Give and Go

Do Sixers need a more aggressive Simmons on offense?

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Do Sixers need a more aggressive Simmons on offense?

Each week, our resident basketball analysts will discuss some of the hottest topics involving the Sixers.

Running the Give and Go are NBC Sports Philadelphia anchor/reporter Marshall Harris and NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com producer/reporter Matt Haughton.

In this edition, we examine whether the Sixers need Ben Simmons to be more aggressive offensively.

Harris
The Sixers need a lot of things. They need Joel Embiid to stay healthy, they need Robert Covington and Jerryd Bayless to hit open threes and they need to stop turning the ball over at such a high rate (18.3 turnovers per game). 

However, do they really need Ben Simmons to be more aggressive? I guess it depends on what "aggressive" means.

Are there games when it seems peculiar that Simmons isn't taking more shots, especially when he's hitting a high percentage of them? Yes. But Simmons doesn't have to necessarily take more shots for the team to be successful. 

Take the Sixers’ Christmas win over the Knicks for example. Simmons was 4 of 8 from the field on the way to an eight-point, eight-rebound day. He had only three assists but also turned it over only twice in 33 minutes.

The Sixers won the game because Simmons didn't have to be the best player on the floor. Embiid and JJ Redick combined for 49 points and were each a plus-25 for the game. While Simmons was 0 for 2 from the charity stripe, Embiid and Redick were 15 for 16. 

But here's the real thing: The turnovers were way down. The Sixers’ 15 turnovers were well below their season average, and the fact Simmons had only two is evidence he wasn’t trying to do too much.

So, no, I don't think the Sixers simply need Simmons to be more aggressive. They need him to be selectively aggressive, to attack the basket more in games when Embiid is out of the lineup and slowly but surely get more comfortable taking short jumpers. They need to make sure he is surrounded by the complementary parts needed for any rookie point guard to excel. To ask him to carry a team as a first-year player isn't anything we ask any other rookie whose team has playoff expectations. 

If you're expecting a more aggressive Simmons to be the answer to get the Sixers to the playoffs, you're really not accepting what the young man's skill set and limitations are at the moment.

Haughton
Yes … but only slightly.

Simmons walks a delicate line as a point guard with balancing his own offensive opportunities and setting up teammates. While the rookie is likely never going to being a scoring machine at the PG spot like Russell Westbrook or Kyrie Irving, there is still room for Simmons to eye his own shot more.

Simmons’ field goal attempts are down to 12.0 per game in December compared to 15.6 in November and 14.1 in October. He’s had four games in December in which he’s attempted single-digit shots, which occurred only once prior to this month (6 of 8 from the field Nov. 11 in Sacramento). The free throw attempts are also down to 3.3 nightly after getting 5.8 in November and 5.9 in October.

While those numbers seem like a slight dropoff, the dip is still important. Simmons’ scoring in December is down to 13.9 points per game and 16.8 overall. That’s after going for above 18.0 the first two months of the season. 

More importantly, Simmons’ all-around game benefits when he brings a high level of activity on the offensive end. He put up 9.5 rebounds a night during that strong month of December and a robust 2.7 steals.

Whether he’s hit an early rookie wall or teams are starting to get a better idea on how to handle Simmons, it’s clear he’s hit a bit of a lull on the court. 

Even if the shots aren’t falling, the Sixers have proven to be a better team so far this season when Simmons is on the attack. More of that, and he can regain that early-season rhythm he enjoyed during the first two months of the season.

Is road trip crucial for Brett Brown's job?

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Is road trip crucial for Brett Brown's job?

Each week, our resident basketball analysts will discuss some of the hottest topics involving the Sixers.

Running the Give and Go are NBC Sports Philadelphia anchor/reporter Marshall Harris, NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com producer/reporters Matt Haughton and Paul Hudrick.

This week, we'll take a look at whether the Sixers’ five-game road trip is crucial for Brett Brown’s job security.

Harris
It's only five games — that's less than 1/16th of the season. But it's funny how segments of a schedule and the results of particular segments can make or break a coaching stop. Except this is more than a "stop" for Brett Brown. As the head coach with the lowest win percentage in NBA history, it could very well be make or break time. The Sixers head into the five-game stretch away from Wells Fargo Center losers of four straight and eight of nine. After a 13-9 start, they're now a season worst-tying three games below .500 (14-17). This stretch is huge because of the stated goal by Brown and his players of making the playoffs.

Joel Embiid's day-to-day status is clearly up in the air and we already know he's going to miss at least one game against the Suns or Nuggets because it's a back-to-back to close out the year. They're 1-7 without him and have already lost with him to the Suns.

Simply put, Brown has to have his young team find a way to win at least two of these games. A 1-4 trip would leave the Sixers 15-21. Six games under is a deep hole to climb out of considering the East has proven to be way more formidable than I expected at the outset. I thought 39 games would be enough for the 8-seed. But a quick glance at the standings shows nine teams over .500 and the Sixers can ill afford to lose ground.

Here's the bottom line: whether Embiid can play or not, Brown has to have his team ready to win without him. Ben Simmons is taking a step in the right direction with his take-charge attitude in the team's home loss to Toronto. But they have to have results. Embiid is going to miss more time. We know this. That can't be the excuse of why they miss the playoffs. I'm not saying Brown will lose his job short of a 0-5 road trip. What I am saying is that if they don't start winning some of these games without JoJo, it won't add up to enough wins for Brown to reach his stated playoff goal and be back next season.

To me, Brown's coaching seat is lukewarm heading into this trip. No one expects them to become just the second team in 13 games to beat the Raptors in Toronto. But the rest of those games don't have the same degree of difficulty. The Sixers better win a couple. If they don't? That seat will be scalding to the touch when the Sixers return to Philadelphia.

Haughton
While the Sixers’ holiday road trip is always an important one during the season, I don’t think this edition will make or break Brown’s immediate future with the team.

First, the Sixers have recently been hit with a wave of injuries. The biggest of those, literally, is Joel Embiid. Brown’s squad is an entirely different group with the young star anchoring the paint. That’s in addition to JJ Redick, Robert Covington, T.J. McConnell, Trevor Booker and, of course, Markelle Fultz all missing games in the past two weeks.

It’s hard to judge Brown when he’s not playing with a full deck.

Still, the biggest reason I don’t believe this five-game trip will decide Brown’s fate is that the Sixers don’t have any significant options outside of him at the moment. Lloyd Pierce, Billy Lange and Jim O'Brien are all fine assistants, but Sixers management isn’t about to hand them the keys, even on an interim basis, to this up-and-coming team. And I don’t believe the Sixers would go outside of the organization for a candidate (such as David Fizdale) during the middle of a season.

Unless the bottom completely falls out on the Sixers during this road trip, I fully expect Brown to make it through the regular season. Whether he’s around after that is anyone’s guess. 

Hudrick
At some point, Brown might be playing with a full deck. Right now, he clearly is not.

It’s hard to judge Brown when you see how flawed this roster is without Embiid or No. 1 overall pick Fultz. Embiid is this team’s best player on both ends of the floor. He is an elite talent and his presence is missed every time he’s not out there.

While Fultz has a long way to go to prove he’s an elite NBA talent, he did show something nobody else on this team has: the ability to create his own shot. Sure, it was only six games, but Fultz was able to take NBA defenders off the dribble and get to the rim or create space for a shot (that he probably didn’t take).

“Pace and space” is a great concept. But when you’re forced to play in the half court, having a beast in the post and a playmaker that can create off the dribble comes in handy.

Brown’s job is safe on this road trip and I’d guess through the rest of the season at the very least.

Is Joel Embiid's trash talking starting to get old?

Is Joel Embiid's trash talking starting to get old?

Each week, our resident basketball analysts will discuss some of the hottest topics involving the Sixers.

Running the Give and Go this edition are NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com producer/reporters Matt Haughton and Paul Hudrick.

In this edition, we examine whether Joel Embiid’s trash talking is starting to get old.

Haughton
Absolutely not.

First, look at it from a team perspective. The Sixers thrive off of Embiid’s emotion. Look no further than Friday night’s triple-overtime thriller against the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Sixers were sleepwalking through that game for much of the night until Embiid mixed it up with Carmelo Anthony following an and-one with a few minutes left in the fourth quarter. Embiid got the crowd juiced up and his teammates fed off that energy during the critical 11-0 run to close out regulation.

When Embiid’s trash talk spills over to social media, he does try to keep things light and playful. That’s his personality and that’s his realm, so none of what he’s doing really comes from a position of genuine malice.

On the bigger scale, this is what the NBA has been about long before Embiid came along. From Larry Bird’s bravado to Michael Jordan’s ruthlessness to Shaquille O’Neal’s blatant disrespect of opponents, the league has a long list of trash talkers.

As LeBron James said when the Cavaliers came through the Wells Fargo Center right after Thanksgiving, players today are just too sensitive.

Hudrick
Let’s just let Joel be Joel.

The guy came over from Cameroon, knowing very little about the game and getting teased by his teammates in high school. After overcoming that and landing at Kansas, injuries took away the end of his only season there and then his first two NBA seasons. He was the brunt of jokes as the Sixers continued to lose and he had to watch from afar. He’s earned the right to feel himself a little bit.

What I see is a kid having fun. I have to give Philly fans credit. Flamboyant characters don’t usually do well here. In a city that (still) obsesses over the play of a quiet, hard-nosed guy like Chase Utley and has fallen head over heels for the humbleness of Carson Wentz, Embiid doesn't fit the mold. But he's been embraced and beloved.

Here’s the other thing: he’s backing it up. If he was out there talking trash but shooting 30 percent from the field and not running down the reigning MVP for a blocked shot in a triple-OT game, that would be a different story. He’s put this team on his back and has them poised for a playoff berth.

Let the man live.