76ers

Brett Brown: Sixers need Joel Embiid to be 'crown jewel' of defense

Brett Brown: Sixers need Joel Embiid to be 'crown jewel' of defense

Joel Embiid has yet to make his NBA debut, but after two years of watching him rehab from foot injuries and develop on the court, Brett Brown has a clear picture of the big man’s role on the Sixers.

“He needs to be the crown jewel, the centerpiece to our defense,” Brown said Thursday at his annual preseason luncheon with the media.

Over the course of his rehab, Embiid has been wowing with videos of himself knocking down three-point shots and dunking. Brown, though, envisions him making an impact on the other end. He believes Embiid’s 7-foot-2, 276-pound presence is best utilized at the basket. Last season, the Sixers ranked last in the league in rebounds (41.2), opponents’ rebounds (47.6) and rebound differential (minus-6.4) per game. 

“I think he's a rim protector,” Brown said. 

Brown expects Embiid to be ready for the start of training camp on Sept. 27 and the preseason opener on Oct. 4 against the Celtics. Embiid and the Sixers have been waiting since draft night 2014 for Embiid to play his first game. Given the long recovery process, which took Embiid as far as Qatar, the Sixers are continuing to follow their carefully mapped out schedule. There will be restrictions for Embiid’s playing time, which are to be determined. 

“I think we all know that there are parameters coming,” Brown said. “We all know that less is more. We want to walk him down in a very responsible, thoughtful way, where we continue to deliver him to the court in a calculated way that doesn’t jeopardize anything with what we just spoke about — the investment that he has made, and we have made, in the past few years.”

Brown knows firsthand the value of healthy bigs. Brown, who spent over 10 years in the Spurs' system, has shared stories of his championship-winning days with David Robinson and Tim Duncan (see story). He has told Embiid about the widespread effects of a defensively-savvy presence in the paint. 

“I learned in my first year going to a team that had Duncan and Robinson behind your defense,” Brown said, “it allowed the perimeter defenders — Mario Elie and Steve Kerr and Avery Johnson-type guys, Sean Elliott — that ... you could be a little more physical. Sometimes if they beat you, you had the luxury of that behind them. So there was a bravado, there was a toughness, there was an aggressive philosophy we could put on the ball.”

From draft night to training camp, Embiid has been transforming his body to become NBA-ready. Brown also has seen changes in the 22-year-old’s personality. Two rehab processes later, Embiid has taken on a new outlook. 

“Joel’s frustration has been documented his first year with us when he was out,” Brown said. “He is a 7-foot-2, young kid, all balled up, can’t play, trying to figure it out, what does this mean, trying to be professional with rehabilitation and recovery, and sometimes frustrations got the better of him. 

“The growth of Joel Embiid as a person, then as a player, is important to me. I think that the path that has unfolded sort of organically, with the injury, the setback, and now here he is, I think we could look back and say in an inverted, twisted type way, it has provided him a layer of growth. I think he sees the world a little bit differently in relation to taking things far more seriously, professionally, etcetera. I see a more mature Joel Embiid today.”

Embiid was one of many players at the Sixers' practice facility on Thursday putting in work before training camp. Among those was fellow big Jahlil Okafor, who rolled an ankle last week. Brown expects Okafor, who has recovered from right knee surgery, to be ready for the start of camp. 

Let's just watch that sick Joel Embiid Euro step over and over

Let's just watch that sick Joel Embiid Euro step over and over

Thursday night's Sixers win in South Philadelphia had all the highs and lows of their season to date.

Brett Brown's boys came out with guns blazing, torching the Nets out of the gate and looking like the world beaters we know they can be. Then Al Horford took the court and the Sixers flipped the switch in the wrong direction -- whatever you do, don't look at the stats in this tweet. The Nets' 40-8 run in the first half was truly astounding. How does a championship contender allow that to happen?

This 76ers team is nothing if not inconsistent.

There's plenty to still worry about with this team. But Thursday night showed that Joel Embiid can absolutely dominate and takeover a game, carrying the rest of his teammates to victory. Coach Brown has talked about Embiid's ability to bully this team to victory, but it's still a pleasure to watch when it actually happens.

Embiid has been talking about having fun and we all know the cure for that problem: winning.

Which got me thinking. Is there a player in any sport in Philadelphia whose mood dictates the mood of the entire city more than Joel Embiid's? 

When Embiid blocked Wilson Chandler as the clock expired in regulation to send the game to overtime, you could feel the electric energy in the entire arena. And fans at home on their couches across the Philly area felt it too.

It felt good to see Embiid having fun, team on his back and all.

But it's the Euro step that really got the fans out of their seats. It was beautiful.

The lowkey best part about it may have been after Embiid made the bucket and was heading back on defense and he showed off the footwork again. Big dude's just having fun out there.

You love to see it.

Alec Burks stands out to Brett Brown in Sixers' bench competition with performance vs. Nets

Alec Burks stands out to Brett Brown in Sixers' bench competition with performance vs. Nets

The 12-44 Golden State Warriors have not been the most compelling viewing this season for an East Coast audience. 

Alec Burks, after scoring 19 points Thursday night in the Sixers’ 112-104 overtime win over the Nets, seemed to acknowledge that reality. 

“Just playing my game, man,” he said. “I know I played on the West Coast. I don’t know if y’all watch the West Coast, but that’s how I play. It’s just playing my game, just trying to feel it out, because it’s only my second game — I’ve only been here a couple days. Hopefully it will get better and better as the season goes on.”

Before the Sixers acquired him and Glenn Robinson III from Golden State, Burks had been averaging a career-best 15.8 points per game. His offensive contributions were timely against Brooklyn as he scored every one of his points after the Nets took a 50-30 lead. 

Brett Brown had said pregame that he wants to have a nine-man playoff rotation but that he doesn’t yet know every one of its members. 

“I think there’s a period of time, especially when you’re talking about the last two, say, spots, where it has to be competitive, and it will be,” he said.

After a bizarre game in which the Nets had a 46-10 run and the Sixers made a season-low 4 three-pointers on 22 attempts while shooting 32 of 35 at the foul line, it would have been fair for Brown to say he couldn’t pass much judgement on that competition. Instead, he identified Burks as a standout, especially in the context of the Sixers’ playing without Ben Simmons (lower back tightness) and searching for solutions at backup point guard.

We’d all have to walk out of here being pretty impressed with Alec Burks,” he said. “He provided a scoring punch. He really was a dynamic scorer. And I think the more I’m seeing him, his ability to pass out of a pick-and-roll is elite. … We’re always wondering what’s going to go on with the backup point guard when [Simmons] is healthy, and I tried [Furkan Korkmaz] a little bit there, I tried [Josh Richardson] a little bit there, Shake [Milton] came out of left field in the second half because I wasn’t entirely thrilled with how I was rotating the group and what I was seeing. 

“And so you’re wondering, might Alec have something to do with being a primary ball carrier, because he’s a really good pick-and-roll player and passer? He stood out tonight. The other guys I thought were solid, but as far as standing out, he did to me.

With the Warriors, Burks was above league average efficiency on pick-and-rolls, isolations and dribble handoffs this season, per NBA.com/Stats. He was well suited for ball handling responsibilities with the Sixers on paper, and Thursday was the first extended look at those skills on the court. Burks had sat out the Sixers’ Feb. 9 game vs. the Bulls as he adjusted to a new time zone, city and team, and he’d only played 14 minutes against the Clippers in the Sixers’ final pre-All-Star break game, scoring two points.

Brown tossed out a bunch of lineup combinations, looking for a group that could bring order to a chaotic game. Though Burks air balled an open three with 1:07 left that would have given the Sixers the lead, he was a clear inclusion for Brown in overtime. He scored five of the Sixers’ nine points in the extra session. 

“He was big for us,” Tobias Harris said. “He gives us another guy that can handle the ball and create his own shot. He has a really good mid-range jumper, he’s got great speed going downhill. He was able to make some huge plays for us, especially in the fourth quarter. We just fed off his energy tonight, and it was good to see him get going. … I think he’s going to be great for us.”

Outside of Burks, it likely wouldn’t make sense to take much away from the play of the Sixers’ bench players. Simmons was out, Raul Neto started and Brown was constantly grasping for someone or something that could have a positive impact.

Burks emerged. 

“Since we got him, I felt like that was another guy that could create his own shot — just come off the screen and pull up behind the three-point line,” Joel Embiid said after his 39-point, 16-rebound night. “And he’s not afraid to take that shot. We need that. We haven’t really had that the last couple years, so it’s a good sight to see. A great job by [general manager Elton Brand] for making it happen.”

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