76ers

Joel Embiid out again, Ben Simmons, Jonah Bolden stepping up, more in Sixers' week ahead

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Joel Embiid out again, Ben Simmons, Jonah Bolden stepping up, more in Sixers' week ahead

The Sixers had another strong week without Joel Embiid.

While the latest memory will be the sting of losing to the Warriors, they finally beat the Thunder in Oklahoma City, snapping a 19-game losing streak to the Thunder.

When will Embiid return? How has Jonah Bolden taken advantage of his time? How has Ben Simmons elevated his game with Embiid out?

All that in the Sixers’ week ahead.

The latest on Embiid

Embiid is officially listed as out and he'll miss his sixth straight game with left knee soreness Tuesday night vs. Orlando. He did practice Monday, but Brett Brown mentioned that he looked like he hadn’t played a basketball in awhile. It’s also fair to mention that the Sixers are playing a back-to-back on Tuesday and Wednesday, so there was little chance Embiid was going to play both games.

Embiid on Saturday laughed when asked if he’d be back by the end of the regular season and revealed that he expects to be back this week. It wasn’t that crazy of a question given where we are in the season and the fact that Embiid has already been out beyond the previous timetable.

While the Sixers surely miss Embiid’s 27.3 points per game, his absence has been felt much more on the defensive end. That will continue against a center like former Sixer Nikola Vucevic, who is an extremely gifted offensive player. 

Orlando can be a dangerous team as they cling to the East’s eighth seed. They won back-to-back games against the Warriors and Pacers, but those victories were sandwiched between losses to the Cavs and Knicks. They have a few talented players, but there’s no reason the Sixers shouldn’t beat them — with or without Embiid. Same goes for the Bulls, who have shown life recently, but should be no match for the Sixers.

If his absence extends into Friday's primetime matchup against the Rockets, that may be cause for concern.

Bolden balling

Boban Marjanovic’s arrival put Bolden on the outside looking in at the rotation. With injuries to Embiid and Marjanovic, Bolden has started the last last three games and making an impact. The numbers aren’t mind blowing, but Bolden has shot over 50 percent from three and averaged 1.3 blocks in his last three.

Bolden is just a rookie and has shown a ton of promise. He’s bouncy and athletic, moving his feet well and offers rim protection on defense. When his shot is on, he can be a very effective two-way player. He also has a little game off the bounce and is a decent passer.

The biggest concern with Bolden is discipline. You don’t want him to lose his aggressive nature, but he does often find himself in foul trouble. Brown mentioned after practice Monday that Bolden has struggled at times defending the pick-and-roll, but also mentioned that the rookie is getting better there. Brown also mentioned that he may have forced his way into minutes even when Marjanovic returns.

Simmons named East Player of the Week

Speaking of guys stepping up in Embiid’s absence, Simmons has been strong coming out of the break. The first time All-Star was recognized Monday as the Eastern Conference Player of the Week. In the five games since the break, all without Embiid, Simmons is averaging 20 points, 10.8 rebounds and 7.6 assists.

He recorded back-to-back triple-doubles against New Orleans and Golden State. The blemish of course is the nine turnovers he committed against the Warriors. While that’s no small thing, he was spectacular otherwise. 

Teams like the Magic, Bulls and Rockets should all provide decent matchups for Simmons to shine once again this week. They'll need it if Embiid's absence prolongs.

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Sixers Talk podcast: Matisse Thybulle might already be the sixth man

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NBC Sports Philadelphia/NBC Sports Philadelphia

Sixers Talk podcast: Matisse Thybulle might already be the sixth man

Danny Pommells and Paul Hudrick discuss the amount of games they expect Joel Embiid to play, Ben Simmons' self-awareness and Matisse Thybulle already surpassing expectations.

• Will Embiid set a career high in games played with his new load management plan? The guys make a friendly wager.

• Simmons gave arguably the most thoughtful quote he's ever given.

• Is Thybulle already the Sixers' sixth best player?

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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Sixers pick up Zhaire Smith's third-year option, make clear call to bank on his further development

Sixers pick up Zhaire Smith's third-year option, make clear call to bank on his further development

Zhaire Smith's role with the Sixers isn't yet clear for this season, but the 20-year-old guard has a future with the team.

General manager Elton Brand confirmed that Wednesday. The team announced it has exercised Smith's third-year option for the 2020-21 season, worth $3.2 million

The Sixers acquired Smith and the Miami Heat's 2021 first-round pick last year in a draft-night trade with the Phoenix Suns, who received Mikal Bridges. Smith played in six regular-season games his rookie year, averaging 6.7 points and and 2.2 rebounds per game, but that's far from the whole story. Smith broke his foot in August, then suffered a severe allergic reaction and subsequent complications that led to him losing over 35 pounds. Over time, Smith regained his standout athleticism and rebuilt his jump shot after changing his form to compensate for his loss of strength (see story).

Head coach Brett Brown described Smith during training camp as a "pogo stick" and has praised his talent for on-ball defense, comparing him on multiple occasions to Avery Bradley. However, Smith has not been part of the Sixers' rotation during the preseason. Brown has acknowledged that development is a great priority for the Sixers with Smith than immediate contribution, especially after everything he went through as a rookie. The emergence of rookie Matisse Thybulle and solid play of Shake Milton during the preseason are further reasons why Smith hasn't been playing with the Sixers' regulars. Smith played the entire fourth quarter Tuesday night of the Sixers' 106-86 win over the Pistons and had seven points and three rebounds.

"It's just a process, so I'm not worried about it," he said. "As long as we get the win, it doesn't matter."

Given the potential the Sixers saw in Smith — and continue to see — it never seemed plausible that they would decline his third-year option.

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