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Sixers Talk: What's next after missing out on Kyle Korver; Tobias Harris in crunch time

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Sixers Talk: What's next after missing out on Kyle Korver; Tobias Harris in crunch time

Kyle Korver decided to head to the Bucks, while FiveThirtyEight's statistial model thinks the Sixers have the best chance to win the NBA Finals in 2019-20. Danny Pommells and Noah Levick discuss on this episode of Sixers Talk.

With Korver off the board, which other remaining free agents make sense for the Sixers?

Tobias Harris will have more responsibility for the Sixers in the fourth quarter this season. Can he handle it?

Plus, an explanation of Christ Koumadje's Exhibit 10 deal and a breakdown of two-way player Marial Shayok.

That and more below on this edition of Sixers Talk.

Sixers recall Zhaire Smith, plan for life without Josh Richardson

Sixers recall Zhaire Smith, plan for life without Josh Richardson

CAMDEN, N.J. — Shake Milton hasn’t spent much of his second professional season playing competitive basketball. As a result of a left knee injury he sustained on Oct. 28 and an inability to find consistent playing time when he returned, Milton has only played in 19 games this year — 13 in the NBA, six in the G League. 

Suddenly, it sounds like he’s going to assume a prominent role.

Milton played a season-high 22:31 Wednesday night after Josh Richardson strained his hamstring early in the first quarter, posting nine points on 3 of 10 shooting (3 of 6 from three-point range), four rebounds and two assists. With Richardson set to be reevaluated in approximately two weeks, Brett Brown now sees a significant job for Milton to fill.

It’s always on my mind to try to find a pick-and-roll partner for Ben [Simmons],” Brown said Friday. “Then it’s on your mind, ‘Well, what do you do with the other players?’ Namely your center. Do you play Ben at a five? And so Shake comes in, he actually can run a pick-and-roll, he can shoot, and so that interests me. 

“We’ve seen [Furkan Korkmaz] in that environment. When you take out J-Rich, you’re wondering what’s it look like if I want to pursue and continue to grow that part of Ben’s game and our understanding of how do we take the group and maximize it. Shake, I think, has a chance to come in and play a role in that. So, my intention is to continue to look at that.

Milton’s background suggests he might profile well for what Brown desires. A major focus of his rookie season, when he was under a two-way contract, was developing as a ball handler and decision-maker. He averaged 24.9 points per game in the G League last year and worked on areas like learning how and when to attack the rim, drawing fouls and, of course, running the pick-and-roll (see story)

“Just get to my spots and knock down shots,” Milton told reporters Wednesday in Toronto. “Just play with confidence and once you get up the floor a couple times you get in your groove and it’s just like playing basketball again, so it felt good.”

Al Horford highlighted defensive communication as the biggest emphasis with Milton and without Richardson. The Sixers have often asked Richardson to guard top opposing scorers this season. 

“It's hard to replace Josh, first of all, and obviously we hope that he gets healthy and gets back to us, but with Shake, just making sure that we're helping him, on the defensive end especially, getting familiar,” Horford said. 

“Offensively, I'm not worried about him. He can really, really shoot the ball and he'll have his looks, his opportunities and I'm confident in him. And defensively, just helping him, talking to him, making sure that he's in the right places and doing the things he needs to do, because that's something that Josh is great at.”

Brown was straightforward in saying that another way he'll respond to Richardson's injury is by looking to give rookie Matisse Thybulle more minutes. 

He was less clear in describing what the future might hold for Zhaire Smith. The team recalled Smith Friday from the G League, and the 20-year-old will be available Saturday night vs. the Lakers. 

Smith, acquired by the Sixers in a 2018 draft-night trade, had his rookie season derailed by a broken foot and severe complications from an allergic reaction. He’s been “hunting threes” with the Delaware Blue Coats and shooting the ball well recently (see story).

Brown said he’s been following Smith’s progress and is encouraged by what he’s seen and heard. 

“[Blue Coats head coach] Connor Johnson and I talk, we follow his statistical progress, namely how does he do at shooting threes in the corner. We get he plays hard, we get that he’s an athlete, and so now what? How can we maximize or tap into a little bit offensively what he’s been growing? 

“I think that there is an upward trend, a growth that we’ve seen for two reasons: First, him — he’s embraced the fact that he’s with the G League. Some people treat that as you’ve been scolded, and he’s handled it maturely. And two, there’s a symmetry with the programs that I think enables him to feel like there’s a progressive path in the next step when he comes up here — same words, same language, same system. And I think for those two reasons we’re looking at him a little bit more seriously, especially without J-Rich.”



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Sixers injury update: Joel Embiid a full participant at practice, 'hopefully' able to return next week

Sixers injury update: Joel Embiid a full participant at practice, 'hopefully' able to return next week

CAMDEN, N.J. — For the Sixers, seeing Joel Embiid fully participate in practice was a sight for sore eyes.

The team is coming off a rough loss in Toronto, lost another starter in Josh Richardson just four minutes into that contest and has a brutal nine-game slate before the All-Star break.

When Brett Brown was asked what changes with the All-Star center back at practice Friday, he was silent for a moment and then leaned in the reporter’s direction:

“A lot. I don’t mean to be smart, but say no more.”

This was the first time Embiid has fully participated in a practice since he tore the radial collateral ligament of the fourth metacarpal on his left hand back on Jan. 6. He had surgery in New York on Jan. 10 but has been seen before games running and getting shots up with his guide hand off the ball.

His return to practice comes on the heels of Embiid being named an All-Star starter for the third straight season. His participation in last year’s All-Star game became a hot button issue after he missed the following eight games with knee tendinitis.

While Embiid does think he’ll be ready for that game, that’s not what’s fueling his desire to get back on the court.

I'm doing the progress necessary,” Embiid said. “I feel great. My finger feels good. I'm not too concerned about what the All-Star game is gonna look like. Right now, we're sixth in the East so hopefully by next week I'm able to play.

A team spokesman said that Embiid would be re-evaluated Monday, leaving room for optimism that the team’s leading scorer could possibly play next week. 

In the times we’ve seen Embiid since his surgery, he’s sported some type of hard plastic splint. On Friday, it appeared to be more of a wrap as we saw him catching passes, dribbling with his left hand and using both hands to finish around the rim.

When he does return, Embiid said he will have to play with some sort of support on the finger. As he’s ramped up his activity, it seems like the focus now is on getting him game ready.

“I'm still getting used to it,” Embiid said. “From time to time during a game you get slapped on the hand so just going through practice and go through those scenarios and seeing how it goes, and then also getting back into it. I had a little bit of time off where I couldn't do anything with the surgery so I was a little bit winded. Just gotta get my conditioning back.”

And the other sticking point: conditioning. When Embiid has experienced long absences in the past, his fitness level has routinely been a cause for concern. Since the injury was to his hand and not his lower body, he’s been able to do more while he’s been out.

The team has taken heat in the past for Embiid perhaps not returning in the best condition.

Ultimately, Embiid is taking it upon himself.

“Well, me personally, as a professional, you gotta take care of yourself,” Embiid said. “You got to take care of your own business. From summertime to when the season started and to this moment, you got some bike, you got some elliptical, so every night, just got to come in and get some sweat on and your heart rate up.”

He’s getting healthy. It sounds like he’s motivated. Looks like we’ll find out soon enough.

He can be whatever he wants to be,” Brown said. “The ultimate aim, the ultimate goal that we all talk about is his legacy as an NBA champion. The other stuff is great, but it doesn’t even come close to the end game, the thing that to me is kind of everybody’s judgement day — are you an NBA champion? And there have been many great players and many great coaches who just have not been able to claim that. That’s my ambition, that’s my aspiration for him, to help him achieve that.

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