Brett Brown has long had his eye on Kyle Kuzma

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Brett Brown has long had his eye on Kyle Kuzma

LOS ANGELES — Lonzo Ball isn't the only Lakers rookie to watch for Wednesday when the Sixers play at the Staples Center.

Forward Kyle Kuzma quickly has made his mark just 14 games into his career. 

"He's a hell of a rookie," Brett Brown said. "That was a great pick by them."

Kuzma already is looking like a sleeper steal in the 2017 draft. The Lakers selected him 27th out of Utah, two picks after the Sixers chose draft-and-stash center Anzejs Pasecniks.

Kuzma is averaging 15.9 points and 8.6 rebounds in seven games this month. He ranks third among rookies in scoring and fourth in rebounding (Ben Simmons leads both categories). Kuzma is just barely behind John Collins for second in rookie field goal percentage (50.3).

"I think he's a modern-day player," Brown said. "He can play with a bounce. He can make a three. He gets out in open court."

Brown was impressed by Kuzma long before the season started. Kuzma was one of the many players who participated in pre-draft workouts for the Sixers. There are some players Brown meets with whose interaction stays with him. Kuzma is one of them.

"He had a big personality," Brown said. "He was great to speak with. There was sort of a cocky side that I was attracted to. ... He's somebody that personally I was paying attention to a lot and paid attention to even more after you interview him because he was very endearing to me."

Sixers injury updates
Joel Embiid did not participate in shootaround because of rehab (left knee) and rest. He will play against the Lakers. 

Justin Anderson (left shin soreness) and Jahlil Okafor (upper respiratory) are listed as questionable. 

Jerryd Bayless (left wrist contusion) and Markelle Fultz (right shoulder) are out. 

Shootaround swishes
Sixers shootaround ended with Robert Covington and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot draining these two long-range shots just short of half court.

Markelle Fultz and Ben Simmons' shots, new approach on defense, more storylines for Sixers' Blue-White scrimmage

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Markelle Fultz and Ben Simmons' shots, new approach on defense, more storylines for Sixers' Blue-White scrimmage

CAMDEN, N.J. — There are two obvious storylines to watch Tuesday night when the Sixers hold their Blue-White scrimmage at the Palestra at 7 p.m., and for good reason.

Everyone will have their eyes on Markelle Fultz and Ben Simmons’ shots. We’ve seen glimpses already at training camp, but playing in front of fans will be a different environment than playing in front of a few media members documenting the action on cell phones.

At the end of practice Monday, head coach Brett Brown put Fultz, Simmons and a few other players in a pressure situation — Make two straight free throws, or else you and your teammates have to run.

Fultz knocked down both his shots. 

Simmons made one of two, then finished first on the penalty sprint up and down the floor.

Tuesday night will be a small step up in pressure, with the preseason opener looming on Sep. 28 against Melbourne United.

How will the news guys fit in?

During training camp, Brown has raved about the versatility and toughness of new acquisitions Mike Muscala and Wilson Chandler (see story). 

He said Monday he’s been pleasantly surprised by Muscala’s athleticism. 

“I think that his versatility, his ability to switch, it’s better than I thought,” Brown said. “He’s got a bounce.”

Even though he’s a big fan of Amir Johnson’s interior defense, don’t be surprised if Brown uses Muscala some as a small-ball five. He showed during a scrimmage Sunday the appeal of playing him in that role — he’s more than capable of punishing big men who play off him.

New defensive approach 

A few roles have shifted on Brown’s coaching staff with the departure of current Atlanta Hawks head coach Lloyd Pierce and the addition of Monty Williams. Billy Lange is now in charge of the defense, taking over Pierce’s job last season, and according to Joel Embiid, he’s made a few changes to the team’s approach.

“Right now we’re actually working on new defensive concepts,” Embiid said after practice Sunday. “It’s going to take time. It’s much different than what we did last year. It’s definitely going to take time. That’s why I say we gotta learn how to play with each other, because we have to understand each other’s movement. We can only get better. We were third [in defensive rating] and there’s a lot of room for improvement.”

Ben Simmons seemed to disagree Tuesday with the notion that there have been any dramatic defensive shifts.

“Personally, I feel like it’s been pretty standard,” Simmons said. “I think defensively we’re just getting back into the flow of things. It takes time. We’re not where we were, but we understand the level we need to be at.”

It would be surprising if Lange is implementing any radical changes, given the fact that, as Embiid mentioned, the Sixers had the league’s third-best defense last season. The Blue-White scrimmage may give us a better sense of his philosophy. 

Brown said Monday that the team is focused on gearing its defensive approach toward playoff basketball, which means figuring out how to keep Embiid on the floor when teams go small and put five shooters on the floor.

“How does he guard [Al] Horford, how would he guard Draymond Green? … We’re trying to anticipate that environment,” Brown said, “and we’re practicing now on how to keep him more close to the rim.”

“Defensively, how do we switch a lot, how do we keep the game in front of you, how do we not get beat on the bigs dribbling quick? And then, how do we find ways to, as much as we can, get Joel at the rim and be able to cover him around that? That to me is playoff defense.”

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Sixers notes, quotes, and tidbits: Finally, no restrictions on Joel Embiid

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Sixers notes, quotes, and tidbits: Finally, no restrictions on Joel Embiid

CAMDEN, N.J. — Finally, there are no restrictions on Joel Embiid.

For the first time in Embiid’s career, Brett Brown should have his star center at practice every day, he shouldn’t have to worry about minutes restrictions, and he should be able to put Embiid in the lineup for back-to-backs without a second thought.

At one point in January, Brown mentioned that, “Joel practicing today makes it one of my happiest days.” So you can imagine how he feels about having an unrestricted Embiid this season.

“We all look at the ups and downs that the season had, whether it’s an injury or a mask, it’s hard for him to find his own personal rhythm and it obviously affects the team,” Brown said at training camp Sunday.  “This year, you come in and with everyone’s health, there’s a fluid side of everybody’s world — coaching, playing, individuals’ worlds — that we haven’t experienced before.

“I think he’s going to be dominant. I really think he’s going to be dominant. There’s not one thing I’ve seen this summer or in this gym behind me that suggests otherwise.”

We already know Embiid thinks he’s going to be dominant — an MVP contender, in fact. He worked with trainer Drew Hanlen this summer to sharpen his skills, especially in the low post, and make that goal a reality.

“I feel like every time I catch the ball, it’s either a foul or a bucket,” Embiid said. “We’ve been working a lot on handles and taking care of the ball. Sometimes that’s my downfall, so I've got to fix that. We’re going to see what I do.”

No casual scrimmage
Brown didn’t just roll the ball out and let his guys play at the Sixers’ end-of-practice scrimmage. His assistant coaches frequently stopped the action to set up plays in special situations or let the players know if anything wasn’t to their liking. 

His new lead assistant, Monty Williams, was heavily involved. At one point, Williams wasn’t happy with how his team had run a sideline out-of-bounds play and walked them through the various options they’d missed out on.

“We have to get better at our execution. Just run it again,” he said. “I don’t care if it works; just run it again.”

Williams thinks the biggest area he can help Brown is with the details (see story). He seems to already be making his mark.

“Last year watching the series, I think Boston just kind of got into them — that was the series. They had a chance to win. I think that’s kind of the focus this year, to try to match that intensity and beat Boston.” 

–New Sixer Wilson Chandler on how the team can overcome the Celtics

“My first two years, rehabbing the whole year and the offseason too, and coming into my third year, the same thing — I think I got here a couple days before the actual season. I don’t remember really playing preseason. And then last year … wait, this is my fourth year? No, this is my fifth year — time goes by fast.”

“And then last year, coming in and also rehabbing, I think I got here a week before the season. All those offseasons I wasn’t really allowed to work out and work on my basketball skills. So this summer, that’s what I was doing, and I’m excited. We’re going to see where that takes us.” 

–Joel Embiid on the benefits of his first healthy NBA offseason

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