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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Sixers suffer 2 losses in Toronto as Josh Richardson exits with injury against Raptors

Sixers suffer 2 losses in Toronto as Josh Richardson exits with injury against Raptors

The Sixers’ modest road winning streak has come to an end.

They fell Wednesday night to the Raptors at Scotiabank Arena, 107-95, snapping a run of two straight away wins and four straight victories overall.

The defeat drops them to 29-17 this season, 5-3 since Joel Embiid has been sidelined because of a torn ligament in the ring finger of his left hand. The Sixers, who next play the Lakers on Saturday night at Wells Fargo Center, haven’t won a regular-season game in Toronto since Nov. 10, 2012. 

Here are observations on the loss: 

Another starter suffers an injury 

With 8:08 to go in the first quarter, Brett Brown called a timeout as Josh Richardson grabbed at his left hamstring. The Sixers’ guard left the game with a left hamstring strain and did not return. 

Richardson came into Wednesday’s game averaging 15.4 points, 3.5 assists and 3.4 rebounds. His perimeter defense, shot creation and pick-and-roll ability have been valuable skills. 

The 26-year-old missed six games in a row from Nov. 29 to Dec. 8 because of right hamstring tightness. 

Richardson’s replacements 

Shake Milton entered when Richardson left, his 13th NBA appearance this season. The second-year player started brightly, sinking a three-pointer from the right wing on his first shot. 

However, Milton only made 2 of his next 9 shots and was outmuscled on a couple of plays. He was passable overall in a tough spot. 

Furkan Korkmaz chipped in 17 points (6 of 13 shooting) off the bench, his fifth straight game in double figures. This was one of Korkmaz’s better defensive efforts, too. 

The Sixers also looked to Tobias Harris to fill the scoring void without Richardson. Harris had a team-high 22 points on 18 shots.

Al Horford faded after hitting a couple of early jumpers and shot 3 for 11.

Turnover problems for Simmons

After his 34-point triple-double Monday night in Brooklyn, Ben Simmons could not meet that same extremely high level again.

Though Simmons was aggressive on the offensive boards and had 10 assists, he also turned it over six times in the first half, which enabled the Raptors to get back into the game after they trailed by 14 points in the first quarter. The turnovers were a combination of the Raptors simply doing a good job of walling Simmons off in the open floor and Simmons either being slow to make a decision when encountering a set defender or choosing the wrong pass. To Simmons’ credit, he’d only averaged 2.1 turnovers over his previous nine games.

The other main reasons the Sixers’ lead evaporated in the second were that they missed a lot of the open three-point looks they’d made in the first period and didn’t get to the foul line enough. They shot 2 of 9 from three and scored 15 second-quarter points, while Harris was the only Sixer besides Simmons to attempt a free throw in the first half. 

A first loss with Thybulle starting 

Matisse Thybulle started for his fifth straight game but left after just three minutes when he picked up his second foul on a Kyle Lowry pump fake, leaving his feet and making the sort of mistake he’s talked about learning to avoid.

Thybulle is usually a peripheral offensive player and has struggled with his shot since returning from his right knee injury — although he did knock down two fourth-quarter threes. Still, he’s shown a consistent ability to start and finish fast breaks, like he did early in the third quarter when he stole the ball and blazed past the lumbering Marc Gasol for a dunk. 

The duo of Thybulle and Simmons seemed to get their hands on every other pass the Raptors tried during a stretch early in the third.

The Sixers are now 7-1 when Thybulle starts.

Pelle’s final day — for now 

Norvel Pelle played in Wednesday’s game, meaning he’s used up every one of the 45 NBA days he’s allotted under his two-way contract. He had one point, four rebounds and two blocks in 12 minutes.  

Though the Sixers opted against converting Pelle to a NBA deal because of their desire to maximize flexibility ahead of the Feb. 6 trade deadline, he could still get an NBA spot with the Sixers if a roster slot ultimately becomes open.

For now, the energetic, rim-protecting rookie is in an odd limbo and must stay with the Delaware Blue Coats, the Sixers’ G-League affiliate. 

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Josh Richardson forced to leave game vs. Raptors with hamstring injury

Josh Richardson forced to leave game vs. Raptors with hamstring injury

The Sixers are now down two starters.

Josh Richardson was forced to leave Wednesday night's game vs. the Raptors with a left hamstring strain. He played just four minutes and will not return.

Richardson missed six games earlier this season with a right hamstring tightness.

The team is already missing Joel Embiid, who missed his eighth straight game Wednesday after having surgery to repair a torn ligament in his left ring finger.

With Richardson out, Brett Brown turned to little-used guard Shake Milton. This is the second-year pro's first meaningful game action since late November.

We'll have more information as it becomes available.

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