Sixers-Nets preseason observations: Welcome back, Joel Embiid

Sixers-Nets preseason observations: Welcome back, Joel Embiid


UNIONDALE, N.Y. — Joel Embiid drained the Sixers’ first basket of the game (see video) and set the tone for the night in his preseason debut.

The big man played with every ounce of energy of someone who had been sidelined since January and then some in the Sixers’ 133-114 win over the Nets on Wednesday.

Embiid posted 22 points (4 for 9 from the field, 0 for 2 from three, 14 for 18 from the line), seven rebounds, three assists, one block, one turnover, three fouls, and was a plus-15 in just under 15 minutes. (He was allotted 12 to 14 minutes.) 

Embiid, who was making his return after undergoing surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee, was active in all areas of the game. He did everything from calling for the ball to pulling up for three to hitting the floor (yeah, he's still doing that) after hustle plays. He made the free throw line his second home, shooting 12 for 16 in the first half alone.

One of his three dimes: finding Ben Simmons.

• The difference with Embiid always has been glaring. Now it's perhaps more noticeable since the Sixers have enhanced their roster. Embiid isn't just the best player on the court with various teammates pieced together through injuries like last season. He is the best player on a "team," one that has been revamped with established veterans and new young talent. Brett Brown had noted how the Sixers have to learn how to play with him back in the mix, and it was apparent how much he affects the rest of the lineup (see story).

• Dario Saric snapped into midseason form. He led all players with 26 points. Saric held his own three-point contest in the first half when he drained four treys and scored 17 points off the bench (see story).

• Every NBA arena has different seating for the media. Sitting courtside at this game gave a glimpse into just how vocal T.J. McConnell is on the floor. He was constantly engaging with teammates during plays and after calls. Following one whistle in particular, he made his rounds to talk to JJ Redick on the court, pat Amir Johnson on the chest for encouragement at the free throw line and converse with Brown on the sideline.

• Embiid, Simmons, Redick, Jerryd Bayless and Robert Covington started. Johnson received the minutes at backup center behind Embiid. Jahlil Okafor played in the second half and prompted fans to eagerly yell, "Spin move!" thanks to his shot selection. 

• James Michael McAdoo and James Blackmon Jr. did not play. Brown is tightening up his rotations in the last two preseason games.

• Markelle Fultz's status for Friday is to be determined. He sat out because of right knee soreness.

Kevin Knox, Zhaire Smith to have 2nd workout for Sixers

Kevin Knox, Zhaire Smith to have 2nd workout for Sixers

The Sixers are taking another look at two prospects two days before the NBA draft, in which they hold pick No. 10.

Kentucky forward Kevin Knox will be back at the training complex again Tuesday for an individual workout. Last week, he participated in a group setting.

Texas Tech guard Zhaire Smith also will return for a second group workout.

Both stood out their first time in Camden, New Jersey.

“He walked into the gym, it’s not hard to see the intrigue with his size and mobility, his frame,” senior director of basketball operations Vince Rozman said of the 6-foot-9 Knox last week. “He’s 18, so there’s a lot to develop from.”

Knox, who averaged 15.6 points (34.1 percent from three), 5.4 rebounds and 1.4 assists as a freshman, was confident following his first performance for the Sixers.

“They’re really interested in me,” Knox said. “They love my game, they love the way I can shoot the ball. That’s something they really like to do is shoot a lot of threes. My versatility, being able to take guys off the dribble is something that would complement really well with Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid.”

The 6-foot-5 Smith posted 11.3 points, 5.0 rebounds and 1.8 assists his freshman season. He was focused on demonstrating shooting, decision-making and playmaking during his first workout.

“He’s got great length,” vice president of player personnel Marc Eversley said last week. “He’s a terrific, terrific athlete. He didn’t shoot the ball as well throughout the year, but he came in here today and shot it pretty well.”

The Sixers additionally hold picks No. 26, 38, 39, 56 and 60. Tuesday’s group workout also will include La Salle guard-forward B.J. Johnson, USC guard De’Anthony Melton, Fairfield guard Tyler Nelson, Kansas guard Malik Newman and Wichita State guard Landry Shamet.

More on Sixers, NBA draft

• Knox thinks he would fit with Sixers

• NBA draft profile: Kentucky's Knox

NBA draft profile: Texas Tech's Smith

NBA draft profile: UCLA PG Aaron Holiday

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NBA draft profile: UCLA PG Aaron Holiday

Aaron Holiday

Position: Guard

Height: 6-0

Weight: 187

School: UCLA

Sixers fans should recognize the name. Aaron Holiday is the brother of former Sixers first-round pick Jrue Holiday and Bulls wing Justin Holiday. Aaron is the youngest — and smallest — of the three. 

A three-year player at UCLA, Holiday developed into one of the most prodigious scorers and shooters in Bruins history. He was the first UCLA player to lead the Pac 12 in scoring (20.3 points per game) since some guy named Reggie Miller. For his efforts, he was named to the All-Pac 12 first team.

For his college career, Holiday averaged 14.3 points and 4.7 assists per contest in 101 games (65 starts). He also hit 180 treys, shooting 42 percent from three.

Holiday’s most obvious and translatable NBA attribute is his jump shot. He shot over 40 percent in all three of his seasons at UCLA and is capable off the dribble, off screens and in catch-and-shoot opportunities. He also has NBA range and is not afraid to pull up from any spot on the floor.

For his size, he’s a good, creative finisher and features a pretty nice floater. He understands how to attack defenses, especially in the pick and roll. He’s excellent at changing his pace and lulling defenders to sleep. He’s a good and willing passer. Defensively he has excellent instincts. He’s aggressive and does well at getting his hands in passing lanes.

Size is a huge issue for Holiday. The other big issue is, he’s just an OK athlete that lacks quickness and explosion while driving to the basket. Defense is always going to be an issue as he’ll struggle to guard some of the bigger and more explosive point guards in the league. He also struggled with turnovers.

NBA comparison
Aaron Brooks, most recently of the Minnesota Timberwolves. Both players make up for their size with excellent perimeter shooting. Brooks was more explosive coming out of Oregon, but also has a good change of pace to confuse opponents. Holiday has better feel and vision. Brooks has struggled defensively at the NBA level and Holiday will likely encounter the same issues.

How he'd fit with Sixers
It’s tough to project Holiday to the Sixers. His shooting would play well here and playing with a 6-foot-10 point guard would certainly help his cause, but where would he fit? He won’t be a starter right away and the Sixers already feature T.J. McConnell off the bench. McConnell provides energy and top-notch defense that Holiday cannot.

Draft projection
The modern NBA is all about the three so teams will be interested in Holiday as a backup point guard and shooter off the bench. He could go anywhere from the late teens to the mid-20s.

More on the Sixers and the NBA draft