76ers

Sixers weekly observations: Ben Simmons striking the right balance, Joel Embiid's wide-ranging influence, more

Sixers weekly observations: Ben Simmons striking the right balance, Joel Embiid's wide-ranging influence, more

This week, all the speculation stopped. Well, most of it did anyway, at least the valid questions about what the Sixers would look like when Joel Embiid returned.

The Sixers (44-25) were far from perfect, but they still pulled off a 3-0 homestand with wins Sunday over the Pacers in Embiid's first game back, Tuesday vs. the Cavs in an uncomfortably close matchup, and Friday against the Kings.

Here are a few observations on the week:

• We all know and understand, on an intuitive level, how large an impact Embiid has. This week helped put the abstract truism that Embiid matters into perspective.

There were issues with double teams, instances when his wires crossed with JJ Redick’s, sluggish stretches. But for the most part, Embiid was excellent for the Sixers this week. Not many players can return from an eight-game absence and average 23.7 points, 16.0 rebounds and 2.7 blocks per game.

His versatility and low-post dominance expanded the possibilities for an offense that looked, at times, lethargic and limited without him. His late-game defense gave his teammates plenty of margin for error. His presence re-introduced a familiar spark to the Wells Fargo Center.

When Embiid is off the court this season, the Sixers have a minus-3.2 net rating, which would put them 26th in the NBA. When Embiid is on the floor, the team has a plus-8.3 rating. That would be second in the NBA, behind only the Bucks. 

Embiid is a massively influential player, a special talent, an original personality, and a very compelling reason to watch Sixers basketball. Everyone associated with the team is grateful to have him back.

• Ben Simmons turned the ball over just three times this week. While there are bigger challenges in front of him Sunday against the Bucks and Wednesday vs. Boston, you have to be encouraged by the way Simmons conducted the offense. Brett Brown has mentioned Simmons’ open-court speed sometimes leads him to outrun the offense. These past three games, he initiated half-court sets when appropriate but also blew by the defense on the fast break when the opportunity presented itself.

He’ll need to keep doing a good job hitting that middle ground between full speed ahead and walking it up if he continues to play as much with Embiid as he did Friday. The duo played almost 36 minutes together vs. Sacramento, which is a significant bump up from the norm. Since Jimmy Butler’s first game as a Sixer on Nov. 14, Embiid and Simmons have shared the court for 22.9 minutes per game, which is just seventh highest of the team’s two-man pairings. With two potential playoffs opponents on deck over the next four days, it’ll be worth tracking how often Embiid and Simmons play together.

• It’s a relatively small thing, but I liked the call to rest Butler vs. the Cavs. 

There’s this difficult, tenuous line Brown and the Sixers are trying to walk between pushing to win every game left and trying to put the team in the best shape possible for the playoffs. Do you experiment with new rotations? How much should you introduce new plays or concepts, and how much should you focus on fine-tuning what you already have?

The Butler decision was a situation in which the Sixers could focus on both priorities at once. Resting Butler didn’t seriously jeopardize the Sixers' chances against the 17-win Cavs, and Butler looked rejuvenated Friday night vs. the Kings in a stellar two-way performance

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Sixers Talk podcast: Training camp is coming

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NBC Sports Philadelphia/YouTube

Sixers Talk podcast: Training camp is coming

Danny Pommells and Paul Hudrick go back and forth about JJ Redick's comments about the importance of team dinners, five Sixers landing on SI's top 100, and Joel Embiid saying he has lost 25 pounds.

• Discussing nuggets about Jimmy Butler and the quadruple doink from JJ Redick's appearance on the Lowe Post.

• Sports Illustrated's Top 100 for 2020 came out. The rankings are mostly fair but the guys have one gripe.

• Joel Embiid said he lost 25 pounds ... but he clearly didn't lose his sense of humor.

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JJ Redick believes Sixers needed more team dinners on road last season

JJ Redick believes Sixers needed more team dinners on road last season

Sixers fans are generally excited about the team's new roster construction heading into the 2019-2020 season, but there's no doubt the sharp shooting of JJ Redick will be missed.

Redick took his talents down to the bayou and will suit up for the New Orleans Pelicans this season. Redick joined ESPN NBA insider Zach Lowe on Lowe's podcast this week to talk about his new opportunity. They also reflected a bit on his time with the Sixers and the tough loss to the eventual NBA champion Toronto Raptors in the playoffs after four bounces of a Kawhi Leonard desperation shot.

Redick is open about the fact that the decision to move on to New Orleans was partly financial.

"I never got the sense that [the Sixers] didn't want to bring me back. Unfortunately, it came down to a little bit of economics," Redick said.

Jimmy Butler's decision to move on to the Miami Heat obviously precipitated that move. Redick speaks highly of Butler regardless of his decision.

"I love Jimmy. I would play with Jimmy again," Redick said. "He is in the upper tier of two-way players and in the upper tier of offensive players in the NBA, period."

So Redick has moved on to New Orleans, but it's tough not to think back to what could have been. There was a point in the Toronto series where Redick believed the Sixers were capable of winning the NBA championship last season.

"Joel [Embiid] and I spent some time together after the season and we talked about it. It was Game 4 [against Toronto] for us. We lost that game and I felt like, for most of that game, we had control, not just that game but that series. We had a chance to go up 3-1. That was the opportunity that we missed. You lose that game and it's 2-2 and you've got to win 2 out of 3 against Toronto, and that's a tough task."

One other interesting nugget from Redick's time in Philly was his sharing that he believed they didn't do enough team dinners on the road.

"I wish, I've tried, I wish, the team meal on the road is huge. I think it's huge. We didn't do it enough last year in Philly. We tried. It wasn't enough. Some of that, look, nobody wants to be forced to go to dinner. It's got to be real and authentic."

Some other choice quotes from the pod below.

On Ben Simmons getting a jumper.

"Ben works. He worked all of last offseason. I witnessed him during the season get his shots up after practice every day. I think he'll be able to shoot at some point. A lot of it is confidence. He can shoot a high enough clip when he's shooting spot shots that it should translate to shooting threes in a game. The video that went viral, looks to me like he's shooting with some confidence there."

Lowe also asked Redick about the dagger shot in Toronto.

"I was on the bench," Redick said. "I sort of had that perfect angle 'cause as soon as the ball had come inbounds, I sort of walked onto the baseline. Not on the court, but onto the baseline so I could get a straight-on view of the action. My memory may be a little jogged but my arms were crossed, I was watching the ball bounce around the rim, and it went in. I'm not sure I had any initial reaction, I think it was just shock. Part of you wants to walk off the floor and punch a wall and the other part of you, if I'm the Raptors, I'd want to dap up the people that I had just played a seven-game series against. I stayed on the court and talked to Kyle, Marc, Kawhi, Danny and those guys. Told them I hope they win a championship and walked off. Then you get back to the locker room and you see the emotion, I was obviously feeling emotional, then Joel started crying. Those are the sorts of moments that you don't forget. As much as you don't forget the shot, the aftermath of moments like that, you just don't forget. There's just a lot of raw emotion."

You can listen to Redick's entire conversation with Zach Lowe right here.

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