10 observations from Sixers Blue x White Scrimmage in Delaware

10 observations from Sixers Blue x White Scrimmage in Delaware

WILMINGTON, Del. — The Sixers played their annual Blue x White Scrimmage at the 76ers Fieldhouse in Wilmington, Delaware, Saturday afternoon.

The scrimmage started out with the starting five (Blue Team) going up against Trey Burke, Matisse Thybulle, Mike Scott, James Ennis and Kyle O’Quinn (White Team).

The Blue Team beat the White Team, 88-66, but who cares?

Here are observations from the intersquad scrimmage.

• Yeah, this starting five is going to be a problem defensively.

On the first possession you got a feel for how scary versatile this unit can be. Al Horford had a nice deflection which led to a turnover. On the next possession, Horford switched onto Burke. Horford baited Burke to drive to the basket where Joel Embiid was waiting to block his floater attempt. It led to a Ben Simmons’ fast break layup.

You get the feeling this Sixers’ starting unit will be turning defense into offense an awful lot. And good luck stopping Simmons and company in the open floor.

• Matisse Thybulle showed why GM Elton Brand traded up in the first round to go get him.

In the first quarter, he stripped Horford but missed the dunk on the fast break.

But the second quarter was the Matisse Thybulle Show. It started with an impressive strip on Ben Simmons on a fast break. The next possession, Raul Neto and Simmons were on a 2-on-1 break with only Thybulle in their way and the rookie broke it up. The play of the day came when Josh Richardson had what looked like a wide-open transition three on the wing. Thybulle came out of absolutely nowhere to send it into the seats. If I had to guess, Thybulle got his hands on the ball 10 times defensively in the second quarter alone … and that feels conservative. The crowd showed their appreciation for the ballhawk mentality.

At times, you could see the rawness of his offensive game, though he hit a three off the dribble early in the third and a nice spinning floater in the fourth. He looks like a guy ready to play NBA minutes.

• You definitely got the sense Saturday that Tobias Harris knows the Sixers need more from him offensively this season. He was aggressive in attacking mismatches against smaller players and looking to get to the line. He ran a pick-and-roll with Embiid in the first quarter, something Brett Brown will likely run more of with Harris as the ball handler. It led to an offensive foul on Harris, but you can see the potential bind it could put opposing defenses in. He ran a couple more as the game went on and looked plenty comfortable doing so.

• There is nothing flashy about Horford but man, he is just good. You can see how his versatility will help this team on both ends. Defensively, he’s an excellent communicator and is so cerebral, as evidenced by the way he handled getting switched onto Burke. On offense, his ability to stretch the floor (he hit a three at the top of the key after a Simmons’ drive and kick) and to cut and pass are huge assets.

• Josh Richardson had a few nice moments Saturday. He hit a nice foul line jumper in a pick-and-roll. On defense he got a nice deflection that led to a Simmons’ steal. That triggered a fast break. Simmons pulled it out after the initial break was slowed but he passed it off to Richardson on the wing who took advantage of the defense napping with a smooth drive and finish. He also took Zhaire Smith off the dribble for a layup with the shot clock winding down in the middle of the third. Smooth may be the best word to describe Richardson. He’s a terrific athlete and it makes his movements look effortless.

• Embiid and Simmons didn’t really stand out offensively — though it's fair to say not many did — but as mentioned, the entire starting unit looked scary at times defensively. Embiid played just the first half, which we were told would be the case pregame.

Simmons airballed his only jumper — a midrange fadeaway in the fourth — but did fire up a bunch of threes during warmups. His form does look better. He looks more balanced and there isn’t as much wasted motion.

Yes, I know, he needs to hit one in a game to impress you, but it's encouraging.

• The veteran big O’Quinn was looking awfully spry. James Ennis raved about his passing ability in practice on Friday and he showed that off with a nice backdoor pass to Ennis and a strong outlet pass to Thybulle. He also hit a three, which is notable since he hit just 1 of 12 for Indiana last season and has shot just 20.9 percent from three for his career. When the White squad took the lead late in the first half, O’Quinn was clapping and encouraging his teammates loudly. It was cool to see a veteran being so competitive in a scrimmage situation. There were a lot of young guys on the White team and O’Quinn took the leadership role seriously.

• Burke and Raul Neto, both fighting for the backup point guard role, were going at each other. Neto was all over Burke on a possession late in the first quarter. With the shot clock winding down, Burke couldn’t break away and wound up taking a contested layup that he missed. 

Still, you could see why teammates have been buzzing about Burke early in camp. He was able to knife through the defense a couple of times for shots around the rim in the second quarter. His ball handling drew some ooh and ahs from the crowd. That shot creation could be useful off the Sixers’ bench.

Neto showed what he brings to the table as well. He was a pest defensively and really does have a floor general mentality and a craftiness to his game. It’ll be interesting to see how that battle plays out during the preseason.

• Shake Milton had a couple “don’t forget about me” moments in the second quarter. He hit a couple threes on the wing and had a nice give-and-go with O’Quinn. Embiid switched onto Milton, Milton then pumped faked a corner three and then finished at the rim with a nice reverse layup with Simmons defending. Milton, in his second season with the Sixers, is sort of the forgotten man among the Sixers’ young players, but he stood out offensively.

• The 76ers Fieldhouse, which is the home of the Sixers' G-League affiliate, the Delaware Blue Coats, has an interesting vibe to it. It's a cool and intimate setting to catch a game.

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Ben Simmons responds to potentially playing a different role for Sixers

Ben Simmons responds to potentially playing a different role for Sixers

Ben Simmons is exceptionally versatile, and he does not have a difficult time describing the multitude of things he can do well on a basketball court besides shoot. 

“I’m a basketball player at the end of the day,” he said in a video conference call Tuesday. “You know me, you put me on the floor, I’ll make anything happen, whether it’s plays, buckets, stops. I’ll guard anybody 1 through 5, I’ll run the floor, I can get to the rim, I can score the ball and I make plays happen. 

“So wherever you put me — 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 — it’s going to happen. I don’t really look at it as a title or position. That’s mainly for you guys to put down in your articles.” 

Reporters’ articles on Monday were obligated to mention that Brett Brown said he has been using Simmons exclusively as a power forward in the Sixers’ practices at Disney World, and that he’s been employing Shake Milton as the team’s starting point. Simmons did not seem worried about whether that shift meant he’d now have the ball in his hands less often. 

“It’s basketball, you’ve gotta get the ball,” he said.

Fair enough. 

In the eight games Milton and Simmons started together between Jan. 25 and Feb. 9, the two-time All-Star was often stationed as a playmaker at the elbow and still had many chances to be the hub of the offense, like on the play below vs. the Lakers. Milton dished the ball off to Simmons and then set a cross screen to free Tobias Harris, who Simmons hit for an open three. 

Simmons averaged 20.9 points, 8.1 rebounds and 7.4 assists during that stretch, and the Sixers went 4-4. He may not be as commanding an all-around presence as his star teammate, but Milton is a multi-dimensional offensive player, one Simmons feels complements him effectively. 

“He plays really well,” Simmons said of Milton. “He can shoot the ball, he has a high IQ, he can get to the rim, he can finish. He’s just somebody you can play with, and you can say something to him and he’ll put it into play and try it out. And that’s what you need in somebody like Shake or players like that. He’s developing still and he’s come a long way since the first day I’ve seen him play. He’s only getting better.”

If the Sixers ultimately decide to start the never-used lineup of Milton, Josh Richardson, Harris, Simmons and Joel Embiid — Brown emphasized again Tuesday that it’s still “incredibly early” in this second training camp of sorts — one imagines we’ll see less of Simmons as a middle pick-and-roll ball handler and more of him as a screener. Ideally, that would mean fewer possessions where the defense sags off and Simmons’ weakness as a shooter hurts the team.

It also should mean greater opportunity for Simmons to grow pick-and-roll partnerships with Milton and Richardson.

Given how the Sixers had fallen short of their expectations before the NBA’s hiatus, Simmons is open to experimentation. He just doesn't care about the labels.

You've just gotta work with different things,” he said. “You’ve gotta try different things out, see if they work. We’re not at a stage where we can be comfortable yet. I’m still trying to figure it out myself ... what feels comfortable, what’s right for this team and how we’re gonna win. 

“If it’s this way, then I’m all for it. I’ve been having fun in that position — whatever you guys say, the four — whatever it is. But at the end of the day, when you see me I’m on the floor, I’m making plays.

As for who will handle the ball late in close playoff games, Brown has not yet settled on an answer. 

“He does have the ball at times,” Brown said of Simmons. “I have played him as a four-man. And so I suspect that will continue where I use him in many ways, and I think that when it gets a little bit closer than four days into practice, I’ll probably be able to give you more detail. 

“But I think about it all the time and we still have a lot of things as it relates to just to the preseason games, the eight regular-season games — the runway is long. We have enough time to establish a lot of these things that might remain a little uncertain or flexible.”

With Simmons’ unique skill set, the ultimate correct answer might not be a simple or conventional one. 

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2 NBA players tested positive for COVID-19 in Orlando; Richaun Holmes breaches 'bubble'

2 NBA players tested positive for COVID-19 in Orlando; Richaun Holmes breaches 'bubble'

Former Sixer Richaun Holmes breached the NBA’s health and safety regulations by picking up a food delivery, he said Monday afternoon. 

Holmes will now have to quarantine for eight additional days. 

Earlier Monday, ESPN reported that the Rockets’ Bruno Caboclo unintentionally broke quarantine. 

Shortly after Holmes released his statement, the NBA and NBPA announced that two players of the 322 tested in Orlando since July 7 were positive for the coronavirus. Those players never cleared quarantine, according to the joint statement. 

All-Star Rockets guard Russell Westbrook announced Monday that he tested positive for COVID-19 before Houston’s departure and is quarantined. New Sixer Ryan Broekhoff said Sunday he didn’t travel with the Sixers to Orlando so that he could focus on his family after his wife tested positive.

Joel Embiid was skeptical last week that all players would follow the league’s protocols.

“Some guys like to go out and some guys like to do stuff, (there are) some guys that like adventure,” he said. “So that’s the way I’m thinking. I know myself. I know I’m not going to put everybody else at risk, but the question is, is everybody else going to do the same? And just being around this business, I surely don’t think so.”

A second-round pick of the Sixers in 2015, Holmes played the first three seasons of his career in Philadelphia as an athletic, high-energy backup big man. He’s had the best season of his career with the Kings, posting 12.8 points and 8.3 rebounds per game this year. 

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