James Ennis thinks Sixers' bench will be 'bulldogs'

James Ennis thinks Sixers' bench will be 'bulldogs'

CAMDEN, N.J. — With a scrimmage to play tomorrow, the fourth and final day of training camp for the Sixers wasn’t a physical one. Friday’s practice was mostly about “polishing up what we’ve put in,” Brett Brown said. There will be plenty of chances down the line for his team to fully impose their “smash mouth offense and bully ball defense" mentality.

Here are a few notes ahead of Saturday’s Blue X White Scrimmage at 76ers Fieldhouse in Wilmington, Delaware:

Building an environment

In the final few minutes of practice, five-man teams on three separate courts ran through baseline and sideline out of bounds plays and drills for specific situations. Brown also had his team do some 5-on-0 work to develop greater comfort with the Sixers’ “A to B” offense

He instructed his starters at one point to play off “B deny,” which is how the offense begins when the point guard, “A,” keeps the ball instead of passing to the trailing big man, “B.”

We’re already familiar with the “organic” style of offense Brown wants his team to have. But what factors into how he approaches baseline and sideline out of bounds plays, after-timeout sets and other special situations?

With the creativity of coaches nowadays where you can come out and they could be sitting in a zone, they could switch one through four, keep five at home, sag the inbounder, pressure the inbounder, there’s just so many things that you’re seeing. And to feel like you’re going to come out with all the answers is really not smart. 

“And so for me, I like to just put them in an environment — and that’s the word, an environment. Then they’ve got to choose different options out of it. That’s the mentality when you’re talking about “need” plays, ATOs, catch shot down three, catch shot down two, need two with time, all that stuff. 

Bulldogs off the bench 

James Ennis had an answer ready to go when asked how he’d characterize the personality of the Sixers’ bench.

“Bulldogs,” he said. “Mike Scott leading us, myself, Furkan [Korkmaz], Kyle [O’Quinn] and whoever is on the second team will be bulldogs ready to get stops.”

Ennis and Scott will be key members of that second unit, but the full composition of the bench is still up in the air. The backup point guard competition will be one to watch at Saturday’s scrimmage and likely throughout the preseason, and there are a ton of names in the mix on the wing. 

Brown said Wednesday he expects the rotation will comprise 10 or 11 players in the beginning of the regular season, so Zhaire Smith, Matisse Thybulle, Korkmaz and Shake Milton all might see opportunities to earn minutes.

While Smith and Thybulle are both renowned for their defense, they’re not identical players. If the rotation is indeed a large one at first, the idea of playing them together and showcasing their different defensive strengths in tandem is intriguing.

They both are very, very good defensive players,” Brown said. “Matisse’s ability off the ball, where he can cover ground and shoot gaps and get in lanes and pick stuff out of the sky with his length stands out. I think Zhaire’s gravity, his center of gravity when he’s just dogging somebody and lower sort of balance levels — he reminds me a little bit of Avery Bradley at times. … They both are tremendous athletes and for sure elite defensive players for their ages. That carryover into an NBA game will be part of their learning curve. But that is sure how they see the world — they play defense.

A different perspective on Simmons' shot 

Brown began his availability with the media Friday with a joke.

“As long as nobody asks me about Ben Simmons’ jump shot or Joel’s health or things like that, I’m happy,” he said.

That subject had come up often the day before, with Brown pushing back against the notion that it should be “the thing” everyone fixates on with Simmons (see story).

Though Brown didn’t address it Friday, Joel Embiid, unprompted, had something to say about Simmons’ jumper when asked about his extended after-practice three-point shooting session.

“Like I’ve always said before, I don’t like shooting threes,” Embiid said. “But this year since we’re going to have Ben willing to take those threes, maybe it’s going to put my game more inside. I’m hoping that he will shoot them, so I do my job, what I do inside.”

Random observation: Embiid was pretty subdued Friday, but he did throw in a jab at new player development specialist Roy Hibbert, a two-time All-Star with the Indiana Pacers.

“Well, I’ve been busting his a--,” Embiid said, “but it’s been good. Another guy with size. He helps a lot. Another guy who’s strong. He’s in the training room every day after we work out because I’m always hitting him. But he’s a great guy.”

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Ben Simmons answers question about jumper — both on and off the floor

Ben Simmons answers question about jumper — both on and off the floor

CAMDEN, N.J. — Questions about Ben Simmons’ shot aren’t going away.

In fact, they’ll likely only intensify as we get closer to the season and the fan base doesn’t see the 23-year-old All-Star take a jumper in a game setting.

Three days into camp, Simmons has answered many, many questions about the subject. He didn’t appear to be happy with the latest question on Day 3 of camp Thursday.

When pressed if he’d made a three in camp, he answered very matter-of-factly.

“Have I made a three? Are you talking about in practice? Yeah.”

His teammates have been supportive. When asked how everyone looked, Tobias Harris gave a serious response before joking: “And Ben hit 20 threes today.”

Of all the questions surrounding the Sixers, it may be the question. You can probably put it ahead of any questions about Joel Embiid’s health or even if the Sixers have enough talent to make it to the Finals.

And let’s face it, it’s because it is critical to the Sixers’ success. Yes, Simmons is an extraordinary talent. He’s an All-Star and could very well factor into the Defensive Player of the Year discussion one day soon. But his being relegated to the “dunker spot” on the floor and having the ball taken out of his hands in favor of Jimmy Butler in the postseason hurt the Sixers.

The conversation truly has taken on a life of its own.

You know, because the groundswell of this thing is bizarre,” Brett Brown said. “I will say, and maybe you don't agree, but I'll say it, we got to be careful that like this still isn't the thing. You know, to me, he is a 23-year-old All-Star. It's hugely important, we understand that, especially in April, May and June. And we have to set the stage. 

“But my center point, where I still see the world with him is I think he could be the best defensive player in the NBA. I think he has to feature on an All-NBA Defensive Team because he can. He's going to grow as a leader and a point guard that we talked about. And I think the other stuff is just going to just progressively evolve.

Beyond makes, Brown has emphasized that there needs to be a willingness to shoot. 

It's just three days into camp but that willingness seems to be there.

“The good news, what everybody should hear is, for me, it is how many shots has he passed up?” Brown said. "And there aren't any. And I think that's massive. He hasn't passed up [any shots] and we study it, he understands what I think and what we're trying to do.”

The funny thing is, after Simmons was done speaking, Harris approached the scrum. As the assembled media had their backs turned to give Harris their attention, Simmons went to work. He took free throws and then threes, according to an NBC Sports Philadelphia producer outside the scrum. Apparently, Simmons made a bunch of them — one from “Steph Curry range.”

The famous refrain from Sixers fans will be that he hasn’t done so in a game. He knows it. We all know it.

He may have a chance to hoist a three in Saturday’s Blue X White Scrimmage at the 76ers Fieldhouse in Wilmington, Delaware. It’ll be a game setting and he’ll likely be left open.

The most candid player on the Sixers’ roster — and likely one of the most candid in Philadelphia sports history — let everyone know what he saw.

“I feel like he has a chip on his shoulder,” Mike Scott said. “Shooting that ball, shooting the three. Hit a couple today. He's great, man. He's still one of the fastest guys, 6-10 — he's a beast. He's a superstar, so follow his lead."

Stay tuned.

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Zhaire Smith is 'a pogo stick,' hammering home advantages, more from Day 3 of Sixers training camp

Zhaire Smith is 'a pogo stick,' hammering home advantages, more from Day 3 of Sixers training camp

CAMDEN, N.J. — The 2019-20 Sixers play in front of their fans for the first time in two days, when the team will hold its annual Blue X White Scrimmage at 76ers Fieldhouse in Wilmington, Delaware.

For now, the scrimmaging is mostly happening behind closed doors — unlike Wednesday, the media wasn’t permitted to watch any 5-on-5 action Thursday at Day 3 of training camp, just some individual shooting drills at the end of practice. 

Here are a couple of notes from Day 3: 

The ‘pogo stick’ jumps out 

Zhaire Smith started out as “just a skinny kid who could really, really jump,” his high school coach, JT Locklear, told NBC Sports Philadelphia in June.

Landry Shamet called him a “freak athlete” after a few days at summer league minicamp last July.

Josh Richardson recalled Wednesday that Smith had a block where he “came out of nowhere.”

Brett Brown, though, might have had the best description yet Thursday of the 20-year-old Smith.

Just a pogo stick. … You know, he had one or two plays today where you’re like, OK, just an incredibly gifted athlete. He's making some shots, he's playing hard. I think we're all going to enjoy, you know, how this plays out with Shake [Milton] and Furkan [Korkmaz] and Matisse [Thybulle] and Zhaire — that's an interesting group. And you know, when you talk about the young guys, I think that he's had a real bounce and has been excellent. Defensively, especially.

In May, Brown labeled Smith’s shot as “the thing that ultimately makes his package whole.”

It was interesting that Al Horford, instead of turning to Smith’s defense or athleticism when asked his thoughts on the 2018 first-round pick, first highlighted Smith’s jumper.

“He’s really shooting the ball well and that’s something that’s impressed me,” Horford said. “Probably coming into the league he wasn’t labeled as a shooter, but from what I’ve seen he’s shooting the ball really well, and that’s encouraging.”

Smith, with the assistance of Sixers player development coach Tyler Lashbrook, has done extensive work on his jumper after a rookie year that contained injury, a severe, terrifying allergic reaction and a grind behind the scenes to eventually return to the floor. 

The focus with his shot, Smith said, is “just the little things, not bringing it down and getting it off quicker.”

Here’s what it looked like Thursday:

We’ll surely have opportunities down the road to dissect the other names Brown included as part of the competition for bench minutes on the wing, but it’s worth noting Brown has consistently included Korkmaz. 

The third-year Turkish player said at media day he’d cut his body fat from as high as the 13-14 percent range to around 8 to 9 percent. Legitimate questions exist about whether Korkmaz can play passable defense, but Brown seems to find the outside shooting Korkmaz can theoretically provide appealing, and he praised the “swagger” he played with last season.

The 22-year-old averaged 5.8 points and 2.2 rebounds per game in 2018-19, shooting 32.6 percent from three-point range. You’d assume he’d have to increase that percentage significantly to earn a rotation spot.  

‘How are they going to match up versus us?’

“Arrogant” is far from the first word that comes to mind when you think of Tobias Harris or Horford. Both players, however, had answers that were high on confidence when asked how they expect opponents will approach playing against the Sixers’ starting forwards, who stand at 6-foot-9 and 6-foot-10, respectively. 

“I always say this: How are they going to match up versus us? Whoever’s out there, at the end of the day, they gotta match up versus us first,” Harris said. “We kind of are a team with our size, our skill and ability that can control the narrative on a lot of things that we want to do. Obviously there will be a lot of different schemes, playing teams that go small. They gotta guard us, also.”

At first, it appeared Horford was going to effortlessly deflect the question. He talked a bit about his focus being on learning the Sixers’ terminology and concepts, and said he felt “kind of like a rookie a little bit” with all the new information he was having to process. 

Then, Horford added, “Teams are going to have to do something, that’s for sure.”

Concerns about how the Sixers will cope with quickness disadvantages or what they’ll do to adjust when Harris or Horford face a difficult matchup defensively are valid. Still, it sounds like the Sixers recognize they have plenty that should concern opponents and are determined to hammer home their advantages.

Random observation: As Brown was walking over to meet with the media, Ben Simmons drained a half-court shot. His jumper was a popular topic Thursday (see story).



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