76ers

Wilson Chandler, Nemanja Bjelica improve Sixers' bench heading into season

Wilson Chandler, Nemanja Bjelica improve Sixers' bench heading into season

Heading into last season, the Sixers’ bench had more questions than answers.

On opening night, the Sixers rolled out Amir Johnson (-7), Dario Saric (-9), T.J. McConnell (-14), Markelle Fultz (-18) and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot (-19) in a 120-115 loss to the Wizards.

As the season went on, Johnson and McConnell were solid contributors, Saric struggled off the bench but flourished as a starter, Luwawu-Cabarrot struggled with injuries and inconsistency, and we all know about Fultz.

It wasn’t until the Sixers signed Marco Belinelli and Ersan Ilyasova — both bought out by the Hawks — that the bench finally found its stride. Both players averaged over 10 points a game and shot over 36 percent from three during their stint with the team. 

Not wanting to get caught in the same spot of banking on buyout candidates after the trade deadline, Brett Brown fortified his bench heading into the 2018-19 season. In trading for Nuggets combo forward Wilson Chandler and reportedly signing Wolves stretch four Nemanja Bjelica, the Sixers have not only replaced Belinelli and Ilyasova, but they may have actually improved upon them.

Nobody can question the boost Belinelli and Ilyasova gave the Sixers in helping them win 16 straight games to close out the season and beat the Heat in five games. But during the series loss to the Celtics, both players were exposed. Brad Stevens attacked both players on the defensive end, eventually leading to Brown sitting Belinelli in favor of Justin Anderson.

That shouldn’t be the case with Chandler and Bjelica. There is no doubt Belinelli is a better shooter than Chandler, but Chandler brings more to the table. He has the ability to play the three or the four. He’s a decent shooter (36 percent from three last season) and can create off the dribble. He’s a much more athletic and versatile defender as well. He’s also grown accustomed to playing with ball-dominant players in Denver, which should help his transition into the lineup and should make his shot selection better than the trigger-happy Belinelli.

Based on raw numbers, you could certainly make the case Ilyasova is the better player than Bjelica, but Bjelica fits in much better with the Sixers. He’s more athletic, quicker and a much better passer than Ilyasova. That should serve the Sixers well on both ends of the floor. On defense, the Sixers switch on everything so you have to be able to guard multiple positions. In Brown’s pace-and-space offense, shooters are a must and you have to move the ball quickly and effectively. He also does well attacking closeouts and taking the ball to the basket — though it's not his strength.

Another added plus: Chandler and Bjelica are here for one year. Belinelli and Ilyasova both received multi-year deals with their new (old) teams. That gives the Sixers more financial flexibility headed into the 2019 offseason and its loaded free-agent class.

You can be disappointed that the Sixers’ star hunting came up empty — for now — but you have to acknowledge that Brett Brown and company have already built a better bench.

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To DNP-rest, or not to DNP-rest: That is the question facing Joel Embiid

To DNP-rest, or not to DNP-rest: That is the question facing Joel Embiid

It’s certainly not going out on a limb to say the Sixers’ success depends on the health and fitness level of Joel Embiid.

When he’s on the floor, he’s one of, if not the best center in the NBA. The issue for the Sixers is when he’s not on the floor — which happens more often than they’d like. The series against the Raptors was the most prime example. Embiid was a plus-89 in a series the team lost in seven games. Greg Monroe was a minus-9 in two (2!) minutes in Game 7. Yuck.

By now we all know about Embiid’s injury history. His knee tendinitis and illnesses dominated the headlines during the Sixers’ postseason run. The tendinitis could be attributed to Embiid playing 54 of the first 58 games of the season. Some have made the connection of Embiid's illnesses to a poor diet. Whatever the case, both mired Embiid's effectiveness.

There is good news: Embiid knows things need to get better. He knows he needs to be in better physical shape. He knows the Sixers will only have a long playoff run if he’s the best and healthiest version of himself. 

He also knows how he can accomplish that.

Looking at the way Toronto managed Kawhi [Leonard] all season … when you start thinking about back-to-backs and stuff like that, having a good team around you helps,” Embiid said during exit interviews. “Most of the time I kind of feel bad because I feel like I let everybody down by not playing or sitting out. If you see that and you know guys are going to take over and get the win — we have the talent to do so. I guess it’s an easy decision for me. I think as long as we got it all covered and we have an opportunity to win games without me, I’m open to it. … Just gotta keep working on my body. It’s only going to get better.

He has been looking rather svelte in his Instagram posts and shouldn’t have to feel bad about sitting out with the talent that’s been brought in.

Elton Brand was aggressive in signing veteran Al Horford. Horford will play with Embiid in the starting lineup at the four, but will also be the team’s primary backup center. There may not be a better backup five in the entire league. Horford’s abilities on both ends of the floor will soften the blow of having Embiid on the bench.

And let’s not forget about Kyle O’Quinn. The veteran big is solid defensively and would’ve served as a better option than any backup big Brett Brown went to against the Raptors. He’s a strong insurance policy as the team’s third-string center.

It also helps that the schedule makers were kind to the Sixers — and it doesn’t seem like it was an accident. The Sixers have no nationally televised games on the second half of back-to-backs, something our NBC Sports National NBA Insider Tom Haberstroh pointed out as a guest on the Sixers Talk podcast last week. Clearly, those networks don't want to get burned if Embiid decides to rest.

Haberstroh actually wrote a piece about the very topic of the DNP-rest epidemic, discussing a company called Fansure. Fansure should appeal to Sixers fans as “an analytical start-up company that helps protect fans by offering reimbursement plans for tickets to games in which star player(s) sit out due to either rest or a last-minute injury.” (Then maybe angry fans will be less likely to be in reporter’s mentions … probably not.)

It’s also fair to wonder if medical personnel decisions will have any effect on all this with Embiid.

It’ll be interesting to see how the Philadelphia 76ers handle Embiid’s rest regimen," Haberstroh writes. "The team signed big man Al Horford to start next to him and potentially start at center in Embiid’s place if he needs a night off. Those decisions will come down to Embiid and new members of the medical staff after the team parted ways with two major voices — vice president of athlete care Dr. Danny Medina and director of performance research and development Dr. David Martin.

It’s tough to know the significance of Medina and Martin no longer being with the Sixers. The team has already begun filling in roles in the athlete care department. They’ve hired Lorena Torres-Ronda, formerly of the Spurs, as performance director. Expect more new names to be announced this week, per a team source.

While breathing new life into the athlete care department could help, it ultimately comes down to Embiid. 

Is he ready to listen to the advice of those around him and do what’s best for himself and the team? Will he feel comfortable letting his teammates try to win in back-to-back situations without him?

Guess we’ll find out starting Nov. 13, the second game of a back-to-back in Orlando.

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Sixers' Josh Richardson has a unique defensive challenge ahead

Sixers' Josh Richardson has a unique defensive challenge ahead

There are plenty of new things in store for Josh Richardson as one of the newest members of the 76ers, but there is one in particular that’s going to take some getting used to.

At 6-foot-6, 200 pounds, Richardson will be the smallest guy in the Sixers' starting lineup this upcoming season.

“I have never been that, ever in my life,” Richardson said with a laugh at the Sixers Summer Shore Tour in Wildwood, New Jersey. “It will be interesting looking up to my teammates, talking in huddles and stuff.”

On a serious note, Richardson is looking forward to the challenge on defense. Richardson guarded point guards quite a bit during his four years with the Miami Heat and has confidence he’ll be able to guard smaller guards.

“I know that I’ll be the shortest starter here and I don’t mind guarding all of the guys that like to get in the paint and use their speed a lot,” Richardson said.

One thing is for certain: Richardson is ready for the season to get started, especially after the NBA schedule release.

“I’m just excited," Richardson said. "I saw we open with Boston and I know there’s a little rivalry history there, so it’s going to be fun to be a part of that.”

And as for his former team?

“I always have Miami circled to go back there and compete against my brothers down there," Richardson said, "but I’m just ready, excited to compete every game.”

Richardson has kept in touch with Ben Simmons, Tobias Harris, Al Horford and Mike Scott throughout the offseason. He met Shake Milton for the first time, working out at the Sixers' training facility on Saturday morning.

The former Tennessee Volunteer has been getting his own work in this summer.

“Health, I think health is a big part, just being able to be out there for as many games as I can is going to be huge, and being able to make shots,” Richardson said of his offseason goals. “I think being a shot maker is going to be big for us.”

Looking back at the trade, despite there being a shock factor in the moments following, he couldn’t be more eager for this new opportunity. Richardson said his excitement occurred "almost instantly."

“After I started looking at the pictures of our lineup, it turned into straight excitement, like as soon as it happened,” Richardson said. “As long as we all gel, as long as we all have the same goal in mind, I think we’ll have a strong season.”

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