76ers

Point guard Joel Embiid? Sixers' big man works on leading break

Point guard Joel Embiid? Sixers' big man works on leading break

CAMDEN, N.J. — Toward the end of Sixers practice Monday, Joel Embiid participated in a fast-break drill … by himself.

Embiid brought the ball up the floor in a one-on-none situation against members of the Sixers' coaching staff. 

He's already showed off his three-point shooting skills and now he’s running the break? 

“I’ve always thought I was a point guard,” Embiid joked. “So that’s something that I want to do.”

In all seriousness, Embiid worked on his ball-handling skills during his two-year rehab from foot injuries. It’s not that he wants to become an unconventional point guard, it’s that he is striving to be an all-around threat. Embiid focused on recording his first assist, as an example, during the preseason. 

“I think I’m a complete player,” he said. “I think I can do everything on the court. Doing that shows I think it can help my team, too, in other aspects.” 

With running the break comes attacking the basket in traffic. It could be an anxious moment for a coach to watch a player fresh off two years of foot injuries to drive in a crowd. Sixers head coach Brett Brown said he has to be past the feeling of holding his breath whenever he watches Embiid do so. 

“We are so responsible with how we use him and play him,” Brown said. “It’s like us with children. They go out for the night. You’re nervous, but they go out for the night. He plays basketball for a living, and so he plays. We’ve just got to keep putting him in responsible environments and monitoring his minutes.”

As a point guard, T.J. McConnell appreciates Embiid’s skills, especially given his size. 

“To the people that try to pick him up when he brings the ball up the floor, good luck,” McConnell said. “It’s pretty incredible to see.” 

Robert Covington watched Embiid practice his ball handling during his lengthy recovery. He has seen improvements and likes the dynamic it creates for the team on the break. 

“His handle is really tight and then he’s really strong with it as well,” Covington said. “We’re very comfortable with him pushing the ball.”

That being said, Brown isn’t about to anoint Embiid into a point-center role. He knows Embiid’s desire to be active all over the court, but just as he’s said he doesn’t intend for Embiid to become a go-to three-point shooter, he also wants Embiid to focus on his true position. 

“Joel likes to be a player,” Brown said. “He wants to be a guard. He wants to shoot a three. He wants to be a post player. He wants to play. And we all have seen enough to think he actually can. 

“There are times that he rebounds and leads a break, we want him being aware of get off it, get it to a point guard more than not. I don’t mind him coming down in trail if he’s got daylight, him shooting some. He’s got a wonderful touch and I’ve seen it for two years. 

“... All over the place, I want to grow him. I’m not just going to bucket him up. I still say, like I say to him, 'At the end of the day, you’re a seven-foot-two post player. Post player.'”

Watch Embiid running the floor here:

Ben Simmons not-so-subtly hinted at a Sixers trade target over the weekend

Ben Simmons not-so-subtly hinted at a Sixers trade target over the weekend

We've reached the second calendar month of the NBA's hiatus, and Sixers star Ben Simmons is still chatting basketball while streaming his Call of Duty matches on Twitch.

In March, Simmons talked about his views on the best defenders in the league - a list, I'll note, which should include Simmons himself. Over the first weekend of April, Simmons was reading the chat on his stream when he decided to choose a very... interesting comment to read aloud:

Hmm. 

I wonder why Simmons decided to read that comment, out of the hundreds he sees during a stream, and then remind us that he's just reading the comments.

At least one commenter in the chat called out "tampering!", but it's not tampering if you're just reading ideas from other people!

In reality, of course, this is just Simmons joking around with the basketball world. He knows fans (and writers) are glued to things like Twitch streams and Instagram feeds without actual basketball to talk about, so he peppered in a little wink-wink, nudge-nudge joke for us to get fired up about.

Still, it makes you wonder...

Booker would probably be a great fit on today's Sixers team. He's a two-guard who can shoot from anywhere on the floor and create his own shot at will, and he's played point guard in the past, which would help keep the offense running when Simmons checks out. Booker's defense being an afterthought isn't much a problem, considering the Sixers are loaded with great defenders.

The real problem for the Sixers would be acquiring, and affording, Booker. He's in the first year of a five-year max contract with the Suns, so waiting for his contract to end isn't viable. And his deal brings a cap hit of $27 million this year, and climbs each year, all the way up to $36 million by the last year of his contract in 2023-24, when Joel Embiid turns 30.

If the Sixers were somehow able to convince the Suns to take one of Al Horford or Tobias Harris off their hands in exchange for Booker - along with other valuable assets headed to Phoenix, of course - it might be possible to balance a payroll with minimum contract players and young, affordable talent around a core of Embiid, Simmons, and Booker.

But I can't imagine the Suns would jettison their only superstar, who is somehow still just 23 years old, unless they decide to blow it up in the next year or two. So instead we're left dreaming, and making trades in NBA 2K20, and waiting for Simmons' next dispatch.

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2020 NBA draft profile: Tre Jones is a stellar defender who could fit well on the Sixers

2020 NBA draft profile: Tre Jones is a stellar defender who could fit well on the Sixers

Tre Jones

Position: Point guard
Height: 6-foot-3
Weight: 185 pounds 
School: Duke

Looking at the 2020 NBA draft prospects, there might not be a player that has been more closely scrutinized than Tre Jones. Such is life when you’re the point guard at Duke.

A look at Jones’ two years in Durham is a study in contrasts. In his first season, he played Ringo in a Fab Four freshman class that included Zion Williamson, RJ Barrett and Cam Reddish. (Apologies to Joey Baker for not being included in that group.) Oftentimes, Jones would defer to his more prominent teammates to the point of disappearing offensively in games.

Jones was the lone member of that unit to return to school for a sophomore season. The Minnesota native emerged as the team’s leader and most complete player en route to earning ACC Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year honors. Only Shane Battier and Malcolm Brogdon have accomplished that double this century.

But how does Jones’ game translate to the NBA? Let’s examine his strengths and weaknesses:

Strengths 

Excellent defender: Jones earned that Defensive Player of the Tear award on merit. The best example of his prowess on defense came in his last college game, a 13-point win over rival North Carolina. In that contest, Jones placed the clamps on likely lottery pick Cole Anthony. The UNC star scored just 9 points on 4 of 14 shooting while adding only three assists in 39 minutes. 

You can count the number of on-ball defenders who were better than Jones in the NCAA last season on one hand. That said, the 6-foot-3 guard will have to continue to develop strength if he’s going to disrupt NBA-caliber point guards on a consistent basis.

Embraces the moment: As mentioned above, the affable Jones willingly played facilitator in his freshman season. But in his second season, Mike Krzyzewski and the Blue Devils counted on Jones to take the team’s big shots. Obviously, one could point to the game-tying buzzer beater in Duke’s other game with North Carolina last season as evidence of that. But there were countless times in 2020 when Jones read the moment and made a play when his team needed it.

Jones will not be a primary offensive option in the NBA, but his defense has the opportunity to keep him on the floor at the end of games. He won’t be afraid to take and make big shots in those instances.

Weaknesses 

Shooting: Tre is actually the second Jones to make his way through Duke in recent years. His brother Tyus, you may recall, starred for the 2015 national champions alongside Jahlil Okafor. Tyus displayed a great deal of offensive weapons in his lone season at Duke. The younger Jones is slightly more limited on the offensive side of the ball, specifically when comparing the two as shooters.

Tre shot over 42 percent from the field as a sophomore, a tick up from his freshman campaign. But where he really improved was as a three-point shooter, going from 26.2 point to 36.1 percent. Jones will need to continue to improve that part of his game, because NBA coaches are going to help off him initially and force him to hit open shots.

To his credit, Jones is a good free throw shooter (over 75 percent from the foul line in both seasons at Duke), and he gets better in that department late in games.

Ball handling:  A willing passer and good decision maker, Jones is the type of player you want to play alongside. But he’s not a point guard that can get anywhere he wants off the dribble. He’ll need screens in order to consistently get into the paint as an NBA player. 

His handle is also a little loose for a player of his size. That didn’t cost him much in college, but it will be a different story next season.

Fit 

Chances are that Jones will likely fall to the bottom part of the draft’s first round, and that might be a blessing in disguise for the 20-year old. He’ll never be the type of player that can change a franchise. But Jones has the potential to be a fit for a good team like the Sixers, initially as an eighth or ninth man. One could see Jones providing capable defense while taking some minutes as a lead ball handler when Ben Simmons needs a rest. He’d also provide the potential for giving the Sixers a ridiculous shutdown lineup of Jones, Simmons, Matisse Thybulle, Joel Embiid and any other player you’d like.

In a best-case scenario, the Duke star becomes Kyle Lowry, a tenacious defender that runs his team and does enough offensively to be a factor. But if he doesn’t become a better offensive player, he might be relegated to NBA journeyman. I’d bet Jones ends up as a solid contributor to playoff teams for the better part of the next decade.

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