Report: Sixers 'very much looking to move up' near top of NBA draft

Report: Sixers 'very much looking to move up' near top of NBA draft

Is a future Sixers front office exec already getting into the habit of leaking information to the public?

We would hope not. However, former Cleveland Cavaliers general manager and Sixers candidate, David Griffin, unleashed a bit of news on Friday.

Per Griffin in an appearance on SiriusXM NBA Radio, the Sixers are “very much looking to move up to get somebody they think will go in the top five.” Griffin did not name any specific prospect that the Sixers would be targeting with a potential trade.

The Sixers hold six picks in the 2018 NBA draft, including Nos. 10 and 26 in the first round. In addition to those selections, the team has plenty of other ammunition in the way of young players and cap space to make moves this summer.

Whether the Sixers are successful or not in pulling off a deal remains to be seen, but you can definitely expect them to be active in their pursuit of getting better.

“I think we need more,” head coach and interim GM Brett Brown said on Friday’s edition of The Mike Missanelli Show (see story). “I feel what people should most hear is that in the event that we do not get that, we’re going to be very aggressive, and people understand the cap space that we have. In the event that we are not successful this year achieving that, we can reload and do the same thing next year.

“We are completely exploring aggressively all options, and I think we just know we need a little bit more.”

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Markelle Fultz and Ben Simmons' shots, new approach on defense, more storylines for Sixers' Blue-White scrimmage

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Markelle Fultz and Ben Simmons' shots, new approach on defense, more storylines for Sixers' Blue-White scrimmage

CAMDEN, N.J. — There are two obvious storylines to watch Tuesday night when the Sixers hold their Blue-White scrimmage at the Palestra (7 p.m., NBCSP), and for good reason.

Everyone will have their eyes on Markelle Fultz and Ben Simmons’ shots. We’ve seen glimpses already at training camp, but playing in front of fans will be a different environment than playing in front of a few media members documenting the action on cell phones.

At the end of practice Monday, head coach Brett Brown put Fultz, Simmons and a few other players in a pressure situation — Make two straight free throws, or else you and your teammates have to run.

Fultz knocked down both his shots. 

Simmons made one of two, then finished first on the penalty sprint up and down the floor.

Tuesday night will be a small step up in pressure, with the preseason opener looming on Sep. 28 against Melbourne United.

How will the news guys fit in?

During training camp, Brown has raved about the versatility and toughness of new acquisitions Mike Muscala and Wilson Chandler (see story). 

He said Monday he’s been pleasantly surprised by Muscala’s athleticism. 

“I think that his versatility, his ability to switch, it’s better than I thought,” Brown said. “He’s got a bounce.”

Even though he’s a big fan of Amir Johnson’s interior defense, don’t be surprised if Brown uses Muscala some as a small-ball five. He showed during a scrimmage Sunday the appeal of playing him in that role — he’s more than capable of punishing big men who play off him.

New defensive approach 

A few roles have shifted on Brown’s coaching staff with the departure of current Atlanta Hawks head coach Lloyd Pierce and the addition of Monty Williams. Billy Lange is now in charge of the defense, taking over Pierce’s job last season, and according to Joel Embiid, he’s made a few changes to the team’s approach.

“Right now we’re actually working on new defensive concepts,” Embiid said after practice Sunday. “It’s going to take time. It’s much different than what we did last year. It’s definitely going to take time. That’s why I say we gotta learn how to play with each other, because we have to understand each other’s movement. We can only get better. We were third [in defensive rating] and there’s a lot of room for improvement.”

Ben Simmons seemed to disagree Tuesday with the notion that there have been any dramatic defensive shifts.

“Personally, I feel like it’s been pretty standard,” Simmons said. “I think defensively we’re just getting back into the flow of things. It takes time. We’re not where we were, but we understand the level we need to be at.”

It would be surprising if Lange is implementing any radical changes, given the fact that, as Embiid mentioned, the Sixers had the league’s third-best defense last season. The Blue-White scrimmage may give us a better sense of his philosophy. 

Brown said Monday that the team is focused on gearing its defensive approach toward playoff basketball, which means figuring out how to keep Embiid on the floor when teams go small and put five shooters on the floor.

“How does he guard [Al] Horford, how would he guard Draymond Green? … We’re trying to anticipate that environment,” Brown said, “and we’re practicing now on how to keep him more close to the rim.”

“Defensively, how do we switch a lot, how do we keep the game in front of you, how do we not get beat on the bigs dribbling quick? And then, how do we find ways to, as much as we can, get Joel at the rim and be able to cover him around that? That to me is playoff defense.”

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Sixers notes, quotes, and tidbits: Finally, no restrictions on Joel Embiid

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Sixers notes, quotes, and tidbits: Finally, no restrictions on Joel Embiid

CAMDEN, N.J. — Finally, there are no restrictions on Joel Embiid.

For the first time in Embiid’s career, Brett Brown should have his star center at practice every day, he shouldn’t have to worry about minutes restrictions, and he should be able to put Embiid in the lineup for back-to-backs without a second thought.

At one point in January, Brown mentioned that, “Joel practicing today makes it one of my happiest days.” So you can imagine how he feels about having an unrestricted Embiid this season.

“We all look at the ups and downs that the season had, whether it’s an injury or a mask, it’s hard for him to find his own personal rhythm and it obviously affects the team,” Brown said at training camp Sunday.  “This year, you come in and with everyone’s health, there’s a fluid side of everybody’s world — coaching, playing, individuals’ worlds — that we haven’t experienced before.

“I think he’s going to be dominant. I really think he’s going to be dominant. There’s not one thing I’ve seen this summer or in this gym behind me that suggests otherwise.”

We already know Embiid thinks he’s going to be dominant — an MVP contender, in fact. He worked with trainer Drew Hanlen this summer to sharpen his skills, especially in the low post, and make that goal a reality.

“I feel like every time I catch the ball, it’s either a foul or a bucket,” Embiid said. “We’ve been working a lot on handles and taking care of the ball. Sometimes that’s my downfall, so I've got to fix that. We’re going to see what I do.”

No casual scrimmage
Brown didn’t just roll the ball out and let his guys play at the Sixers’ end-of-practice scrimmage. His assistant coaches frequently stopped the action to set up plays in special situations or let the players know if anything wasn’t to their liking. 

His new lead assistant, Monty Williams, was heavily involved. At one point, Williams wasn’t happy with how his team had run a sideline out-of-bounds play and walked them through the various options they’d missed out on.

“We have to get better at our execution. Just run it again,” he said. “I don’t care if it works; just run it again.”

Williams thinks the biggest area he can help Brown is with the details (see story). He seems to already be making his mark.

“Last year watching the series, I think Boston just kind of got into them — that was the series. They had a chance to win. I think that’s kind of the focus this year, to try to match that intensity and beat Boston.” 

–New Sixer Wilson Chandler on how the team can overcome the Celtics

“My first two years, rehabbing the whole year and the offseason too, and coming into my third year, the same thing — I think I got here a couple days before the actual season. I don’t remember really playing preseason. And then last year … wait, this is my fourth year? No, this is my fifth year — time goes by fast.”

“And then last year, coming in and also rehabbing, I think I got here a week before the season. All those offseasons I wasn’t really allowed to work out and work on my basketball skills. So this summer, that’s what I was doing, and I’m excited. We’re going to see where that takes us.” 

–Joel Embiid on the benefits of his first healthy NBA offseason

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