Robert Covington

Ben Simmons shows 'he's a monster' in Sixers' preseason opener

Ben Simmons shows 'he's a monster' in Sixers' preseason opener

BOX SCORE

Ben Simmons has played a game for the Sixers. A preseason game, but a game nonetheless. And after a season-long injury, he didn’t miss a beat.

Simmons stuffed the stat sheet with six points, seven rebounds, nine assists, a block and a turnover in 22 minutes on Wednesday. He eased into the point guard role and was comfortable scoring on the break or finding his teammates (see highlights).

Even though the Grizzlies took over the game in the second half and beat the Sixers, 110-89, Grizzlies head coach David Fizdale was impressed. 

“I don’t want to see that for the next 15 years,” he said of Simmons. “That kid, they’re not talking about him enough. … Once he gets confidence in his shot where you really have to close out all the way to the three, wow. He’s a big-time talent.”

Simmons dished five assists in just under 10 minutes in the first quarter alone (see observations). He was the main ball handler when paired with Markelle Fultz in the starting lineup (more on him here). The Sixers also got a look at Simmons and veteran Jerryd Bayless, the initially-planned backcourt duo before both were injured last season. 

Brett Brown considers Simmons to be "an advanced" rookie compared to Fultz given the year the 2016 No. 1 pick spent with the Sixers while rehabbing from a Jones fracture. During that time, Simmons was able to observe and study the NBA game even if he wasn't playing. 

“His breakaway speed, his ability to get to the rim, the pace of which he plays, I love,” Brown said. “His ability to see things, find corners. When defensive players just nudge him over, he can find stuff well.” 

Of course, Simmons still has room to grow after just one game. He shot 2 for 8 from the field and 0 for 3 from long range. Brown would like him to improve on finishing at the rim at a higher rate. Simmons wants to enhance his "game-ready wind." It has been over a year since he played an official game during the 2016 summer league session. 

"I've got to work on different plays and sets and reading the defense, seeing what's open," Simmons said. 

Simmons has willing helpers on that end of the floor. As one of the Sixers' best defenders, Robert Covington said he is "taking Ben under his wing." Justin Anderson has been talking with Simmons about his D as well. 

“Ben brings everything,” Covington said. “He’s a monster on both sides. He doesn’t even realize how good he is just yet because he’s only played one game.”

Sixers have questions with possible extensions looming for Embiid, Covington

Sixers have questions with possible extensions looming for Embiid, Covington

CAMDEN, N.J. — The front offices of professional sports teams are always dealing with a delicate balance of competing in the present and positioning for a successful future.

The Sixers are no different.

As the team officially tips off training camp on Tuesday for what it hopes to be its most successful season in years, there are still some serious question marks about the future of the roster.

The biggest one surrounds center Joel Embiid. Embiid is entering the fourth and final year of his rookie contract. Embiid and the Sixers have until Oct. 16 to reach an agreement on a rookie scale extension. If the two sides can’t strike a deal, the big man will become a restricted free agent next summer.

Embiid, who is currently still rehabbing from surgery for a torn meniscus, finally burst onto the scene last season by averaging 20.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game. However, he knows that by being limited to just 31 games during his career and with the team holding all the cards regarding his immediate future, he isn’t in a position of power during any contract negotiations.

“At the end of the day, I don’t have the leverage," Embiid said. "I’m going into my fourth season and I’m going to be a restricted free agent, so there’s no leverage, they can do whatever they want. There’s been discussions about it. Hopefully, something does work out” (see story).

Embiid isn’t alone. Robert Covington, also coming off both a breakout season and meniscus surgery, is in a similar situation.

The Sixers picked up the fourth-year, $1.57 million option on Covington’s contract in June. That’s a steal considering Covington finished fourth in the NBA in Defensive Player of the Year voting while scoring 12.9 points a night.

The Sixers can't sign Covington to an extension until Nov. 15, the three-year anniversary of when they originally signed him.

“We’ve definitely been in talks and everything,” said Covington, who this offseason reportedly switched agents to the powerful CAA Sports. “Both sides are very open to what is going on. It’s just a matter of the right move that’s to be made. Bryan is playing chess right now with the pieces that he’s adding. Now it’s just making sure that everything stays the way that he pictures.”

Then there’s the curious case of Jahlil Okafor. In just two seasons with the team, the center has witnessed his name in just about every trade rumor imaginable. Okafor, who recorded 11.8 points and 4.8 boards a game in a reserve role a season ago, was apparently so close to being dealt at last February’s deadline that he was held out of two games only to rejoin the Sixers.

Team president Bryan Colangelo would never rule anything out in regards to shipping Okafor, but at the moment all plans are for the big man to remain a Sixer.

“There’s no problem between us and Jahlil right now,” Colangelo said. “If he had his druthers would he be with another club? I can’t answer that question, but I think that he’s happy being here. He’s been treated well. The coaches coach him like they coach every other athlete. 

“Again, any discussion about things that are out there — whether or not he’s been traded or not, whether or not he’s being shopped or not — I can say I have not actively been shopping Jahlil Okafor. … But the narrative is he’s here, he’s going to be an active participant in the things that we’re doing preparing for this season and he’s a part of this basketball team until he’s not.”

While things are a very murky with Okafor, the writing appears to be on the wall for Nik Stauskas as he enters the fourth year of his rookie deal. 

The team specifically targeted scoring from the off-guard position over the summer (drafting Markelle Fultz to play alongside Ben Simmons in the backcourt, signing JJ Redick in free agency and bringing Furkan Korkmaz from overseas). With Justin Anderson and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot also expected to vie for time at shooting guard, Stauskas’ future in Philadelphia doesn’t exactly seem bright.

“Not at all, no,” Stauskas sternly responded when asked whether his contract status was on his mind heading into the new season.

Give and Go: Who will be the Sixers' sixth man?

Give and Go: Who will be the Sixers' sixth man?

With training camp starting next week, our resident basketball analysts will discuss some of the hottest topics involving the Sixers.

Running the Give and Go are CSNPhilly.com Sixers Insider Jessica Camerato and producer/reporters Matt Haughton and Paul Hudrick.

In this edition, we discuss who should be the Sixers' sixth man going into the 2017-18 season.

Camerato
This role has become a hot topic since the Sixers finally have the pieces to put together a consistent starting five and establish a go-to sixth man. This summer I wrote an article on the starting lineup in which I projected Robert Covington to start and Dario Saric to come off the bench as the sixth man. The Sixers need Covington’s defensive presence at small forward and Ben Simmons likely will start at power forward while running the floor. Not every reader agreed in the comments section and the Saric-as-a-starter sentiment was echoed on social media. 

I still see Saric as the best fit for sixth man. This role is often filled by a starting-caliber player. Saric had 36 starts as a rookie, including all 25 games in which he played after the All-Star Break. Brett Brown wants the Sixers’ sixth man to be on the court to end games. Saric averaged more minutes (7.1) in the fourth than any other quarter last season. 

The key would be getting Saric to buy in to being the sixth man. Saric worked his entire career to be the best player he could be. He is his own toughest critic and became visibly disappointed when he had letdowns last season. There is a shift in mindset going from a starter to the first player off the bench. Saric can thrive in this role, but first he has to embrace it and not looking at it as a demotion. The sixth man can be just as valuable, if not more, than a starter. 

Haughton
With a widely projected starting lineup of Joel Embiid, Robert Covington, JJ Redick, Markelle Fultz and Simmons, the Sixers’ sixth man would appear to be a lock as Dario Saric. After all, Saric is a strong all-around player and coming off an impressive rookie season.

However, that starting five may force Brett Brown to go in a different direction with his first man off the bench.

Sure, Brown’s opening group may have a lot of firepower, but it lacks a necessity of legitimate NBA teams: a proven floor general. With Fultz and Simmons in the backcourt, the Sixers have two players that have yet to take part in an NBA regular-season game. They also will be trying to adjust to playing off the ball (Fultz) and running the team as a full-time point guard (Simmons).

That’s why I believe Brown may opt to go with Jerryd Bayless as his first reserve to combat the expected growing pains of his rookie backcourt. Bayless didn’t exactly wow Sixers fans by playing in just three contests a season ago because of torn ligaments in his wrist, but the veteran still has 513 career games under his belt (29 in the postseason) and knows how to play both guard positions.

It may not be the preferred pick, but Bayless may be the necessary choice as sixth man if the Sixers hope to achieve their goals in the upcoming campaign.

Hudrick
I know it doesn't please some Sixers fans that Saric seems destined to come off the bench, but really, it's a great sign.

Saric has proven to be a good NBA player after a strong rookie campaign, but think about it. This roster suddenly has talent. People are getting giddy and talking playoffs. Do you know what playoff teams have? Good players coming off the bench. It's not a knock on Saric as much as it's a testament to how talented this roster has become.

I will say that Matt's idea of using Bayless as the team's sixth man is interesting. Brown puts such a heavy emphasis on the point guard position. He's referred to it as the hardest position to play in the NBA. And now he's turning the keys over to a 6-foot-10 player that's never truly played the position. 

In the end, I'm going Saric. He should come in and dominate most team's second units offensively. Plus his grit and energy are perfect for the role. The Sixers just have to hope he embraces it.