76ers

Sixers head coach Brett Brown has reason to smile with legitimate NBA roster

Sixers head coach Brett Brown has reason to smile with legitimate NBA roster

Brett Brown seems to have an extra hop in his step lately.

The Sixers' head coach has always been cordial, but this offseason he's looked even more bubbly.

What seems to be the most logical reason for Brown's jovialness is the fact that the Sixers actually look like an NBA basketball team for the first time in his tenure.

There are those that knock The Process. That's hard for this reporter to do considering it landed you Nerlens Noel, Joel Embiid, Dario Saric, Jahlil Okafor, Ben Simmons, and the Lakers' top-three protected pick in 2017 (unprotected in 2018). And don't forget Sam Hinkie's fleecing of Vlade Divac and the Kings which netted the team Nik Stauskas (who struggled in 2015-16, but was a lottery pick), a 2019 unprotected first-round pick, and the right to swap first-round picks with a fledgling franchise.

With that said, The Process also brought with it many, many losses. A total of 199 in three seasons to be exact. That kind of perpetual failure can take a toll on people — most notably the fans, the players and the head coach. Brown still soldiered on, forcing a grin and preaching development and patience.

The first fruit of Brown's torment is the arrival of Simmons. After a 10-72 season, the Sixers finally obtained the No. 1 overall pick and the right to draft Simmons. With what we've seen from him at LSU and the highlight-reel passes he's doled out during summer league games, we know Simmons has the potential to be an elite facilitator. Do you know what an elite facilitator will attract in free agency? Elite scorers. 

Then again, there could be elite scoring found from within the organization. Okafor — if he's still a Sixer come Oct. 21 — could be an intriguing complement to Simmons. If you've watched the summer league games, you've seen Richaun Holmes reap the benefits of Simmons' ability to penetrate and dish. Okafor has excellent hands, feet and an overall feel for the game offensively. It'll be intriguing to see if they develop chemistry before the season starts. 

It would also be interesting to see Simmons and Noel in pick-and-roll situations, with Noel being on the receiving end of a perfectly placed lob or two. The tandem could make a tough defensive combo as well. We can't sleep on Embiid, either. His health is certainly a concern, but you can see flashes of what made people believe he should've been the No. 1 pick back in 2014. 

Then there's Saric, the Sixers' second lottery pick in 2014. It's hard to know exactly what to expect from the 6-foot-10 Croatian, but if his international game is any indication, we're in for a treat. The two-time FIBA European Young Player of the Year recently won the MVP of the Olympic qualifying tournament last weekend. He has the skill to play minutes as a point forward but also has the grit to mix it up and hit the boards. 

There's a logjam in the frontcourt. It's no secret. Brown will be able to use a lineup at times that features Saric and Simmons. It won't be ideal to do that for 40 minutes a game defensively, but it'll be a fun dynamic. You have to figure a trade is looming. If not before the season then sometime before the trade deadline. Bryan Colangelo won't make a deal just to unload a young, talented big man. He'll have to receive value in return.

With the Sixers using so many early draft picks on bigs, the backcourt became an afterthought. If there is a knock on Hinkie's tenure it's bringing in guys like Isaiah Canaan and Kendall Marshall and expecting them to produce. The lack of depth at guard certainly didn't help the development of the team's young big men.

Colangelo has already made sure such a thing won't happen this season. He's brought in three solid veterans to help the cause. Veteran combo guard Jerryd Bayless will bring winning experience and shooting. Spanish point guard Sergio Rodriguez's first NBA stint wasn't successful, but he became a star overseas, capturing a Euroleague MVP award in 2014 and a league championship in 2015. Gerald Henderson will provide solid defense on the wing and also has the ability to score.

For the last couple seasons, guys like Robert Covington, T.J. McConnell, Jerami Grant, Hollis Thompson and Stauskas have been forced to play big minutes. And at times, it was tough to watch. Now, they'll have competition and will able to assume more of a defined role in Brown's rotation.

So when you see Brown conducting interviews, talking glowingly about his young stars and new veterans, you'll see him smile. And in 2016-17, that smile won't be forced.

Sixers know Blazers 'beat our a--' but team needs to move on quickly

Sixers know Blazers 'beat our a--' but team needs to move on quickly

Well, that wasn’t pretty.

Without Joel Embiid, the Sixers were beat up on the boards, 53-33, with 19 of those 53 coming on the offensive glass. They were yet again exposed defensively in the pick-and-roll, allowing a 41-point third quarter. 

It all added up to a 130-115 beatdown by the Blazers at the Wells Fargo Center Saturday afternoon (see observations).

Missing the league’s third-leading rebounder against the league’s second-best rebounding team isn’t ideal, but the Sixers weren’t prepared to use that excuse.

“I think as a team collectively we just didn’t rebound good enough against a team like this,” Ben Simmons said. “It’s a group effort, rebounding, and I think just all of us combined, I don’t think we did enough. Obviously we didn’t do enough.”

The shame of such a dreadful effort is that it took away from one of the best performances of Simmons’ young NBA career. The All-Star made a concerted effort to attack the basket early, posting up on some of Portland’s smaller defenders.

The results were impressive: a season-high 29 points on 11 of 17 shooting, 10 assists and seven rebounds. And those numbers weren’t hollow in the sense that he was excellent from the opening tip. 

Tobias Harris (20 points) and Jimmy Butler (15 points) were also solid. It was the play of the supporting cast that hurt.

JJ Redick made just one field goal on 10 shots. The seven-point performance ended his career-high 64-game double-figure point streak.

After a fantastic game against Miami on Thursday, Boban Marjanovic was exposed mightily against the Blazers. Portland was able to pick on Marjanovic in pick-and-rolls with All-Star guard Damian Lillard and center Jusuf Nurkic. 

Whether it was Marjanovic, Amir Johnson — who oddly supplanted Jonah Bolden in the second half — or Mike Scott when the Sixers went small, it didn’t matter. Nurkic and new backup center Enes Kanter killed the Sixers, combining for 40 points and 18 rebounds.

Despite a significant offensive rebounding gap, the Sixers found themselves down by just three at halftime. Then they allowed the Blazers to shoot 63 percent in a 41-point third period.

Embiid’s absence hurts, but the Sixers had enough talent on the floor to not turn in such a poor defensive effort.

 “Clearly we miss Joel,” Harris said. “There’s no getting around that. He’s a big piece to our team, but we don’t have him right now and we have to be able to get efforts from everybody else on the team.”

In two games against Portland without Embiid, the Sixers have lost by a combined 49 points. 

What can the Sixers take away from a drubbing by the Blazers without Embiid? Not much. They're neck-and-neck with the Celtics and just behind the Pacers for the third seed in the East. 

The only thing they can really do is move on to the Pelicans — who may or may not have All-NBA big Anthony Davis in the lineup — in a road matchup on Monday night. Their focus should be there, not on Portland.

“Learn and get better from it,” Butler said. “Put it behind us. What else can you do? They beat our a-- twice.”

Butler, who was as somber as we’ve seen after a loss, was asked why this lost seemed to sting so much.

“Because they beat our a-- twice. Easily, too.”

On to New Orleans.

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Blazers 130, Sixers 115: Without Joel Embiid, Sixers beat up on glass, scoreboard

Blazers 130, Sixers 115: Without Joel Embiid, Sixers beat up on glass, scoreboard

BOX SCORE

Joel Embiid's absence was certainly felt on Saturday.

Without the All-Star center, the Sixers were beat up on the glass and on the scoreboard in a 130-115 loss to the Blazers in a matinee at the Wells Fargo Center.

This one wasn't pretty. The sold out crowd started clearing their seats with a little over five minutes left in the third.

The loss drops the Sixers to 24-8 at home and 38-22 overall.

Here are observations from the loss.

• Defense — especially from a communication standpoint with new pieces — continues to be an issue at times, but in the first half, the Sixers were solid in this one, holding Portland to 41 percent shooting. In the second half, Blazers coach Terry Stotts exposed more mismatches and the Sixers didn't have answers, letting Portland shoot 63 percent in a 41-point third quarter.

• What hurt most in the first half was the Blazers hitting the offensive glass. Portland grabbed an incredible 14 offensive rebounds before halftime. Overall, the Blazers outrebounded the Sixers, 53-33. Boban Marjanovic seems to struggle in controlling rebounds. What also hurt was when Marjanovic got in pick-and-roll situations with Damian Lillard and Jusuf Nurkic. On those plays, Marjanovic is scrambling defensively, which hurts him on the boards.

• In general, Nurkic gave Marjanovic a hard time. Brett Brown actually went to Amir Johnson, fresh off his stint with the Delaware Blue Coats on Friday night, early in the third quarter to try to mitigate some of the defensive issues … it did not help. Brown also tried tried to go small, going with Mike Scott at the five, also with poor results. It was odd that Brown didn't go back to Jonah Bolden, who was solid defensively in the first half.

Nurkic went for 24 points and 10 rebounds and new backup Enes Kanter went for 16 points and eight rebounds.

• Things normally go well for Ben Simmons when he’s aggressive and looking for his shot early. He did so in this one and picked up where he left off against the Heat, where he punished them in the post.

He attacked Portland’s smaller guards early and often and it seemed to help him get into the flow of the game.

He also took another mid-range jumper from the left wing that was in and out. It looked like he thought about pulling up from three, but took a couple dribbles in and pulled up. In that situation, he’s probably better off taking the three and looking to get the extra point on a low-percentage shot.

Despite the loss, Simmons was good in this one, finishing with 29 points (11 of 17), 10 assists and seven rebounds. It's a shame one of his better NBA performances was wasted in a blowout.

• During the All-Star break, Simmons referred to Tobias Harris as a “silent assassin" while on ESPN’s The Jump. It’s such a perfect way to put it. There’s nothing flashy to Harris’ game, he’s just really, really good.

As much as having an experienced backup five like Boban Marjanovic can help mitigate the absence of Embiid — obviously not on Saturday — it’s even more crucial that the Sixers have another elite scorer like Harris. He’s stepped up with the All-Star center out the last two games. It wasn't enough, but he was also big, recording 20 points (8 of 14, 3 of 7 from three) and eight rebounds.

• Jimmy Butler’s aggressiveness offensively is certainly a good sign for the Sixers. He scored the first two buckets of the game for the Sixers and looked to get to the basket frequently.

The amount of body control he has in the air is insane. On one play, T.J. McConnell attempted an alley-oop but the pass was a little too high for Butler to finish. Butler was able to gather it, come down with it, dribble from underneath the basket and get an easy basket on the other side of the rim.

Butler had 15 points (5 of 9). The Sixers' three stars were all good in this one. Everyone else ... not so much.

• JJ Redick went to the All-Star break playing some of his best basketball, shooting 48 percent from three over the 11 games prior to the break. In his first two after the break, he's really struggled. He was just 4 for 12 (3 of 10 from three) on Thursday vs. Miami. Those struggles continued Saturday as Redick scored just seven points on 1 of 10 (1 of 5 from three).

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