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Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid give back to local communities

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Philadelphia 76ers

Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid give back to local communities

A day after arriving in Philadelphia after a week-long preseason trip to China, Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid were out giving back to their communities. 

The first stop for Simmons was William Cramp Elementary School in Kensington, a designated Community School by Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney.

Despite the 80-degree weather, Simmons was helping the kids gear up for winter, handing out brand new coats with Operation Warm, a national nonprofit that creates high-quality coats for children in need. 

“There have been far too many children in the past that haven’t come to school in the winter, because they don’t have a coat,” principal Deanda Logan said. “We are so appreciative.”

But, it was really the time and attention that Simmons was giving to the kids that made all the difference. 

Whether he was shagging balls for the students that were trying to impress him with their jump shots or laughing with them as they were poking his biceps, the best part about the day was the genuine smiles on the kids' faces. 

(And this isn’t just me saying this because it was a community event — watch this video and see for yourself).

And I wasn’t kidding about the biceps…

For Embiid, his first stop was to the local Boys & Girls Club in Northeast Frankford.

After announcing his new partnership with Under Armour (see story) and passing out goodies in the parking lot, Embiid made his way into the gym to hang out with 200 local kids.

“As far as being in the community, helping people — people that don’t have a lot or anything at all, just me giving back here is the first step,” Embiid said.

As the kids chanted, "Trust The Process," Embiid had a message for them.

“My main thing is also that you gotta stay humble. Being from Africa, I learned that … At 16 years old, I left my whole family. I didn’t know how to speak English, I came to a country that I didn’t really know anything about. I just want to show them that anything is possible.”

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Sixers film review: Evolution in some areas, but nagging problems persist

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Sixers film review: Evolution in some areas, but nagging problems persist

It’s been an unusual week for the Sixers since our last film review. Joel Embiid rested for the first time this season, Jimmy Butler missed Wednesday night’s loss to the Nets with a strained groin, and the Sixers beat the Pistons twice.

At this point in the year, it’s rare to see any earth-shattering shifts from a team. We have, however, seen some interesting evolution from the Sixers over the past week, though familiar issues have persisted. 

Pick-and-roll defense continues to struggle

The Sixers were torched again Wednesday night by Spencer Dinwiddie and the Nets. As we covered in an earlier film review, the Sixers’ pick-and-roll defense has been an issue for a variety of reasons, including Joel Embiid’s tendency to drop back too far into the paint in “drop” coverage, the team’s dearth of quality individual defenders and new teammates still learning how to play with each other.

The play below illustrates how none of those problems have disappeared. Dinwiddie beats T.J. McConnell with a quick first step and Embiid is put in a bad position where he has to try to deter Dinwiddie’s drive and Jarrett Allen’s roll to the rim at the same time. He does neither, and Allen gets an easy dunk.

As they did last time out against Brooklyn, the Sixers “blitzed” the pick-and-roll more in the second half, but it wasn’t an effective or sustainable option vs. a Nets team that shot 14 of 28 from three-point range. On the fourth-quarter play below, blitzing was likely the right option — the shot clock was expiring, and sending a hard double at Dinwiddie ensured he had to give the ball up.

But one basic pass by Dinwiddie after Wilson Chandler and Ben Simmons’ blitz led to an open Jared Dudley three-pointer. Though Dudley missed the shot, you can see why blitzing isn’t a long-term solution for the Sixers’ issues defending the pick-and-roll.

Simmons' lack of a jumper

Ben Simmons still isn’t regularly shooting jumpers, which isn’t exactly news. 

The good piece of news for the Sixers is that Simmons is making a lot of shots within his comfort zone — he’s shooting 70.1 percent from the floor over his past seven games. He’s also developing other areas of his game (see film review). 

But his absence of a jumper does severely limit the Sixers’ offense. On the play below, it’s impossible for the Sixers to execute a conventional Simmons-Embiid pick-and-roll because Rondae Hollis-Jefferson sags under Embid’s screen, even though Embiid sets it about 10 feet from the rim. Simmons has to shoot this shot, not throw up a half-hearted floater.

Until he does, there’s just no other good option from this play for the Sixers, since it’s not hard for teams to stay attached to the other four players on the floor when they have this level of disrespect for Simmons’ jumper.

On two straight possessions down the stretch Wednesday night, the Sixers ran the same play to post up Simmons, and on two straight trips, Furkan Korkmaz turned it over. Besides Korkmaz’s poor entry passes, the biggest problem with these plays is the fact that Joel Embiid is lingering around the perimeter instead of in the post.

Simmons’ unwillingness to shoot clogs the floor, meaning Embiid needs to spend much of his time away from the basket for spacing purposes. This sequence vs. Brooklyn was an unpleasant reminder of that fundamental problem for the Sixers. 

New wrinkles for Butler

The Sixers’ favorite play to run for Butler has him make an “Iverson cut” to an unoccupied side of the floor, brushing across two screens to get the ball in isolation. 

He scored off that play at the start of Friday’s game in Detroit.

Butler often rejects one or both of the screens to capitalize on the defense anticipating the play.

Brett Brown ran a clever after-timeout variation of this play against Detroit. With Reggie Jackson denying Butler the ball, Simmons finds Mike Muscala at the top of the key. Butler pauses as if he’s going to post up, then beats Jackson back door for the lob. 

Korkmaz's defense

Furkan Korkmaz scored a career-high 18 points Monday vs. the Pistons, then matched it Wednesday in his first career start.

His offense hasn’t come out of nowhere; he’s shown in the past he has scoring ability, from his 40-point night in summer league to his impressive play this summer for Turkey in FIBA European qualifying.

His defense, though, was always an obvious weakness. But over the past three games he’s flashed deceptive athleticism and instincts on that end of the floor.

Korkmaz recovered well on the play below after turning the ball over to track down Langston Galloway and strip the ball at the right moment.

He’s also jumped the passing lanes well on a few plays, like on this steal vs. Brooklyn where Ed Davis tried to find D’Angelo Russell.

No, a couple nice steals don’t erase the concerns about Korkmaz’s defense, but his play on that end of the floor hasn’t been a liability for the Sixers recently. As a matter of fact, it’s actually been an occasional bright spot.

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Spencer Dinwiddie scorches Sixers, gives them glimpse of what they need

Spencer Dinwiddie scorches Sixers, gives them glimpse of what they need

The shorthanded Sixers fought but lost to the Nets, 127-124, Wednesday night at the Wells Fargo Center.

But that’s not what this story is about.

This story is partly about Spencer Dinwiddie, the Brooklyn guard who scorched the Sixers for a career-high 39 points Wednesday (see observations). That mark topped his previous career-high of 31 scored against, you guessed it, the Sixers.

This story isn’t all about Dinwiddie — though he is a pending free agent who has yet to get an extension —  but about what he brings to the table. He’s a guard that can create and make shots.

Do the Sixers have anyone outside of Jimmy Butler you can say that about? 

Sure, Joel Embiid is playing at an MVP level, but as we saw in the second half against the Nets, it’s not always easy to run the offense through the post. Ben Simmons can create shots, but he’s not necessarily willing to take them unless they’re at the rim. JJ Redick is as elite a shooter as there is, but his expert movement away from the ball is what gets him shots. They certainly don’t boast that type of player off the bench.

When you look up and down the roster, Butler is really the only the guy that can “get buckets.”

We seem to make every guard look like a freaking Hall of Famer” Embiid said. “All of their guards look like Hall of Famers against us. But they’re pretty good. I got to give them a lot of credit. Every time they play against us they always seem to take advantage of (us). They run a lot of pick-and-rolls, they shoot a lot of threes and they always seem to take advantage of that and make them, so you got to give them a lot of credit.

While it’s true that Dinwiddie and/or his teammate D’Angelo Russell always seem to go off against the Sixers, they can actually play. Dinwiddie was averaging 19.3 points over his last four coming in. 

The Sixers don’t have that type of player, and the other concern is that they can’t stop that type of player. When you look at teams like the Raptors and Celtics, the elite teams in the East, they have multiple players that can score in isolation.

That has to be a concern as the Sixers get closer to the playoffs. 

“I think that they’re a good team, to begin with,” Brett Brown said of Brooklyn. “I do not feel like their record reflects how good they are and I especially know that no matter what their record says, we struggle with that type of team, and we did tonight. Albeit undermanned. It doesn’t discount for me the fact that we do struggle with that style of a team.”

So what’s the solution?

As mentioned, Dinwiddie will be an unrestricted free agent when the season ends. The anniversary of his contract was Dec. 8, meaning he’s been eligible to sign an extension since that date. The Nets may not want to have those conversations with Dinwiddie, according to reports.

Maybe if you can't beat ‘em, get ‘em to join you.

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