76ers

Sixers weekly observations: Joel Embiid's Hall of Fame prospects and Brett Brown's 'perfecting vanilla' philosophy

Sixers weekly observations: Joel Embiid's Hall of Fame prospects and Brett Brown's 'perfecting vanilla' philosophy

The Sixers took down the team with the best record in the NBA, pushed aside questions about the Celtics having their number and beat the Hornets behind JJ Redick’s first career double-double. Though the week ended on a low, with a loss Saturday to the 26-48 Hawks, the Sixers hold a three-game lead over the Pacers for the third seed in the Eastern Conference (see standings). 

Here are a couple of observations from the week:

• Joel Embiid averaged 34.7 points, 16.3 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game this week. His stats sometimes creep up on you, but it feels like his numbers don’t even properly capture his contributions, especially against Milwaukee and Boston.

After Friday’s practice, Embiid said he not only wants to be the best Sixer ever, but “the best to ever do it" (see story). He mentioned wanting to eventually shoot 90 percent from the foul line and later added he’s “sure he’s going to get to a point” where he’s a 40 percent three-point shooter. To have a realistic chance of being the best player ever, Embiid may very well have to reach those absurd marks. Dirk Nowitzki, the best big man shooter ever, only hit marks of 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from three-point range and 90 percent from the free throw line once, in the 2006-07 season.

Embiid’s ambition of being the greatest of all time might be a stretch (though there’s certainly nothing wrong with his drive to be great). The thought that he could one day be a Hall of Famer, though, is not anywhere close to delusional. If he can stay healthy — which, for the sake of the sport of basketball, let’s hope he does — the Hall of Fame looks downright probable. His consistent dominance and special skills suggest as much, and so do the stats. 

Our Reuben Frank found an incredible stat on Embiid. Only nine players in NBA history have had 3,500 points and 1,500 rebounds through their first 150 career games, per Basketball Reference. One of them is Embiid, and the other eight are Hall of Famers. 

• Brett Brown likes to talk about “perfecting vanilla” — sharpening the basics and avoiding overcomplication. The wins over the Bucks and Celtics are good arguments for his approach, illustrations of how the Sixers have the talent to beat elite teams without doing anything too exotic.

But perfecting vanilla doesn’t necessarily exclude incorporating subtle wrinkles. Brown told NBC Sports Philadelphia last week the Sixers are interested in more “slashing” around Embiid in the post, more off-ball movement against “blind” defensive players (see story). We’re also starting to see more pick-and-rolls between Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris. For the most part, though, the offense has a few fundamental actions that work.

You can’t say the same about the defense. 

The strategy of putting Embiid on Giannis Antetokounmpo and living with the other Bucks taking threes was ultimately effective, though Milwaukee still put up 43 points in the fourth quarter Sunday. The defensive effort in the first half against Charlotte was mediocre, and the Sixers were fortunate the Hornets missed a number of open threes late. Kyrie Irving and Terry Rozier had their way Wednesday for the first two quarters. And in Atlanta, the team’s pick-and-roll defense was not pretty — miscommunications, players getting caught on top of screens without much resistance, inconsistent help defense.

Though the Sixers’ offense appears to have the freedom to expand a little beyond the basics if they’d like, the defense doesn’t have that same luxury. 

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Sixers Talk Podcast: Brett Brown report; should players embrace being villains?

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NBC Sports Philadelphia

Sixers Talk Podcast: Brett Brown report; should players embrace being villains?

On this episode of Sixers Talk, Danny Pommells and Paul Hudrick react to the New York Daily News report saying Brett Brown has lost the locker room. How much of the report is believable?

The guys preview Game 3. Should the players embrace being villains?

Also, is it too early to regret trading Landry Shamet?

1:00 - NYDN story on Sixers dysfunction.
13:00 - Looking ahead to Game 3.
16:00 - Should Sixers embrace being villains?
21:00 - Paul's review of "Venom."
23:00 - Any regret trading Shamet?

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Sixers address report Brett Brown has 'lost' team

Sixers address report Brett Brown has 'lost' team

CAMDEN, N.J. — After dropping Game 1, a convincing Game 2 win over Brooklyn seemed to restore order for the Sixers.

Then a scathing article was published Tuesday night, saying that Brett Brown has lost his locker room.

If you want to read the whole story, you can do so. If you’d rather not, here’s a quick recap.

The story alleges that Brown lost his locker room after the Jimmy Butler trade. It talks about an incident involving Joel Embiid and former Sixer and Spur Bruce Bowen after Brown had brought Bowen in to address the team.

It also claims that GM Elton Brand approached ownership about possibly trading Ben Simmons ahead of the deadline. The biggest accusation is that Simmons missed a game in Orlando because he was partying the night before. He was listed as out with a stomach virus in the team’s loss to the Magic.

“I am aware of it. I have not read it and I won’t,” Brown said at the team’s practice facility Wednesday. “I have nothing to say about it.”

Some of the aspects have already been refuted. The alleged incident with Bowen supposedly happened in Portland, but Bowen did not address the team in Portland. It happened in San Antonio, and from the description of the Inquirer's Keith Pompey, it was much ado about nothing. The story also initially said Simmons was in Miami with his girlfriend, Kendall Jenner, but the publication already listed a correction on that, saying Simmons was actually in Orlando with no mention of Jenner.

It was also odd that it mentioned Simmons’ biggest issue with his shot is his refusal to bend his knees. If you’ve watched Simmons through his young career, you know that’s not the most glaring flaw. Simmons’ left elbow flares out on every shot, causing an odd rotation to the ball, leading to the conspiracy theory that he may be right-handed.

Simmons didn’t deny the report, but didn’t want to spend time addressing it.

“Are you talking about the regular season?” Simmons asked the reporter. “OK, no, we’re talking about playoffs, man. Unless you want to talk about something else, somewhere else, but it’s playoffs right now.”

As he walked away from his availability, he did add one more thing.

“It was me, Brett and Monty [Williams] partying.”

Sounds like a good time.

Another thing that seems odd is the timing. This story dropped two days after the team destroyed the Nets in Game 2. Who did the players credit for the team’s turnaround that led to a record-setting 51-point third quarter?

Their coach for chewing them out in the locker room at halftime.

“He expressed it. He called me out a few times where I messed up on plays and yelled at me,” Simmons said. “I love to see that side of him because it motivates me and gives me that energy. It’s great to see that side from Coach.”

Brown downplayed the impact and passed the credit on to his players.

“I think it’s one of the great myths of coaching to think that that’s what coaches do,” Brown said. “You’ve got about so many bullets a year. People that have been around NBA basketball understand that simply. It’s true. You pick and you choose your moments. It wasn’t anything, in my view, that dramatic …

“I think the thing I like most about this group is that they do let me coach them. There’s a togetherness and a locker room respect for one another that I appreciate.”

Several players — most notably the aforementioned Butler — talked about how much they enjoyed seeing that side of Brown. Evidently, it’s not a side he shows often.

But that’s a big part of why it had such an impact. The players knew their coach was not happy. Because he picks and chooses when to use his “bullets,” they have a legitimate effect. 

“Well, you want it to be authentic, too,” JJ Redick said. “That was the big difference for us, seeing that it was legitimate frustration and anger. Anybody can come in and scream and act like they’re mad, but Brett is an authentic guy. It was great to see him in that mode.”

Yeah, seems like we have a real mutiny on our hands.

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