76ers

Injuries too much for Sixers to overlook Justin Anderson, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot inconsistency

Injuries too much for Sixers to overlook Justin Anderson, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot inconsistency

The Sixers have proven to have extraordinary patience with injuries. They’ve recently stood by as Nerlens Noel, Joel Embiid, Jahlil Okafor, Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz missed chunks or even full seasons.

That’s fine if you’re a top-tier lottery pick expected to be a building block for the franchise. But those same assurances aren’t often afforded to role players.

Hence why reserves Justin Anderson (Atlanta Hawks) and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot (Oklahoma City Thunder) were shipped away as part of an agreement on a three-team trade Thursday.

Sure, the deal delivered the Sixers a stretch big they were looking for in Mike Muscala and cleared up some of the roster logjam.

But the best ability is availability and Anderson and Luwawu-Cabarrot simply weren’t available enough last season to justify giving them another shot.

Anderson, who was acquired by the Sixers at the 2017 trade deadline in the Nerlens Noel deal, was hit particularly hard by the injury bug last season. The 24-year-old was limited to 38 regular-season games in 2017-18 because of shin and ankle injuries. Anderson later ended up undergoing surgery for tibial stress syndrome in his left leg last month.

When he was on the court, Anderson wasn’t consistent enough to warrant nightly playing time. His averages were down virtually across the board as the wing was limited to just 13.7 minutes a night, and his 33.0 three-point percentage, while improved, remained below league average.

“Does he fit how we want to play? Can he play fast? Can he make a shot? Does he have a toughness?” Brown asked rhetorically about Anderson when the Sixers first acquired him. “Defense, pace and space. From time to time he shows, yes he can, in all three of those categories.”

But those times were few and far between.

The same thing goes for Luwawu-Cabarrot. The French-born guard looked destined for big things within the organization when he finished his 2016-17 rookie season by averaging 18.3 points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.3 assists over the final month.

That level of production proved to be just one of several glimpses for Luwawu-Cabarrot as patellar tendinitis continually held him back. The knee pain popped up again for him during summer league last year and lingered into training camp, which put him behind the eight ball. 

Luwawu-Cabarrot ended up playing in only 52 games as he drifted further and further out of the rotation to the point in which he was inactive on most nights toward the end of the season. He finished with an average of 6.1 points in 15.5 minutes a night on 37.5 percent shooting from the field and 33.5 from three-point range.

“We shut me down like maybe two months ago, and I feel really good right now,” Luwawu-Cabarrot said during his exit interview.

The right now factor is key. There weren’t enough times when the 23-year-old felt good enough to display the burst that made the Sixers use the No. 24 pick on him in 2016.

With both Anderson and Luwawu-Cabarrot dealing with separate injuries, the up-and-coming Sixers knew they needed to address their bench. That’s why the team aggressively targeted Marco Belinelli on the buyout market and the veteran guard was able to instantly slide into a sixth-man role for the squad.

The Sixers weren’t about to wait for the duo to get things together then and Thursday’s trade shows they’re not about to wait now.

Not for players of this caliber, anyway.

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Brett Brown is more interested in Joel Embiid's head than his hand

Brett Brown is more interested in Joel Embiid's head than his hand

CAMDEN, N.J. — In Sunday night’s NBA All-Star Game, Joel Embiid did not appear bothered by his left hand. He sought out contact, didn’t seem to be in pain or discomfort, and posted 22 points and 10 rebounds. He also did not wear a splint on his left hand, as he'd done since returning from a torn ligament in his ring finger.

A team spokesperson said Wednesday that will remain the case with the Sixers, and that Embiid will now use buddy tape on his hand.

After Embiid shot 6 for 26 on Feb. 6 against the Bucks, head coach Brett Brown told reporters in Milwaukee he thought Embiid’s hand was affecting his shooting. 

Embiid had also said his hand was having an adverse impact.

“The Miami game, you’re kind of scared sometimes, you’re just trying to look for a foul or try to be physical,” he said. “Especially on the rebounds — I think that’s where it affects me the most. But, like I said, it’s not an excuse. I’ve gotta just figure it out and keep pushing.”

Still, Brown leaned toward the metaphorical after practice Wednesday when asked a broad question about Embiid’s health. 

I think the place that interests me the most, where I see his conditioning incrementally getting to an elite level, is his head. I think he is in a space that is excellent as it relates to his excitement, seeing this final third home — to grab the team by the throat and lead us in a bunch of different areas. ... I've been with him a long time, and when I look at him and I talk to him and I hear his words ... and we're always sort of, like you would with your children, judging their body language and all that. 

“I just think he's in a really good space. As it relates to the physical conditioning, we just went up and down hard for about 60 minutes — really up and down, up and down, up and down — saw no drop off. If you study the tape from the other night and you watch Joel Embiid run the floor and some of his rim runs … we all would be saying, 'Well, shoot, it can't get any better than that.' And so I think his fitness level is fine, and I think his headspace is even better. 

As for Embiid’s hand, Brown deferred judgement. After missing nine games with the injury, Embiid has played in eight contests, averaging 21 points and 10.4 rebounds. He’s shot 44.1 percent from the floor, 38.2 percent on three-point shots and 69.9 percent at the foul line.

“I believe I'll be able to tell more when when he gets double teamed at what I call the up block … and he's forced to pass more with his left hand, which used to be all bandaged up,” Brown said. “I used to get worried in that environment where people would come hard looking to whack it or double team him from that floor spot. I look forward to seeing him pass from that floor spot.

“It's easier on the other side, the down side, with his right hand, and I think that's where it will stand out probably the most for me, to see the difference of no wrap and the one that used to be wrapped.”

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Why there's hope that Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons can figure this thing out

Why there's hope that Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons can figure this thing out

CAMDEN, N.J. — Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons were hit with questions about their fit and chemistry during All-Star weekend in Chicago. It’s not surprising. It’s a narrative that’s dominated all other Sixers storylines.

Both players talked about their mutual respect for each other and their relationship was evident during one especially playful moment in Sunday’s game.

After the team’s first practice coming out of the break Wednesday, Brett Brown said he expected his All-Star duo to have each other’s back.

“It kind of is newsworthy because there's so much talk about, can they coexist? How do they play together? Are we gonna play fast? Are we gonna play slow? … To be in Chicago and to talk about one another in that environment on different teams, it didn't surprise me.”

Lost in the pair getting along so swimmingly during All-Star weekend is that their chemistry on the court was perhaps the best we’d ever seen it the Sixers’ win over the Clippers last Tuesday. Both players were dominant as L.A. struggled with the size and skill of Embiid and Simmons.

One of the reasons for that dominance is an action called a snug pick-and-roll. You’ve likely seen it run sporadically over the last couple seasons. It’s essentially a pick-and-roll on the low block with Simmons as the ball handler and Embiid as the screener.

Because there isn’t a ton of space to operate in that action, the Sixers hadn’t had much success running it. It requires chemistry and decisiveness. Against the Clippers, it was easily the most we’ve seen it. More importantly, it was the most success Embiid and Simmons have had with it. 

It’s sort of a microcosm for them on the court. Things weren’t going to click overnight because they’re not a seamless fit. It was always going to take time.

But that game provided hope that this pairing could work yet.

“We've always touched it and at times it really was maybe one of the lowest efficient plays that we ran,” Brown said. “And so we persevered. I still think when you fast forward this thing out and they're both like 30 and 28, that's going to be a primary look for those two. ... We'll continue to look at that, but it's deeper than just sort of an action. I think growing those two with that spirit and different places on the floor interests me a lot.”

Everything with the Sixers begins and ends with Embiid and Simmons. No matter what moves are made around them in the future, it will likely all come down to how they play with each other. 

Even their teammates know it.

“Those two are the guys that keep this thing moving and they have to really embrace each other and have that respect for each other’s games,” Tobias Harris said. “Their games are different, their games are different styles, but in a way they both do complement each other on the floor — I’ve said that since the day I got here and I truly believe it. When they are out there and they are both dominant, like the Clipper game, you can just see it’s like they played together since they were young kids. … Those two, especially and most importantly, have to continue to embrace that night in and night out for us to be a successful team.”

This season hasn’t gone as the Sixers would’ve hoped when Brown brazenly said he wanted the No. 1 seed in the East. That’s not happening — and the two seed isn’t exactly within the Sixers' grasp, either.

Still, for all the talk about being an imperfect fit and coexisting, Embiid and Simmons have 27 games to get this thing right and lead the Sixers on a deep playoff run.

“I would be lying if I didn't say I was thrilled to read what I read [from the All-Star Game], but it doesn't surprise me,” Brown said. “I just think it validates to the rest of the sort of basketball hoop world that life's not as bad as sometimes it's made out to be here in Philadelphia.”

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