76ers

Don't look now, but the Sixers may actually have depth

Don't look now, but the Sixers may actually have depth

Before the 2018-19 season, the bench was a big concern for the Sixers. The trades for Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris hurt their depth even more.

Fast-forward to now and Brett Brown almost has an embarrassment of riches. For the second straight game, 10 players contributed for the Sixers. On Sunday, it was in a much-needed 114-106 win over the Hornets in the team’s return to the Wells Fargo Center (see observations).

The roster has so many viable basketball players that rookie Matisse Thybulle, who was such a huge part in the team getting out to a 5-0 start, was a DNP-CD Friday night in Denver and got only garbage time minutes against Charlotte.

And that’s with Ben Simmons missing the last two contests with a Grade 1 sprain of the AC joint in his right shoulder. With that, point guard Raul Neto and Trey Burke have seen a bump in their minutes and both have risen to the challenge.

Some of that has come at the expense of Thybulle.

“So, the flexibility that I have to play different people based on the injury to Ben Simmons as an example,” Brown said, “or with Denver, where we dealt with some flyers, I felt more comfortable going with the point guards doing that. It is the second game [Thybulle didn’t play]. I think like I said in the pregame press, it's just part of his life — it's the evolution of being an NBA rookie on a really good team. I'm mindful of keeping his spirit up and his confidence up and communicating with him on some of the things that I just said."

Neto has gotten the starting nod the last two games, but Burke has seen his first action of the season. While they were in clear competition during training camp and the preseason, neither player won the backup point guard role as Josh Richardson assumed those duties.

Both veteran players kept their head down and awaited their opportunity. With Simmons out, both have relished their chance to play.

Burke signed for the chance to win a championship and play for the team his idol Allen Iverson starred for during his Hall of Fame career.

But he also thinks he’s capable of delivering on the court.

“I'm a competitor, man,” Burke said. “I feel like I can help this out team with my skill set. I'm going to continue to work hard, continue to get better each and every day. But it felt great to get out there, second game. Still trying to get in a rhythm, be on the same page with guys. This win does a lot for our confidence coming off three straight losses."

The emergence of Furkan Korkmaz as Brown’s “bomber” off the bench has also complicated things for Thybulle.

Since hitting the game-winning three and salvaging the only win of the Sixers’ four-game West Coast swing in Portland, Korkmaz has looked like a totally different player. 

But really the turnaround started on Oct. 30 in a win over the Timberwolves. In the first three games of the season, Korkmaz just hit 1 of his 6 attempts from three and lost minutes to Shake Milton. Since then, he’s hit 18 of 36, a ridiculous 50 percent over his last six games.

More than that, there’s a confidence the 22-year-old Turkish wing is playing with that we hadn’t seen in his first two seasons here. His 17-point performance Sunday was needed.

“We were joking with him after Portland, saying he's a new man, but he is starting to play like it, too,” Tobias Harris said. “It's always good, a game like tonight for him to come off the bench and make three threes, score 17 points — that's a big lift for us."

All of this and we haven’t even mentioned James Ennis and Mike Scott, the only two feasible options off the bench during last season’s playoff run, or Kyle O’Quinn who has been so effective that he’s forced Brown to find minutes for him.

"That's a huge boost for us,” Harris said. “Obviously last year it was something we were trying to figure out. This year, even with guys that have been out and injured in games — Ben's out, so we get the backup play from Raul and Trey. Both of them have played really well. 

“There's a lot of great pieces. Matisse is a young player on our team who's going to continue to find his way throughout an NBA season. James has come out and played well. [We have] Mike off the bench. Our bench has given us a great spark, especially when they're called upon, too, each and every game. We've got a lot of depth. We've got a lot of guys who can play and help our team win."

Don’t look now, but the Sixers may actually have a bench.

 

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Why is there a basketball hoop traveling through Philadelphia during protests?

Why is there a basketball hoop traveling through Philadelphia during protests?

Over the last week, you’ve likely seen, read about, participated in or experienced in some way protests against racism and police brutality following the death of George Floyd.

You might also have noticed a basketball hoop rolling around Philadelphia. 

NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Marc Farzetta recently talked with Philadelphia native Stephania Ergemlidze, who’s responsible for the traveling games of 1-on-1.

“Basketball is the one way I know how to spread love and I know how to bring people together,” Ergemlidze told Farzetta, “so it was a no-brainer.”

Ergemlidze said that she was cognizant of not wanting to detract or warp the messages of protestors. Philadelphians gathered on Saturday for the seventh straight day in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.

“That was something I was very, very nervous about,” she said. “What way can I do it where I’m not actually distracting from the protests? My goal was not to distract from the protests. My goal is to amplify it and show the positive sides of things, because right now I feel like they’re sharing a lot of negatives, like rioting and looting, but there’s also a lot of peaceful protesting going on.”

You can watch Ergemlidze’s interview with Farzetta in the video above. 

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Would a neutral site help or hurt the mercurial Sixers?

Would a neutral site help or hurt the mercurial Sixers?

The night the NBA season was suspended back on March 11, we were all wondering about the possibility of the league playing games without fans.

The last player the Sixers media got to speak with was Glenn Robinson III. As he sat at the podium six feet away from us, he pondered what it might be like to play a game with no fans and what might be done to account for a quiet gym.

"I think how they play music when we're on defense, and offense they kind of play the instrumental in the background — maybe they turn that up a little bit," Robinson said. "Maybe they got the fake fans that cheer in the background, so maybe we can do that. That'd be interesting for us to do, is act like there's more fans here."

A reporter mentioned that fake fan noise wasn't a bad idea.

"I'll take that credit," Robinson joked.

Almost three months later, not only do empty stands appear to be a reality, but games at a neutral site in Walt Disney World are part of the return-to-play format approved by players and owners.

While it’s unknown whether the NBA heard Robinson’s idea, that is reportedly a notion the league is considering, with fake crowd noise provided by the folks at NBA 2K.

For the Sixers, the situation will be especially difficult to grasp. They were on pace to have the widest gap between their home and road record in NBA history. 

The happiest place on Earth for the Sixers was the Wells Fargo Center, where they boasted a preposterous 29-2 record. On the road, they had as many wins as the rudderless Knicks with an abysmal 10-24 mark. To make matters worse, the Sixers finished 0-4 in the state of Florida this season with two losses each in Miami and Orlando.

It's hard to know if having no true home-court advantage will hurt the Sixers or their opponents more.

The stakes will be much higher than the previous four games in the Sunshine State, or any game before the season was suspended, for that matter. The Sixers will have two or three “preseason” games and just eight regular-season games — which they absolutely need — before the playoffs begin.

Brett Brown has always referred to the last third of the season as a sprint. This time line is even more accelerated. Perhaps that’ll force his players to have a heightened focus and put their road woes behind them.

“Of course, [playing with no fans is] going to have some level of an impact,” Brown said to reporters on May 15. “I do feel just the mere fact that we'll be playing again might be able to sort of minimize whatever awkwardness playing in front of zero fans is going to teach all of us.”

For those of us at home, the lack of crowd noise, however unfortunate, could add an interesting dynamic. If Joel Embiid is telling an opposing center that they can’t bleeping guard him, we may hear it. When Tobias Harris gets hacked on his way to the lane with no whistle, we may hear the earful he gives the official. When Ben Simmons throws down a rim-rocking dunk, we may hear him bellowing.

It’s uncharted territory for every person involved.

“I think it will be almost comical,” Brown said, “like the communication with referees and the back and forth with players and the rest. I mean, think about that, so much of it really is drowned in 20,000 people — there won't be at all. And so how it will play out, I don't know. None of us have ever done this.”

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