Give and Go

Give and Go: What can Brett Brown improve on for new season?

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Give and Go: What can Brett Brown improve on for new season?

Each day leading up to Sept. 21, the official start of Sixers training camp, we'll dissect the biggest storylines facing the team ahead of the 2018-19 season.

Today, Matt Haughton and Noah Levick tackle what head coach Brett Brown can improve upon for the new season.

Haughton
Brett Brown did a lot of things right in his first season with a full complement of legit NBA players. The coached pushed the right buttons last season to help the Sixers claim the No. 3 seed in the East and their first playoff series win in six years.

It’s just that it took a bit of time for Brown to find the correct buttons to put the team in gear.

If you recall, the Sixers started out 2017-18 with a starting lineup that included Jerryd Bayless with Dario Saric coming off the bench. When JJ Redick cracked a bone in his left leg, it was Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot only for him to him to disappear from the rotation later down the line. And of course there was the constant question every game of whether Richaun Holmes would see the floor or not.

It wasn’t until Marco Belinelli and Ersan Ilyasova joined the Sixers that Brown was finally able to slot every role just the way he wanted. It’s no coincidence those additions sparked the Sixers 19-3 finish to the regular season.

The better Brown is at the outset of identifying how the players mesh together and determining their roles will be key to the team getting into a rhythm much earlier.

Levick
Brown was excellent last season at accentuating his players’ strengths. He drew up creative plays to get Joel Embiid the ball in the post, made the most of JJ Redick’s ability as a screener, trusted a 6-foot-10 rookie in Ben Simmons to handle point guard duties and encouraged him to push the pace.

If the Sixers are going to take another step forward, Brown needs to be more effective at covering up his players’ weaknesses.

In the Sixers’ postseason loss to the Celtics, Brad Stevens exposed Simmons’ practically non-existent jumper, having his defense sag off the rookie. Brown countered by playing Simmons more off the ball and in the post, but Simmons still had a subpar series by his standards, finishing minus-63, the worst of any player in the series.

The Sixers’ season-long issue with blowing big leads also resurfaced against Boston in a devastating Game 2 loss in which they squandered a 22-point edge. The next day, Brown admitted having second thoughts about not calling a timeout to stop the Celtics’ second-quarter run.

Those sort of heat of the moment, in-game decisions are going to be difficult for any head coach in the NBA playoffs for the first time. But for Brown and the Sixers, who led the league with 16.5 turnovers per game, it’s a continuous struggle to find the middle ground between pushing the tempo regardless of the situation and sitting on a lead, between playing fast and free and taking care of the ball.

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Give and Go: Which Sixers rookie will have the best season?

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Give and Go: Which Sixers rookie will have the best season?

Each day leading up to Sept. 21, the official start of Sixers training camp, we'll dissect the biggest storylines facing the team ahead of the 2018-19 season.

In today’s Give and Go, Matt Haughton and Eric Mullin give their predictions on which Sixers rookie will have the best season.

Haughton
While I’m not necessarily counting on any member of this Sixers rookie class making a major impact, each player possesses what the team desires in first-year players: potential and versatility.

That’s particularly the case for 2018 first-rounder Zhaire Smith and 2017 second-round selection Jonah Bolden given their defensive prowess. Both players should be able to earn time in the rotation thanks to their strong play on D even as they seek to find their offensive games.

But with Smith coming off a fractured foot and plenty of available minutes in the frontcourt, Bolden is the guy.

The Australian product proved his defense is already one of his best assets over the past two summers with the Sixers. During the MGM Resorts Summer League in Las Vegas in July, Bolden averaged 1.5 steals and 1.0 block over six games. More important than the numbers, he looked the part of NBA defender, even helping put the clamps on No. 1 overall pick Deandre Ayton.

Bolden also has the advantage of being more mature at 22 years old and previously competing against grown men overseas in Serbia and Israel. 

If his offense — mainly his three-point shot — ever reaches a consistent level, Bolden could be a serious dual threat for the Sixers. But for now, the team will settle for a reserve big man that can hold his own defensively and chip in the occasional bucket.

Mullin
If Smith hadn’t fractured his foot, I think he’d be the easy answer here. But since it's usually not that simple with Sixers rookies and their health, let’s run through the three other choices.

The team’s other first-round pick, Landry Shamet, should have value as a floor spacer and shooter, but there are questions as to whether he can affect the game at all off the dribble or hold his own defensively.

Shake Milton has good size on the wing at 6-6 and shot over 42 percent from deep on a high volume of attempts at SMU. Though it’s tough to expect much from a late second-round pick who signed a two-way deal and will likely spend most of his time in Delaware this season.

Then there’s draft-and-stash Bolden, who had a summer league to forget before signing with the Sixers. Bolden has some intriguing tools and the optimistic projection for him is to be a rangy, three-and-D big, but he has to improve his consistency for that potential to be actualized.

The big question here is if any of these players will be able to crack Brett Brown’s regular rotation. Just going down the roster, there’s at least 10 players that will almost certainly get minutes to start the season (last season’s starting five, Markelle Fultz, Wilson Chandler, T.J. McConnell, Amir Johnson, Mike Muscala). And Furkan Korkmaz is lurking right behind. So unless a rookie(s) really pops early, it’s going to be tough to get consistent minutes.

Since Smith hasn’t been ruled out for the season (if he was it’d be a toss-up between Shamet and Bolden), I’m actually going to go with him and here’s why: He’s the best bet of the rookies to actually play in the playoffs, mainly because of his defensive ability and versatility. This Sixers team has high aspirations. Their most important games of the season are going to be deep in the playoffs. If Smith doesn’t make it back until around the All-Star break, but is the only first-year player to play himself into the playoff rotation, that would still be the best freshman campaign.

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Give and Go: What are expectations for Markelle Fultz's sophomore season?

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Give and Go: What are expectations for Markelle Fultz's sophomore season?

Each day leading up to Sept. 21, the official start of Sixers training camp, we'll dissect the biggest storylines facing the team ahead of the 2018-19 season.

In today’s Give and Go, Matt Haughton and Noah Levick provide their expectations for Markelle Fultz’s sophomore season.

Haughton
Maybe I’m doing too much projection or maybe I’m just drinking the Drew Hanlen shot-fixing Kool-Aid. Either way, I see a big season — perhaps even award-winning — on the horizon for Fultz.

Crazy. Maybe. What’s even crazier? It won’t take that much of a leap for it to happen.

Whether it was a legitimate shoulder injury or a case of the yips, we all know Fultz’s rookie season didn’t go a planned. Still, he showed flashes of the potential the Sixers saw in him when his name was called No. 1 overall in the 2017 draft.

The ball-handling, neck-breaking quickness and ability to get to the rim. Plus, the use of his long arms to be a disruptive force on defense. It was all there. Even if the results were only 7.1 points (40.5 percent field goal shooting), 3.8 assists and 3.1 rebounds a game.

At the very least, a full summer of working on his body and jump shot with Hanlen should result in Fultz being even more aggressive going to the basket and connecting on his free throws (47.6 percent a season ago). Assuming Brett Brown doesn’t tinker with his starting rotation, a boost in those areas could put 20-year-old Fultz in the conversation for Sixth Man of the Year.

And if Hanlen’s words from this summer are true and he actually did turn Fultz back into the long-range threat he was at Washington, there is no reason the guard shouldn’t be in the mix for Most Improved Player.

Levick
If we’re being honest with ourselves, there are probably a handful of people who actually know what to expect from Fultz this season. Since trainer Hanlen has kept Fultz’s revamped jumper away from the cameras, training camp should be our first glimpse at his shot. Just like last season, there should be plenty of shaky video from reporters’ cell phones for fans to scrutinize.

Fultz’s stats last year are almost irrelevant when projecting how he’ll play this season. Sure, there were encouraging signs in the 14 regular-season games he played. His 3.17 assist-to-turnover ratio was impressive. He showed glimpses of his shifty, herky-jerky game. And he became the youngest player ever to record a triple-double in the NBA, highlighting his immense potential.

We know Fultz is talented enough to contribute for an NBA team with a broken shot. The question is what he brings to the table with a repaired shot.

It seems unlikely that Hanlen would have hyped up Fultz’s jumper as much as he has if Fultz wasn’t making dramatic improvements. Do I expect him to suddenly be a three-point marksman? No. But I’d be surprised if Fultz’s free throws or midrange jumpers are anywhere near as unsightly or hesitant as they were last season.

Fultz would likely have to be playing at a very high level to force his way into the Sixers’ starting lineup, since that unit was the highest-rated five-man group in the league last season. That said, he’s skilled enough to be a valuable, playmaking sixth or seven man this season, even if he isn’t quite at the stage where he can provide the requisite long-range shooting to regularly play together with Ben Simmons.

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