76ers

Giannis Antetokounmpo a model of supersized PG success for Ben Simmons, Sixers

Giannis Antetokounmpo a model of supersized PG success for Ben Simmons, Sixers

The Sixers plan to roll out an untraditional starting lineup next season with 6-foot-10 Ben Simmons as the point guard. It will be a unique look reflective of today's changing game wherein positions are not determined by size but by skill. 

Few NBA teams have the player whose talents can transition from a four to a one. The Bucks have become the poster child for that with Giannis Antetokounmpo. 

At 6-foot-11, Antetokounmpo is averaging 23.2 points, 8.6 rebounds, 5.5 assists, 2.0 blocks and 1.7 steals over 35.3 minutes in his fourth season. He became an All-Star starter this year and has been causing matchup problems across the league. In the Bucks' 112-98 win over the Sixers on Monday (see Instant Replay)he scored a game-high 24 points with eight rebounds, five assists, three blocks, two steals and no turnovers.

The Sixers will task Simmons with point guard duties in what will be his rookie year after missing this entire season with a foot fracture. The assignment will be an adjustment for Simmons and the entire team, as it learns to gel with a rare type of floor general. 

The Bucks on Monday shared how they have made it work and serve as an example of how the Sixers can find success with a big man running the point.

How the point-forward sees it: Antetokounmpo
"I think they saw in Ben Simmons what everybody sees, the playmaking ability that he has. He can pass the ball from anywhere on the court because he's bigger than everybody, he has the length.

"I think he's going to be really good for them, having Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid running the pick-and-roll with those two. It's going to be tough to guard. Next year, they're going to be a team that's going to be fun to watch. 

"I think they need playmakers around them and shooters, too. Obviously they've got Joel Embiid that can play out of the post, he can pick-and-roll, pick-and-pop. 

"I've never seen [Simmons] in person. That's going to be what I look forward to." 

How a head coach sees it: Jason Kidd
"With Ben's skill set, his basketball IQ, his feel of making guys better, it's going to be a plus for them. Then you have a guy who's [6-10] playing the point, it can cause a lot of problems. With them looking forward to doing that, hopefully it puts them in a better position to win." 

How a veteran sees it: Jason Terry
"[The key is] understanding that it's going to be a process because it doesn't just happen overnight at that position. It's the hardest position to play in professional sports, besides quarterback in the NFL, which is kind of similar. So we've had to be patient and understand there's going to be some peaks and valleys. Over the long haul, if a player has the skill set, you'll have success.

"The challenges are if you're playing with a smaller guard that's also a ball-handler, you've got two guys in the backcourt kind of fighting for the ball. It has to be made clear he's the point guard; everybody else will run.

"The only other thing is that when you have a bigger point guard, nine times out of 10 he's going to have a mismatch. It changes the dynamic of your prototypical offense, so to speak. 

"Communication is key. A lot of times it does start with the point guard position."

How a guard sees it: Malcolm Brogdon
"Playing off of him (Antetokounmpo), it's not hard to adjust because he attracts so much attention. You wait for your opportunity and he's unselfish so he finds you. 

"It creates matchup nightmares. As an opposing team, you have to figure out who's going to guard him. That means the matchups all over the floor are going to be shifted and you're going to have to play a different way than you (the opponent) want to play.

"[Defensive matchups are] not really a problem, especially for us. We just have him guard the four man. Our smallest guy guards the point guard."

How a wing sees it: Khris Middleton
"Giannis creates a problem. I know he's always going to have two or three guys on him when he drives the ball, so just be ready and find the open spot. 

"[The key is] just keep moving, knowing he's going to make the right decision for the team and have confidence in him. 

"You can switch a lot of things with Giannis [on defense]. He can guard a five, a four, three, two or one. Giannis is able to switch out on different players."

How a big sees it: Greg Monroe
"A playmaker is a playmaker. In this league, a guy who's maybe not typically a point guard, a lot of times the best player has the ball in their hands. ... It's like LeBron (James), he has the ball a lot. 

"Defensively, even when Giannis is on the court, there's usually someone else who can guard a big. The league is going small right now, so it's a little different than a traditional two bigs.

"We might be crossmatched for a quick second but I don't think that really affects the matchups that much, as much as people think it would. Especially with a guy like Giannis."

Is Sixers' Tobias Harris an All-Star? He's making a compelling case

Is Sixers' Tobias Harris an All-Star? He's making a compelling case

Around this time last year, Tobias Harris was leading the surprising Clippers to a strong start. Harris was averaging over 20 points a game while flirting with the 50-40-90 shooting line. He was a borderline All-Star.

Fast forward a year later and the 27-year-old resembles that player more now than he ever has during his tenure as a Sixer.

Harris added another impressive performance to his recent stretch of strong play in the Sixers’ 116-109 win over the Pelicans Friday night (see observations).

It wasn’t the cleanest performance for the Sixers, but Harris’ team-high 31 points helped the Sixers stay a perfect 14-0 at the Wells Fargo Center and become the only undefeated team at home in the NBA.

Every night is an opportunity for me to go out there and do the best I can to help our team win,” Harris said. "I’d love to be an All-Star — it’s a goal of mine as a player. I felt last year I was an All-Star in the beginning of the season. It didn’t happen that way. But I think each and every night, especially with our team, we have a nice amount of talent and I want to play at my best every single night to help us win games.

It hadn’t been the smoothest transition for Harris since he arrived in a blockbuster trade from Los Angeles.

The Sixers had just traded for Jimmy Butler a couple months prior and they were still trying to figure out how to use the mercurial star alongside Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. With Harris, it was another mouth to feed and another piece to fit into the puzzle.

On paper, it looked like a master stroke by GM Elton Brand. Harris had become an elite three-point shooter and a go-to scorer for the Clippers. But the chemistry didn’t develop as quickly as they would’ve liked as Embiid missed a significant amount of time down the stretch with tendinitis in his left knee.

Over the last 16 games — and with Butler in Miami — Harris seems to have found his niche with the Sixers.

“Yeah, there’s definitely a comfort level, just being able to get familiar with guys on this team on and off the floor,” Harris said. “I think as a team, the comfort level from each and every one of the guys that’s on the floor is continuing to increase. I’m able to find ways to play with Ben in different pockets of the game, and Joel, also. There’s been a lot of things that I’ve liked. I’m going into games understanding more of what we need to do, where I’m at, where I’m going to get this play, that play, things like that.”

While the All-Star game doesn’t generally account for defense, that is likely where Harris has seen his most improvement.

In Friday night’s game, he was tasked with guarding former Sixer JJ Redick. As we saw during Redick’s time in Philly, that’s not an easy ask. Redick runs a marathon every game, navigating around screens and running dribble handoffs. Harris did a decent enough job, as Redick went 6 of 15 on the night.

Improving on the defensive end was Harris’ biggest point of emphasis this offseason. He went to Brett Brown before the season began and let him know that he wouldn’t be the weak link amongst a starting five that had elite-level defenders.

The notion of putting Harris on someone like Redick wouldn’t even have crossed his head coach’s mind last season.

“Could Tobias have done something like that last year? I didn't see him like that,” Brown said. “Maybe he could have, but I never saw him or played him like that and this year I do. And I think that it's part of your question about, 'Oh, he's having a great year,' and you go right to offense. I think he's having a hell of a year defensively.”

Harris is 13th in the conference in scoring and fourth among forwards. His 2.6 win shares are second-most among any forward in the East.

Throw in the last 16 games, where Harris has averaged 22.1 points and shot over 50 percent from the field and over 40 percent from three, and the case is making itself.

You don't need much more ammunition," Brown said. "I mean, he's been so steady and just responsible, reliable, go-to guy. I put him kind of in a bunch of different spots — middle pick-and-roll, iso, three balls, making his free throws, plays that back down pound, pound game and can jump over people, smaller people. He's having a hell of a year.

A good enough year to be in Chicago on Feb. 16 for the All-Star game?

There’s a strong case to be made.

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After unusual path, showman Norvel Pelle doesn't 'mess up' his moment

After unusual path, showman Norvel Pelle doesn't 'mess up' his moment

Norvel Pelle is not the typical NBA player.

A native of Antigua and Barbuda, Pelle was a top recruit out of high school — that part was normal. Then his path went sideways.

The wiry center never played college basketball because of eligibility issues. He traveled to Delaware, Italy, Taiwan and Lebanon before signing a one-year, two-way contract with the Sixers this summer and reaching Friday night, where Brett Brown turned to Pelle, in his third NBA regular-season game, as Joel Embiid’s main backup. 

“It’s just knowing that this opportunity is once in a lifetime,” Pelle told NBC Sports Philadelphia. “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.”

In 12 minutes, Pelle was exceptionally active. He had six points, five rebounds, three blocks and a handful of altered shots. Every time Pelle has stepped on an NBA floor, it seems he has been immediately challenged by players on a mission to embarrass him. It hasn’t always gone his way. Julius Randle slammed one in over Pelle in his NBA debut in New York and Kevin Porter Jr. dunked on Pelle last Saturday and then flexed in his face despite the Cavs trailing by more than 40 points. 

A member of the G League’s All-Defensive First Team last season, Pelle sees no shame in taking the occasional ferocious dunk to the face. He’s a showman who enjoys playing to the crowd and feeds off its energy, and he never likes to show any fear. 

“Next play,” he said of his mentality. “Next play, next play, next play. At the end of the day, I’m a shot blocker, so if I get dunked on, I get dunked on — that’s my mentality. Next play.” 

After picking up two early fouls, Pelle waited out a series of pump fakes from former Sixer Jahlil Okafor to record his first block of the night, leading to a Ben Simmons dunk. He then denied a slam attempt by Brandon Ingram, creating a fast break that concluded with a James Ennis three. 

“You know every game he's going to bring you energy,” Simmons said following the Sixers' 116-109 win over the Pelicans (see observations). “He loves blocking shots, just risking his body for those blocks and protecting the rim. I love having him as a part of this team.”

Both Simmons and Brown said Pelle reminded them of Nerlens Noel. Like Noel, Pelle’s offensive game is not too extensive — it’s mostly screening and rolling, lob catching and energy. The defensive package, though, is intriguing.

“Just wanted to see what we have in him,” Brown said. “We had a little taste in New York. I wanted to see more. And I thought he was really good. I thought he was really good. He is sort of Nerlens like to me — rim protector, shot blocker, quick off the floor. I thought he was good.”

It’s uncertain whether Pelle could eventually have a consistent role with the Sixers. The man whose job he temporarily took Friday, Kyle O’Quinn, was signed this offseason to be insurance for Embiid. Al Horford should assume the primary backup center position once he returns from the left knee soreness and left hamstring tightness that’s sidelined him the past two games. 

Pelle’s two-way contract also means he can’t be with the Sixers for more than 45 days between the start of Blue Coats training camp and the end of the G League regular season, and he’s not eligible for the NBA playoffs.

Brown didn’t attribute Pelle’s five fouls vs. the Pelicans to being “undisciplined,” but the big man would likely need to refine his game a bit if he was tasked with a regular role.

Embiid wasn’t worried about any of that. 

“I told him if he got the minutes, he would probably lead the league in blocks,” he said. “He has a chance to become a fan favorite, so he should just keep doing whatever he’s doing.”

After all the empathic dunks and dramatic poses and swatted shots in foreign gyms, Pelle had time to reflect Friday night. 

“This was more than what I expected,” he said. “I’m appreciative of everything and everybody. I’m taking it day by day, moment by moment, opportunity by opportunity and just go out there and do what I have to do.”

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