CAMDEN, N.J. — Day 1 of Sixers training camp was a special one, or so we were told. Brett Brown and Ben Simmons both called it the best first day during their time in Philadelphia.
On Day 2, we got to see a bit of what all the hype was about, with the media let in to watch the last few minutes of the Sixers’ 5-on-5 scrimmaging.
Here are notes on what stood out from that action, and on what the Sixers had to say afterwards.
Harris takes charge
Though Tobias Harris gave a diplomatic response to the question of who will be the Sixers’ go-to guy late in games, mentioning how he’s surrounded by talented teammates and that he expects they’ll often turn to the hot hand, it seems he’s willing and able to assume that role.
“It’s something that I’ve worked very hard on,” he said, “to be able to put myself in those positions to create a shot for our team and just to get a bucket.”
He was in an aggressive mode Tuesday and exploited a favorable matchup against rookie Marial Shayok on a couple of occasions.
Tobias Harris with the bucket at Sixers scrimmage: pic.twitter.com/4vC6NH44vj— Noah Levick (@NoahLevick) October 2, 2019
The methodical back down and seemingly effortless finish through contact at the end of the sequence below was that of a polished scorer.
Tobias Harris really attacking on offense here. Wraps up this sequence with another hoop: pic.twitter.com/eZoQ7QoY0k— Noah Levick (@NoahLevick) October 2, 2019
The concept of having an equal opportunity offense sounds great in theory, but in practice, it can be difficult to distribute the load evenly at the end of close, physical NBA games. With Jimmy Butler out of the picture, the sense here is that Harris will be the primary option the Sixers turn to late in the fourth quarter this season, and that he’s eager for that responsibility.
‘I’ll get you to an A’
By design, the Sixers’ scrimmaging Tuesday was fast-paced. Brown said his primary focus at the moment is conditioning, so he intentionally emphasized early offense.
“Conditioning is most on my mind,“ he said. "I tell them, ‘You arrive to camp at a B, B-plus, I’ll get you to an A.’ I think that we have come into camp at a B, B-plus, and I’ll try to get them to an A. But conditioning rules my world.”
Joel Embiid sat out the final portion of the Sixers’ scrimmaging as part of the Sixers’ plan to keep him fresh and healthy. He participated in the rest of practice, though, and Brown is pleased with what he’s seen from Embiid beyond just the 20 pounds that evaporated from his frame over the summer.
“Excellent,” Brown said of Embiid’s conditioning. “We have the load management, but you talk about going up and down the floor, I thought he was just fine. He was excellent. And to his credit, we all can see he’s done a lot of work to lose that amount of weight. We all can go on a diet, but to do cardio and have that base, that’s the holy grail — and he did it.”
Harris said he’d lost “four or five pounds” during the offseason and added some muscle, too.
It’s very conceivable the Sixers will have early troubles with outside shooting, defensive communication or finding the right combinations off the bench — perhaps all of the above. But being in shape and prepared to play a bruising brand of basketball is largely within their control. Given the team’s goal of playing “smash mouth offense and bully ball defense,” with a greater emphasis on jamming opposing ball handlers and creating more turnovers, physical fitness is fundamental.
The man in charge
Brown commanded the gym Tuesday, striding around with a critical eye and stopping play often for instruction.
He paused at one point to re-emphasize the team’s spacing principles and demonstrate with Harris the “Brazil action” he wanted to see more of from his wings — a kind of dosey doe under the rim before curling up off a pindown screen which was a trademark of the JJ Redick-Marco Belinelli duo.
From Day 2 of Sixers training camp: Some hands-on instruction from Brett Brown pic.twitter.com/RSDN0En5uI— Noah Levick (@NoahLevick) October 2, 2019
Last season, assistant coaches Billy Lange and Monty Williams chimed in often at training camp. Tuesday, it was all Brown. New assistants Ime Udoka and Joseph Blair are clearly having an impact on the Sixers’ schemes, but it’s more obvious than ever that Brown is the man in charge.
Harris, about to begin his ninth NBA season and in his first training camp under Brown, reflected on what’s unique about the way Brown operates camp.
It’s a little different. It’s basketball at the end of the day. I’ve never been in other spots with this great of a team, also. Today’s game, with load management and technology, it’s a little different. Stan Van Gundy [did] two-a-days, and Scott Skiles [did] two-a-days when I came into the league. I was just telling some of the young guys, ‘Listen, we’re doing one-a-day here and when I came in it was the two-a-day type of workload.’ But like I said, it’s basketball. Coach knows everything he wants to get across in his camp for us to improve and be better. We’re really locked in and focused on that type of game plan, like we were in the playoffs. We have that type of seriousness to what we’re doing, and that’s big.
Random observation: Shortly before the media was allowed into the gym, Hall of Fame coach Herb Magee walked out. This summer, Magee told NBC Sports Philadelphia his thoughts on Simmons’ shot (see story).
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