After surprising start, Sixers come back to reality


After surprising start, Sixers come back to reality

Thaddeus Young heard the talk -- the endless chatter about the Sixers tanking (or rebuilding, if you prefer a more genteel euphemism). He’s been here six seasons. Young has seen all sorts of Sixers iterations -- from teams that struggled to win 27 games to the squad that overachieved and came within one victory of the Eastern Conference Finals to this year’s squad and its early-season surprise.

Young recently talked about the organization’s ebb and flow. But when he was asked about playing for a franchise that everyone thinks is focusing on tomorrow instead of today, Young brushed it aside.

“I don’t get into that type of stuff,” Young said. “I just show up ready to play and help my team win games. I’ve been helping with these young guys. Hopefully, they’ve been able to take in some of the things that we’ve been trying to instill in them or teach them or show them and they can take it with them on the court.”

They took it on the court. Then they took it right to the Heat. And the Wizards. And the Bulls, too. The first three games were excellent. The fourth was not.

The Sixers did not take it to the Warriors. Golden State thumped the Sixers, 110-90, at the Wells Fargo Center on Monday (see story).

“When we dribble a lot and don’t move the ball, it becomes very stagnant and terminal and we have real issues,” Brett Brown said. “And we’re not dynamic. We don’t boast [isolation] guys that are going to go break people down one-on-one and people are going to stand there and watch them. We need to move the ball. I didn’t feel like we did that [Monday]. I thought we were very static. I thought we were individual. That’s on me to help them continue to understand the importance of playing as a team so it doesn’t become an individual exercise.”

If they don’t move the ball, they become “stagnant and terminal” and “have real issues.” That about covers it.

The Sixers shot 35.2 percent from the field, 20 percent from distance and 62.2 percent from the line against the Warriors. They totaled 19 assists but a season-high 24 turnovers (see Instant Replay).

Brown went out of his way to credit the Warriors for being “a very underrated defensive team," but the head coach also admitted the Sixers were “sloppy” and “careless with the ball.”

If their ball handling was ugly (and it was), this was worse: Andre Iguodala had a game-high 32 points (27 in the first half), several highlight dunks, a ridiculous leaping, behind-the-back pass and seven three-pointers (see 5 observations). The Sixers, as a team, hit only five three-pointers.

And what of Michael Carter-Williams? He was just the second rookie ever to be named Player of the Week to start his career (see story). But on the same day that was announced, MCW went 4 for 17 from the field (1 for 7 from three-point range) with six rebounds, four assists and six turnovers.

“I think he wants to attack bigs,” Brown said. “It’s his nature. I like it … but he’s going to have to get use to going at that size. And then there will be an education where you have to kick it out to shooters or maybe you have Spencer [Hawes] or the pick-and-pop guy behind you that’s open. It’s part of the process. It’s part of his learning curve.”

His learning curve -- and the team’s. The Sixers got off to their best start since going 3-0 in 2006-07. Now they have a loss. It was bound to happen. They will lose quite a few more before the season is over. That is also bound to happen. This is one of the few towns where writing sentences like that is somewhat necessary. Sometimes people can get a little carried away and forget about reality. You are no doubt shocked.

This is a fickle place. Always has been. The wind likes to blow through Philadelphia first before deciding which way public opinion is gusting for the moment. Some fans and media members who initially wanted the Sixers to tank this season in a blatant attempt to increase the odds of landing Andrew Wiggins or Jabari Parker changed course completely after the Sixers won their first three games. Suddenly, certain people started talking openly -- and without irony -- about the Sixers making the playoffs.

That actually happened during a popular sports talk radio program on Monday. The hosts wondered whether we might have been wrong about the Sixers (reasonable). At which point they fielded a call from a man who suggested they would go 25-5 to start the year (far less reasonable). After playing three games and winning three games. That is staggering and willful delusion, even in this city.

It should be noted, again, that the Sixers were really good in their first three games. But it should also be noted, again, that they were pretty terrible in their fourth outing. So where does that leave the Sixers? Where are they on the good-to-terrible spectrum?

“I have no idea,” Brown said.

It was an honest response. He must be new.

Brett Brown says Ben Simmons will return in January

Brett Brown says Ben Simmons will return in January

Ben Simmons is on track to return to the Sixers in January, Brett Brown told the Philadelphia Inquirer on Friday. 

Previous reports indicated that Simmons, who suffered a Jones fracture in his right foot in the Sixers' final training camp scrimmage on Sept. 30, would be out three months. Friday's news jives with that, but this is the first time the Sixers have given a timetable.

"It's not doom and gloom," Brown said. "Ben is coming back in January. We are still trying to find information on Jerryd (Bayless). Jahlil (Okafor) is still trying to touch the court in his first preseason game."

With long-term ramifications in mind, there had been some speculation that Simmons' camp wanted him to sit all season. 

This is rather encouraging news and it means the Sixers may avoid watching another of their top picks miss his entire first year.

Sixers to ease in Jahlil Okafor off bench, expect more from him on D

Sixers to ease in Jahlil Okafor off bench, expect more from him on D

The Sixers struggled to carve a clear role for Jahlil Okafor last season as he and Nerlens Noel split time out of position in the frontcourt. Brett Brown has a more clear picture of how to utilize Okafor in his second year, highlighted by goals and a shift to the bench. 

Okafor has been sidelined from preseason action because of his right knee. He underwent surgery to repair a meniscus tear in March and aggravated it during the final training camp scrimmage. 

Okafor said he felt “pretty sore” after scrimmaging Monday, his first since camp, and he was better after going through individualized training and work in the water on Tuesday. This setback has forced him to exercise patience. 

“I know I told you guys I wasn’t frustrated a few weeks ago, but at this point it has been frustrating because I’ve been doing all the right stuff and I want to see me back out there sooner,” Okafor said after practice Thursday. “But I can’t rush my body, I can’t rush my health. ... I would love to have the opportunity to be there for opening night and play in front of our fans. Right now it’s looking like that’s probable."

The Sixers plan to use Okafor in a reserve role to start the season. Okafor expects to be on a 12- to 15-minute restriction, similar to Joel Embiid, when he is cleared to play. 

“I think about it all the time, but I talk to him. We’ve talked about this for months,” Brown said of Okafor's coming off the bench. “It’s not anything that is going to surprise anybody. He’s been fantastic. ... I talked with Jahlil about a lot of things and that could be, to start the year it will be, a scenario.”

Okafor, the third overall pick in 2015, started 48 of his 53 games last season. He is approaching this year with realistic expectations given his restrictions and is not concerned about being out of the starting five. 

“I’ll be fine,” Okafor said. “That won’t be a tough adjustment for me. I came off the bench a couple of times last year.”

Brown’s focus is not necessarily on how Okafor starts the game, but how he finishes. He would like Okafor and Embiid to be able to play together at the end of games to give the team a fourth-quarter boost.

“If it ends up you’ve got Jahlil coming off the bench and he’s going against backup five men, you think you probably have an advantage there,” Brown said. “If he does anything, he scores the ball, he scores buckets, he gets points. You can see how that can be a really nice role for him and for us.”

Okafor led the Sixers in scoring last season with 17.5 points per game. Brown, though, is focusing on his defensive improvements. The Sixers are looking to play an uptempo system in which they will need Okafor to hustle on defense each possession. Okafor slimmed down and added muscle this summer to prepare for the season. 

“He has to be elite in two areas to me,” Brown said. “Transition defense first — A-plus-plus-plus, get back. If you’re tired, if you’ve got to conserve energy, it’s not that way. It’s running back on offense. We have to get him back on defense.

“Then he has to be better skilled, better drilled by me, [a] high level of accountability with pick-and-roll defense. ... You can go over to defensive rebounding (as) a close third, but those two things happen the most.”

Okafor expects to be more effective on the defensive end after getting adjusted to it as a rookie. 

“(I want) to be smarter on defense, knowing where to be,” Okafor said. “My first year playing in the NBA, it was just a lot going on. Everybody was so fast.” 

Brown sees a focused 20-year-old who is more disciplined and ready to embrace whatever role he is given this season. 

“I can’t wait to coach him this year," Brown said. "I think he’s going to come back and have a great year. His body tells me that, his attitude tells me that. He’s in a good place personally."