Tobias Harris takes charge, fast-paced action, more from Day 2 of Sixers training camp

Tobias Harris takes charge, fast-paced action, more from Day 2 of Sixers training camp

CAMDEN, N.J. — Day 1 of Sixers training camp was a special one, or so we were told. Brett Brown and Ben Simmons both called it the best first day during their time in Philadelphia.

On Day 2, we got to see a bit of what all the hype was about, with the media let in to watch the last few minutes of the Sixers’ 5-on-5 scrimmaging.

Here are notes on what stood out from that action, and on what the Sixers had to say afterwards.

Harris takes charge

Though Tobias Harris gave a diplomatic response to the question of who will be the Sixers’ go-to guy late in games, mentioning how he’s surrounded by talented teammates and that he expects they’ll often turn to the hot hand, it seems he’s willing and able to assume that role.

“It’s something that I’ve worked very hard on,” he said, “to be able to put myself in those positions to create a shot for our team and just to get a bucket.”

He was in an aggressive mode Tuesday and exploited a favorable matchup against rookie Marial Shayok on a couple of occasions.

The methodical back down and seemingly effortless finish through contact at the end of the sequence below was that of a polished scorer.

 

The concept of having an equal opportunity offense sounds great in theory, but in practice, it can be difficult to distribute the load evenly at the end of close, physical NBA games. With Jimmy Butler out of the picture, the sense here is that Harris will be the primary option the Sixers turn to late in the fourth quarter this season, and that he’s eager for that responsibility. 

‘I’ll get you to an A’

By design, the Sixers’ scrimmaging Tuesday was fast-paced. Brown said his primary focus at the moment is conditioning, so he intentionally emphasized early offense. 

“Conditioning is most on my mind,“ he said. "I tell them, ‘You arrive to camp at a B, B-plus, I’ll get you to an A.’ I think that we have come into camp at a B, B-plus, and I’ll try to get them to an A. But conditioning rules my world.”

Joel Embiid sat out the final portion of the Sixers’ scrimmaging as part of the Sixers’ plan to keep him fresh and healthy. He participated in the rest of practice, though, and Brown is pleased with what he’s seen from Embiid beyond just the 20 pounds that evaporated from his frame over the summer. 

“Excellent,” Brown said of Embiid’s conditioning. “We have the load management, but you talk about going up and down the floor, I thought he was just fine. He was excellent. And to his credit, we all can see he’s done a lot of work to lose that amount of weight. We all can go on a diet, but to do cardio and have that base, that’s the holy grail — and he did it.”

Harris said he’d lost “four or five pounds” during the offseason and added some muscle, too. 

It’s very conceivable the Sixers will have early troubles with outside shooting, defensive communication or finding the right combinations off the bench — perhaps all of the above. But being in shape and prepared to play a bruising brand of basketball is largely within their control. Given the team’s goal of playing “smash mouth offense and bully ball defense,” with a greater emphasis on jamming opposing ball handlers and creating more turnovers, physical fitness is fundamental.

The man in charge 

Brown commanded the gym Tuesday, striding around with a critical eye and stopping play often for instruction.

He paused at one point to re-emphasize the team’s spacing principles and demonstrate with Harris the “Brazil action” he wanted to see more of from his wings — a kind of dosey doe under the rim before curling up off a pindown screen which was a trademark of the JJ Redick-Marco Belinelli duo.

Last season, assistant coaches Billy Lange and Monty Williams chimed in often at training camp. Tuesday, it was all Brown. New assistants Ime Udoka and Joseph Blair are clearly having an impact on the Sixers’ schemes, but it’s more obvious than ever that Brown is the man in charge.

Harris, about to begin his ninth NBA season and in his first training camp under Brown, reflected on what’s unique about the way Brown operates camp.

It’s a little different. It’s basketball at the end of the day. I’ve never been in other spots with this great of a team, also. Today’s game, with load management and technology, it’s a little different. Stan Van Gundy [did] two-a-days, and Scott Skiles [did] two-a-days when I came into the league. I was just telling some of the young guys, ‘Listen, we’re doing one-a-day here and when I came in it was the two-a-day type of workload.’ But like I said, it’s basketball. Coach knows everything he wants to get across in his camp for us to improve and be better. We’re really locked in and focused on that type of game plan, like we were in the playoffs. We have that type of seriousness to what we’re doing, and that’s big.

Random observation: Shortly before the media was allowed into the gym, Hall of Fame coach Herb Magee walked out. This summer, Magee told NBC Sports Philadelphia his thoughts on Simmons’ shot (see story).



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How Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons’ franchise-altering partnership has evolved

How Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons’ franchise-altering partnership has evolved

The Sixers were coming off a 10-win season. 

Joel Embiid, thought to be the franchise-altering player then-GM Sam Hinkie was pining for, missed his second straight season with a broken navicular bone.

Many questioned Hinkie’s tactics and the validity of The Process.

But then things started coming together. Not because Hinkie resigned — and definitely not because “the past GM” took over — but all the suffering the franchise and fan base had endured seemed to pay off when the Sixers drafted Ben Simmons No. 1 overall.

Though it wasn’t always the smoothest road, the partnership of Embiid and Simmons has become stronger than ever. As the pair of young superstars have grown individually, so too has their understanding of each other.

The bond they share has been built upon one thing: Winning.

We just want to win,” Simmons said. “And I know he wants to win — he's a very competitive guy and that's the same way I am. And we both show it in different ways. Our relationship continues to grow. We love being in Philadelphia, we love playing together. I think we can do something amazing here.

What they’ve already done is pretty amazing in itself.

They’ve become All-Stars and led their team to the second round of the playoffs in two straight seasons. Both runs ended in disappointment but when you think about the context, it’s almost remarkable.

With Embiid playing his first full season and Simmons as a rookie, the Sixers won 52 games and finished with the third seed. After beating the Heat in five games, expectations changed. Suddenly, people were picking the Sixers to make it to the Finals.

And with that, there was no going back. With Embiid and Simmons playing together, piling up regular season wins and All-Star appearances, the expectations will always be heightened.

Not only do both players understand it, they embrace it.

“My whole mindset is focused on winning — I've gotta win at least 60 games, and I know it's going to put me in a better situation when it comes to other things,” Embiid said. “So, that's what I'm focused on. … We've got a championship-caliber team. We've got a chance to win it, so it's all about building that team chemistry and making sure everyone stays on the same page, and I think we're going to be fine."

There’s no denying that Embiid and Simmons aren’t a perfect fit on the court. Embiid’s best work is done in the post and Simmons’ unwillingness to shoot — which, according to Simmons, is a thing of the past — hasn’t made for a great mix.

They’re also very different off it. So while they’ll likely never be best friends, there's an understanding and a mutual respect.

When Brett Brown told them last season that they needed each other, they bought in. 

We're both different,” Embiid said Tuesday at training camp. “He's a great guy, works hard — extremely hard. And then we're different, you know, I just, I'm the type of guy, you know, just like to stay home, play video games, hang out with my girlfriend or my dog. So that's what I want to do. Just get in the gym and I don't like to do anything else. But you know, when we get on the court, it's different. I know he's extremely competitive. Everybody knows that about me. And we both want to win. We see what we can accomplish in the future and it kind of pushes us harder.

Both players have faced their fair share of scrutiny. Embiid has been criticized for his fitness level while Simmons likely has the most overanalyzed jump shot in NBA history. But there's a different air about both players. Both seem to be maturing before our eyes. Perhaps that's because of the opportunity in front of them.

Embiid’s stated goal is to win a championship. He still wants to win Defensive Player of the Year and MVP, but he knows that if he’s contributing to the team’s success, those things will take care of themselves.

Every time Simmons was asked about individual goals, he mentioned that he didn’t have any. Like Embiid, he understands that the ultimate team goal will take care of everything else.

"Win a championship,” Simmons said when asked about his individual goals. “Every other individual accolade comes along with doing your job. You can't go out and say you want to win certain things unless it's going to help the team win. I know I can tell you right now, Giannis [Antetokounmpo] would rather have a championship than MVP. That's just my mentality — I'd rather win and see everybody on my team do well than an individual accolade, unless it's Defensive Player of the Year."

From a 10-win season to an unsure fit to talking about championships and competing for major awards.

This duo has already altered the franchise forever.

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Joel Embiid has a new hairstyle and Brett Brown didn't even notice

Joel Embiid has a new hairstyle and Brett Brown didn't even notice

CAMDEN, N.J. — Physically, Joel Embiid has changed. He’s lost 20 pounds and said Monday he’s more focused than ever on his body and conditioning because, “I feel like if I take care of that stuff, basketball is going to be easier.”

He came into Day 1 of training camp Tuesday with another noticeable physical change — his hairstyle.

Keith Pompey of The Inquirer got a good shot of Embiid’s new look.

Ben Simmons was a fan of the cornrows.

“Love it,” he said. “It’s the best haircut on the team. Rob Covington used to have it.”

Brett Brown, meanwhile, paused at a question about Embiid’s hair in the midst of talking about integrating Josh Richardson and Al Horford, being impressed by Trey Burke and the “spirit of the gym” on what he said was his best opening day of training camp as the Sixers’ head coach.

“I don’t even notice,” Brown said. “I’ll tell you what I loved — I loved his physical conditioning, I loved his adamance to get to the rim. I should be scolded for not paying attention to hairstyles, but I was more impressed with his body and his mentality of trying to get deep catches. I really noticed that.”

Though Brown has said the emphasis with Embiid offensively will be deep touches in the post, the big man wrapped up practice by working on his three-point shooting, as he often does. 

Once he was finished, he strolled over to talk with a crowd of reporters, and smiled when told of Brown’s reaction to his hairstyle. 

“That’s good, because we’re focused on winning a championship,” he said. “That’s what we care about it, and I don’t think we should focus on anything else or ‘does he have a new hairline?’ It doesn’t matter.”

With Embiid, the cornrows are indeed of negligible importance compared to his physical health. He said Tuesday that, after rehabbing the left knee tendinitis that nagged him throughout the playoffs last season, he’s doing well in that respect.

“It was good,” he said of a practice which Brown described as “purposeful” and Horford praised for its intensity. “Obviously it’s going to take some time to get back into the flow of the game because of limited action during the summer. But it was good. They kind of limited me a little bit, but I felt great.”

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