Give and Go: Which Sixers rookie will have the best season?

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Give and Go: Which Sixers rookie will have the best season?

Each day leading up to Sept. 21, the official start of Sixers training camp, we'll dissect the biggest storylines facing the team ahead of the 2018-19 season.

In today’s Give and Go, Matt Haughton and Eric Mullin give their predictions on which Sixers rookie will have the best season.

While I’m not necessarily counting on any member of this Sixers rookie class making a major impact, each player possesses what the team desires in first-year players: potential and versatility.

That’s particularly the case for 2018 first-rounder Zhaire Smith and 2017 second-round selection Jonah Bolden given their defensive prowess. Both players should be able to earn time in the rotation thanks to their strong play on D even as they seek to find their offensive games.

But with Smith coming off a fractured foot and plenty of available minutes in the frontcourt, Bolden is the guy.

The Australian product proved his defense is already one of his best assets over the past two summers with the Sixers. During the MGM Resorts Summer League in Las Vegas in July, Bolden averaged 1.5 steals and 1.0 block over six games. More important than the numbers, he looked the part of NBA defender, even helping put the clamps on No. 1 overall pick Deandre Ayton.

Bolden also has the advantage of being more mature at 22 years old and previously competing against grown men overseas in Serbia and Israel. 

If his offense — mainly his three-point shot — ever reaches a consistent level, Bolden could be a serious dual threat for the Sixers. But for now, the team will settle for a reserve big man that can hold his own defensively and chip in the occasional bucket.

If Smith hadn’t fractured his foot, I think he’d be the easy answer here. But since it's usually not that simple with Sixers rookies and their health, let’s run through the three other choices.

The team’s other first-round pick, Landry Shamet, should have value as a floor spacer and shooter, but there are questions as to whether he can affect the game at all off the dribble or hold his own defensively.

Shake Milton has good size on the wing at 6-6 and shot over 42 percent from deep on a high volume of attempts at SMU. Though it’s tough to expect much from a late second-round pick who signed a two-way deal and will likely spend most of his time in Delaware this season.

Then there’s draft-and-stash Bolden, who had a summer league to forget before signing with the Sixers. Bolden has some intriguing tools and the optimistic projection for him is to be a rangy, three-and-D big, but he has to improve his consistency for that potential to be actualized.

The big question here is if any of these players will be able to crack Brett Brown’s regular rotation. Just going down the roster, there’s at least 10 players that will almost certainly get minutes to start the season (last season’s starting five, Markelle Fultz, Wilson Chandler, T.J. McConnell, Amir Johnson, Mike Muscala). And Furkan Korkmaz is lurking right behind. So unless a rookie(s) really pops early, it’s going to be tough to get consistent minutes.

Since Smith hasn’t been ruled out for the season (if he was it’d be a toss-up between Shamet and Bolden), I’m actually going to go with him and here’s why: He’s the best bet of the rookies to actually play in the playoffs, mainly because of his defensive ability and versatility. This Sixers team has high aspirations. Their most important games of the season are going to be deep in the playoffs. If Smith doesn’t make it back until around the All-Star break, but is the only first-year player to play himself into the playoff rotation, that would still be the best freshman campaign.

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Sixers Talk podcast: Hopefully Charles Barkley is wrong about Joel Embiid, Sixers

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Sixers Talk podcast: Hopefully Charles Barkley is wrong about Joel Embiid, Sixers

On the latest Sixers Talk podcast presented by Wilmington University, Danny Pommells and Paul Hudrick discuss Charles Barkley's criticism of the Sixers and Joel Embiid, compare the Sixers to the Clippers and more.

• Does Charles Barkley have a point or this all just sensationalism?

• The Sixers have new pieces and it's leading to a clunky fit. What is the solution?

• Just a little more Matisse Thybulle love.

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

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To be mature, or to be dominant, that is the question for Joel Embiid

To be mature, or to be dominant, that is the question for Joel Embiid

In years past, it was a common occurrence for Joel Embiid to make a big play and elicit cheers from a sold-out Wells Fargo Center. He’d then raise his arms, imploring the crowd to get louder — and they’d oblige.

This kind of moment happened in Tuesday night’s 97-92 win in a slugfest against the Nuggets (see observations).

With Denver having gone on a run to cut a double-digit deficit to two, the Sixers made a push late in the third. As the clock was winding down, Embiid grabbed an offensive rebound and made a circus shot while he was being fouled.

Embiid went out to center court, raised his arms and the fans went nuts.

Moments like this haven’t been as frequent this year. Not because Embiid hasn’t had spectacular moments, but because he’s trying to be even-keeled.

I haven't done it enough all season,” Embiid said. “I have not been having fun like usual. … It goes back to with me being mature. And one of the biggest parts of my game is just having fun and by having fun is talking trash, but that part, that's kind of been cut. I just need to be myself and I guess just do whatever I want. Because when I'm having fun, I dominate. But this year, I don't know, I can probably count on one hand how many times I've done it. Last year was basically a reaction that I love it. They get me going. They understand me, I do understand them. So, I need to start doing it again because that's how I'm gonna dominate.

Embiid continues to be his dominant self on the defensive end — in case some national pundits forgot that there are two ends to a basketball court. He’s No. 1 in the NBA in terms of defensive rating (95.3) and anchored the defense that held the Nuggets to just 92 points.

With Jimmy Butler gone, it’s also been Embiid who’s been tasked with being the team’s go-to scorer in the fourth quarter. Going to a post player late in games is not something a ton of teams do. Then again, most teams don’t have a big man as physically gifted as Embiid.

Brett Brown has tried to do different things here and there — run isos for Tobias Harris or pick-and-rolls with Ben Simmons. Ultimately, though, Brown said his offense still runs through his “crown jewel.”

Embiid, who almost sounded like a player that had just lost, admitted that he’s still adjusting to his late-game role and also to the idea of drawing attention to free up his teammates.

“Not good enough,” Embiid said when asked about his late-game scoring. “Still getting used to [it]. The whole season I've been trying to adjust. Obviously, it's not the same as last year. It's completely different. So the adjustment has been hard but I'm gonna do whatever I'm asked to every single night. Like I keep mentioning, even if it's being a ball screener or just rebound the ball or take three shots — I'll do that. Whatever they ask me to do.”

It’s been a peculiar season for Embiid. If you were to just look at his scoring numbers, they’re way down. He’s averaging just 21.9 points, down from his 27.5 mark last season. A lot of that is the result of more aggressive double teams and a new supporting cast.

He also just seems a little off as far as his personality goes — and his words Tuesday kind of confirmed that. The only game where he seemed to be his usual plucky self was back on Oct. 30 against the Timberwolves. Of course, that’s the game where he got into a scuffle with Karl-Anthony Towns, shadowboxed to the crowd, got into a profanity-laced Instagram war with Towns, and got suspended for two games.

After that incident, Embiid vowed to never get suspended again. It’s a respectable cause, to be sure, but it seems like it’s led the 25-year-old into an existential crisis.

I'm not trying to be a distraction to the team," Embiid said. "The fight happened and we had good momentum and from there, we just kind of lost it. We lost a couple of games. So, I'm not trying to be a distraction, but that's just part of my game. And I feel like me losing that part, I think it's kind of taken a toll on my game. So it just goes back to me. Sometimes I might be childish and like I said, do whatever I want to, but then again, I care about winning. Everybody knows that. I'll do whatever it takes to win. I care about my teammates, I care about the organization, I care about being a role model. Everybody told me that I need to be — from fans to everybody else — I gotta be mature, so I'm doing it and I don't think it's working but I'm gonna keep doing it.

To be mature, or to be dominant, that is the question.

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