76ers

Joel Embiid's struggles continue in Sixers' loss to Raptors

Joel Embiid's struggles continue in Sixers' loss to Raptors

Even MVP candidates have rough nights.

Unfortunately, it was one of those evenings for Joel Embiid in Toronto. The Sixers’ four-game winning streak was snapped in a turnover-ridden 113-102 loss to the Raptors Wednesday (see story). The All-Star center was just 5 of 17 from the floor and matched a season-low with 10 points. 

To pour more salt in the wound, Raptors starting center Serge Ibaka (18 points on 7 of 13) and backup five Jonas Valancunias (26 points on 9 of 13) both got the better of Embiid.

On many nights, Embiid is the best player on the floor. Just about every night, he’s the best big on the floor. That wasn’t the case Wednesday

After the game, Embiid was his usual blunt self in assessing his play to reporters after the game.

We turned the ball over a lot and we gave up a lot of offensive rebounds and I sucked …

I wasn’t making anything. In fact, the last few games I’ve been so trash so I’ve got to figure that part out if I want to help the team win some games.

It may be a bit of an overreaction from Embiid, who sounded dejected postgame. 

Embiid leads the league, taking 10.4 free throws a game. Wednesday, he took one trip to the line and missed both shots. Clearly, he was frustrated, picking up a technical in the fourth.

Coming into tonight, Embiid was averaging 27 points, 13.4 rebounds and two blocks a game. He’ll be in historic company if he finishes around those numbers. 

He’s put the league on notice. With that, comes extra attention on the floor.

“They did a good job of going at him — double-teaming him,” Brett Brown said. “They did a good job of pushing him off the block probably two or three more feet farther than we’d hope. They did a good job of pressuring him in general. 

“That’s part of it: He’s that good. He is having a year that warrants high-level accolade discussion, but tonight was just a down night for him and I got to help him.”

To an extent, Wednesday was just one of 82 games.

Then again, Embiid has really struggled over his last three games from the field. He’s shot just 33 percent (14 of 42) over that span. 

His numbers are slightly down since the arrival of Jimmy Butler. Embiid contributes some of his recent struggles to adjusting to Butler, but Embiid takes responsibility for his current shooting woes.

“It’s hard,” Embiid said. “I’m trying to figure it out. My place on the floor. Sometimes I’ve got to space the floor. A lot of times with the way our plays are set up I tend to spend a lot of time on the perimeter. That’s just an adjustment we got to make with the coaches. Figure out how to keep me down low. I don’t know … changing the plays or whatever. 

“I got to do a better job. It’s on me. I haven’t been efficient and got to make sure I work on my game.”

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The Sixers should not trade Ben Simmons

The Sixers should not trade Ben Simmons

It seems like some people have a hard time quantifying just how good Ben Simmons has been in his young NBA career.

For comparison sake, let’s look at the two stars of the Eastern Conference Finals. Through the first two seasons of Kawhi Leonard’s career, he put up modest numbers, averaging 9.8 points per game. Giannis Antetokounmpo, this year’s likely MVP, averaged the identical number of points through his first two seasons.

Leonard was surrounded by Hall of Famers so he was just in a supporting role. In Antetokounmpo’s case, the Bucks just weren’t very good so not much was asked of him.

Simmons has outperformed both players through two years and has at times carried a team that’s won 50 games in back-to-back seasons. Yet as we enter the offseason, there are people who actually want to trade him.

He’s 22. He’s an All-Star. He has NBA All-Defensive team potential. He possesses skills that few have ever had at his size. So the next logical step is … trade him?

Yeah, totally.

Some of this speculation began because of an article our good friend Tom Haberstroh wrote. A Western Conference executive told our NBC Sports NBA Insider that the Sixers “very well might explore” the idea of trading Simmons for LeBron James. Sure, if there’s a chance to land the greatest player maybe ever, you “explore” it. But the idea just doesn’t add up, as Haberstroh ultimately alluded to.

"The safe money is that the Sixers brings the Philadelphia Phive back for redemption," Haberstroh writes. "The opinion here is that Simmons is too good and too young to bail on now."

Plus, Simmons will be eligible to sign his rookie max extension. If the Sixers are able to do so, it’ll keep Simmons in Philadelphia for the next six seasons. So what’s better, continuing to build around Joel Embiid AND Ben Simmons for the next half decade — at least — or go all-in on LeBron, who may not be thrilled to be traded here, for the next two years?

You can look at his numbers from a historical perspective compared to guys like James or Magic Johnson, but that doesn’t even properly enumerate what Simmons has done. This was his second year ever playing point guard. Not in the NBA, but of his entire basketball life. What he can do at 6-foot-10 doesn’t even make sense. 

He’s also used that length and freakish athleticism to become an improved and imposing defender. It’s not crazy to think that Simmons has Defensive Player of the Year potential. How many people were saying that about Leonard, who’s won the award, or Antetokounmpo after Year 2?

Simmons has one fatal flaw in his shot. It’s no secret that it’s the one thing likely keeping him from ascending from All-Star to All-NBA. Simmons was his usual reticent self when asked about how he’d work on his shot this offseason during exit interviews last week. 

Brett Brown provided the most insight.

If I’m sitting in front of you and he’s 26, I think the conversation would probably be a little bit more disingenuous,” Brown said last week. “It’s going to be this discussion for probably a few years where none of you are going to be happy if he’s not cranking out 10 15-footers a game. … And Ben knows this, too. But I stand by that this isn’t going to be the thing that defines him immediately. It will, at some point, for sure. And I feel like this year with Jimmy [Butler] having the ball and us putting him in different floor spots, he’s shown the versatility that we should all be thrilled with at age 22 and 6-foot-10, that I can use him in different areas.

That playoff loss to Toronto stung. Offensively, Simmons gave the Sixers very little outside of a virtuoso performance in Game 6 to keep his team alive. As much as the shot is an issue, that Game 6 win also showed that Simmons still has more to give outside of that. Because of his physical gifts, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that Simmons is still a kid trying to figure out NBA playoff basketball.

So do you look for the best offer for Simmons this offseason or bank on the 22-year-old All-Star figuring things out and developing a shot in the next six years?

Playing the long game paid off for the teams that drafted Leonard and Antetokounmpo.

And both of their current teams are where the Sixers want to be.

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James Ennis will decline his player option but could very well still return to Sixers

James Ennis will decline his player option but could very well still return to Sixers

James Ennis will decline his player option and become a free agent, his agent, Scott Nichols from Rize Management, confirmed Monday morning.

The news was first reported by Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium. Ennis’ player option was for $1.85 million.

According to Nichols, Ennis is seeking a more lucrative, multi-year deal. Nichols said Ennis, after being acquired by the Sixers in February in a trade with the Houston Rockets, enjoyed his stint in Philadelphia, and it’s possible he could return to the Sixers. 

“He’s built good relationships within his short time there with his teammates like Ben [Simmons] and Joel [Embiid] and has found a quiet leadership role there, too,” Nichols told NBC Sports Philadelphia.

Ennis talked at his exit interview last Monday about the close friendship he’s developed with Simmons, mentioning that Simmons talked him into getting a Cane Corso dog, the same type of dog Simmons has. 

Ennis boosted his stock during the postseason as a key member of the Sixers’ bench, averaging 7.5 points, 3.8 rebounds and 1.1 assists in 11 playoff games. During the regular season, Ennis won the “tournament” for wing minutes off the bench in a landslide, beating out Jonathon Simmons and Furkan Kokrmaz.

“It was tough at first because it was unsure if I was going to play,” Ennis said. “Me and Jonathon were play one game, sit one game, so it was kind of rocky at first. But I got more games under my belt, got more comfortable, and it just took off like that. I appreciate the staff believing in me, Elton Brand bringing me here and Coach [Brett] Brown allowing me to play.”

At 28 years old, Ennis has already played for six teams. The Sixers, if they’re willing to offer a deal that Ennis and Nichols like, may offer the stability that’s been lacking during his career.

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