76ers

Sixers won't convert Norvel Pelle's two-way deal before deadline

Sixers won't convert Norvel Pelle's two-way deal before deadline

The Sixers are keeping Norvel Pelle around ... for now.

The team will not convert the 26-year-old center to an NBA contract, a team source tells NBC Sports Philadelphia. The Sixers are opting for flexibility ahead of the Feb. 6 trade deadline. If the team were to create space for Pelle by waiving a player on a minimum deal, Pelle's full NBA contract could complicate the salary cap situation in a possible trade.

With the 45 NBA days Pelle was allowed to spend under his two-way deal nearly up and Jan. 15 marking the final day players can sign two-way contracts, there appeared to be some urgency to make a decision. Instead, the team will be mindful of the remaining days on his deal. He's expected to be in the lineup Wednesday night. 

The team is still open to converting Pelle's deal. If they choose to do so after the deadline, they can't sign another two-way player unless a player on a two-way deal with another team is waived. They could also trade for a player on a two-way contract.

Pelle, a G League First Team All-Defense selection last season with the Delaware Blue Coats, has impressed with a high-energy, fearless brand of rim protection. Brett Brown has compared his skills to those of former Sixer Nerlens Noel and the Rockets’ Clint Capela. 

Look at what he can do,” Brown said Friday. “Just zoom into what is his skill set. What is his NBA skill set? And let’s start with here’s a rim protector, and then go to offense and say here’s a roller. Those two things are quite valuable. And he’s quite different to our team. Then you get into OK, who’s going to run the pick-and-roll with him? You’ve got Ben [Simmons] and [Josh Richardson] that are exceptional at doing that. You’ve got Norvel rolling behind that, you can see why we would look at him as, ‘That’s a young prospect that interests us a lot.’ I thought he was excellent tonight.

With Joel Embiid out because of a torn ligament in the ring finger of his left hand, Pelle has recently received the backup center minutes over veteran Kyle O’Quinn. In 11 NBA games, he’s averaged 2.7 points, 3.3 rebounds and 1.4 blocks.

He never played college basketball because of eligibility problems and ventured to Italy, Lebanon, Taiwan and the G League before signing his two-way deal with the Sixers in July.

“It’s just knowing that this opportunity is once in a lifetime,” Pelle told NBC Sports Philadelphia on Dec. 14 after a three-block night vs. the Pelicans. “I worked hard to get here and I can’t mess up. So, just getting the jitters out — obviously there are going to be jitters regardless, but just meditating and staying positive throughout the whole thing.”

NBC Sports Philadelphia's Paul Hudrick contributed reporting to this story.

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If Ben Simmons is sidelined for an extended period, how will Sixers adapt?

If Ben Simmons is sidelined for an extended period, how will Sixers adapt?

We don’t need to spend much time explaining how and why Ben Simmons is very valuable for the Sixers. 

The two-time All-Star leads the NBA in steals and, before irritating a lower back injury Saturday night in Milwaukee, was averaging 16.9 points, 8.3 assists and 7.9 rebounds.

Of course, the Sixers will hope the injury doesn’t keep Simmons out for long. The question of how the Sixers will manage if Simmons’ injury does sideline him for an extended period of time, however, deserves attention.

Who’d be in the starting lineup? 

Though Raul Neto started in Simmons’ place Thursday against the Nets, he didn’t play against the Bucks until the game was well out of hand.

Shake Milton handled much of the point guard duties after Simmons left and was solid, making 5 of 7 three-point shots and scoring 17 points.

Josh Richardson and Alec Burks are other ball handling options, with Brett Brown seeming to prefer Burks’ “scoring punch” off the bench.

In his second NBA season, Milton has posted 6.7 points, 1.9 rebounds and 1.5 assists per game, shooting 36.9 percent from three. The 23-year-old was on a two-way contract with the Sixers as a rookie and starred with the Delaware Blue Coats, scoring 24.9 points per game in the G League.

Who else would be impacted? 

Between Jan. 25 and Feb. 9, Milton started eight straight games for the Sixers because of Richardson’s hamstring injury. Brown didn’t play him as much as a typical starter during that stretch, giving him 25.4 minutes per game. He only exceeded 30 minutes once, when he scored a career-high 27 points on Jan. 30 in Atlanta.

Milton again would not likely be assuming full-on starters minutes. Perhaps Richardson and Burks would combine for a greater sum of backup point guard minutes than usual. If Richardson were to handle backup point guard duties, that would presumably mean Glenn Robinson III, Furkan Korkmaz and Matisse Thybulle would have more minutes to take on the wing. 

Simmons was averaging a team-high 36.3 minutes entering Saturday’s game, so there is simply a lot of playing time that would need to be allocated among multiple players. 

Where would the Sixers suffer the most? 

The defense would take a big hit. The on-off stats mysteriously indicate that the Sixers have been a better defensive team with Simmons not on the floor, but they’d clearly be losing one of the best defenders in the game. 

Along with being first in steals, Simmons has the most total deflections and the most defensive loose balls recovered. He can defend opposing stars and, in general, most point guards, wings and power forwards. The Sixers would not be able to replace that defensive versatility or overall quality.

They’d obviously gain something in terms of outside shooting but would lose a lot in other offensive areas. Simmons has assisted on more threes than any player this season.

How much would it hurt overall? 

Because Simmons has played in 214 of a possible 221 regular-season games over the last three seasons, we don’t have any meaningful track record of how the Sixers tend to fare without him.

Joel Embiid would be the focus of a Simmons-less team, and it would make sense for the offense to involve more Embiid post-ups than ever.

The most basic formula for success without Simmons would be an elite Embiid on both ends of the floor, Milton and other guards succeeding in expanded roles, and Tobias Harris and Al Horford being better across the board, especially as three-point shooters. It’s not impossible that all those pieces would come together, but it would be a lot to ask. 

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Sixers injury update: Ben Simmons to undergo further testing for back injury reaggrevated vs. Bucks

Sixers injury update: Ben Simmons to undergo further testing for back injury reaggrevated vs. Bucks

The Sixers took a beat down from the Bucks Saturday night, but that seems secondary to what else took place in Milwaukee.

Ben Simmons, who missed the first game after the All-Star break Thursday with lower back soreness, left Saturday’s game not even five minutes in and did not return. Simmons will undergo further testing in Philadelphia Sunday, per NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Serena Winters.

A report from ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski provided concerning info:

Sources described Simmons as emotional upon leaving the X-ray room at the Fiserv Forum late Saturday.

"There is some level of concern surrounding the possible nature of the injury, league sources tell ESPN.

The All-Star point guard appeared to reaggravate the injury on a drive against Brook Lopez. After a foul was called on Lopez, Simmons could be seen attempting to stretch his back out. After Simmons made 1 of 2 from the line, Matisse Thybulle fouled Khris Middleton to get a stoppage so Simmons could go back to the locker room.

At first, the ABC broadcast said the plan was for Simmons to go to the locker room to receive treatment throughout the night. A few minutes later, Simmons was ruled out for the rest of the game.

A broken foot cost Simmons a season the year he was drafted, but he’s been one of the Sixers’ most durable players since. The 23-year-old has played 214 of a possible 221 games during his three-year career.

Sitting in fifth in the Eastern Conference with 25 games remaining, the Sixers can ill afford to miss Simmons for an extended period of time.

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