76ers

Trey Burke, Raul Neto already throwing shots in Sixers' backup point guard tussle

Trey Burke, Raul Neto already throwing shots in Sixers' backup point guard tussle

Less than a week ago, Raul Neto gave a brief preview at the Sixers’ media day about the upcoming competition for minutes between himself and Trey Burke, the second such tussle between the two in their NBA careers. Neto won the starting point guard job over Burke to begin the 2015-16 season with the Utah Jazz.

He was great for me,” Neto said Monday. “Coming in my first time in the league and having him as a competitor at the point guard position, it was great. We competed every day. Trey’s a great guy, he’s a great player — everybody knows that. I don’t think it’s about me against him or anything like that. … We all have the same goals. 

“I want him to play well, I want him to do well, and I want to do well, too. I think we’re going to compete every day in practice and it’s going to be good for him and good for me, just like the old times in Utah. But I don’t think my mentality is to get this spot from him or from anybody else.

Saturday afternoon at the Sixers’ Blue x White Scrimmage, Neto’s eyes widened as he felt Burke’s arm hit his ribs. As he ran down the floor next to his former teammate, he threw a sly elbow back.

It wasn’t anything that would rise to the level of a technical foul in a competitive game, but it certainly was, somewhat contrary to the Brazilian guard’s characterization earlier in the week, an intense, individual battle between Neto and Burke.

“I think the competition is obvious,” Brett Brown said after the scrimmage.

Some of Burke's and Neto’s strengths and weaknesses intersect. Both had strong assist-to-turnover ratios last season (2.6 assists/1.0 turnovers for Burke, 2.5/0.9 for Neto), are capable but unexceptional three-point shooters, and among the smaller players in the NBA. Each officially measured in at under 6-foot-1 without shoes.

The two are, however, different in a fundamental sense. While Burke fits the protoype of the explosive, shifty guard — Brown called him a "waterbug" after Day 1 of training camp — and is excellent at creating his own shot and in the pick-and-roll, Neto is a traditional point guard keen on making the right play and making his teammates happy. He also seems to surprise opponents on occasion with his burst and changes of pace.

“Both very good,” Shake Milton, who has matched up against both players in practice, said Friday. “Trey's quick, Raul is a little more crafty. So, you kind of pick your poison, but they both bring something to the table. … They're both looking to create for other guys and when it opens up, they take it for themselves.”

Milton himself is part of the backup point guard conversation heading into the Sixers’ preseason opener Tuesday at Wells Fargo Center against the Guangzhou Loong Lions, a Chinese opponent. The 23-year-old played well Saturday at 76ers Fieldhouse in Wilmington, Delaware, a gym he scored plenty of points in last season in the G League. His pump fake on Joel Embiid, drive baseline and swooping reverse layup was a highlight.

With Brown having said he expects his rotation to be at 10 or 11 players in the beginning of the regular season, you’d figure Milton could get some early-season opportunities. 

As for Neto and Burke, Brown will have a close eye on their “tournament.” With Burke, the most important question might be whether he can defend at an acceptable level. Put another way, Brown’s calculus could be whether Burke's deficiencies on that end of the floor are outweighed by his abilities to score in flurries and conduct the pick-and-roll. 


(Photo courtesy of Sixers.com)

Burke, who grew up admiring Allen Iverson and won the Naismith Men’s College Player of the Year award in 2012-13 for an electric sophomore season at Michigan, is determined that defensive intensity won't be an issue.

“[Brown] challenged me from Day 1," Burke said Wednesday. "He challenged me on the defensive end, said that he was going to be on me all year about having that edge on defense. He says that I show it at times, but he wants it to be a consistent thing, something I'm conscious and aware of every time I'm on the court. It's something that I've accepted and I'm trying to get it done every time I'm out there. Kind of be that head of the snake on the defensive end."

Neto has a mature understanding of his game. He identifies as a “team-first player,” he said Saturday, and he has an advantage over Burke as a defender. Burke scored a couple of times on Neto in the scrimmage, but Neto picked him up full court, stayed with him on drives to the rim and forced difficult shots. If he wins the job, Neto will do it because of his knack for solid, rarely spectacular play. 

For now, everything is on the table.

Those two, at the moment, you know, have the opportunity to one of them put their hand up,” Brown said. “I'm also not reluctant to look at just, you know, our best players. 'How can you play your best players?' Because maybe, you know, as I've said, maybe Shake can come in there and do that. I don't really want to play Josh [Richardson] as a backup point guard or our point guard, initially. I want to try to give Trey and Raul especially a chance, and a chance they will have. 

However much Neto and Burke want to stress mutual respect and friendship — genuine words, no doubt — this is a competition, and both players will have more shots to throw before it’s decided. 

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It sounds like Brett Brown has a long-term plan without Ben Simmons in mind

It sounds like Brett Brown has a long-term plan without Ben Simmons in mind

Updated: Tuesday, 5:09 p.m.

We now have a diagnosis on Ben Simmons' injury. Simmons suffered a nerve impingement in his lower back and will be re-evaluated in two weeks, a team source confirmed Tuesday to NBC Sports Philadelphia (see story). Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium first reported the news.

Speaking before the Sixers' win Monday night over the Hawks, head coach Brett Brown was unsure how long the injury would sideline Simmons. The 23-year-old sustained the injury at practice Wednesday going up for a rebound, according to Brown, and irritated it in the first quarter of Saturday night’s game against the Bucks.

“I don’t know,” Brown said. “And it really is like how long is a piece of string — who knows? Who knows? … Whatever the time equals on days, games, period of time, we can talk more honestly as this thing shakes out.”

However, it sounded as if Brown was preparing for his two-time All-Star point guard to be out for a while. He framed the situation as one the Sixers can cope with if other players take advantage of the chance to play expanded roles.

There’s 25 games left. … It’s an eternity,” he said. “Just keep going back to the end game. What’s the bottom line? I’ll say it again — if you get their health and their spirit, it’s got a chance to equal form. … And it’s all about landing the plane. And so with 25 games left, we’ve taken a hit with Ben. 

"I do see it this way. I’m not spinning it. It’s an opportunity for us to learn and something will emerge. And we need something to emerge. It’s not like we were all saying, ‘Oh, here it is, it’s anointed.’ It wasn’t that. So, I think we’re going to learn something and find something. If this was six games out, I wouldn’t be telling you this story. When it’s 25 games out, it is, with all my heart, what I think. That’s what I said to the team, that’s what I really think and that’s what I’m going to try to pull off.

Who specifically will take over ball handling duties? Brown said it “will be done by committee” for the time being, and he named a few players who he expects to be in that mix. Monday night, the team started Shake Milton, Josh Richardson, Tobias Harris, Al Horford and Joel Embiid. 

“The candidates could be Raul Neto or [Furkan Korkmaz] or Alec Burks or J-Rich, Shake," he said. "So, you have capable people that aren’t traditional point guards but have the ability to get the ball up the floor. Then at that point, you’re probably going to have to be in something that has motion and continuity instead of just giving Chris Paul the ball and saying, ‘Go to work’ out of a pick-and-roll, as an example.”

Regardless of Brown’s attitude, the tangible impact of not having Simmons will clearly be significant. He leads the league in steals, has assisted on the most three-pointers and is a highly athletic, versatile and talented player.

The loss of all those attributes will no doubt be difficult to overcome.

“When there is a vacuum, as there is right now with Ben, something will happen,” Brown said. “Somebody will step up. I’m trying to see the world through those eyes, and I really do — it’s not even creative coach speak. I see it as an opportunity, and I think I need to see it that way.”

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Sixers injury update: Ben Simmons suffered nerve impingement in lower back

Sixers injury update: Ben Simmons suffered nerve impingement in lower back

Ben Simmons suffered a nerve impingement in his lower back and will be re-evaluated in approximately two weeks, a team source confirmed Tuesday to NBC Sports Philadelphia. Simmons will undergo daily treatment. 

Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium first reported the news. 

ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reports “there's little expectation that [Simmons would] be ready to return to lineup that soon,” and says “doctors are hopeful treatment can drive improvement, but Sixers are preparing to play without him." 

According to head coach Brett Brown, Simmons was first injured at the team’s practice last Wednesday. The 23-year-old All-Star missed the team’s first game after the All-Star break, a win Thursday over the Nets. 

“It was a play where he went up for a rebound and I looked over and he left the court, and went and got treatment,” Brown said Thursday. “And it has played out as it has played out. We don’t believe it’s anything too significant.”

Simmons sat out the Sixers’ game vs. the Nets on Thursday and played Saturday in Milwaukee. He appeared to be in discomfort after drawing a foul in the first quarter on the Bucks’ Brook Lopez. The 23-year-old stayed in the game to make 1 of 2 free throws, then exited when Matisse Thybulle committed a foul to create a stoppage of play and ensure Simmons could return to the locker room.

Ahead of the game against the Bucks, Simmons had averaged 16.9 points, 8.3 assists, 7.9 rebounds and a league-best 2.2 steals. He’d played 36.3 minutes per game, most on the Sixers and third-highest in the NBA ahead of Saturday’s games. 

Brown talked before the Sixers’ win Monday over the Hawks as if he was prepared for a long-term absence. He said the team would split up ball handling responsibilities by committee, with Shake Milton, Josh Richardson and Alec Burks among the possible candidates. Milton started on Monday. 

The 36-22 Sixers are fifth in the Eastern Conference and play the Cavaliers on Wednesday night in Cleveland. 

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