Sixers 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 producer/reporter Matt Haughton.

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

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.

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 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 producer/reporters Matt Haughton and Paul Hudrick.

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

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.

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.

Give and Go: How dangerous is Sixers' 3-game road trip?

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Give and Go: How dangerous is Sixers' 3-game road trip?

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 producer/reporter Matt Haughton.

In this edition, we examine the Sixers’ upcoming three-game road trip to Cleveland, New Orleans and Minnesota.

With a 13-11 record, including back-to-back home losses to the Suns and Lakers, all of a sudden the three-game road trip through Cleveland, New Orleans and Minnesota looks much more daunting. I have the Sixers going 2-1 on the trip. However, things could easily go badly and the Sixers could have a five-game skid on their hands.

Cleveland is a loss. Sometimes you just have to accept the reality that regardless of how a team performs, it's not taking down LeBron James and the Cavs without its best player. With Joel Embiid sitting out Saturday (see story), pulling off the upset goes from unlikely to nearly impossible. James is coming off a loss to Victor Oladipo and the Pacers. They're not trying to lose two in a row.

That brings us to Sunday and a meeting with DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis and the Pelicans. Look, A.D. is just returning from a groin injury, which caused him to miss three games before Friday's loss to the Kings. This should be a fun game with Embiid back and picking up where he left off with last season's butt-slapping love fest with Boogie. I've got the Sixers winning a close one, thanks in no small part to superior guard play.

That brings us to Tuesday's matchup with Minnesota. It may very well be the most difficult because of the addition of Jimmy Butler and Jeff Teague to an already formidable duo of Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns. This is where I think Embiid will make his mark on the defensive end of the court. Want to be Defensive Player of the Year? Then show it with strong back-to-back interior displays against the Pelicans and Wolves.

If the Sixers can shoot closer to their averages from the perimeter on this trip than they did in the last two games of their homestand, winning two of three shouldn't be a problem. But things could go the wrong way in a hurry if the threes, in particular, don't get back to falling regularly.

Things change fast in the NBA. To start this week, the Sixers were sitting in the middle of the pack in the Eastern Conference and looked poised to climb even higher with some winnable games on the slate.

A pair of ugly losses later, and now they are down in the eighth seed and could possibly fall out of extremely early playoff positioning with a rough road trip.

Speaking of the trip, I agree with Marshall that it opens with a loss. Even with Embiid, it was always going to be a difficult task to come out of Cleveland on the winning end. Throw in the center’s absence, the fact that the Cavs are upset about the end of their recent streak and James’ desire to remind the NBA world that Ben Simmons isn’t anywhere near his level yet, and you can pencil in a defeat.

Things should get good Sunday. Embiid will return to find himself locked in a battle of the bigs against Cousins and Davis. The Sixers can only hope Richaun Holmes can duplicate his recent effort against the Lakers in New Orleans. Either way, the Sixers’ advantage in perimeter play should be enough to escape with a victory.

That leaves Tuesday’s clash with the Timberwolves. It should be another good one with Embiid and Towns locking horns down low while Robert Covington and Wiggins face off on the wing. However, Butler will make the difference for the T-Wolves. He has finally stopped trying to fit in with his new team and has taken over. Look no further than his averages of 26.0 points (50.7 percent shooting), 6.0 assists, 5.2 rebounds and 2.0 steals nightly averages so far in December.

A loss to the Timberwolves would put the Sixers at 1-2 on the trip and losers of four out of their last five games. That’s a stretch the young team would hope to avoid in the jumbled Eastern Conference standings.