76ers

Despite Sixers' moves, it still all comes down to Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons

Despite Sixers' moves, it still all comes down to Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons

The 2019 offseason represents yet another major roster overhaul by the Sixers.

Long gone are Robert Covington, Dario Saric and Markelle Fultz. More recently, JJ Redick and Jimmy Butler found new homes. T.J. McConnell, the one player remaining from the infamous 10-win team, will also not be returning.

For all the success this team has had in posting back-to-back 50-win seasons, there are somehow only two players remaining from the 2017-18 roster. Perhaps not coincidentally, those two players are the most important on this upcoming season’s roster. 

While landing Al Horford and Josh Richardson is great, those acquisitions won’t mean much unless the Sixers get the best versions of Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons.

One of the main ideas behind “The Process” was to get high drafts pick in order to acquire franchise players. While the team clearly whiffed on Nerlens Noel, Jahlil Okafor and Fultz, Embiid and Simmons have both looked like the real deal. Embiid is arguably the best big man in the league. Simmons was the Rookie of the Year and a first-time All-Star at just 22.

There was little semblance of roster stability throughout the 2018-19 season, yet Embiid and Simmons managed to navigate that and help lead their team to the three seed and a first-round playoff victory.

Then we all know what happened.

Embiid’s health issues — that have plagued him throughout his brilliant, young career — crept up yet again. Whether it was the tendinitis in his knee, the two illnesses or the matchup against Marc Gasol, Embiid labored through that seven-game series against the Raptors. He was still remarkably effective. The Sixers were a plus-90 with him on the floor and a minus-111 with him on the bench vs. Toronto. Imagine the difference a healthy Embiid — or a legitimate backup — would’ve made.

With Simmons, it was the same story as last postseason. With his inability and unwillingness to shoot, teams are able to defend Simmons by clogging the paint and sagging way off him. His Game 6 performance gave a glimmer of hope. He was outstanding, posting 21 points, eight rebounds, six assists and not turning the ball over at all. He was assertive, going into the chest of all of his defenders and looking for his own shot. Throughout the series, he was the most effective defender against a ridiculously hot Kawhi Leonard. But still, you can’t help but look at that series and wish you would’ve gotten more from Simmons.

It’s apparent what both players need to do. Embiid needs to show up to training camp in the best shape of his life. He needs to work with the team’s medical and sport science staffs to figure out the best load management plan. Simmons needs to get his shot fixed. He doesn’t need to be a sharpshooter, but he needs to be good enough to have defenders respect it. If that happens, the sky is the limit.

But that doesn’t fall on the team and it certainly doesn’t fall on Brett Brown. It’s all on the players themselves.

The reason for pointing to these two isn’t a slight — quite the opposite. They’re so ridiculously talented and still so young. They’ll both take part in their third postseason in 2020. Given their gifts, competitiveness and invaluable experience, they should be more prepared.

While there will be plenty of questions surrounding the 2019-20 Sixers, Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons taking their games to the next level would provide the stability this team needs.

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2020 NBA return format: NBPA approves return to play format

2020 NBA return format: NBPA approves return to play format

A day after the NBA’s Board of Governor’s approved a 22-team return to play format, the NBPA did so Friday evening, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium.

All 28 player reps approved the plan, which would see 22 teams head to Walt Disney World in Florida to finish out the 2019-20 season beginning July 31. The league will play eight regular-season games with the possibility of a play-in tournament for the eighth seed. The playoffs will follow the traditional format.

One of the new pieces of information presented Friday is that there will also be two or three preseason games before the season resumes.

On TNT Thursday night, commissioner Adam Silver said the league is in the “first inning” in its quest to return to play. The NBA suspended the season on March 11 after Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19. 

According to Charania, players will undergo testing every day and there will be a minimum seven-day quarantine for any player that tests positive. If a player does contract the virus, play would continue.

“Of course we’ve always been looking for whether or not there is an appropriate and safe way that we can resume basketball,” Silver said, “and knowing that we’re going to be living with this virus for a while. … We’ve been exploring with the players whether there can be a new normal here.”

Another sticking point was a tentative date of Nov. 10 to start training camps for the 2020-21 season. Oct. 12 would be the last possible date for Game 7 of this year’s NBA Finals under this return-to-play plan. The NBPA told the players it’s “unlikely” the 2020-21 season would start on Dec. 1 and that it’s still being negotiated, per Charania.

With no fans in the stands, the two sides have also discussed pumping fan noise in courtesy of NBA2K.

The league and NBPA are still continuing to work out the health and safety details in the weeks leading up to a return.

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2020 NBA Draft profile: Jordan Nwora is a proven scorer, shooter

2020 NBA Draft profile: Jordan Nwora is a proven scorer, shooter

Jordan Nwora

Position: Forward
Height: 6-7
Weight: 225
School: Louisville

Six months ago, Jordan Nwora seemed like a lock to be selected in the first round of the 2020 NBA Draft. Nwora was the ACC Preseason Player of the Year, poised to lead Louisville to a big season and cement his status as one of the best players in all of college basketball.

By all accounts, he had a very good — if not great — junior season. Nwora averaged 18 points and just under eight rebounds per game for a Louisville team that finished with a 24-7 record. He was named First Team All-ACC and finished second in conference player of the year voting behind Duke’s Tre Jones.

Yet here we are looking ahead to the draft and Nwora is considered a fringe first-round pick who is more likely to be selected in the second round. 

So, what went wrong? There are a couple theories. One, Nwora struggled in a handful of marquee games last season. He scored just eight points on 2 of 10 shooting in a loss at Kentucky and was held to six points on 3 of 12 shooting at Duke a couple weeks later. To make matters worse, he scored a total of seven points in back-to-back losses to Georgia Tech and Clemson in mid-February.

There are also doubts as to whether Nwora showed enough improvement between his sophomore and junior seasons. Does he work hard enough? Is he committed to improving his game? These are questions that will follow Nwora as the draft approaches.

Strengths

Nwora is a proven scorer. He averaged 17 points as a sophomore and 18 points as a junior. He did so wearing a target on his back, particularly this past season. Opponents game planned to slow him down and he still put up big numbers against very good competition. 

He’s also a very efficient three-point shooter. Nwora shot better than 37 percent from long range during his sophomore year. He was even better last season, making 40 percent of his three-point attempts. His combination of size and shooting ability is very attractive to NBA talent evaluators.  

Weaknesses

Ball handling and defense top the list. Nwora should be an effective spot-up shooter in the NBA but his ability to create his own shot is questionable. His ball handling skills need significant improvement to be considered NBA-ready.

There are also legitimate concerns about his ability to defend on the pro level. Is he quick enough to guard smaller players on the perimeter? Is he strong enough to hold his own in the paint and on the boards? If Nwora ends up slipping to the second round, the defensive question marks will be the biggest reason why. 

Fit

Nwora could very well be selected early in the second round. The Sixers currently own the 34th and 36th picks and they need shooters. Nwora certainly fits that description. 
    
The Sixers could target him for his shooting ability and live with his shortcomings on the defensive end of the floor. Nwora to the Sixers isn’t a far-fetched scenario and definitely warrants serious consideration.  

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