As ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski broke the news of Ben Simmons’ arrival in Philadelphia Monday night, his teammates were in the middle of a relatively normal part of their jobs.
The Sixers beat the Nets at Wells Fargo Center by a 115-104 score, improving to 2-1 in exhibition play. Furkan Korkmaz scored 27 points and Isaiah Joe added 20.
Seven Sixers missed Monday’s game, including Simmons, Seth Curry (rest), Tobias Harris (right knee soreness), Tyrese Maxey (left adductor tightness) and Matisse Thybulle (right shoulder soreness).
The Sixers will finish their preseason with a road game Friday night in Detroit. Here are three observations on their win over Brooklyn:
Korkmaz the PG, Embiid the conductor
Rather improbably, the Sixers’ makeshift first unit of Korkmaz, Joe, Danny Green, Georges Niang and Joel Embiid took a 24-14 lead into the first timeout.
Korkmaz played point guard, though Embiid was the hub of the offense, directing traffic, posting up often and recording eight points and three assists within the first 4:01. He passed nicely, looking comfortable and patient when facing help defense.
None of that subtlety was nearly as crowd-pleasing as a strong first-quarter Embiid drive through the heart of the paint and slam. He’s moving well and more than ready for the games to count.
Embiid’s night was done after a single 8:08 stint.
“I just didn’t like the game," Sixers head coach Doc Rivers said. “That’s it. We’re good. I thought he played great, looked great. I just thought with the way yesterday’s practice went — and guys were hitting the floor early tonight — I’m thinking, ‘I’m getting Joel off the floor.' That’s all that was."
Andre Drummond played 22 minutes at center, notching 16 points, six assists and six rebounds. Two failed backdoor pass attempts were a minor downside of his night. He’s been enthusiastic about facilitating from the top of the key and searching for cutters. The Sixers also need him to be selective.
As for Korkmaz, he did not appear to mind having the ball in his hands at all. He hit Niang for a layup on a poor Brooklyn zone possession and confidently converted a driving bucket on the Sixers' final trip of the opening quarter. And for good measure, Korkmaz made a layup at the halftime buzzer.
Korkmaz is still likely an emergency point guard option during the regular season, but he at least won’t lack self-belief if pressed into ball handling duties. Of course, Korkmaz always seems to have full faith in himself regardless of the task, a quality that serves him well when he’s hot.
Joe helps himself again
Joe found an effortless scoring groove early in the second quarter, making two long-distance jumpers and a slick runner. He’s got range, a quick release and growing offensive variety.
The second-year guard dished two first-half assists to Drummond, too. Any chemistry he can form with Drummond would obviously come in handy if Joe is part of the Sixers’ regular-season rotation. Even if every Sixer out Monday is available on opening night, it would be tough to justify excluding Joe entirely.
Joe matched up against James Harden. He took the assignment seriously, doing his best to fight through screens and hold his ground despite conceding quite a bit of weight. The 22-year-old’s defensive effort and attentiveness don’t wane.
Though Joe won’t make almost every shot he takes forever, there’s no question his stock is rising. He’s scored 15 or more points in each of the Sixers’ preseason games.
“Isaiah is someone that I really think he has a chance," Embiid said. “You’ve got someone that can handle the ball, can shoot, can defend. I think he’s going to be in this league for a long time and he’s going to be really good. That’s something I’m excited about.”
How will things be shaken up?
Brooklyn was sloppy and borderline apathetic at times, although Kevin Durant (23 points) was assessed a technical for arguing with official Ed Malloy late in the second quarter. Durant had little scoring help besides Harden, who scored 21 points.
The Sixers were superior to the Nets by a wide margin in the hustle department, coming up with most loose balls.
If Simmons ends up returning completely to the fold, how would that impact the Sixers beyond X’s and O’s with intangible areas like energy and cohesiveness? It’s an impossible, multi-faceted question, in part because there are so many ways Simmons and the Sixers could approach the situation. Every word and gesture will be constantly scrutinized regardless.
The Sixers now have nine days before their regular-season opener and Simmons continues to hover over everything.