76ers

Markelle Fultz, Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons reportedly off limits in Kawhi Leonard trade talks

Markelle Fultz, Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons reportedly off limits in Kawhi Leonard trade talks

The Sixers still believe in Markelle Fultz.

They've never publicly wavered in their support of last year's No. 1 overall pick, even throughout the mysterious saga involving his right shoulder injury and broken jump shot. And with ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reporting Sunday that Fultz, Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons are off limits in trade talks for Spurs star Kawhi Leonard, it sounds like they're keeping their faith in Fultz.

Sports Illustrated's Jake Fischer reported Thursday that the Sixers were batting around a combination of Dario Saric, Robert Covington and the Heat's unprotected 2021 first-round pick (see story). Fultz was conspicuously absent from that trade package, and he's apparently still not someone the Sixers are willing to part with.

There are compelling arguments to be made for making Fultz off limits, and for including him in trade discussions. On one hand, if Fultz would be the piece that seals a deal for Leonard, it would be tempting to include him. His future, especially his jumper, is still a major question mark, and he could help the Sixers land a known star (when healthy) in Leonard.

On the other hand, Fultz was the No. 1 pick for a reason, and he could still end up turning into a star. He's just 20 years old and he did show flashes, albeit very brief ones, of his handles, athleticism and explosiveness last season. If his offseason work with trainer Drew Hanlen helps him rediscover his shot, he could make a lot of the people who have written him off look pretty foolish.

It's also worth noting that Fultz's value might not be the highest in trade discussions given that the Spurs would be banking on the potential of someone who has only played 14 regular-season games.

As for Embiid and Simmons, it's obvious why they would be excluded from any trade. Those two are the kind of special talents you just can't afford to give up easily.

Saric and Covington are both valuable players for the Sixers, but it makes plenty of sense to include them in trade packages. While Saric's "glue-guy" qualities and improved long-range jumper are integral to the Sixers, he's never going to be a star. He's the kind of guy you unfortunately need to part with if you want someone like Leonard. Covington, though much-maligned, is a first team All-Defensive player and capable three-point shooter. However, Leonard is a two-time Defensive Player of the Year. The Sixers likely wouldn't have much of a problem replacing Covington.

Especially given ESPN's Ian Begley's report Sunday that "there are several people with Philadelphia who feel confident that Leonard would strongly consider re-signing there next summer if they traded for him," it makes sense for the Sixers to pursue Leonard aggressively.

It appears that they're trying to do just that while still prioritizing their trust in Fultz.

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Ben Simmons film review: Making the most of Sixers point guard's game in half-court offense

Ben Simmons film review: Making the most of Sixers point guard's game in half-court offense

It is the third healthy season of Ben Simmons’ NBA career and he has made two three-point shots in the regular season. That fact is difficult to ignore and unfortunately tends to distort any evaluation of Simmons.

The 23-year-old is also, of course, a gifted player who leads the league in steals, is fifth in assists and, to put it simply, is very good at many parts of basketball besides shooting.

Instead of fixating on his shot or praising all his skills, let’s evaluate Simmons in half-court offense and examine, outside of the obvious, where he can get better. 

Making the most of all that room 

Normal NBA actions, like this 1-5 pick-and-roll at the end of the first half on Dec. 27, are sometimes less normal when Simmons is involved.

Going under a ball screen is a common scheme, but the way Aaron Gordon slid under Joel Embiid at the foul line before Simmons had even gone inside the arc is not. This defensive approach against Simmons can make it difficult to run conventional offense.

Since he hasn’t yet done it, we don’t know whether Simmons taking these near-omnipresent opportunities to shoot would change how teams defend him. The similar way opponents guard Giannis Antetokounmpo, now a very willing outside shooter (32.4 percent from three on 5.1 attempts per game), indicates it might not. 

One action the Sixers like as a means of exploiting the open space teams give Simmons is called “12,” and it begins with a wing rising up from the baseline to set a ball screen for Simmons, accept a handoff or slide out behind the arc, as Furkan Korkmaz did early in the fourth quarter Wednesday night.

It got Josh Richardson a good look in the second quarter on Christmas. This is an odd way to produce a three in the modern NBA, but the Sixers managed an open one for Richardson because Donte DiVincenzo got caught under the sagging Antetokounmpo.

Simmons can chew up space well, and not just by sprinting at top speed. He countered the defense’s expectations and changed pace effectively on the play below, acting as if he was going to hand it off to James Ennis before accelerating.

A focus on spacing 

For the current version of Simmons, off-ball spacing is vital. When Al Horford posts up, Tobias Harris drives or two teammates run a pick-and-roll, it’s important that Simmons is in the proper floor spot.

Brett Brown said on Dec. 17 it’s something he often reviews with Simmons.

I spend so much time with Ben talking about spacing. … He uses the space to play downhill and so somewhere, the bottom line is we need to grow his perimeter game. And it starts with space. Out of a post, where is he? Out of a pick-and-roll, where is he? Not when he's in the post, not when he's in the pick-and-roll — when he's out of the action. Those are the areas that we've been talking a little bit about.

“He's been great. He sees it and he shares things with me, too, that I give him credit for. And so this is a partnership. I'm here to help him, help us, help himself. And that I'll continue to try to do. 

The Sixers are working to deprogram Simmons’ default mode of wanting to be as close to the basket as possible. On the play below, he stood in a no man’s land between the left block and left elbow instead of relocating behind the arc, didn’t look at the rim when Harris dropped the ball off to him and ultimately helped derail the trip. 

A positive possession for Simmons in terms of spacing is usually quite basic. Here, he recognized Embiid was in the “dunker spot,” walked back to the three-point line and stayed there as Harris drove.

The team just needs Simmons to be attentive, aware of both where his teammates are and where he should be once he gives up the ball. It didn’t have an impact on this particular play, but notice how Harris had to motion to Simmons as he stared at Horford posting up — “Move over to the corner.”

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Pick-and-roll progress 

The pick-and-roll pairing of Richardson and Simmons has picked up steam over the past few weeks.

As Brown noted on Jan. 5, Simmons has many qualities that should make him a good screener and roller.

“I think Ben is a really good screen setter,” he said. “He’s physical — he embraces that side of it. And he’s a dynamic roller — he’s a lob guy, he’s a catch-go guy and he can facilitate picking off corners as a passer.”

The lob part of that equation is unique for a "point guard."

Richardson obviously made the right read to throw it up to Simmons when he noticed James Harden hadn’t fully recovered, but Simmons’ size and athleticism are why that pass was an option.

When Brown talks about “quarterbacking” a gym, he usually is referring to Embiid picking out passes from the low block. Simmons, though, can do something similar from the top of the key, like on this after-timeout play from Dec. 28. 

That’s an easy pass for Simmons to throw once he sees Kelly Olynyk front the post like the Sixers hoped he would.

Simmons can often gain that position against smaller players. The Sixers got Simmons a switch against the 6-foot Chris Paul on Jan. 6, essentially leaving him free to throw any pass he wanted. He picked out an excellent one, rifling it to Horford in the corner when he saw Danilo Gallinari briefly fall asleep. 

This season, Simmons is 7 of 30 from 10 feet and out (23.3 percent). He was 25 for 105 last season (23.8 percent).

His major weakness is unavoidable and an obstacle the Sixers must continue to confront in their half-court offense. Simmons has strengths in the half court, too — his downhill driving ability, the attention he draws, his passing, his screening and rolling. 

One aspect of the current formula for success is maximizing those positives. The others are being fastidious about spacing, and intelligent in countering opponents knowing Simmons’ jump shot is not a threat and playing him as such. 



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NBA All-Star voting 2020: Where Sixers' Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons stand as fan voting nears end

NBA All-Star voting 2020: Where Sixers' Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons stand as fan voting nears end

With fan voting set to end on Monday for the 2020 NBA All-Star Game, the Sixers' Joel Embiid sits third among Eastern Conference frontcourt players and Ben Simmons is eight among guards.

Below are returns from the Western Conference.

Pascal Siakam passed Embiid over the last week. Of course, Embiid suffered a torn ligament in his left ring finger on Jan. 6. He had surgery Friday and did non-contact drills following practice on Thursday.

If Embiid is selected for the All-Star Game and not able to play, Commissioner Adam Silver will name an injury replacement.

Embiid is a two-time All-Star starter, while Simmons is hoping for a second straight selection.

Fan voting has a 50 percent weight in deciding All-Star starters, with the votes of a panel of media members and players each accounting for 25 percent. All-Star reserves are decided by coaches' voting.

Starters will be named next Thursday, and reserves will be named a week later. The All-Star Game will be on Feb. 16 in Chicago.



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