76ers

Joel Embiid's new mindset rubbing off on Ben Simmons, Tobias Harris

Joel Embiid's new mindset rubbing off on Ben Simmons, Tobias Harris

It seems safe to say that Joel Embiid’s scoreless night in Toronto was one of the lowest points of his career.

Since that game, Embiid has taken on a different mentality. Through the early part of the season, he was attempting to find his teammates more and navigate double teams. To his credit, he has improved in that regard.

But in the three games since that goose egg, Embiid has been a force. He’s averaged 30.7 points a night and is imposing his will on the opposition.

“Since the Toronto game I kind of changed my mindset,” Embiid said postgame Saturday. “The whole season I had not been as aggressive as I was last year, attempting 10 free throws a game. So the last couple games I’ve just been aggressive. Being more physical, creating contact, causing whoever’s guarding me to react to it. That’s how they fouled me.”

The free throws are a huge part of what’s helped Embiid turn things around. He puts so much pressure on opposing big men that often their only hope is to foul. In the last three games, Embiid is attempting 14.7 free throws a contest.

While the free points certainly help a team still searching for offensive consistency, it’s just as much about what Embiid’s attempts say.

“It's a mentality. That is a disposition. That is a mentality to me more than a stat,” Brett Brown said. “And you sure like them a lot more when you make them. But Joel Embiid, that is a statement. It is a mentality. None of us can underestimate the hurt he felt after the Toronto game where he felt like he let us down and we have seen him respond.”

Embiid is also hitting free throws at an elite clip, making over 90 percent in his last three.

But that’s not a huge surprise. Embiid has always down well from the charity stripe. What stood out more is Ben Simmons’ 7-for-7 performance from the line Saturday. It represented the most free throws Simmons has made without a miss in his career.

Like with Embiid, it’s just as much about what that means. It means Simmons was attacking the basket and looking to shoot. He struggled from the field (4 of 13) and finishing is something Brown talked about postgame as being part of Simmons’ evolution.

But that mindset is what’s most important. And it’s been Embiid who’s been at the center of it.

“It’s really been Jo and guys like that, making sure I’m being aggressive and getting to the rim,” Simmons said. “Once I’m doing that I’m able to make plays and find my guys in the corners, or Jo rolling.”

Simmons also had 13 assists Saturday night and is now third in the NBA in assists per game at 8.4. Generally, Simmons puts up gaudy assists numbers when he’s pushing the pace and putting pressure on defenses — looking to get to the rim first and pass second.

The finishing aspect is something Simmons knows he needs to improve upon.

“I’m happy with [the attacking style I played],” Simmons said. “I got to the rim, I just didn’t finish. I’ve just gotta get back and work on my touch.”

It’s also been a positive sign for the Sixers to see Tobias Harris display more of that “scorer’s mentality” Brown has been yearning for. Since Harris’ horrendous slump in which he missed 23 straight threes, he’s shot 45.4 percent from distance and 52.9 percent overall.

More importantly, he’s taking the shots the Sixers need him to. If there’s been a fair knock on Harris, it’s that he’s been too selfless at times. On Saturday, he scored 14 of his 22 points in the fourth quarter. It’s a welcome sign as the Sixers look for answers outside of Embiid late in games.

Has Embiid’s mentality rubbed off on Harris as well?

“Yeah, I think we’re best when Joel is that aggressive,” Harris said. “Joel draws so much attention, double teams. He’s been a willing passer to make plays. It overall helps everybody just because he’s such a focal point. So if you’re coming off pick-and-rolls, they’re going back to him or whatnot. I mean, he’s a beast. They can’t guard him down there. Either you foul or hope he misses, and that’s about it.”

Marc Gasol and the Raptors come to the Wells Fargo Center on Dec. 8. We’ll see if Embiid’s new mindset and the mindset he’s passing along to his teammates can help him beat his boogeyman.

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'Big brother' Tobias Harris leading, rookie Matisse Thybulle following

'Big brother' Tobias Harris leading, rookie Matisse Thybulle following

So much of the focus ahead of the Sixers’ game against the Raptors Sunday was on Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons.

And for good reason.

Embiid put up a goose egg the last time the teams faced off and has historically struggled with Marc Gasol. Simmons was coming off a career-high 34 points and made his second NBA three Saturday night.

While both players had roles in a 110-104 win Sunday night (see observations), it was Tobias Harris leading and rookie Matisse Thybulle following that kept the Sixers unblemished at the Wells Fargo Center.

Harris poured in a game-high 26 points, taking on the scoring load with Toronto head coach Nick Nurse’s game plan focused on stopping the Sixers’ young All-Stars.

“Yeah, 100 percent,” Harris said when asked if this is the most comfortable he’s felt here. “I think I’m in a really good rhythm of just going out and embracing and feeding off my teammates, and getting into a flow.”

Since a slump that saw him miss 23 straight threes, Harris has been pretty darn consistent. Over his last 12 games, Harris is shooting 41.3 percent from three and 50.6 percent overall.

If there’d been a knock on Harris outside of that tough stretch, it’s that he hasn’t looked as aggressive as a Sixer as he did during his stint with the Clippers. That hasn’t been the case recently. He’s averaged 16.3 field goal attempts per game over the last 12 games and has taken at least 22 shots in three of the last four.

Even during Harris’ up and down play, he’s remained a leader — a role he’s taken seriously since he signed the biggest deal in franchise history this summer.

And his teammates have responded.

“Aside from being an amazing example, he’s just been like a big brother,” Thybulle said. “We sit next to each other on every flight and he’s constantly giving me advice. I seek him for all my questions — whether it’s financially, on the court, off the court, I go to him. He’s done it at a very high level for a while now, and I really look up to him in that sense. He’s been able to be a huge role model for me.”

Whatever Harris has been telling Thybulle, it’s been working. When GM Elton Brand traded up in the draft to get Thybulle, nights like this are presumably what Brand had in mind.

Thybulle was his usual self on defense — annoying veteran Kyle Lowry, coming up with steals and contesting shots. On the other end, he continues to shoot the basketball at a high level. He hit a rookie career-high five threes and reached the 20-point mark for the first time. He’s now at 44 percent from beyond the arc, the highest percentage among rookies with at least 50 attempts.

In a contest that felt like it had a lot more juice than a regular-season game in December, Thybulle didn’t shy away from the moment — despite a couple late-game turnovers. The Sixers as a team had a brutal last few minutes as the Raptors went to a full-court press in desperation.

The thing Harris wants Thybulle to remember is that he was one of the main contributors in helping the Sixers build a huge lead. 

“Matisse is great,” Harris said. “I was telling him in there, ‘Don’t let the last minute and 30 seconds kill your vibe of the game, because you helped us secure that win tonight.’ He came in and his energy was amazing. He was able to knock down big shots, big threes that really pushed our lead each and every time they tried to make a run. He was amazing out there, man. He’s an amazing player, amazing person, amazing rookie. Every night I’m on him, each and every game, to continue to progress, continue to stay ready and locked in. He’s really catching his stride now.”

There is a refreshing vibe about Thybulle. He knows he has a job to do and he takes it seriously, but he also allows himself to enjoy it. He’s also not taking any of it for granted.

“That’s something I find myself thinking about a lot,” Thybulle said. “Even just six months ago, if you had told me I’d be in the position that I am today, it would have been really hard for me to believe you. I think I’m incredibly blessed. I’m so grateful. To have the guys that we have on this team and to have the opportunity that I have has been nothing short of a blessing.”

That’s a level of humility his “big brother” would approve of.



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Sixers Talk podcast: We call him 'Mathief' Thybulle!

Sixers Talk podcast: We call him 'Mathief' Thybulle!

On the Sixers Talk podcast presented by Wilmington University, Danny Pommells and Paul Hudrick discuss coach Brett Brown challenging Ben Simmons, the team's struggles to close out Saturday's game and Matisse Thybulle's new nickname.

• How are we feeling about the nickname "Mathief" Thybulle?

• Will Ben Simmons take Brett Brown's message to heart?

• Are you happier that the Sixers won or more upset with the sloppy finish?

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

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