76ers

Criticism by analyst of Joel Embiid's opinion on NBA plan is well off the mark

Criticism by analyst of Joel Embiid's opinion on NBA plan is well off the mark

Joel Embiid on Tuesday gave a thoughtful and detailed explanation for why he initially “hated” the NBA’s plan to resume the season in Orlando and still does not believe it is safe enough.

Wednesday, Kendrick Perkins reacted to Embiid’s comments on ESPN’s “First Take,” and his stance was not as well-reasoned. 

In part, Perkins said, “To me, this is just an excuse. If they get knocked out, this is going to be an excuse because their superstar was halfway in. … Man, go down there and hoop. I ain’t trying to hear that, man. It’s a billion-dollar bubble.”

Perkins’ response evades the substance of Embiid’s remarks. Among Embiid’s primary points were that he is concerned about consequences the coronavirus might have for himself and his family, that basketball isn’t the only thing which should define him, and that he is skeptical other players will adhere to the NBA’s health and safety protocols intended to minimize risk of COVID-19 exposure. (Embiid noted he doesn’t do much outside of basketball besides playing video games and will personally do everything necessary to mitigate risk.) What Perkins said addresses none of those issues.

Instead, he focused on the notion of Embiid somehow being weaker than other superstars who committed to resume play without publicly voicing any concerns. To express worry about doing one’s job in these circumstances — playing basketball, in Embiid’s case — does not suggest a lack of character or toughness. It is a logical sentiment, and there is nothing wrong with Embiid being candid on the subject. 

… If you told me that the current trend is that people are getting sick and a lot of people are dying,” Embiid said, “obviously you don’t know what's going to happen and you don’t want to be in a situation where you put your life at risk ... and all that stuff, just for what? The money and all that stuff. At the end of the day, basketball is not all that matters. I've got family, I've got myself to look out for. That's all I care about.

Coronavirus cases have risen sharply in Florida, to the extent that many hospitals in the state have maxed out their ICU capacity. Embiid, who’s donated $500,000 to coronavirus relief efforts, has every right to say he is “not a big fan” of playing in Orlando. 

Familiar cliches in sports about sacrifice for the sake of the team and adversity over obstacles do not apply to a pandemic. This is a different category from Embiid shifting how he plays to accommodate teammates, and a topic that should be approached seriously. 

Perkins is allowed to criticize Embiid, of course, but his viewpoint is lacking in empathy and perspective.

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Can Furkan Korkmaz hold his own on defense vs. Celtics? Brett Brown weighs in

Can Furkan Korkmaz hold his own on defense vs. Celtics? Brett Brown weighs in

Furkan Korkmaz’s biggest weakness as a player is no great secret.

He is an improved defender but not a good one and so, with the Sixers set to face the Celtics in the first round of the postseason, it’s natural to wonder if the 23-year-old will be playable against skilled wings like All-Star Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Gordon Hayward.

I do (have confidence). I think he’s made great progress this year,” Brett Brown said. “He understood well and truly that it was going to influence, clearly, how much he was going to play. Because we experienced some different things this year with lots of injuries, it opened up a door for him to take advantage of.

"He’s a great story, as we all know. This route from where he was to where he is needs to be told — I suspect that it will. And I think that his defense has improved enough to where you feel confident he can come in and play in an NBA rotation. 

That’s certainly an endorsement of Korkmaz’s defense. 

It’s not, however, as if Brown called Korkmaz a shutdown defender. “Play in an NBA rotation” isn't the same as “be on the floor in crunch time of a playoff game” or “take on the opposition’s top scorers,” or anything close to it. And, given Brown’s tendency to focus on the positive, it’s not stunning that he gave an affirmative response to a question about whether he had confidence in one of his players.

The formula for Korkmaz making the Sixers a better team has typically been high-efficiency shotmaking and passable defense. As Brown said, Korkmaz’s path — from having his third-year option declined last season, to signing with the Sixers on a minimum contract last July, to honing his conditioning and focusing on his defense, to leading the team in made three-pointers — is remarkable. Still, it’s rare for Korkmaz, who scored 21 points in Wednesday’s 125-121 loss to the Raptors, to be a positive-value player when he’s not hitting jumpers. 

Other Sixers on the bench are more well-rounded. If he’s not limited by a nagging left hip pointer injury, Glenn Robinson offers an attractive two-way skill set, a playoff-ready mixture of perimeter defense, outside shooting and cutting. Alec Burks is far from an elite defender, but he’s generally looked capable of stopping some dribble penetration and can single-handedly generate offense in a way few of his teammates can. 

Though Matisse Thybulle provides little offensively besides spot-up shooting and athleticism, he has special talent on the other side of the ball that the Sixers will need with Ben Simmons out after undergoing surgery on his left knee. 

It’s possible all of the players mentioned above will be in the Sixers’ playoff rotation, which Brown has said he expects will include nine players. Mike Scott is a name seemingly on the edge, and perhaps he’s the kind of perpetually unfazed veteran who could step in if Korkmaz or Thybulle are having trouble in a particular game or matchup. 

Korkmaz combines a supreme faith in his abilities with an earnest, humble personality that’s endeared him to his teammates. He understands that opponents will try to target him defensively.

“I was just trying to be solid on defense,” he said on July 21, “because the first (two) years, everybody was talking about my weaknesses on defense, but I think this year I made a big jump on defense. Also, I was talking to the coaching staff, talking to players, to improve myself. Still I am trying to improve myself, every part of the game — not just only defense or offense. But I think defense is key for me to stay on the court longer, I know that.”

Against Boston this season, Korkmaz played, in chronological order, 19, 8, 14 and 25 minutes. He actually held Celtics players to 1 of 6 shooting on field goals he defended on opening night, while Boston shot 4 of 5 on shots Korkmaz guarded on Jan. 9. Assuming he’s in Brown’s initial rotation, there will likely be fluctuations in both Korkmaz's performances and his playing time. The idea of giving him a few stints per game alongside Al Horford, a player he’s thrived alongside this year, might work if he’s shooting well and holding his own in a manageable matchup against Marcus Smart or Semi Ojeleye.

Consistency and reliability are not traits usually associated with Korkmaz, but it’s a logical area of focus at this stage. 

“Defensively, offensively, I’m just trying to stay consistent,” Korkmaz said Wednesday. “I know my role. It’s good to be playing good basketball. I’m feeling good. I wish we just won this game. … Just getting ready for the playoffs.”

Brown seems to believe the Turkish wing’s defensive deficiencies aren’t enough to eliminate the possibility of him helping in the postseason. We'll see soon if that's the case. 

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2020 NBA draft: Sixers will own a first-round pick, thanks to Mike Muscala

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2020 NBA draft: Sixers will own a first-round pick, thanks to Mike Muscala

The Sixers will own a first-round pick in this year’s draft, and they have Mike Muscala to thank.

Muscala’s go-ahead three-pointer Wednesday night with 5.2 seconds remaining lifted the Thunder to a 116-115 win over the Heat. The shot ensures that the Sixers will have a first-round pick because Oklahoma City will finish with a top-10 record. In the Markelle Fultz trade last February, the Sixers acquired the Thunder’s top-20 protected first-rounder, in addition to Jonathon Simmons and a second-round selection last year. 

For many reasons, it’s an improbable turn of events. (Did we mention Oklahoma City trailed by as many as 22 points?) Muscala came to the Sixers as a part of a three-team trade in July of 2018, and he didn’t have an illustrious tenure here. After averaging 7.4 points and 4.3 rebounds in 47 games, he was dealt to the Clippers in the Tobias Harris trade, then shipped to the Lakers a day later. 

Muscala signed this past summer with Oklahoma City, who many projected to have a steep short-term decline following the departures of Russell Westbrook and Paul George. Instead, 35-year-old Chris Paul, 22-year-old Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Sixth Man of the Year finalist Dennis Schroder excelled in clutch situations and performed well above expectations. Former Sixer Nerlens Noel has had a solid year for the Thunder, too. 

The Sixers will own four second-round picks along with their improbable first-round. If the selection had not conveyed, it would’ve turned into second-round picks in 2022 and 2023. 

That’s not a bad return, but the Sixers will prefer having a first-round pick in a draft that, while not considered very strong at the top, should have future rotation player options in the 20s. 

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