76ers

Joel Embiid still trusts the process after Sixers net No. 3 pick

Joel Embiid still trusts the process after Sixers net No. 3 pick

NEW YORK — The Sixers didn't land the first pick at the draft lottery Tuesday night, but that wouldn't stop Joel Embiid from trusting the … you guessed it. 

"I'm excited," Embiid said. "We jumped up one more spot. I wish we would have gotten the No. 1 pick and the Lakers' pick, but we're trusting the process and it's going to be exciting to see who we're going to draft."

The Sixers received the third pick via a pick swap with the Kings, who will draft fifth (see story). That swap stems from the 2015 trade involving Nik Stauskas, which the guard cleverly tweeted about after the results (see story). The Sixers had a 14.7 percent chance to land at No. 1 between their own odds (11.9 percent) and those of the Kings (2.8). 

The Celtics, who are set to take on the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference finals, have first dibs in the draft thanks to a pick swap with the Nets. The Lakers received the second pick. The Sixers would have received their 2017 selection had it fallen out of the top three. Instead, it will convey as an unprotected pick in 2018. 

Embiid got involved in friendly banter with Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson while they represented their teams on stage. 

"It was great," Embiid said. "I kept telling him, 'I'm about to get your pick.'"

After the results were announced, Embiid put on his scouting hat to project who the Sixers should take with their first-round selection.

"I think the two guards (Markelle) Fultz and Lonzo Ball are going to be one and two," Embiid said. "I like Josh Jackson a lot and Jayson Tatum. So I expect one of those guys to be at three with us."

Jackson and Tatum both are small forwards who would fill a need on the perimeter. They possess the two-way player skill set the Sixers covet. Like Embiid, Jackson played one year at Kansas. 

If Embiid had a wish list, he would address more offense and additional ball-handlers. After Fultz and Ball, De'Aaron Fox and Dennis Smith are highly-projected point guards. 

"I like Markelle Fultz a lot as a scorer," Embiid said. "I think we need someone else who can score the ball. I like him a lot. And a point guard, somebody that can run the point. T.J. (McConnell) did a great job, and that's my guy and I love him ... I think we need more depth at the point guard position. If we get the chance, that'd be exciting."

The Sixers didn't get the first pick. They ended up with one selection instead of two. They still landed ahead of their projected draft order and an opportunity to acquire a highly-touted young talent. For those reasons, yes, Embiid still trusts.

"Sometimes people don't understand the definition of the process," Embiid said. "The process is not just about getting over what we've been going through for the past three or four years. I feel like the process is going to keep on going.

"It's a process to get over that hump. Then it's a process to make the playoffs. Then it's another process to get to the conference finals and then another process to get to the Finals and win an NBA championship. 

"It applies to everything in life. We're always going to be trusting the process."

Can Elton Brand and the Sixers fix what went wrong with roster construction?

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USA Today Images/Bill Streicher

Can Elton Brand and the Sixers fix what went wrong with roster construction?

The Sixers had so many options heading into free agency last July.

We don’t know yet exactly when free agency will begin this year because of the uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus pandemic and the suspended NBA season. Whenever it does happen, though, the Sixers won’t have as many possibilities. 

The decisions to give Tobias Harris a five-year, $180 million contract and guarantee Al Horford $97 million over four years are the two clear, primary reasons the Sixers won’t be in an especially flexible position. In Year 1, those moves haven’t panned out as GM Elton Brand and the front office would have hoped.

In one major way, Horford has actually provided what the Sixers expected. As a backup center, he’s been quite good — the Sixers have a plus-5.2 net rating when Horford is on the floor and Joel Embiid is off it. He’s been much better than a hodgepodge of Amir Johnson, Boban Marjanovic, Greg Monroe and Jonah Bolden. 

However, many of the reasonable concerns that came with signing Horford have come to fruition. The Horford-Embiid pairing has the worst net rating of any two-man Sixers lineup that’s played at least 500 minutes together. If you want an idea of just how poor the offense has been when the two have shared the floor, consider this: Their 100.6 offensive rating together is almost six points worse than any of the Sixers’ two-man pairings last season (minimum 500 minutes). 

Though Brett Brown was talking about aiming to further develop Horford and Embiid together as recently as the day before the season was suspended, that combination is a problem. It’s not what the Sixers would have planned when they signed Horford, but the decision to move him out of the starting lineup in February was very sensible.

Horford has shot more three-pointers than ever in his career, but not at an efficient rate (33.7 percent, his worst mark since the 2014-15 season). We thought he’d likely decline in the later years of his contract and be costing the Sixers money at 35 or 36 years old. To put it bluntly, he’s cost the Sixers money in his first season, and has not fit well. 

Harris, in his ninth NBA season, has improved defensively, is second on the Sixers in scoring (19.4 points per game) and, after an 0-for-23 nightmare of a stretch, has shot 39.1 percent from three-point range. He’s the only Sixer to have played in every game, and younger players like Matisse Thybulle and Marial Shayok have praised his mentorship. All of that matters and is positive, but Harris has not been worth $32.7 million this season.

The main question now — outside of when basketball will return, of course — is whether the Sixers can repair their mistakes.

Is there a team out there that would be willing to take on Horford’s contract and give up any value in return? The Kings, who reportedly were expected to make a “massive offer” to Horford in free agency, are one team it would make sense to engage. Sharpshooter Buddy Hield would presumably be the name of interest.

Trading away Harris looks much less likely, although we’ve learned not to rule anything out during Brand’s brief tenure. It’s difficult to imagine the Sixers receiving a worthwhile return, and Brown and Brand have often portrayed Harris as being an emerging player. They believe he’s going to get more and more comfortable and effective as a primary scoring option.

Josh Richardson, who’s suffered a variety of injuries in his first year a Sixer, is on a team-friendly deal. He shouldn’t be untouchable, but his perimeter defense and shot creation are important for this team, and they come at a good value.

Ben Simmons and Embiid are not what’s wrong with the Sixers and should not be traded at this stage. The pieces around them are the issues. Of course, judgement of whether those are issues the Sixers can overcome is incomplete. We don’t know yet how this roster would fare in the playoffs, and Brand has insisted his team was built with the postseason in mind. 

The Sixers would currently have a first-round pick in the draft — the top-20 protected Oklahoma City Thunder pick they acquired in the Markelle Fultz trade would convey — and that’s one of the ways they should be able to improve their roster. They’ve hit on Landry Shamet, Shake Milton and Thybulle in the draft over the last couple of years. With how Brand has constructed the team, targeting a perimeter player who can shoot, capably create his own shot or do both would appear an obvious priority.

Fundamentally, nobody envisioned this NBA season unfolding the way it has. Whatever is next and whenever the offseason eventually begins, the Sixers will have to discern the best methods to address the unpleasant surprises of this season. 



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Matisse Thybulle is a much better defender in real life than in NBA2K

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Matisse Thybulle is a much better defender in real life than in NBA2K

Matisse Thybulle is known for his defense in real life. In NBA2K, that is definitely not the case.

With the NBA season suspended because of the coronavirus outbreak, Thybulle and the Suns’ Mikal Bridges played each other in 2K on Friday night and streamed the action on Twitch.

Though Thybulle gave Bridges a little bit of a scare with a big third quarter, the virtual Suns beat the virtual Sixers, 75-64. 

While the intensity obviously didn’t compare to a typical game night at Wells Fargo Center, both Thybulle and Bridges — a Villanova product and a Sixer for about 20 minutes before a draft-night trade two years ago — were very into it.

Thyulle decided to sub himself into the game after just 28 seconds, and Bridges did the same 30 seconds later. 

“Which one’s shoot again?,” he asked. “Square?” 

As his team fell behind, Thybulle had some stern words for his players.

“Al, you’re better than that,” he said when Al Horford bit on a pump fake. “You’ve been in the league too long to be making those mistakes.” 

When Ben Simmons had a floater blocked, Thybulle wasn’t thrilled. 

“Ben, you’re 7-foot,” he said. “Just dunk it.” 

And a Mike Scott lay-up early in the third wasn’t what Thybulle was hoping to see. 

At one point, he tried begging for mercy from Bridges.

“Stop running pick-and-roll, I don’t know how to guard it,” he said. “Please. Come on, man.” 

Unfortunately for Thybulle, Bridges did not stop and the rookie left with a loss, albeit an entertaining one.

“I apologize to the Sixers, to my family, my friends, the people of Philadelphia,” he said. “This is not acceptable.” 

After personally finishing with no points on 0 for 3 shooting, Thybulle promised he'll be practicing.



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