Washington Wizards

Sixers will hang their hat on defense, but those shooting questions haven't gone away

Sixers will hang their hat on defense, but those shooting questions haven't gone away

It was clear this offseason that GM Elton Brand built the Sixers with a specific idea in mind.

He wanted his team to be a gargantuan defensive bully. The Sixers have bought into it, with just about every player stating the team’s goal of wanting to be the No. 1 defensive outfit in the NBA.

The biggest concern seemed to be their lack of three-point shooting with the departure of JJ Redick. Unfortunately for Brett Brown, his team did little to quell those concerns.

A rough shooting preseason was capped by a 7-for-27 performance in a listless 112-93 loss to the Wizards Friday night (see observations).

When asked about it before the game, Brown thought the storyline was overblown.

“I think it's not as big of a problem as maybe the marketplace does,” Brown said pregame. “I think that we have shooters here. Are they at the standard of JJ Redick? No. But if that's the bar, well, it's pretty high. And so I think as you go through the list of players, although you're not seeing like a high volume, low 40 percent … type of high-volume threes at such a pretty high percentage … you're not seeing that on the roster. But I still have confidence that we have a team that can shoot. Will that be our identity? No. Will it be needed? Yep. But I think that we're a better shooting team than what I sense the marketplace thinks.”

The numbers don’t help Brown here. 

Al Horford and Mike Scott both shot over 40 percent from three. None of the other main rotation players even shot league average — not including Ben Simmons’ immaculate 1 for 1.

Josh Richardson (33.3), Tobias Harris (25), Joel Embiid (22.2), Matisse Thybulle (26.7) and James Ennis (12.5) contributed to the Sixers shooting a paltry 31.7 percent from three this preseason.

Even given those numbers and the especially poor performance Friday, Brown is still standing by his claim.

“I stand by my comment,” Brown said postgame. “I think that we have better shooters than the marketplace believes. Those comments, my comments, aren't well supported when you look at the statistics in the preseason, but I do think that. I still think that and it's stuff that we need to believe in that and not shy away from it. I don't want to at all and we won't shy away from it. I think that the attention that we have given to offensive rebounding may help ease some of those misses if we can do what we hope to do from that perspective. But I think that we have better shooters then we have shown in the preseason.”

Brown does have a point in that aforementioned players have shot much better throughout their NBA careers than they’ve shown through five preseason games.

But it has to be considered a legitimate concern. The Sixers are sort of bucking trends by trotting out their huge, defensive-oriented roster, but they recognize that shooting is still a must.

In the second quarter Friday, the Wizards went to a zone defense. It’s not the first time the Sixers have seen that this preseason and, after how poorly they managed it Friday, it likely won’t be the last. The obvious caveat is that it was a flat performance by the Sixers in general. They definitely had the feel of a team just going through the motions as a date with Boston on opening night looms.

The ball movement at times has been excellent and it’s led to some great looks. To a certain extent, the shots just didn’t fall in the preseason. 

“I think the looks have been good,” Harris said. “I think we'll just continue to find each other's own games and where we want those looks from beyond the arc. It's obviously early too in preseason of games where we've been able to get some good looks. Some of them haven't fallen, but they'll continue to come with time and just us figuring out where each other needs the ball, wants the ball with threes we want to take, and I think the more we hunt the threes, the better off we are to be able to shoot it at a higher percentage.”

The Sixers are going to hang their hats on the defensive end, but they’ll need to shoot at least a little to get where they want to go.

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Sixers

Sixers struggle with zone defense, drop weird, sloppy preseason finale to Wizards

Sixers struggle with zone defense, drop weird, sloppy preseason finale to Wizards

BOX SCORE

In their final tune-up before opening night, the Sixers fell flat.

A horrendous second quarter put them behind and they ultimately fell to the Wizards, 112-93, in their fifth and final preseason game Friday at the Wells Fargo Center. They finish the preseason 4-1.

The Sixers were without Ben Simmons (back tightness) and Raul Neto (hamstring). Neither injury is considered serious and both were kept out for precautionary reasons.

The Boston Celtics come to town next Wednesday night for the season opener.

Here are observations from an ugly one in South Philly.

• Early on, the Sixers’ offense appeared to be humming. They were moving the ball well. There weren’t many static possessions. Josh Richardson showed off his ability to move without the ball, cashing in on a pair of layups on sharp cuts to the basket.

Then early in the second, the Wizards switched to a zone and the Sixers’ offense couldn’t get anything going. They had a brutal quarter, shooting just 3 of 14 (1 of 8 from three) and turning the ball over seven times. 

This isn’t the first time the Sixers have seen a zone this preseason, but this is the most effective we’ve seen one look against them. You better believe the rest of the league will see how well it worked Friday. Given the Sixers’ size advantage and without the likes of a JJ Redick out there to help break it, I suspect this won’t be the last time they see a zone.

• It was a bit of an odd game for Joel Embiid. The All-Star center was his dominant self for the most part, but the game was tightly officiated and Embiid seemed disinterested at times defensively. At one point late in the second half, Embiid got called for a questionable travel and an offensive foul. He managed to shake it off and score the last five points of the half.

Early on, he made a gorgeous Euro step move around Thomas Bryant for a basket. There was also a sequence where Mo Wagner drew an offensive foul on Embiid. Embiid didn’t appear to take too kindly to that. On the next possession he emphatically swatted away a Jordan McRae layup and then drew a foul on Wager with his patented swim through move. Late in the third, Embiid was whistled for a Flagrant 1 against Wagner. Wagner was forced to leave the game and did not return.

Embiid finished with 17 points (6 of 8), six rebounds and two blocks in 23 minutes.

• It sure sounds like Brett Brown intends to get a good look at Furkan Korkmaz early on this season. The third-year wing out of Turkey has struggled to find a role since coming from overseas. But Brown still sees something in the 2016 first-round pick.

The biggest thing that Brown pointed to pregame was Korkmaz’s defense. It is something that just experience has helped Korkmaz improve on. Getting the start tonight, Korkmaz made a couple nice defensive plays. On one possession, he provided solid help defense, helping force a turnover and a fast break.

He continues to flash ability offensively, but went just 2 of 9 from the field. The big question of consistency is what remains with the 22-year-old.

• It’s sort of a lost storyline among so many this preseason, but Tobias Harris’ defense improved. It was one of the biggest concerns coming into the season with Harris switching to the wing but he’s more than held his own. He made a pair of impact plays, picking rookie Rui Hachimura’s pocket on a drive and sliding into a strong position to help on defense and meet Thomas Bryant to block his shot at the rim.

He told Brown he wouldn’t be the weak link of the team defensively. So far so good.

• Brown mentioned he wants his team to play “bully ball offense.” At times, you can see the team taking on that personality. Harris has been one of the main participants. He hasn’t shot the ball particularly well this preseason — though he was 6 of 13 in this one — but he’s attacked every mismatch he’s gotten.

Al Horford was clearly looking to take Hachimura to the weight room when he could. Josh Richardson also took guard Chris Chiozza — who he has a five-inch advantage over — into the post. I have a feeling it’s just a taste of what we can expect when the regular season starts.

• This is your almost daily “Matisse Thybulle is very good” observation. His most impressive defensive possessions came against Bradley Beal. There were times where Beal had his way against the Sixers — and fair enough, because he’s really freaking good. But Thybulle showed off impressive feet in forcing Beal into spots on the floor he didn’t want to go. He forced him into the middle of the floor at one point, which caused Beal to cough the ball up. The fact that he only recorded one steal and one block seems almost disappointing.

While his outside shot wasn’t falling, he again showed off his cutting ability. With big men like Horford and Kyle O’Quinn that are excellent passers, Thybulle should get his fair share of easy baskets that way. He got one from each of those bigs tonight.

• The backup point guard situation is still a bit muddled. Given that he started as the one the last two games in place of Simmons, you’d have to think Richardson will get the nod. With Neto out, Shake Milton was the first point guard off the bench. Trey Burke started the second half with Richardson sitting out. Milton was solid in 19 minutes with 10 points (4 of 8).

• Brown lost his first challenge on an Embiid offensive foul midway through the third. It did appear that Hachimura flopped but it was way too close of a call to overturn. Brown finished the preseason 2 of 3 on coach's challenges.

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Sixers

Sixers vs. Wizards: 3 storylines to watch and how to live stream the game

Sixers vs. Wizards: 3 storylines to watch and how to live stream the game

Updated: 1:40 p.m. 

We’ve got just one more game before the real thing as the Sixers host the Washington Wizards at the Wells Fargo Center Friday.

It’s the Sixers’ fifth and final preseason game before they welcome the Boston Celtics next Wednesday in the season opener.

The good news for fans watching tonight’s game: This is NOT like the NFL preseason. If anything, this is more like a dress rehearsal.

Here’s everything you need to know.

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 a few things to watch.

Injury update

Ben Simmons (back tightness) is out for Friday night's game. The team has described his absence as precautionary. At practice Wednesday, Simmons said he was “confident” that he’ll be 100 percent by the opener.

Raul Neto (left hamstring tightness) is questionable and James Ennis is available after missing Tuesday night's game with right calf tightness.

Joel Embiid is not on the injury report and is expected to play. Brett Brown had said he expected to play the rotation he plans to use against the Celtics, though he'll obviously have to change things with the absence of Simmons. That rotation will include impressive rookie Matisse Thybulle, who has more than earned a prominent role off the Sixers’ bench.

Who backs up Simmons?

The top eight players in the rotation are set. It’ll be the five starters plus Thybulle, Ennis and Mike Scott — you’ll also see plenty of Kyle O’Quinn sprinkled in there. But the backup point guard role remains somewhat of a mystery.

GM Elton Brand brought in veterans Trey Burke and Neto to compete for minutes. Brown has been quick to point out that second-year guard Shake Milton is still in that mix. The best candidate, however, may be Josh Richardson. Brown started Richardson there against Detroit and seems to like Richardson’s capabilities in that spot. It also allows him to keep a crazy big lineup on the floor at all times.

If there is any type of roster drama in tonight’s game, this will be it.

Bradley Beal’s extension

Wizards All-Star guard Bradley Beal inked a two-year, $72 million max extension Thursday. With two years still left on his current deal, it will begin with the 2021-22 season and include a player option for 2022-23, per ESPN.

It’s interesting because Beal is an excellent player just entering the prime of his career at 26 and his supporting cast is not very good. When healthy, there aren’t many backcourt duos better than Beal and John Wall. The issue is Wall, whose game is predicated on his lightning speed, is recovering from a ruptured Achilles and will likely not play this season. In 2020-21, he’ll be 30 and making over $40 million.

The Wizards will lose the contract of Ian Mahinmi and perhaps have a little flexibility next offseason.

Good for Beal for showing loyalty to the team that drafted him, but it seems like he may be stuck in NBA purgatory in Washington. Then again, that contract likely wouldn’t be difficult to move, and they’d get a nice return for Beal if things do go south.

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Sixers