Raul Neto

Sixers vs. Guangzhou Loong-Lions preseason: 3 storylines to watch and how to stream the game

Sixers vs. Guangzhou Loong-Lions preseason: 3 storylines to watch and how to stream the game

For the first time since May, the Sixers will play Tuesday night at Wells Fargo Center.

Here are the essentials for their preseason opener against the Guangzhou Loong-Lions, a Chinese Basketball Association team:

• When: 7 p.m. ET 
• Where: Wells Fargo Center 
• Broadcast: NBC Sports Philadelphia
• Live stream: NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the NBC Sports MyTeams app

And here are three storylines to watch: 

A lot of faces, new and old 

Though Brett Brown has said he expects he'll begin the regular season with a rotation of 10 or 11 players, the Sixers currently have 20 players on their roster. All 20 are healthy, and it sounds possible that every one will play Monday.

"I'm going to rotate the team and there's not a ton of method to madness, except to get people some minutes," Brown said after practice Monday. "I'll pull out of some stuff, probably halfway through the third period, and look at some bench guys. But on the weekend, it'll go back to like, let's start to get some stuff right and how we sub and play this."

Al Horford, Josh Richardson, veteran big man Kyle O'Quinn, point guards Raul Neto and Trey Burke and rookie wing Matisse Thybulle are expected to be the notable new names on display.

Competitions

The competition between Neto and Burke for the backup point guard job has already been compelling to follow, and there's no obvious leader at the moment. Shake Milton, who starred for the Delaware Blue Coats last season and earned a full NBA contract in the summer, is also part of that discussion.  

Thybulle couldn't have been much better defensively at Saturday's Blue x White Scrimmage, and he's impressed his teammates with his ball-hawk skills at practice (see story). Zhaire Smith and Furkan Korkmaz are the two other main contenders for wing minutes off the bench.

How's this going to work?

The Sixers aren't constructed like the typical NBA team in 2019. They're huge, defensively imposing and determined to play a physical style.

Training camp and Saturday's scrimmage have given us the odd hint, but the questions of whether the Sixers will have sufficient outside shooting, who will take over Jimmy Butler's role as the commander of the offense late in games and how Brown will stagger his stars' minutes are all open.

And, of course, there's Ben Simmons' jump shot. He said at media day that he will take three-pointers this season if he's open

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Trey Burke, Raul Neto already throwing shots in Sixers' backup point guard tussle

Trey Burke, Raul Neto already throwing shots in Sixers' backup point guard tussle

Less than a week ago, Raul Neto gave a brief preview at the Sixers’ media day about the upcoming competition for minutes between himself and Trey Burke, the second such tussle between the two in their NBA careers. Neto won the starting point guard job over Burke to begin the 2015-16 season with the Utah Jazz.

He was great for me,” Neto said Monday. “Coming in my first time in the league and having him as a competitor at the point guard position, it was great. We competed every day. Trey’s a great guy, he’s a great player — everybody knows that. I don’t think it’s about me against him or anything like that. … We all have the same goals. 

“I want him to play well, I want him to do well, and I want to do well, too. I think we’re going to compete every day in practice and it’s going to be good for him and good for me, just like the old times in Utah. But I don’t think my mentality is to get this spot from him or from anybody else.

Saturday afternoon at the Sixers’ Blue x White Scrimmage, Neto’s eyes widened as he felt Burke’s arm hit his ribs. As he ran down the floor next to his former teammate, he threw a sly elbow back.

It wasn’t anything that would rise to the level of a technical foul in a competitive game, but it certainly was, somewhat contrary to the Brazilian guard’s characterization earlier in the week, an intense, individual battle between Neto and Burke.

“I think the competition is obvious,” Brett Brown said after the scrimmage.

Some of Burke's and Neto’s strengths and weaknesses intersect. Both had strong assist-to-turnover ratios last season (2.6 assists/1.0 turnovers for Burke, 2.5/0.9 for Neto), are capable but unexceptional three-point shooters, and among the smaller players in the NBA. Each officially measured in at under 6-foot-1 without shoes.

The two are, however, different in a fundamental sense. While Burke fits the protoype of the explosive, shifty guard — Brown called him a "waterbug" after Day 1 of training camp — and is excellent at creating his own shot and in the pick-and-roll, Neto is a traditional point guard keen on making the right play and making his teammates happy. He also seems to surprise opponents on occasion with his burst and changes of pace.

“Both very good,” Shake Milton, who has matched up against both players in practice, said Friday. “Trey's quick, Raul is a little more crafty. So, you kind of pick your poison, but they both bring something to the table. … They're both looking to create for other guys and when it opens up, they take it for themselves.”

Milton himself is part of the backup point guard conversation heading into the Sixers’ preseason opener Tuesday at Wells Fargo Center against the Guangzhou Loong Lions, a Chinese opponent. The 23-year-old played well Saturday at 76ers Fieldhouse in Wilmington, Delaware, a gym he scored plenty of points in last season in the G League. His pump fake on Joel Embiid, drive baseline and swooping reverse layup was a highlight.

With Brown having said he expects his rotation to be at 10 or 11 players in the beginning of the regular season, you’d figure Milton could get some early-season opportunities. 

As for Neto and Burke, Brown will have a close eye on their “tournament.” With Burke, the most important question might be whether he can defend at an acceptable level. Put another way, Brown’s calculus could be whether Burke's deficiencies on that end of the floor are outweighed by his abilities to score in flurries and conduct the pick-and-roll. 


(Photo courtesy of Sixers.com)

Burke, who grew up admiring Allen Iverson and won the Naismith Men’s College Player of the Year award in 2012-13 for an electric sophomore season at Michigan, is determined that defensive intensity won't be an issue.

“[Brown] challenged me from Day 1," Burke said Wednesday. "He challenged me on the defensive end, said that he was going to be on me all year about having that edge on defense. He says that I show it at times, but he wants it to be a consistent thing, something I'm conscious and aware of every time I'm on the court. It's something that I've accepted and I'm trying to get it done every time I'm out there. Kind of be that head of the snake on the defensive end."

Neto has a mature understanding of his game. He identifies as a “team-first player,” he said Saturday, and he has an advantage over Burke as a defender. Burke scored a couple of times on Neto in the scrimmage, but Neto picked him up full court, stayed with him on drives to the rim and forced difficult shots. If he wins the job, Neto will do it because of his knack for solid, rarely spectacular play. 

For now, everything is on the table.

Those two, at the moment, you know, have the opportunity to one of them put their hand up,” Brown said. “I'm also not reluctant to look at just, you know, our best players. 'How can you play your best players?' Because maybe, you know, as I've said, maybe Shake can come in there and do that. I don't really want to play Josh [Richardson] as a backup point guard or our point guard, initially. I want to try to give Trey and Raul especially a chance, and a chance they will have. 

However much Neto and Burke want to stress mutual respect and friendship — genuine words, no doubt — this is a competition, and both players will have more shots to throw before it’s decided. 

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Ben Simmons raves about Day 1, backup PG stands out, more from Sixers training camp

Ben Simmons raves about Day 1, backup PG stands out, more from Sixers training camp

CAMDEN, N.J. — After a summer of remembering the pain of how last season ended and a flurry of roster moves, the Sixers returned to their practice facility for Day 1 of training camp.

Several players described the intensity of Tuesday’s practice and the business-like atmosphere that permeated the gym. 

Here are a few notes from Day 1.

A New Hope

For years, the story about the Sixers hasn’t been about actual basketball heading into camp.

With such lofty goals heading into the 2019-20 season, the vibe was much different on Tuesday.

“This is the best first practice I've been a part of since I've been a Sixer. For sure,” Ben Simmons said.

Why?

“Energy. Went straight to it. We know what we want to do, we know what we're here to accomplish and everybody has that mindset, so we need to stay that way.”

Brett Brown and Joel Embiid shared that sentiment. 

“I would agree that since I have been in Philadelphia, this was the most purposeful, cutting to the chase, getting to the point, really sort of recognizing what we think we have to do to win on a regular basis,” Brown said. “I think declaring kind of who we are, what we want to be, the lofty goals that we all have — today's session was excellent.”

Brown mentioned that he was impressed with some of the early chemistry Embiid was building with Al Horford as the two bigs adjust to each other. He also talked about the two-man game between Embiid and Josh Richardson.

The dribble hand-off with JJ Redick was such a huge part of the Sixers’ offense the last two seasons. Brown is now implementing that with Richardson. Richardson is not the shooter Redick is, but he is much more athletic and dynamic with the ball in his hands.

While Embiid will miss Redick and the chemistry they developed, he’s looking forward seeing what Richardson can do.

“It’s different, but Josh brings something different,” Embiid said. “Obviously JJ with the crazy shots and off-balance threes and all that stuff, but we’ve got Josh, who’s more athletic than JJ, especially when it comes to back cutting, throwing lobs and him just turning the corner and attacking the defender. I think in that sense, he can do that better than JJ.”

‘Draw a line in the sand’

One of the more intriguing battles as camp goes on will be for the backup point guard role.

There are really two candidates in veterans Trey Burke and Raul Neto. Brown was pretty straightforward with what he’s looking for in Simmons’ backup.

“I think they got to sort of draw a line in the sand and find separation,” Brown said. “And usually that comes from defense and making shots. You know, I can do the leadership thing, and that is true, I can do the push the pace thing, and that is true. But what most stands out to me is coming in and making shots, and just guarding — really having the ability to be a difference maker with not a huge sum of minutes, not a huge opportunity to play. And that's always a difficult thing.”

Burke had not one, but two teammates bring up his play unprompted on Tuesday. What could help a guy like Burke “find separation” is the ability to create his own shot. It’s not a skill a ton of the other Sixers have. He’s also become a much-improved three-point shooter.

His ability to go get his own bucket was apparently evident Tuesday.

“I was really impressed with a guy like Trey Burke that came in with a lot of energy,” Horford said, “really scoring the ball at will, just being very active.”

“Trey Burke played amazing today,” Simmons said. “In a few of the games he was killing it. So he really stepped up.” 

Impressing two-fifths of the star-studded starting five isn’t a bad way to start camp.

The two youths

The other competition seems to be between first-rounders Matisse Thybulle and Zhaire Smith for backup wing minutes.

Both players have incredible potential defensively and have some work to do on offense. On the first day, both young guys stood out, but there’s only so many minutes to go around.

“Those kids, I tell you what, there's a bounce,” Brown said. “They know what I know. I can't play everybody. They're both coming out to put their hand up and say, 'Look at me,' and they did today. That is for sure the quickest way where you're going to get my attention is just sitting down and defending — and they really can do that. … It's not like you had to pound it down their throat. I thought those two defensively were pretty special today.”

Both players are participating in their first NBA training camp — Thybulle as a rookie and Smith after breaking his foot before camp began last season.

A big thing for a young player is self-awareness. Thybulle seems to have that in spades.

“I think my role is pretty simple, just where and when I'll be able to step into it is just kind of what's unknown right now,” Thybulle said. “But just the 3-and-D, just knowing that I'm going out there to stop guys from scoring and then also just being able to space the floor and hit threes.”

Thybulle was the last player to leave the floor today. He was still jacking up threes as the assembled media were heading out.

Random observation: Brown said last week that he will no longer be giving medical updates. On the first day of camp, he was a man of his word — and he expressed his happiness about it. A member of the Sixers’ communication staff gave the update. Another plus for Brown is that it was just one player: Two-way big Norvel Pelle was dealing with left ankle soreness.

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