76ers

The backup plan for Joel Embiid looks pretty darn good as Sixers beat Hornets in preseason action

The backup plan for Joel Embiid looks pretty darn good as Sixers beat Hornets in preseason action

No Joel Embiid, no problem.

Without their All-Star center, the Sixers took it to Charlotte Friday night, beating the Hornets, 100-87, at Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum. The score wasn't even that close as the Sixers' held a 20-plus-point lead through most of the game with their regular rotation in.

With Embiid getting a planned load management day off, the rest of the starters carried the load while Matisse Thybulle continued to shine on the defensive end.

Here are observations from the win.

• Brett Brown has talked about wanting his team to be swarming defensively and more aggressive than years past. You can already see the potential of that approach with the elite athletes and defensive players the team features. The Sixers turned the Hornets over nine times in the first quarter, scoring 14 points off them.

Brown said he wants to be the No. 1 defensive team in the NBA. That seems quite attainable.

• While Horford is just a very good player in his own right, a big part of his appeal to the Sixers was how he could fill the void when Embiid is out of the lineup. We got a glimpse of that Friday.

Horford hit a shot that’s become an Embiid staple on the team’s first possession — a long jumper from the top of the key in the trail position. Unfortunately, it wound up being a long two but Horford stroked it with ease. He also showed he still has ups at 33 years old. He forced a turnover by breaking up a pick-and-roll and then threw down an alley-oop from Simmons on the ensuing fast break. Horford filled up the stat sheet with 11 points (5 of 9), nine rebounds, three assists, three steals and two blocks.

The other part of that backup center equation is veteran Kyle O’Quinn. O’Quinn was solid defensively and had a nice on-ball block of Cody Zeller in the second. O’Quinn’s passing ability has been brought up on several occasions and you can see why. He finished with five assists — his nicest was a well-executed give-and-go with Tobias Harris.

• I’m not sure if it was the made three Tuesday or just seeing a team in the Hornets that he’s scorched in the past but Ben Simmons looked extremely confident Friday night. He hit a smooth midrange fadeaway and continually attacked the basket, finishing through contact. Simmons is at his best when he attacks the rim first and looks to facilitate off it. He was in full attack mode Friday. He had 15 points (6 of 8), five rebounds and four assists. He also made 3 of 3 from the line and was a team-high plus-23.

Simmons was also impressive defensively. He made what was likely the defensive play of the game with a tremendous chase down block on Terry Rozier early in the third.

• Harris got off to a rough start, missing his first four shots and committing two early turnovers. A dunk off a nice set up by Shake Milton seemed to get Harris going. He went on to make 6 of his next 8. When Brown talked about playing “bully ball offense,” one of the things he referenced was Harris taking advantage of his size on the wing. Harris looks like he’s taken that mentality seriously. He’s frequently been hunting and attacking mismatches early in the preseason.

He recorded 16 points (6 of 14) and eight rebounds.

• You can see what GM Elton Brand liked in Josh Richardson when he acquired the wing from the Heat in the Jimmy Butler sign-and-trade. Richardson excels in the pick-and-roll and in dribble handoffs. Brown mentioned how good Richardson is defensively navigating those situations because of his ability to “get skinny.” The same applies offensively. He’s smooth and is a strong midrange shooter. He’s also a good finisher — he features a nice floater and good touch around the rim. Not to mention he’s an excellent passer.

He also had two outstanding blocks where he used his length to close on quicker guards that got around him on drives. The Sixers got a good one here. He finished with 18 points (7 of 14), four assists, three blocks and a steal.

• Matisse Thybulle was the first wing off the bench tonight. He continues to be a game wrecking ballhawk. He stripped Zeller on a shot attempt — it was credited as a block — on his second defensive possession. He then quickly recorded a pair of steals, one coming out of nowhere to pick off a lazy bounce pass by Dwayne Bacon.

Thybulle is like Ed Reed on a basketball court. He had four steals and two blocks in just 18 minutes. He looks ready for meaningful NBA minutes.

• The veteran duo of James Ennis and Mike Scott was solid. Ennis was aggressive getting to the rim and had eight points. Scott did what he does, making 3 of 6 from three. The Sixers’ likely sixth and seventh men look ready for the regular season.

• Raul Neto and Milton didn’t really stand out offensively — though Milton was solid on the defensive end — in their extended time. While the backup point guard battle will likely come down to Neto and Trey Burke — who didn’t get in until the fourth Friday — Brown has been sure to mention that Milton will also get a look. It doesn’t appear that anybody has put a stranglehold on that spot as of yet.

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The 5 worst Sixers free-agent signings

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The 5 worst Sixers free-agent signings

NBA GMs sometimes feel the temptation to pay average or good players as if they are great.

That description applies to a few of the players listed below in our ranking of the five worst Sixers free-agent signings. For the purposes of this list, we’re reserving judgement on well-paid current Sixers. 

5. Scott Williams 
Then-Sixers GM and head coach John Lucas liked that Williams knew “how to win.” The big man had immediately won three championships after entering the NBA, but the fact that he was on Michael Jordan’s Bulls probably had something to do with that early success. 

Signed to a seven-year contract, Williams only managed to play 212 games with the Sixers, none of which were in the postseason. He posted 5.3 points and 5.4 rebounds per game before being traded to the Bucks and eventually facing the Sixers in the 2001 Eastern Conference Finals. In that series, he was suspended for Game 7 because of a hard hit to Allen Iverson’s throat in Game 6. 

4. Brian Skinner 
Skinner’s first stint as a Sixers was solid. Though he wasn’t used much during the 2003 playoffs, he chipped in 17.9 minutes per game during the regular season. After spending a year with the Bucks, Skinner then decided to return to the Sixers, who offered a five-year, $25 million contract.

Besides starting regularly for the first time in his career the season prior, it’s unclear what Skinner had done to merit such a lucrative deal. With Marc Jackson, Kenny Thomas and Corliss Williamson all preferred in the frontcourt by head coach Jim O’Brien, Skinner had a minimal impact, averaging 2.0 points and 2.6 rebounds in 24 games. The Sixers ultimately used his contract in February to help facilitate their ill-fated trade for Chris Webber. 

3. Kenny Thomas 
Seven years and approximately $50 million was far too large a commitment for Thomas, who the Sixers acquired in a 2002 trade with the Rockets and then signed as a restricted free agent.

Thomas wasn’t a bad player — he even averaged a double-double in the 2003-04 season — and he would’ve been viewed in a much kinder light if GM Billy King had given him a shorter and/or less expensive contract. He joined Skinner and Williamson in that deal for Webber, wrapping up his NBA career in Sacramento. 

2. Elton Brand 
Brand was far from a bust as a player with the Sixers after signing his “Philly max” contract. He wasn’t a 20 points, 10 rebounds per game guy anymore, but he was decent when healthy enough to play and praised frequently for his leadership and professionalism. 

Unfortunately, he suffered a season-ending torn labrum in his first year with the team. While he was a regular presence in the three years after that, he was diminished physically compared to his prime in Los Angeles. The Sixers released him with one season left on his five-year, $82 million deal under the league’s amnesty clause. 

1. Matt Geiger 
First, it’s important to note that Geiger’s refusal to waive his trade kicker prevented Iverson from being traded to the Pistons ahead of the 2000-01 season. It’s very unlikely the Sixers would’ve won the Eastern Conference without him.

"I looked at Detroit and didn't think Allen and I would've been better off there,” he told reporters in 2001. "So the decision was easy."

Geiger’s contract, however, was excessive — six years and approximately $48 million. He had some bright moments in Philadelphia, including a career-best 13.5 points per game in the 1998-99 season and a 5-for-7 shooting performance in Game 1 of the 2001 NBA Finals (although he fouled out in under 14 minutes), but none of that was enough to make the contract worth it. He retired after four games in the 2001-02 season because of persistent, painful knee problems. 

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2020 NBA return format: NBPA approves return to play format

2020 NBA return format: NBPA approves return to play format

A day after the NBA’s Board of Governor’s approved a 22-team return to play format, the NBPA did so Friday evening, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium.

All 28 player reps approved the plan, which would see 22 teams head to Walt Disney World in Florida to finish out the 2019-20 season beginning July 31. The league will play eight regular-season games with the possibility of a play-in tournament for the eighth seed. The playoffs will follow the traditional format.

One of the new pieces of information presented Friday is that there will also be two or three preseason games before the season resumes.

On TNT Thursday night, commissioner Adam Silver said the league is in the “first inning” in its quest to return to play. The NBA suspended the season on March 11 after Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19. 

According to Charania, players will undergo testing every day and there will be a minimum seven-day quarantine for any player that tests positive. If a player does contract the virus, play would continue.

“Of course we’ve always been looking for whether or not there is an appropriate and safe way that we can resume basketball,” Silver said, “and knowing that we’re going to be living with this virus for a while. … We’ve been exploring with the players whether there can be a new normal here.”

Another sticking point was a tentative date of Nov. 10 to start training camps for the 2020-21 season. Oct. 12 would be the last possible date for Game 7 of this year’s NBA Finals under this return-to-play plan. The NBPA told the players it’s “unlikely” the 2020-21 season would start on Dec. 1 and that it’s still being negotiated, per Charania.

With no fans in the stands, the two sides have also discussed pumping fan noise in courtesy of NBA2K.

The league and NBPA are still continuing to work out the health and safety details in the weeks leading up to a return.

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