What we've learned during Sixers' win streak

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What we've learned during Sixers' win streak

A 1-4 start threatened to rob the Sixers of some of the enthusiasm and energy surrounding the franchise entering this season. They sure turned that around quickly.

The Sixers have won five games in a row heading into a California swing that begins in Sacramento against the Kings on Thursday, and excitement levels are once again on the rise. They're two games above .500 for the first time since December 2012 and in the midst of a five-game winning streak for the first time since the 2011-12 season.

And if you ask Sixers guard JJ Redick, this team is just getting started.

"A winning streak isn't a winning streak until it hits five games, so we are in Day 1 of our winning streak," Redick said.

The Sixers will be tested on the road over the course of the next week. The team heads to Oakland to meet the defending-champion Warriors on Saturday, then moves on to LA for matchups with the Clippers on Monday and Lakers on Thursday. We'll learn a lot more about their makeup then, but here are a few thoughts on what we've discovered already.

1. The Sixers are coming together faster than expected. The first few games of the season, this team was very much a work in progress at the offensive end. Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons could create and score at will, and Robert Covington had the hot hand from Day 1. But Redick and Dario Saric were having trouble getting involved, while Amir Johnson and Jerryd Bayless were taking on outsized roles for some reason. The offense seems to be striking the right balance now. Simmons and Embiid are still the workhorses, but there have been more opportunities for Redick and Saric, and even guys like T.J. McConnell and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot off the bench. Since the ball started winding up in the right hands more often, the team's improvement has been rapid — and it happened almost overnight.

2. Simmons has been as advertised with the ball in his hands, and he's continuing to work on his shot, but what about his development at the defensive end? No surprise, the 21-year-old is quickly becoming a force to be reckoned with. The kid is already a walking double-double, averaging 10.1 rebounds per night. Simmons also has 13 steals in the Sixers' last six games, and six blocks in the last two. He's jumping in passing lanes and contesting shots, and making it look easy with his ridiculous quickness and reach.

3. There wasn't much of a reaction to the news that Embiid missed Wednesday's practice to take part in physical therapy, this after he was held out of the Sixers' game against the Jazz on Tuesday. Either that means it was fairly routine and no cause for alarm, or everybody has gone numb to the appearance of any new injuries for Embiid. There's no indication from the club he isn't expected to play on Thursday against the Kings or Saturday against the Warriors — although, as we've seen in the past, that doesn't necessarily mean anything. Regardless, expect the Sixers' leading scorer back in the lineup until alerted otherwise.

4. Saric is beginning to find himself again in the Sixers' crowded offense. After failing to eclipse nine points in the first five games, Saric has reached double digits four times during the Sixers' streak, including a season-high 25 points against the Jazz on Tuesday. And while he's playing more minutes, the differences are he's staying out of foul trouble and shooting the ball better. Saric was 3 for 14 (21.4 percent) from beyond the arc over the first five, and he's 15 for 30 (50 percent) since, which is a marked difference. It seems like a case of the 23-year-old's simply rounding into playing shape while also becoming more comfortable with his role. Whatever changed, Saric appears to be heating up.

5. You hate to say it, especially because he was clearly playing hurt, but the Sixers are clearly better off without Markelle Fultz right now. That might seem obvious based on the team's record with Fultz (1-3) compared to without (5-1), or because he was an astoundingly awful minus-123 over just 75 minutes of action. But since the No. 1 choice in the 2017 draft was sidelined indefinitely, the Sixers have averaged 112.5 points per game. When the club was forcing an injured 19-year-old onto the floor, the offense averaged 99.5. None of this is to suggest Fultz is a bust. He just needs to get healthy — otherwise, he's a weak link.

6. Covington has to cool off eventually, right? The Sixers' 3-and-D man is taking the "three" part of the equation to a whole other level this season. Covington has never shot better than 37.4 percent from beyond the arc over a full season, yet 10 games into the 2017-18 campaign, he's hitting 50 percent. Only four NBA players have made more threes — James Harden, Klay Thompson, Stephen Curry and Eric Gordon — and they've all appeared in more games and are taking more shots. Obviously, Covington is going to make half his three-point attempts over the remainder of the season. That being said, is this merely a lengthy hot streak, or is the 26-year-old still growing?

7. I'd like to see Justin Anderson get more minutes. He was great on Tuesday, connecting on 4 of 5 shots for eight points in 13 minutes against the Jazz, and he was lauded afterward by Sixers head coach Brett Brown for his defensive performance. Acquired in the Nerlens Noel trade last season, Anderson has shown 3-and-D potential. Yet he's appeared in only six games this season, averaging 12.2 minutes in those games. The Sixers are winning, so Brown isn't going to make sweeping changes to the rotation, nor should he. Anderson just feels like a talent that's worth a closer look, maybe coming off the bench to spell Covington with a tad more frequency.

Interesting new odds on LeBron James' free agency destination, next season's Rookie of the Year

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Interesting new odds on LeBron James' free agency destination, next season's Rookie of the Year

Brett Brown is "star hunting." He's not naming names, but it's clear that LeBron James is at the top of his (and everybody's) list.

Until free agency officially starts on July 1, there's going to be plenty of speculation about whether the Sixers can actually land James. Bovada's latest odds on which team James will be playing for in Game 1 of the 2018-19 season don't give the Sixers a great shot.

The Lakers are now strong favorites, at 4/13. That's presumably because Spurs star Kawhi Leonard reportedly wants out of San Antonio and would like to return to his hometown of Los Angeles, specifically with the Lakers. Though the Spurs have said they want to keep Leonard if possible and reports are they don't want to trade him to a team in the Western Conference, the Lakers would definitely be a much more enticing option for James if they managed to get Leonard. 

The Sixers have the fourth-best odds, which are listed in full below.

What team will LeBron James play for Game 1 of the 2018-2019 Season?
Los Angeles Lakers                   4/13
Cleveland Cavaliers                   13/4
Houston Rockets                      15/2
Philadelphia 76ers                     10/1
Boston Celtics                          18/1
San Antonio Spurs                    20/1
Los Angeles Clippers                25/1                                           
New York Knicks                       30/1
Miami Heat                                40/1

2018-19 Rookie of the Year Odds

This season's Rookie of the Year hasn't even been announced yet. We'll know Monday night whether Ben Simmons brings home the award. But the odds for next season's Rookie of the Year are already out, and one of the newest Sixers, first-round pick Zhaire Smith, appears on Bovada's odds.

Unsurprisingly, Smith, who has a lot of room to grow (see story), is a long shot. The No. 16 selection has 45/1 odds to win. No. 1 pick Deandre Ayton has the best odds at 13/5, followed by the Mavs' Luka Doncic and the Kings' Marvin Bagley III. Mikal Bridges has 22/1 odds, while fellow Villanova product and new Milwaukee Buck Donte DiVincenzo makes an appearance at 40/1.

The complete odds are below.

2018-2019 NBA Rookie of the Year – Odds to Win
Deandre Ayton                          13/5
Luka Doncic                              3/1
Marvin Bagley                           9/2
Trae Young                               7/1
Jaren Jackson Jr                       9/1
Mohamed Bamba                      11/1
Kevin Knox                               15/1
Michael Porter Jr                       15/1
Mikal Bridges                            22/1
Collin Sexton                            22/1
Miles Bridges                            28/1
Wendell Carter Jr                       28/1
Donte DiVincenzo                     40/1
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander          40/1
Zhaire Smith                              45/1
Lonnie Walker                           50/1
Robert Williams                         50/1

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With Bryan Colangelo saga in rearview, Sixers use draft as 1st step in repairing image

With Bryan Colangelo saga in rearview, Sixers use draft as 1st step in repairing image

Even Brett Brown had to admit just how much of a whirlwind this month has been for him.

“This has been a really different June,” he said after the 2018 NBA draft.

That’s certainly an understatement.

In a matter of weeks, Brown went from drawing up plays during the postseason to orchestrating his first draft as interim general manager. And there’s no time to take a breath with free agency barreling down the calendar on July 1.

While Brown has been tasked with running the Sixers’ front office operations for the time being (see story), he has also been put in charge of an even bigger challenge: reshaping the team’s image.

No matter your feelings on the Bryan Colangelo saga, there is no denying it was a black eye for the Sixers. One the franchise could ill afford heading into such an important summer.

So Brown set out to show that the Sixers are truly all about the player-friendly, tight-knit and development culture they have cultivated throughout “the process.” The reinforcement started with grabbing a pair of players in the draft with not only first-round talent, but first-rate character.

“When you look at sort of the values that were most important to us as we decided how to grow this team and select our players, there were none more important than just good people and character,” Brown said Friday of first-rounders Zhaire Smith and Landry Shamet. “Personally, when you would see me work the players out and then intermittently we would call people into my office, there was a connection and a comfort level that I had just talking to them as people.”

Of course talent trumps everything and Brown admitted the duo was ultimately snagged because of basketball ability above all else. However, it’s no coincidence that both players are soft-spoken and eager to grind for whatever minutes come their way on the court.

“I just want to come in here, put my work in and let it play out,” Smith said.

“At the end of the day, I just want to be a player that’s known to do whatever a coach needs me to do,” Shamet said. “Whatever the staff or my team needs me to do, that’s what I’m going to be. … Coming in and working hard and doing what I can on a day-to-day basis.”

What’s a little competition between family?

Oh, make no mistake, the Sixers see the program they’ve constructed as a family. And now that the branch of the tree that tends to talk way too much on social media is gone, Brown wants every draft pick that enters the building (and superstar that is willing to listen) to know this organization is a place you want to be.

“We’d like to welcome Zhaire’s family, we’d like to welcome Landry’s family to our home,” Brown said. “As I told these two young players, [they have] the ability to walk into this building and look up behind us and recognize the true history of this organization. To be able to look around and see the backyard that they now have and see sports science, and see a strength and conditioning program, and see an analytics department, and seeing the medical staff, and seeing the video area, and looking at our kitchen, which we kind of designed almost like a college atmosphere where we all go up as a team, as a family, an organization and spend time. This is their backyard where they’re going to get better.”

Now Brown hopes the franchise is stable enough again to add a high-profile name to the family by the time the July 4 BBQ rolls around.

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