76ers

Sixers weekly observations: Landry Shamet and Shake Milton might be two of 2018 NBA draft's biggest steals

Sixers weekly observations: Landry Shamet and Shake Milton might be two of 2018 NBA draft's biggest steals

The late night (and early morning) basketball is over. After the Sixers’ 2-2 West Coast road trip, the team has a couple days off before embarking on a four-game home stretch vs. the Raptors, Nuggets, Lakers and Celtics.

Let’s look at where the team stands before that stretch and before Thursday’s trade deadline:

• As far as excuses go, you can’t get much more legitimate than those the Sixers have for their two losses on the road trip. The team was without Joel Embiid, Jimmy Butler and Wilson Chandler in Denver, while Chandler and Redick were missing in Sacramento. 

The loss to the Kings was a bit more disappointing for the Sixers, even if it wasn’t shocking. 

Chandler and Redick are important players for the Sixers, but Redick’s absence doesn’t automatically mean the Sixers have to shoot 7 for 33 from three-point range, their fourth worst three-point shooting percentage of the season. 

• Under then-interim general manager Brett Brown and a collaborative leadership structure necessitated by the scandal involving Bryan Colangelo and burner Twitter accounts, the Sixers improbably might have taken two of the biggest steals of the 2018 NBA draft.

Landry Shamet, the No. 26 pick, is a tremendous shooter with maturity well beyond his years, as we’ve covered in this space many times before. “Mini JJ” has the second-most three-pointers made among rookies (97) and the best three-point percentage among rookies with at least 30 long-distance attempts (40.6 percent). He’s the only Sixer to have played in all 53 of the team’s games.

Shake Milton, the No. 54 pick, was acquired in a draft-night deal for the No. 56 (Ray Spalding) and No. 60 (Kostas Antetokounmpo) selections. In 126 NBA minutes, he has just three turnovers. Milton has a smooth shot, but he’s been a positive for the Sixers even when his jumper hasn’t fallen. A go-to scorer when he’s playing for the Blue Coats, Milton wants to carve out his own space in the NBA, and he’s done well whenever he’s had the opportunity.

• Despite 19 turnovers, a 3-for-12 shooting night from Butler, and 41 points from Stephen Curry, the Sixers beat the Warriors on Thursday. Not only did the Sixers top the best team in the world (albeit without Klay Thompson), they didn’t need to play the “perfect game” to do it. It’s an indication of how good they can be defensively when all three stars are available and everyone is committed. 

Sure, the bench could use some help, but rotations inevitably shorten in the playoffs. There aren’t many opponents who present devastating mismatches against a full-strength Sixers team.

• If general manger Elton Brand doesn’t make a move before Thursday’s trade deadline, it’s not the end of the world for the Sixers. Brand is in a difficult spot, given the team’s dearth of attractive assets other than draft picks. He could get something in exchange for Markelle Fultz, but the value of a player who hasn’t suited up in an NBA game since Nov. 19, 2018, can’t be very high. 

Regardless of whether Brand does anything before the deadline, you’d expect he’ll be active in the buyout market, and you’d think there will be a number of veterans interested in joining the Sixers. 

In the Philadelphia bubble, the Sixers might sometimes appear to be a team with grave, fundamental flaws. But to an outsider, a 34-19 team with three stars and recent wins over the Rockets, Lakers and Warriors on national television can’t look like the worst destination. 

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

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

The Sixers (7-5) will look to get back into the win column in Cleveland when they take on the Cavaliers (4-7) this afternoon.

Here are the essentials for today’s game:

When: 3 p.m. ET with Sixers Pregame Live at 2:30 p.m.
Where: Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse
Broadcast: NBC Sports Philadelphia+ 
Live stream: NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the NBC Sports MyTeams app

And here are three storylines to watch:

Time to get right

There’s no such thing as a good loss, but man, the Sixers’ losses have been particularly brutal. On Friday night, they held a nine-point lead with 7:20 to go but gave up a 12-2 run and eventually lost in overtime to the Thunder.

The Sixers have glaring issues — especially in their starting five — but Brett Brown feels like he knows what they are.

“If you're sick and you don't know why, that's a problem,” Brown said. “We are in a tough spot right now, but it's a long year. I think that it doesn't take much for me to understand where we have to get better. And it's really that simple. If you're scratching your head, sort of confused, then I think we got some problems and that's not what I'm doing. I think the guys understand the areas that matter most that can best impact changing the way things are going and get back on the winning side.”

We'll see.

Taking care of business

This Cavs team isn’t as bad as perhaps we all thought coming into this season. They start two extremely young guards in Collin Sexton and Darius Garland, but they’re still flanked by veteran bigs Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson.

Cleveland also gave the Sixers all they could handle earlier this week — especially veteran guard Jordan Clarkson (20 points). The Sixers were able to sneak out of the Wells Fargo Center with a 98-97 win. Then again, when is the last time this team played a game that wasn’t close?

While the Cavs are maybe better than anticipated, this is a team the Sixers should be able to get well against. On Tuesday, they held Cleveland scoreless for over three minutes to close out the game. They need to bring that for 48 minutes and get right with a win over a team they’re clearly more talented than. 

Sorting out the bench

Furkan Korkmaz was scorching hot for a six-game stretch. He shot 50.9 percent from three and averaged 13.8 points in mostly bench minutes. In his last three games, he’s just 4 of 16 from distance. The issue with Korkmaz is if he’s not hitting shots, he doesn’t bring much else to the table. You saw Oklahoma City pick on him in overtime after Tobias Harris fouled out.

Korkmaz has been getting the most minutes off Brown’s bench recently. Should he be? Rookie Matisse Thybulle got off to a roaring start, but has looked overmatched offensively. With that said, he’s just so special defensively, Brown should deal with the growing pains on the other end. In games Thybulle has played at least 12 minutes, the Sixers are 6-1.

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There are positive signs, but still glaring issues with Sixers

There are positive signs, but still glaring issues with Sixers

After dropping their second straight game in overtime Friday night in Oklahoma City (see observations), the Sixers at times sounded like a team looking for answers.

More of that is likely struggling to answer questions coming off another brutal loss. They have an idea why they’ve lost five of their last seven after starting their season 5-0. A large part of it is a group with a bunch of new faces that are still figuring each other out. On Friday, fouls were an issue as they allowed the Thunder to attempt 41 free throws.

For a team that has championship aspirations and got off to such a hot start, this isn’t where they expected to be 12 games into the season.

“Obviously we're frustrated,” Tobias Harris said to reporters postgame. “7-5 is not where we want to be. It's early in the season and right now we're going to progress and get better and figure out ways that we can help each other and help our team and go from there. This game is over. Tomorrow, we'll watch film on it, we'll find out which ways that we can better ourselves and be ready for the next game. [We’re] 7-5 right now but ... we'll just go into the next game and be ready to get that win and go from there.”

There are reasons for optimism — with Harris being arguably the biggest.

After missing 23 straight threes and looking lost recently, Harris splashed his first trey of the game and looked like a totally different player. He finished with 21 points on 8 of 16 from the field and 3 of 4 from three. He was much more aggressive and decisive than he’d been in the previous two games.

Josh Richardson, returning to his native Oklahoma, has continued to show signs of improvement. He poured in 28 points, his highest total as a Sixer. More importantly, he’s looked much more comfortable in the offense as he figures out his role.

Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons both had their moments. Embiid had a game-high 31 points and Simmons broke out after a quiet first half to play the entire second half.

One of the team’s biggest issues is figuring out the pairing of Embiid and Al Horford. The reality is Horford has never played with a center like Embiid who demands the ball and attention offensively. It’s been an obvious adjustment for Horford, who shot just 5 of 12 Friday and has done most of his damage with Embiid off the floor.

The uncomfortable offensive fit for the entire starting five has been a big reason the Sixers have been involved in so many close games. A familiar theme emerged Friday, as the Sixers held a nine-point advantage with 7:20 to go in the game. Instead of hitting the gas and putting the Thunder away, they gave up a 12-2 run and saw their lead evaporate.

These are talented players that have won in different places. They’re still learning how to win together.

“I was just telling Al about that,” Harris said, “and really it's just I think a matter of right now we are yet to be up like eight points and push that to 15 and really push what we're doing and move forward with that, and really imposing our will and dominating. And that's something that we have to get to and that's something I think we're still learning — how we can do that and how we can make those type of runs. That's something we definitely got to get better at.”

The good news is you see the talent and recognize some of the issues.

And Brett Brown has 70 games to figure it out.

“If you're sick and you don't know why, that's a problem,” Brown said. “We are in a tough spot right now, but it's a long year. I think that it doesn't take much for me to understand where we have to get better. And it's really that simple. If you're scratching your head, sort of confused, then I think we got some problems and that's not what I'm doing. I think the guys understand the areas that matter most that can best impact changing the way things are going and get back on the winning side.”

They know the problems, now they just have to answer the questions.

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