Brown impressed by Sixers' small crop of vets

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Brown impressed by Sixers' small crop of vets

Brett Brown is not looking at the Sixers’ roster through rose-colored glasses.

The new head coach knows he has young players that need to develop. Brown also knows that no player is guaranteed a certain amount of playing time and he will reward guys who compete and play with energy.

“How would you like to be a young guy coming into the Philadelphia 76ers? There really is an abundance of minutes available, there is legitimate court time available,” Brown said. “I mean, I look out there and see only a handful of veterans.”

Brown admitted that Thaddeus Young, Evan Turner and Spencer Hawes will play. He added that it is his job to cultivate Michael Carter-Williams into a valuable NBA point guard.

The rest of the Sixers’ puzzle is a mystery that will begin to unfold when training camp commences Saturday morning at Saint Joseph’s University.

Life as a 76er is new for Carter-Williams, just as things are for Brown in the role of first-time NBA head coach.

However, Young, Turner and Hawes have a combined 15 seasons of NBA experience. Change can be unsettling for veterans, who often don’t enjoy the thought of having to prove themselves all over again.

Fortunately for the team, Brown’s initial experience with the Sixers’ veteran trio has been nothing but positive.

“The thing that has impressed me the most is how curious they are about what I think about something,” Brown said. “They will say, ‘Tell me about this player or what do you think about how we are going to play offense?’ They are enjoyable to talk to and I have empowered them.

“I do look at them the way we used to look at Timmy (Duncan), Tony (Parker) and Manu (Ginobili). When you go into a room and see veteran players who are healthy, I just wrap my arms around them because I want their opinion on a lot of different things. I know what I want to happen, but they know the lay of the land and they deserve to be heard.”

That certainly has to be music to Turner’s ears. True or not, the swingman seemed to be under the guise that he had to conform to what former head Doug Collins laid out in his first three NBA seasons.

Only time will tell if a new voice makes Turner feel differently about his role on the team. To help with that transformation, Brown has some ideas for the Turner to embrace.

“He has a lot of areas he really can blossom,” Brown said. “I think the weight of the city at times and the expectations, like they would anybody, can drown you if you let them. I think it is important that we don’t pay attention to what you write and I hope he is not caring about what goes on Twitter.”

In other words, the former No. 2 overall pick should tune the outside world out.

“We are going to come into a gym and find some way to find a passion for the game again, enjoy playing the game again,” Brown said. “That comes from putting in the time and people putting you on the right road map and telling you the truth about what is going on. We hope to improve his perimeter game, but most of all we hope he finds a real joy to play again.”

Dario Saric hitting his stride, altering games on Sixers' second unit

Dario Saric hitting his stride, altering games on Sixers' second unit

There was skepticism as to whether or not Dario Saric would ever play for the Sixers. He spent two years overseas after the team acquired him on draft night 2014, and as each month passed, more and more uncertainty grew around his future in the NBA.

Saric told the Sixers all along that he would come to Philadelphia. He urged them, I will play for your team.

The 22-year-old rookie (and that term should be used loosely given his lengthy professional career) is proving the wait was worth it.

“They said he was never coming back,” Joel Embiid said. “But Dario’s here and he’s making big plays for us.”

Saric is averaging 9.7 points and 5.9 rebounds in 24.1 minutes this season. That includes a transitional period wherein Saric was moved in and out of the starting lineup and shifted from power forward and small forward as the Sixers experimented with different rotations. Saric looked out of sorts and frustrated with himself at times. The newness of the league, team and system took its toll on the player who is his own toughest critic. 

Saric's numbers are up since Brett Brown locked him in to the second unit. He is averaging 11.0 points and 6.7 boards during the Sixers' 7-2 stretch. 

“If Joel Embiid weren’t in the league, you’d have to talk about him in consideration for Rookie of the Year,” Brown said. “There is an appeal that he has developed, I feel, from our fans. They respect him. How can you not? He is so blue collar. I think the plays he makes, the effort-based plays, the physical plays just count for everything. ... I hope that he recognizes we appreciate his passion and we appreciate how he plays.”

Saric put on a show in the fourth quarter of the Sixers' statement win over the Raptors Wednesday. He had a pair of blocks in under a minute, including one against Jared Sullinger which sent Embiid into a frenzy on the bench (video here)

“Dario never blocks shots and he had two in a row,” Embiid said. “Especially at the rim like that, blocking Sullinger, that’s the type of play we need. The crowd obviously got into it. I’m just glad he’s here with us like he promised he was going to be after two years.”

Saric followed up the blocks with an offensive rebound and layup that pushed the Sixers' lead back up to six points. He topped off his fourth-quarter spurt with a three-pointer from T.J. McConnell to put his team up seven. 

“Every guy has their own job,” Saric said. “Sometimes you can do it better but always you need effort. You've to give 100 percent, try to fight, try to win. Give everything that you have in that moment. Your whole body, just move it. ... I had a good game. Sometimes the game gives you open shots. Sometimes it gives you a situation where you cannot do nothing. I tried to come and bring some energy. I tried to change the game in that way.”

Saric finished with eight points, nine rebounds and two blocks in 24 minutes off the bench. He hadn’t recorded two blocks since Nov. 9 against the Pacers. 

“I think Dario is the key to helping us secure that win, big-time,” Nerlens Noel said. “I think he really took that game more toward our favor.”

There were bound to be growing pains for Saric with all the massive challenges involved in playing in the new league. His basketball world has been flipped upside down in less than a year, not to mention his adjusting to life outside of Europe. It took some time but Saric is hitting his stride, and it is led by his disciplined mindset.

“Sometimes when you're doing bad and you don't have an opportunity to do something, (you have to) give the team its energy," Saric said. "I tried to bring some kind of energy and I did that good. I don't know. Maybe it's because I want to win the game. That's the easy answer."

With something to cheer about, Sixers fans providing energy

With something to cheer about, Sixers fans providing energy

Toronto Raptors forward Norman Powell was ready to throw down a ferocious dunk with 8:48 left in the game with his team trailing the Sixers by six. That dunk could've silenced the crowd and gotten the Raptors right back in the game.

Instead, he was met at the rim and left feeling rejected. Not by Joel Embiid. Not by Nerlens Noel. But by rookie Dario Saric.

Saric wasn't done there. Jared Sullinger, in his first game with Toronto this season, was in the same position as Powell, with an opportunity to finish a big dunk less than a minute later. Like Powell, Sullinger was turned away by Saric.

In that moment, 17,000-plus went crazy at the Wells Fargo Center. The cheers were deafening for the 22-year-old Croatian.

"I try to give effort for every game," Saric said. "And I had an opportunity. I had an opportunity to get blocks. I did it and then it started to get crazy. Of course as a player, you like that. When you do a good move and the whole gym try to support you."

The Sixers rode that wave of energy to a 94-89 win over the Raptors on Wednesday.

Sure, some on hand were there to see Villanova product Kyle Lowry and the Eastern Conference's second-best team, but when the waning moments arrived, the crowd was in the Sixers' corner.

"Obviously it’s something new, something different, something I’m not used to but easily getting used to," Nerlens Noel said of the crowd support. "It’s the sixth man. They come in there and they give us a whole new spark of energy, especially that Dario sequence. The fans, every block, they were on their feet, they were giving him extra motivation to go get another one. They come up big for us."

That wasn't the crowd's only moment to shine. "The Process" gave them plenty to cheer about all night.

Earlier in the fourth, Embiid had a sequence where he was at the elbow while Sergio Rodriguez had the ball up top. Sullinger was draped over Embiid as Embiid called for the ball. Instead, Embiid spun away from Sullinger and toward the basket, leaving the bulky forward grasping at air. Rodriguez fed Embiid and the latter finished the play with a slam.

After another sound defensive possession, Embiid struck again, this time nailing his second three of the contest. It forced the Raptors to call a timeout and the crowd to erupt. Chants of "Trust the Process" could be heard throughout the entire arena.

"It’s amazing," Embiid said. "Even on the road, you hear 'Trust the Process' chants. I feel like everybody around the world is starting to follow and trust us and trust the process. The fans have been great. I’m glad we’re winning games for them. We’re doing it for the city."

While Embiid's global outreach may be somewhat exaggerated, there's no doubt this city has fallen in love with the charismatic Cameroonian. When it was time to close out the game, who else was in the middle of the action but Embiid.

After Robert Covington blocked a Lowry three with 30.1 left, Lowry was able to recover the loose ball and drive to the basket. The only thing he'd find there was Embiid waiting to swat away his layup attempt. Lowry then fouled Embiid, sending Embiid to the line to seal the game.

As the big man stepped to the charity stripe, a different chant broke out —"M-V-P."

"It’s amazing. Last year, that’s something I never thought would happen," Embiid said. "I never thought we would be winning so many games, especially so many games in a row. But what I’m trying to do is change the culture. I like to get into it with the fans. I don’t like it quiet. I play better when fans are into it, chanting ‘Trust the Process,’ ‘M-V-P,’ cheering for us. That’s what I love."

The Sixers have won five in a row with Embiid in the lineup and seven of nine overall. They have 14 wins with another month left until the All-Star break. They have a legitimate superstar and are garnering an identity as a strong defensive unit.

The atmosphere was electric in South Philly on Wednesday and it's been a long time coming.

"The fans are fantastic," said head coach Brett Brown, who entered this season with a 47-199 record. "We’re all kind of starving for some success, we’re starving for some good feelings, some wins. To feel it and feel it again, it’s addictive. This city and the fans deserve it. They really deserve it."