76ers

How do Sixers stack up in competition for LeBron James?

How do Sixers stack up in competition for LeBron James?

So the mad news bomber, Adrian Wojnarowski, dropped some napalm Sunday morning. The ESPN NBA insider extraordinaire is reporting that the Sixers will meet with LeBron James' representatives in Los Angeles on Sunday. James apparently will not be on hand.

What does this mean?

So, you’re saying there’s a chance?

First off, they are in the game. This may not be much of a consolation prize if the Sixers don’t reel in the biggest fish in the sea, but you’ve got to be in it to win it. It also speaks to how far the club has come from a 10-win laughingstock to one of less than a handful of teams he would even consider.

Kawhi tie

Marc Stein of The New York Times is reporting part of the Sixers' sales pitch to James is they believe they have a real chance to land Kawhi Leonard in a deal with the Spurs. With Paul George opting not to go home to L.A. and staying put in Oklahoma City, Leonard could be the piece that sways James. Both the Sixers and the Lakers have the assets and cap space to pull off a Leonard deal. The Spurs hold the cards here for now. The Lakers could offer Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma and more. The Sixers have reportedly discussed a trade package internally that involves Dario Saric, Robert Covington and Miami's 2021 unprotected first-rounder. Slight advantage: Lakers.

Brett Brown spent 15 years in the Spurs organization working alongside Gregg Popovich and with Leonard for a couple of years. There is a strong relationship there on both fronts. Also, San Antonio may not want to move Leonard in the same conference. Advantage: Sixers.

If you use the George/OKC blueprint, it’s worth the gamble of giving up quality players and picks just to get Leonard (who can opt out of the final year of his contract next summer) in-house to show him what this franchise and city are all about (see story). Playing alongside Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, being coached by Brown and embraced by a city that is obsessed with this basketball team could be intoxicating enough to make Leonard want to stay in Philly long term. James believing Leonard to Philly is a legit possibility with Embiid and Simmons, that’s how a possibly made-up mind changes.    

Home-court advantage

Unfortunately for the Sixers, James' decision may not come down to basketball. It may be as simple as he and his family want to live full-time in Los Angeles. If that’s the case, all bets could be off. Conversely, if it is about hoops, winning titles and furthering his legend, James needs to ask himself, if Leonard isn't dealt to the Lakers then how far is he going in the Western Conference with Ingram, Kuzma, Lonzo Ball and possibly a DeMarcus Cousins? Can they even reach a conference final? The East would be an easier path and Simmons, Embiid, Saric, and Markelle Fultz are a better core. Cleveland shouldn't be written off but considering their personnel and cap situation, this has the feel of a two-horse race with the Lakers and the Sixers.

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Sixers Injury Update: Joel Embiid, Josh Richardson out for Saturday's game vs. Cavs

Sixers Injury Update: Joel Embiid, Josh Richardson out for Saturday's game vs. Cavs

The Sixers will be down two starters Saturday night when they return to Wells Fargo Center to play the Cavs.

Josh Richardson will miss his fifth consecutive game with right hamstring tightness, while Joel Embiid is out with a left hip contusion.

A team source told NBC Sports Philadelphia that Embiid reported discomfort after the Sixers' 119-113 loss to the Wizards on Thursday night and is being treated for the injury.

Embiid had 26 points, 21 rebounds and eight turnovers Thursday.

Richardson and the Sixers have been cautious with his hamstring. He told reporters in Washington, D.C., that this is the first hamstring injury he's dealt with and admitted that it's been a frustrating process.

“A hamstring is one of those things where you can think that you’re fine and then you take a wrong step and it’s a week or two-week setback," he said. "I don’t really want to get into that whole cycle. ... It’s just one of those things where I just don’t really know where I’m at most of the time. It always feels like I’m tiptoeing, trying not to do too much.”

The Sixers' preferred starting five of Embiid, Richardson, Ben Simmons, Tobias Harris and Al Horford have played just 102 minutes together this season, posting a plus-21.3 net rating. 

Furkan Korkmaz has started the past four games in place of Richardson. Without Embiid, the Sixers will need to plug in another spot starter and perhaps search for further big man depth. Kyle O'Quinn hasn't played since Nov. 23, but he might be called upon vs. Cleveland.

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How Joel Embiid can improve with the subtleties of screening and rolling

How Joel Embiid can improve with the subtleties of screening and rolling

The Sixers, through 22 games, have run the fewest pick-and-rolls in the NBA, and at the worst efficiency

Joel Embiid is in the bottom top 10 percent of the league in efficiency as a roll man. 

None of those stats are encouraging at first glance.

That said, are there any positive signs for Embiid’s progress as a screener and a roller? And how can he get better?

Rolling isn’t always the right option

While Brett Brown said after practice Wednesday that he wants Embiid “screening and rolling more than popping,” rolling isn’t always the right option for the All-Star center.

Because Ben Simmons frequently stations himself in the “dunker spot,” Embiid often needs to float out behind the three-point line for the Sixers to maintain proper spacing.

When opposing big men drop on the pick-and-roll, there’s typically not much to be gained by Embiid rolling.

Embiid pops on the play below against the Raptors, and it’s a reasonable move with Marc Gasol dropping into the paint on Josh Richardson’s drive. Ultimately, the bigger issue is he settles for a mid-range jumper instead of either taking an open three or putting pressure on Gasol to guard a drive to the rim. 

A game-winning variation  

Before Richardson’s hamstring injury, the Sixers were incorporating the action above more into their offense. It’s a basic look — Richardson rubs off a screen to the top of the key, then Embiid steps up to give him a ball screen. 

Embiid’s game-winning dunk on Nov. 12 vs. the Cavs came from a smart variation. After Embiid’s roll to the rim, he set a strong down screen for Tobias Harris, flowing into a perfectly executed high-low.

On most of the occasions Embiid rolls to the rim and doesn’t receive the ball initially, a deep post-up is the next best option. Instead of finding Embiid on the high-low Nov. 15 in Oklahoma City, Al Horford swung the ball to Harris and created a good angle for a post catch. Embiid will score or get fouled in these positions more often than not. 

Getting snug

The “snug pick-and-roll” is, in theory, a way to allow Embiid and Simmons to both be near the rim at the same time without the only result being claustrophobic spacing. 

Embiid set a hard screen on RJ Barrett, forced the desired switch and got an and-one Nov. 29 against the Knicks. 

“We've been trying to do that bit by bit over the years,” Brown told reporters. “I think that you have a deep pick-and-roll with those two, a lot of times they do switch. I thought Ben did a good job of finding that and if they don't switch you got Ben going downhill, and we're trying to just continue to work on his finishing. And it is a look that I think, especially in crunch-time environments, interests me a lot.” 

The obvious problem with the snug pick-and-roll is there’s minimal space for anything to develop. Simmons has little margin for error with his first read. 

Though Embiid eventually had the switch the Sixers wanted against the 6-foot-5 Malcolm Brogdon on the play above, Simmons had already committed to a righty jump hook on Myles Turner and didn’t have room to change his mind. 

Developing the tricks of the trade 

Embiid’s value as a roller increases against teams that aggressively hedge the pick-and-roll.

He didn’t even roll very far on this play from Nov. 8 in Denver — just a couple of feet after screening for Richardson — but the scheme the Nuggets were using meant Will Barton had to tag Embiid before flying out to Furkan Korkmaz. Barton couldn’t recover in time.

Embiid’s chemistry with his new teammates is predictably not yet at an advanced stage. Richardson has a tendency to snake back in the opposite direction of his initial drive, and Embiid still seems to be figuring that out. 

They were on different wavelengths here. 

Since Embiid draws so much respect from opposing defenses, many pick-and-roll actions involving him are going to be inelegant. Especially late in games, teams often know what’s coming and load up to stop it.

He can still be helpful in those situations by focusing on doing the simple things. The technique isn’t textbook on this play, but his screen on Donovan Mitchell gets the job done. 

One of the next steps in Embiid’s evolution as a screener and roller will be applying a few of the dark arts that are prevalent across the NBA, whether it’s stealthily using his upper body like Horford or giving the ball handler space to drive by sealing his man in the lane.

He did the latter well vs. Larry Nance Jr. and the Cavs. 

As a 7-foot, 280-pound player with diverse offensive skills, Embiid is a threat as a roller, at least on paper.

It often won’t be as easy for him as just rolling with purpose to the rim and being rewarded with dunks, but he’s shown he has the ability to help himself and his teammates get good looks. 

For Embiid, it’s clearly important to work on dealing with double teams, refining his post game, limiting turnovers and hitting open three-point shots at a decent rate. 

But the 25-year-old big man also has plenty of room to improve as a screener and roller. 



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