76ers

Ben Simmons to miss Saturday's game vs. Magic with left elbow injury

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Ben Simmons to miss Saturday's game vs. Magic with left elbow injury

CAMDEN, N.J. -- The Sixers aren't the same team without Ben Simmons. On Saturday, they'll see exactly what type of team they are this season without their 6-foot-10 point guard.

Simmons will miss Saturday night's game against Orlando because of left elbow soreness. Simmons, the early Rookie of the Year favorite, is averaging 18.5 points, 7.7 assists and 9.1 rebounds.

The Sixers said, after reviewing footage from Wednesday night’s 101-81 win over Portland, Simmons appears to have suffered the injury at the 6:22 mark of the fourth quarter. He was in treatment during practice Friday and will be reevaluated Sunday.

Backup point guard T.J. McConnell will slide into the starting spot for Simmons, though Sixers coach Brett Brown acknowledged the rookie is impossible to replace.

“It changes a lot of things without Ben Simmons,” Brown said. “T.J. will come in and assume the starting point guard role. Obviously, the points of emphasis change, but that’s why you have a team. The team has responded without Joel (Embiid), now we’ll get to see how the team responds without Ben.”

McConnell, averaging 6.5 points and 5.3 assists in 23.9 minutes, doesn’t plan to alter much about his approach.

“Obviously me and Ben are completely different players," McConnell said. "He’s very special. I just need to play defense, get people the ball and shoot when I’m open, so I’m not going to change how I play.”

Brown has been impressed with McConnell’s development this season, especially as a shooter. He knows McConnell’s passion and effort are always going to be there but is pleased to see McConnell making strides with his shot.

“I think he’s doing fantastically,” Brown said. “I think his perimeter shot and the comfort level he feels taking the occasional three is evident; he’s spent a lot of time and effort over the summer trying to grow that. So now is the time, he’ll come in and start out as point guard and there’s a lot of responsibility and opportunity given to him.”

A few small tweaks seem to have significantly improved McConnell’s shot. Brown noted he’s brought the ball closer to his body and has better pre-shot preparation. McConnell said his focus in the offseason was on getting more lift and shooting in one smooth motion.

The results aren’t staggering; McConnell has made seven of 13 three-point attempts this season. Compared to his hesitancy to fire and 20 percent three-point mark last year, however, and the improvement is clear.

McConnell hopes he can jumpstart the Sixers' offense, which Brown graded a C-minus after the win over the Trail Blazers. Brown, McConnell and Embiid all pointed to ball movement as the key.

“We just need to keep moving the ball,” Embiid said. We are going to miss [Simmons] a lot because the way he plays, he gets everybody else involved and everybody else open. But if we stick to what we’ve been taught, our system, I think we’ll be fine.”

“It’s just ball movement, getting people open shots, just fluid offense,” McConnell said. "You can’t really ask for much more than that. Get the defense moving from side to side, and just playing hard.”

The Sixers are averaging 25.9 assists, second-best in the NBA, which indicates the team generally does a good job of moving the ball. However, Ben Simmons is usually the one anchoring the offense. T.J. McConnell will step into the job Saturday night.

NBA draft profile: Villanova G Jalen Brunson

NBA draft profile: Villanova G Jalen Brunson

Jalen Brunson

Position: Guard

Height: 6-2

Weight: 198

School: Villanova

As Mikal Bridges cements his status as a consensus lottery pick and Donte DiVincenzo’s name becomes hot enough to reportedly receive an invite to the green room of the draft, their Villanova teammate who was the consensus national player of the year has seen his stock remain static.

Jalen Brunson was the leading scorer on Villanova’s national title team last season, pouring in 18.9 points per game while dishing out 4.6 assists. Bunson, a three-year starter and two-time national champ, was also highly-efficient, shooting 52.1 percent from the floor, 40.8 percent from deep and 80.2 percent from the free throw line. And as a result of his remarkable junior season, the Villanova point guard took home a ton of hardware in sweeping the major national player of the year awards.

But, Brunson isn’t considered a surefire first-round pick.

Two of the main reasons for this? His position and age. The point guard position has the greatest depth in the NBA so lead guards don’t tend be high draft picks unless they have All-Star upside. If Bridges was five inches shorter, he wouldn’t have the same kind of value. Teams are starving for rotation three-and-D wings and not so much for high-floor/low-ceiling point guards. 

With Brunson set to turn 22 years old in August, he doesn’t possess the tantalizing upside of the top point guards in this draft like Trae Young, Collin Sexton and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Even so, there's still a place for Brunson in the NBA.

Strengths
As a three-level scorer, Brunson can fill it up in a variety of ways. He has a smooth jumper that extends beyond the three-point line. In the mid-range area, he makes up for his lack of quickness with crafty moves to create separation for pull-ups. On drives, Brunson can initiate contact to draw fouls, contort his body to avoid contests and has good touch around the rim. And believe it or not, the 6-2 guard utilizes his craftiness to be an effective post player as well. 

When Brunson has the ball in his hands, he carries a calming force with him. He plays at his own pace and just always seems in control, rarely committing egregious turnovers or taking bad shots. He's also a willing, talented passer who will make the unselfish extra pass and can also fit the ball into a tight window to a cutter/roller.

Weaknesses
Brunson’s weaknesses have less to do with his skills and more with his physical traits and tools. He’s not an explosive athlete with crazy bounce and doesn’t possess game-changing speed or quickness. So will he be able to create enough space against more athletic wing defenders to penetrate to the rim or get off his pull-up jumper? 

Defensively, Brunson works hard and isn't way undersized as a point guard. But he doesn't have the size to switch across multiple positions and the one position he will defend is deep with high-level talent. He can survive against backups, but how will he fare against quality starters and stars?

NBA comparison
Lefties tend to get compared to other lefties, but I'm passing on the Derek Fisher comp and going with fellow Big 5 alum Jameer Nelson. The St. Joe’s product is shorter and had a little more quickness during his prime, but was a solid starter capable of scoring at all three levels despite some physical limitations. Brunson projects more as a backup but has the ceiling of a player like Nelson.

How’d he fit with the Sixers
Let’s look at the Sixers’ current guards beyond Ben Simmons. Markelle Fultz is an unknown. T.J. McConnell is set to be an unrestricted free agent next summer. And the only others under contract are Jerryd Bayless, Timothe Luwawu-Caborrot and Furkan Korkmaz.

This team needs guard depth, specifically ball handlers and shot creators/makers. While it may not come at an elite level, Brunson could fill both of those needs. And because of his shooting ability, he could also play off the ball as a spot-up shooter and secondary creator alongside Simmons and Fultz.

Draft projection 
A fringe first-rounder, Brunson's range will start right around the Sixers’ second pick at No. 26. If they pass on him there, they shouldn’t count on him still being on the board at their next pick at 38.

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Report: Sixers still eyeing trade up, but reluctant to include Robert Covington or Dario Saric

Report: Sixers still eyeing trade up, but reluctant to include Robert Covington or Dario Saric

We’re counting down the hours now until the 2018 NBA draft, which means all of the chatter surrounding teams is heading into overdrive.

That includes the Sixers, who are reportedly still attempting to move up the draft board.

Per a report Tuesday by Sports Illustrated’s Jake Fischer, the Sixers are continuing to make calls about moving into the top five. However, “they have offered packages of picks, but have thus far rebuked including oft-mentioned Robert Covington and Dario Saric,” according to the report.

There has still been no mention of exactly which prospect the Sixers are interested in trading up for since former Cavaliers GM David Griffin made the claim during a radio interview last week (see story).

With six total selections in Thursday’s draft, including Nos. 10 and 26 in the first round, it makes sense that the Sixers would offer draft picks first in any potential trade.

However you feel about the streaky Covington, the team was high enough on the All-NBA defender last season to lock him into a long-term deal while Saric has proven to be a rock-solid contributor that keeps improving every day.

We’ll see if the Sixers ease off those demands as we get even closer to the draft.

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