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Sixers weekly observations: Scrambled offensive identity without Joel Embiid, turnovers and more

Sixers weekly observations: Scrambled offensive identity without Joel Embiid, turnovers and more

Sixteen games remain in the regular season and, leading into Sunday’s matchup, the Sixers are still a game behind the Pacers (see standings).

Here are a few observations from yet another week without Joel Embiid. ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne reports Embiid plans to play today against Indiana.

• Friday was not the finest night for the Sixers’ offense as the team scored under 100 points for the first time since Dec. 30 in Portland. If you want some perspective on how poor a shooting performance it was, consider this: the Sixers grabbed a season-high 22 offensive rebounds and still managed only 91 points.

Some of the problems from Friday don’t deserve close analysis. After falling behind early on the road against a rolling Rockets team, the Sixers needed something borderline-miraculous to happen. And, regardless of how well the defense plays, it’s fair to classify a 3 for 26 three-point shooting effort as an anomaly.

The bigger picture concern, in my mind, is the team’s scrambled offensive identity. Brett Brown knows that it’s smart to play through Ben Simmons in the post when he’s matched up against smaller guards; to give Jimmy Butler plenty of ball screens when he’s running the offense; to not abandon dribble handoffs with JJ Redick, even with Embiid sidelined; to create isolation opportunities for Tobias Harris. His vocal critics might feel otherwise, but Brown is not clueless.

This sensible desire to cater to his players’ strengths, however, has perhaps not always benefited the Sixers’ offense. It just doesn’t feel like there are many reliable plays or concepts that are central to what the team does.

When Embiid — the core of the Sixers’ offense — returns, you’d expect the team will reclaim more of a clear identity. The task of tailoring the team to what each player does best will become easier, but that’s certainly not to say Brown will have the luxury of sitting back and watching all the pieces mesh in perfect harmony.

• The Sixers have turned the ball over 14.9 times per game since the arrival of Harris (tied for 24th in the NBA).

Taking their history into account, that’s not terrible — the Sixers have led the league in turnovers every season since Brown took over with the exception of 2015-2016, when they had the second most.

Harris himself has never been a high-turnover player, which is helpful; Butler is another low-turnover guy. A 26-turnover night in the playoffs doesn’t seem likely this season.

But many of the Sixers’ turnovers are still highly avoidable. Simmons in particular often continues to turn it over by throwing lobs in the hope that his teammate is open, by being careless with the ball when the Sixers need him to value it, and by looking to thread through a spectacular pass when an ordinary one would suffice. 

• Believe it or not, the Sixers actually are tied for the most wins (24) and the highest winning percentage (66.7) this season in clutch situations — defined by NBA.com/stats as games within five points in the last five minutes. 

However, mistakes like Mike Scott and Butler botching their coverage of the handoff between Robin Lopez and Zach LaVine, giving LaVine a layup easier than about 98 percent of game-winners you’ll ever see, do not inspire confidence.

Playoff seeding has to be the Sixers’ highest priority, but it would sure be nice to win a couple of close ones, execute well late in games, and feel like the third iteration of this team understands and trusts each other heading into the postseason. 

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2019 NBA draft profile: Louis King has a ton of upside for the Sixers in the second round

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USA Today Images

2019 NBA draft profile: Louis King has a ton of upside for the Sixers in the second round

Position: Forward

Height: 6-8    

Weight: 195

School: Oregon

King, a forward out of Jersey City, New Jersey, bounced around three different high schools. That didn’t prevent him from being a five-star recruit and a McDonald’s All-American. King chose to attend Oregon over Kansas, among others.

King spent just one season at Eugene, but made a strong impact. He helped the Ducks win the Pac-12 Tournament and a pair of NCAA Tournament games before losing to national champion Virginia. King made the conference’s All-Freshman team and was also named to the All-Pac-12 Tournament team after posting 16.5 points and shooting 40 percent from three in four tourney games.

Strengths

You can see why King was considered one of the top 25 recruits in the country coming out of high school. He has tremendous size and length, but is also super skilled. He can really shoot the basketball, hitting 38.6 percent of his threes and 78.5 percent of his free throws in his lone season at Oregon. He’s not just a spot-up guy, either. He showed the ability to shoot off the dribble and looked pretty natural doing it. He has the size of a power forward, but has a perimeter skill set. His length and athleticism project extremely well on the defensive end at the next level. He has a chance to be the switchable defender most teams are looking for in the increasingly positionless NBA.

Weaknesses

You can also see why King will likely land in the second round. He’s under 200 pounds and while his profile defensively projects well at the next level, it’s most definitely a projection. He’s timid and you could see him getting bullied at the next level by bigger, stronger players. He’s definitely a little raw as far his decision making and shot selection. His feel for the game in general could be better. He also suffered a torn meniscus during his senior year in high school that caused him to miss the beginning of last season.

Fit

There are plenty of tools to work with here, but King is likely going to be a redshirt-type player if a decent team drafts him. Offensively, his skill set is special at his size. If he can develop his feel for the game and put on some muscle, he could turn into something special. Should the team that takes a shot at King be the Sixers? At 24, definitely not. At 33 or 34? Perhaps. At 42? It’s a no-brainer. You can add King to your roster and have him stay fresh and develop in Delaware. He’ll be coached into your system while getting to spend time around your NBA team.

“He’s really skilled,” director of scouting Vince Rozman said after the team had King in for a workout last week. “He has great size. He can handle and kind of make plays off the dribble … His shot is obviously very, very attractive and projectable. He’s here for a reason. There’s no doubt.”

King might not be the sexiest pick, but as we’ve seen from this year’s NBA champions, sometimes it’s worth taking a flyer on a projectable player that can develop in the G-League. He may not help the Sixers in the present, but could develop into a big part of their future.

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Sixers Talk Podcast: Best and worst case NBA draft scenarios

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NBC Sports Philadelphia

Sixers Talk Podcast: Best and worst case NBA draft scenarios

On this episode of Sixers Talk, Paul Hudrick and Amy Fadool react to the Raptors winning the NBA championship. Is it fair to criticize Stephen Curry's poor performance in Game 6?

A look at NBA free agency and how all the rumors impact the Sixers.

Also, what are the best and worst case scenarios for the Sixers on draft night?

1:00 - Raptors win the NBA title. Biggest takeaways.
7:00 - Fair to criticize Steph?
12:00 - A look at NBA free agency.
20:30 - Anthony Davis rumors.
25:00 - Best and worst case draft scenarios for Sixers.

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