben were actually on teams at LeBron camp. It was like my sophomore year, his junior year. So I’ve played with him before.”

So a reunion doesn’t sound too bad. Especially with Joel Embiid joining the fun.

“It's definitely intriguing,” Fox said. “Joel has such a big personality, they’re both great players. Being able to play with those two is kind of like — you see people building through the draft and I feel like I'll be able to complement them well. They're gonna be two great young players in the league.” 

But for now, and maybe forever, that’s all it is — intrigue. 

Sixers, De'Aaron Fox to have individual workout Saturday

Sixers, De'Aaron Fox to have individual workout Saturday

The Sixers will hold an individual workout for De'Aaron Fox on Saturday, hosting the possible fit for the No. 3 pick less than one week before the draft.

The standout Kentucky point guard met with the Sixers during the combine in May. He is confident he can play off the ball to complement Ben Simmons in the backcourt.

"They asked me about it, Ben being able to bring the ball up the court and being a facilitator," Fox said in May. "I feel like I'm shooting it a lot better. Once I'm getting back to how I shot it in high school, I feel like I could really fit with Ben. He's fast. I feel like the position he plays, not many people can grab a rebound and push it with the speed and vision that he has.

"I am comfortable moving off the ball, but I have to show people that I can do it. No one really thinks I can do it because I struggled shooting it in college. I started shooting it well at the end of the year and I feel like if I'm knocking down shots, I'm very comfortable off the ball."

Fox averaged 16.7 points, 4.6 assists and 4.0 rebounds at Kentucky. He shot 47.8 percent from the field.

"De'Aaron's so quick, he's so agile," Fox's college teammate Isaac Humphries said at a Sixers workout on Friday. "He controls the floor so well. He can jump, he's athletic, he's a great leader. I loved playing with him just because of how he can shoot the ball and create for his team."

The Sixers also worked out Kentucky sharpshooter Malik Monk on Thursday.

The team will hold a group workout with SMU guard Sterling Brown, Baskonka center Ilimane Diop, Maryland center Damonte Dodd, Mega Leks center Alpha Kaba, Vanderbilt forward Luke Kornet, and Iowa State guard Naz Long on Saturday before Fox.