76ers

If healthy, how many games should Joel Embiid play in 2019-20 season?

If healthy, how many games should Joel Embiid play in 2019-20 season?

With training camp getting closer, there are plenty of topics to discuss involving the 2019-20 Sixers. Running the Give and Go are NBC Sports Philadelphia's Paul Hudrick and Noah Levick.

In this edition, we ask: If he stays healthy, how many games should Joel Embiid play this season? 

Hudrick 

This is an easy one to me. The Sixers play 13 back-to-backs this season — many of which feature a lesser opponent in the second half — so that’s at least 13 games Embiid is not playing. That’ll upset people who bought tickets for the games he’ll miss and some analysts who simply detest the “load management” era of the NBA.

Well … tough.

The Raptors won the Finals in large thanks to their load management plan with Kawhi Leonard. Leonard didn’t play in 10 of his team’s 12 back-to-backs last season — he played 60 regular season games total — and was fresh come playoff time. Sure, he was coming off an injury that caused him to miss significant time but we all know Embiid’s injury history. This is the right way to go.

Toronto was able to execute that plan because the rest of the team picked up its play in his absence, going 17-5 without Leonard. GM Elton Brand went out and signed veteran big man Al Horford to play with and back up Embiid. He also signed veteran center Kyle O’Quinn to ostensibly serve as the team’s third center. Those are serious upgrades. The Sixers will also have a full season of Tobias Harris and an evolving Ben Simmons to pick up the offensive load.

It’s also a plan that I believe Embiid has matured enough to accept. He mentioned during his exit interview that he just wanted to be on the court so badly that he lost sight of getting proper rest. He specifically mentioned the example of Leonard for how the team could treat his load management going forward.

The actual number of games will likely hover around 60. What’s way more important is having a healthy Embiid to try to help win 16 games when it matters most.

Levick 

Embiid was leading the league in minutes through the first month or so of last season. He played 54 of 58 games before the All-Star break. A similar volume of minutes this year would be highly inadvisable if we’re being charitable, foolish if we’re being frank.

The addition of Al Horford should lessen the Sixers’ reliance on Embiid. The big man has spoken before about feeling like his team needs him, like he’s letting everyone down when he sits. As a competitor, he also just does not like resting. At one point, he joked, “If these guys ever tell me to take a game off, I might kill them.”

The Sixers were 8-10 without Embiid last season. With a “backup” of Horford’s quality — and Kyle O’Quinn as further insurance — the decline when Embiid rests won’t be close to as bad. 

As far as a good number of games for the Sixers to shoot for with Embiid, there are plenty of factors to consider, among them the fact Embiid says he gets out of shape quickly when sidelined, where they stand with playoff seeding and how to best peak in time for the postseason. Embiid saying he's lost 25 pounds is no doubt a positive and will perhaps alleviate some of the concern about his fitness immediately deteriorating when he rests. Assuming complete health — a big assumption, of course — somewhere around 65 games seems ideal. 



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What’s in a name? Alec Burks, Trey Burke and where Sixers stand without Ben Simmons


What’s in a name? Alec Burks, Trey Burke and where Sixers stand without Ben Simmons

When Ben Simmons missed his first game of this season on Nov. 8 because of an AC joint sprain in his right shoulder, Raul Neto started and Trey Burke played 17:34 as the Sixers’ backup point guard.

Burke was waived in February and is now a member of the Dallas Mavericks. Brett Brown, however, often uses Burke’s surname when he’s talking about Alec Burks, whose addition prompted the release of Burke.

The prior sentence was likely confusing, but let's be clear: Brown knows the player who scored 22 points Friday night and closed out the Sixers’ 108-101 win over the Magic (see observations). He’s colorfully discussed Burks’ “streetball-type game” and “lightning in a bottle” potential, and he had more praise to dish out Friday. 

You just felt confident that something as simple as a spaced pick-and-roll — put Al (Horford) or (Joel Embiid) in, roll Joel, let Alec dance … it was a clean, simple environment that I thought he really was excellent in. He can get into the paint at times and just play bully ball. And he has the ability to create his own shot — he sometimes doesn’t even need a pick-and-roll. And so all of those things were part of the reason that I extended his minutes, and maybe none more importantly, I think, than his defense.

“I think he’s really taken pride in knowing the scouting report. I think he’s sitting in a stance and taking pride in not getting beat on the first or second dribble with live-dribble guys. And so the package just enabled me to play him more than I normally have been, and I think he was a major contributor to the win. He was our bell ringer tonight, and we need him doing those types of things going forward.

With Simmons sidelined by a left patella subluxation, Burks’ abilities to run a pick-and-roll and conjure offense from nothing become more valuable. In truth, though, his strengths are skills the Sixers lacked back in October. It’s why Burke — the 6-foot Allen Iverson admirer, not the 6-foot-6 University of Colorado product — held appeal as a backup point guard possibility. Many of the themes we’ve heard from Brown about instant offense and shot creation echo. 

“I think my skill set adjusts well — playing great in the pick-and-roll and I can read the defense, find open people,” Burks said. “I’m just trying to thrive in that and help the team any way I can.”

The Sixers need these traits because zero members of their original starting lineup have them. Josh Richardson, the player who comes closest to resembling that mould, shot 2 for 12 vs. the Magic and has struggled to find his spots in an offense where he’s far from the first option. The fact that Shake Milton can handle the ball, conduct a pick-and-roll and hit open shots boosted his case to start, as basic as it sounds. 

Though Burks and Milton’s minutes were staggered with the exception of an early-fourth quarter stretch, there were encouraging signs from both players individually. Milton had six points, a career-high eight assists and only one turnover in 25 minutes. Since turning it over three times in the Sixers’ seeding game opener, he has two turnovers in 78 minutes. 

“With Shake, he’s going to continue to figure it out,” Horford said. “Obviously we all haven’t played together, and that makes a difference. He continues to feel it out, he continues to understand how he needs to play. And he was good tonight. He was solid, making the right plays … not turning the ball over. 

“And then Alec, he just has the ability to score in bunches, and we need that. We just need to continue to keep him involved and put him in positions where he can help us.”

Horford started Friday alongside Milton, as he’d done on March 11 in the Sixers’ final game before the NBA’s hiatus. He played well, posting 21 points and nine rebounds, and adding a physicality that Brown appreciated. 

Despite the aforementioned positives, the Sixers trailed the 32-38 Magic by two points after three quarters. Competent ball handling and shotmaking in Simmons’ absence is necessary, but it's fair to be skeptical about whether that would be enough in the playoffs against a team like the Celtics or Bucks. After all, none of the Sixers’ three wins at Disney World have been comfortable or against top-tier opposition. 

“It’s hard to replace Ben,” Horford said. “He does a lot for our group. The way that we’re looking at it is we all just have to step up a little more. It’s going to give opportunities to guys from the bench and other guys to come in to have an impact. We really don’t know. We don’t know, we just hope that he’s able to get healthy and get healthy quickly.”



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Sixers Talk podcast: Alec Burks is earning more minutes

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Sixers Talk podcast: Alec Burks is earning more minutes

On this edition of the Sixers Talk podcast, Danny Pommells, Paul Hudrick and Ben Berry discuss:

(1:11) — The Sixers' play in the bubble doesn't leave us with any confidence.
(5:45) — Embiid, Simmons and Horford do not fit together.
(11:45) — Should Alec Burks be higher in the rotation?
(20:55) — Josh Richardson looks out of sorts.
(24:04) — Draymond Green critical of Joel Embiid's play.
(33:40) — The reasons to be optimistic are shrinking.

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