CAMDEN, N.J. — After a summer of remembering the pain of how last season ended and a flurry of roster moves, the Sixers returned to their practice facility for Day 1 of training camp.
Several players described the intensity of Tuesday’s practice and the business-like atmosphere that permeated the gym.
Here are a few notes from Day 1.
A New Hope
For years, the story about the Sixers hasn’t been about actual basketball heading into camp.
With such lofty goals heading into the 2019-20 season, the vibe was much different on Tuesday.
“This is the best first practice I've been a part of since I've been a Sixer. For sure,” Ben Simmons said.
“Energy. Went straight to it. We know what we want to do, we know what we're here to accomplish and everybody has that mindset, so we need to stay that way.”
Brett Brown and Joel Embiid shared that sentiment.
“I would agree that since I have been in Philadelphia, this was the most purposeful, cutting to the chase, getting to the point, really sort of recognizing what we think we have to do to win on a regular basis,” Brown said. “I think declaring kind of who we are, what we want to be, the lofty goals that we all have — today's session was excellent.”
Brown mentioned that he was impressed with some of the early chemistry Embiid was building with Al Horford as the two bigs adjust to each other. He also talked about the two-man game between Embiid and Josh Richardson.
The dribble hand-off with JJ Redick was such a huge part of the Sixers’ offense the last two seasons. Brown is now implementing that with Richardson. Richardson is not the shooter Redick is, but he is much more athletic and dynamic with the ball in his hands.
While Embiid will miss Redick and the chemistry they developed, he’s looking forward seeing what Richardson can do.
“It’s different, but Josh brings something different,” Embiid said. “Obviously JJ with the crazy shots and off-balance threes and all that stuff, but we’ve got Josh, who’s more athletic than JJ, especially when it comes to back cutting, throwing lobs and him just turning the corner and attacking the defender. I think in that sense, he can do that better than JJ.”
‘Draw a line in the sand’
One of the more intriguing battles as camp goes on will be for the backup point guard role.
There are really two candidates in veterans Trey Burke and Raul Neto. Brown was pretty straightforward with what he’s looking for in Simmons’ backup.
“I think they got to sort of draw a line in the sand and find separation,” Brown said. “And usually that comes from defense and making shots. You know, I can do the leadership thing, and that is true, I can do the push the pace thing, and that is true. But what most stands out to me is coming in and making shots, and just guarding — really having the ability to be a difference maker with not a huge sum of minutes, not a huge opportunity to play. And that's always a difficult thing.”
Burke had not one, but two teammates bring up his play unprompted on Tuesday. What could help a guy like Burke “find separation” is the ability to create his own shot. It’s not a skill a ton of the other Sixers have. He’s also become a much-improved three-point shooter.
His ability to go get his own bucket was apparently evident Tuesday.
“I was really impressed with a guy like Trey Burke that came in with a lot of energy,” Horford said, “really scoring the ball at will, just being very active.”
“Trey Burke played amazing today,” Simmons said. “In a few of the games he was killing it. So he really stepped up.”
Impressing two-fifths of the star-studded starting five isn’t a bad way to start camp.
The two youths
The other competition seems to be between first-rounders Matisse Thybulle and Zhaire Smith for backup wing minutes.
Both players have incredible potential defensively and have some work to do on offense. On the first day, both young guys stood out, but there’s only so many minutes to go around.
“Those kids, I tell you what, there's a bounce,” Brown said. “They know what I know. I can't play everybody. They're both coming out to put their hand up and say, 'Look at me,' and they did today. That is for sure the quickest way where you're going to get my attention is just sitting down and defending — and they really can do that. … It's not like you had to pound it down their throat. I thought those two defensively were pretty special today.”
Both players are participating in their first NBA training camp — Thybulle as a rookie and Smith after breaking his foot before camp began last season.
A big thing for a young player is self-awareness. Thybulle seems to have that in spades.
“I think my role is pretty simple, just where and when I'll be able to step into it is just kind of what's unknown right now,” Thybulle said. “But just the 3-and-D, just knowing that I'm going out there to stop guys from scoring and then also just being able to space the floor and hit threes.”
Thybulle was the last player to leave the floor today. He was still jacking up threes as the assembled media were heading out.
Random observation: Brown said last week that he will no longer be giving medical updates. On the first day of camp, he was a man of his word — and he expressed his happiness about it. A member of the Sixers’ communication staff gave the update. Another plus for Brown is that it was just one player: Two-way big Norvel Pelle was dealing with left ankle soreness.
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