Sixers' size is bucking NBA trends, but it's working so far

Sixers' size is bucking NBA trends, but it's working so far

The NBA game is always evolving. The three-point line didn't exist until 1979 and Stephen Curry revolutionized it. Big men like Wilt Chamberlain and Shaquille O'Neal used to dominate in the paint, but bigs nowadays are more likely to be rim runners — guys that block shots and catch lobs.

Elton Brand sees your league trends and scoffs.

We’re just four games into the season, but Brand’s vision of building a roster of skilled giants may just be crazy enough to work.

Including their 117-95 win over Minnesota Wednesday, the Sixers have won ugly. 

A decent shooting performance Wednesday (9 of 25) boosted them from the fourth- to sixth-worst three-point shooting team in the league. They're second in the league in turnovers per game in large part because of so many new pieces. 

The shooting may not improve much without a roster move, but there are signs of encouragement on the turnover front. The Sixers have several good passers in their starting lineup. Ben Simmons, Josh Richardson and Al Horford all averaged over four assists a game last season. There are possessions where you can see the ball move the way it’s supposed to, and it’s impressive.

Luckily for the Sixers, they’ve been proficient at turning their opponents over and lead the NBA in steals per game. They may have turned the ball over 22 times Wednesday, but they forced 21.

It’s reasonable to think they can keep turning teams over while taking better care of the ball themselves.

“I feel better because I think the ball moved,” Brett Brown said. “I didn't really purposefully call a bunch of plays until the end. I wanted them to figure it out. The turnovers, the abundance still is haunting. You're not going to do anything that matters unless you fix that. That's the bottom line. Now, that's the bad news. The good news was our transition defense after the turnovers was exceptional. I think they had 12 points on 22 turnovers which is a very tiny relative number for that volume. It starts with trying to help our two All-Stars, Ben and Joel, with this mission to try to reduce turnovers. You're going to see that there are many other participants in this ugly category that we need to fix. And if you remove that I give our offensive a thumbs up.”

Along with the Spurs — who are the only other unbeaten team in the NBA — the Sixers lead the NBA in rebounding. They dominated the glass against Minnesota to the tune of a 56-34 advantage.

Turning teams over and punishing them on the boards seems like a solid recipe for success.

“See, to me there's two areas that [are] the game,” Brown said. “If you look our points after we turned them over, which I think is 29, and the 30 points on second-chance points. When you talk about how do you utilize height? How do you exploit size? It's part of the sort of smash mouth, bully ball thing we're trying to get better at and that 30 points, crashing the boards, and 29 points I think it was ... taking advantage of how we turn them over — you'd have a hard time going someplace else when you talk about significant stats that helped us win.”

The Sixers have beaten teams up — which unfortunately has caused them to average the second-most personal fouls per game. There’s reason to believe that number can improve as well. Again, with so many new players, communication can be an issue. That can lead to slow rotations and help, which can lead to fouls.

While the team appears to be getting better in that regard, Al Horford said it was “still not great, to my standards.” This is a big part of the reason Brand was so aggressive in pursuing Horford. The veteran big is a demanding teammate, which is good when you have so much young talent.

Horford is most encouraged by the versatility this team has. It was on display against Karl-Anthony Towns. Brown opted to start out defensively with Horford matched up on Towns instead of Embiid. The Timberwolves’ center was shooting a ton of threes at a high clip coming in. The more mobile Horford seemed to throw Towns off.

That’s the thing with this starting five — where do you attack them?

"I believe that that's one of my strengths, to be able to be put in different parts and defend different people, bigs or small,” Horford said. “And not only me, but Ben does that as well. And Joel, it's tough to go through that in the paint. I think it works to our advantage when we do these type of matchups."

On top of the “bully ball defense,” the “smash mouth offense” was alive and well.

When Brown first mentioned these concepts before camp started, he referenced the idea of players identifying mismatches and attacking them. Because of the size advantage the Sixers have one through five, there’s always at least one.

"The thing that I keep seeing with our group is literally any of us can go in there, post, go score the ball, be aggressive, be strong,” Horford said. “That was an example of it tonight. There were times where I had to take it, or Joel, or Tobias, or even Josh. Ben, as well. We really try to play with our size and impose our will in the paint."

Elton Brand sees your finesse players, NBA. He raises you his giant bullies.

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Sloppy Sixers drop 10th straight road game to Wizards

Sloppy Sixers drop 10th straight road game to Wizards


Something about Washington, D.C., that causes the Sixers to play bad basketball.

They dropped their 10th straight in the nation’s capital, falling to the Wizards, 119-113, at Capital One Arena Thursday.

The combination of turnovers (21) and a red-hot, 19-point second quarter from Davis Bertans sunk the Sixers as they played Washington’s up-tempo style and not the "bully ball" we’ve seen.

Josh Richardson (right hamstring tightness) missed his sixth game of the season while the Wizards were without starting center Thomas Bryant (right foot stress reaction).

The loss drops the Sixers to 15-7 and 5-7 on the road. They return to the Wells Fargo Center Saturday night against the Cavaliers.

Here are observations from the loss.

Simmons shines on D but struggles on O

If it wasn’t for Bertans going absolutely nuts from three in the first half — 6 of 6 — this game would’ve looked a lot different early. Bertans cooled off in the second half, but rookie Rui Hachimura picked up the slack (27 points).

Ben Simmons' defense on All-Star Bradley Beal was excellent. Simmons chased Beal around and continued to play at an All-NBA level on defense. Before Bertans erupted, Washington’s offense looked stagnant with its focal point kept in check. For the game, Beal was held to 7 of 24 from the field.

Offensively, Simmons did not have a banner night. He had seven turnovers, far too many against a team in the Wizards who have the lowest-rated defense in the NBA. His unwillingness to shoot and stopping drives short without a plan continues to be issues. He had 17 points, 10 assists, five rebounds and three steals.

Not enough from Embiid

With the Wizards missing their starting center, it made sense for the Sixers to feed Embiid early and often. And that’s exactly what they did early on. Washington doubled frequently but Embiid had a double-double in the first half, putting up 17 points and 10 rebounds.

One knock on Embiid has been him not running rim to rim. To close out the first quarter, there were two sequences where Raul Neto knocked corner threes. On both plays, the attention that Embiid drew led to good ball movement and space.

In the second half, Embiid looked sluggish at times. He also had issues with turnovers, committing eight. On a night when Embiid should've dominated, he put up 26 points on 7 of 12 shooting. Part of that is on the Sixers and Brett Brown for not getting it into Embiid enough. He did have 21 rebounds.

Tobias the scorer

We’ve heard Brown talk a ton about Tobias Harris needing to have a “scorer’s mentality.” Even after practice Wednesday, Brown again said that he felt like Harris was passing up a couple looks a game that he should be taking.

Harris was feeling it early and looking awfully confident with 16 points in the first half (2 of 4 from three, 7 of 14 overall).

And another example of Harris attacking.

Harris did all he could, putting up 33 points on 13 of 28 (3 of 8 from three). He just didn’t get much help. 

Thybulle looking comfortable

We all understand what Matisse Thybulle brings on the defensive end of the floor. He continued to be his usual disruptive self and helped cool off Bertans when nobody else on the Sixers could. As the Sixers made a run in the fourth quarter, it was Thybulle who had a series of impressive plays — including a couple on Beal. He had a pair of steals and blocks.

Thybulle has shot the ball well lately, but on Thursday, his driving and passing were on display. He dished a season-high six assists.

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Sixers at Wizards: 3 storylines to watch and how to stream the game

Sixers at Wizards: 3 storylines to watch and how to stream the game

The Sixers (15-6), winners of four in a row and eight of their last nine, will look to get to the .500 mark on the road when they visit the Wizards (6-13) Thursday night.

Josh Richardson (right hamstring tightness) remains out. He did individualized workouts the last two days at practice, but the team is being cautious as Richardson will miss his fourth straight game. Shake Milton (right hip discomfort) will be available.

Washington will be without starting center Thomas Bryant (right foot stress reaction) and veteran wing C.J. Miles (left wrist). Backup bigs Ian Mahinmi (right Achilles strain) and Moritz Wagner (left ankle sprain) are available. 

Here are tonight's essentials:

When: 7 p.m. ET with Sixers Pregame Live at 6:30 p.m.
Where: Capital One Arena
Broadcast: NBC Sports Philadelphia+
Live stream: NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the NBC Sports MyTeams app

And here are three storylines to watch:

The competition

Rookie Matisse Thybulle has wreaked havoc on the defensive end in almost every one of his appearances this season. He leads all rookies with 29 steals and is third among them in deflections — despite playing far less minutes than the other first-year players at the top of the list.

But it hasn’t just been Thybulle that’s been so disruptive. Ben Simmons, who looks well on his way to earning some type of All-Defensive team honors, leads the NBA in steals and is second in deflections.

A competition has formed.

“I’d say it’s me, him and J-Rich when it comes to steals, trying to see who can get the most, within reason, without trying to put guys in tough positions,” Thybulle said after practice Tuesday. “I think it’s cool that we have that competitiveness. You’ve seen it with Ben, he’s changed games — he’s won games — with steals down the stretch. I think it’s cool to have that little competition within ourselves.”

The caveat of not “trying to put guys in tough positions” is important here. Thybulle has been walking the fine line all season of being disruptive and not leaving his teammates out to dry. To Thybulle’s credit, you can see the improvement. And to Brett Brown’s credit, he admitted before the Jazz game that he needs to be more tolerant with Thybulle.

Despite playing at the fastest pace in the NBA, the Wizards are one of the better teams in the league at taking care of the basketball. Something will have to give Thursday night.

Feed Embiid

Joel Embiid is the focal point of the Sixers’ offense and that shouldn’t change against Washington. He’ll likely see plenty of rookie Rui Hachimura playing the five with the Wizards’ frontcourt so banged up. With that, Embiid is likely to see plenty of double teams and possibly even some zone.

It’ll be on the other Sixers to make plays and shots around Embiid, who has improved greatly in navigating double teams. They should be able to expose Washington’s defense. The Wizards have the worst-rated defense in the NBA and give up the third-most points per game.

Beal is the real deal

News flash: Bradley Beal is really freaking good. And he’s having one of his best seasons. He’s averaging 28.7 points and 7.2 assists a game — both marks would be career highs. He’s taking the most threes he ever has so his percentage is down, but he’s getting to the line just a little under seven times a game. 

And Beal’s supporting cast is no joke on the offensive end. The Sixers will have their hands full with how Davis Bertans (44.6 percent) and Isaiah Thomas (41 percent) are shooting from three. With that said, both players can be exposed on the defensive end.

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