Five Sixers storylines to watch for this season

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Five Sixers storylines to watch for this season

There are no secrets about what is likely to happen this season for the Philadelphia 76ers. More often than not, they are going to lose ballgames.

Vegas has the over/under on victories for the Sixers this season set at 16½. In team history, the Sixers famously went 9-73 in 1972-73 to set the NBA record for futility. The Sixers also went 18-64 in 1995-96 and followed that up with a 22-60 record in Allen Iverson’s rookie season in 1996-97.

No, the Sixers don’t have an Iverson-type on this team. They have some pieces to the puzzle, but the others haven’t materialized yet. For coach Brett Brown, in his first season at the helm of an NBA team, there haven’t been any surprises. New president/general manager Sam Hinkie blew up the roster and pushed the team into a rebuild, doing what many of his predecessors could have done, but just didn’t have the stomach for.

Very easily the 2013-14 Sixers could have been transformed into an eight-seed playoff team with an aggressive approach to free agency. However, in the modern NBA, just making the playoffs doesn’t get a team anywhere.

That’s a clear flaw in the system, but that’s a story for another day. For now, Brown understands what Hinkie is doing with the franchise.

“He’s backed it up,” Brown said about Hinkie’s plan. “It’s a deliberate thing, it’s a patient thing. It’s a strategy that when he designed it, I was aware of it when I signed up with him to come here and it’s playing out as told.”

But it doesn’t necessarily make it fun-to-watch basketball. Losing is no fun and the danger of a rebuild is that losing can sometimes get stuck in the fabric of what is trying to be created. That’s the slippery slope Brown, Hinkie and the rest of the Sixers have to watch carefully.

In the meantime, since losing ballgames is supposed to be the course de rigueur, here are a few things to keep fans focused on the good times that could come down the road.

Michael Carter-Williams’ development
There is no more interesting player on the Sixers’ roster than MCW. At first glance, he doesn’t look like much -- tall, thin and baby-faced, Carter-Williams looks like he started shaving just last week.

Carter-Williams could be the young guard that the veteran point guards in the league will light up. Sure, Carter-Williams is a taller point guard, but that’s not unique anymore. And without a grizzled veteran on the roster to help guide Carter-Williams through the league, it could be a long season for the rookie.

Can he handle the likes of Dwyane Wade or Russell Westbrook? Can he stand up to taking the brunt of the opposition’s pick-and-roll? What are his mind and legs going to be like at the end of March when the Sixers are closing in on 60 losses?

That’s what we’ll learn this season. It’s also worth pointing out that on closer inspection, MCW isn’t only tall, thin and baby-faced, but also mature, thoughtful and measured. In fact, Carter-Williams is a lot like the guy he replaced, Jrue Holiday, in that regard. No one expected much out of Holiday when he left UCLA early to jump to the NBA, and he was an All-Star by his fourth season.

Evan Turner and his future
By all accounts, this is a big season for the former No. 2 overall pick (see story). Headed into his fourth NBA season, Turner will learn by the Sixers' Thursday deadline whether he'll be extended or able to test free agency next summer.

And after a summer spent trying to deal Turner, the Sixers seem poised to allow him to dip his toe into the free-agency waters.

Before that happens, Turner has numbers to produce. Three seasons have come and gone and Turner hasn’t had that magical breakthrough yet. He’s been close and had some pretty epic ballgames, but consistency over a season has been an issue.

Turner should have something to prove this season. Seemingly focused on the season rather than future free agency and contract extensions, a big season could be at hand for Turner.

That is, if he’s still with the team past the trade deadline.

The offense?
His players have described Brown’s offense as “vanilla.” The thing about that bland and boring flavor is it often can be enhanced. What the players call vanilla is something very basic. The idea is for the young Sixers to run, run and then run some more.

And then after that, Brown wants the Sixers to keep on running.

If that’s vanilla, it might have a few sprinkles on top. An All-Star Game or playground-like style could supplant the lack of complexity in the playbook. In that regard, count on the Sixers to score some points ...

The defense?
... And expect them to give up a bunch, too.

While youthful exuberance can spark a run-and-gun offense, it can cause problems on defense, where the nuances of the game are more pronounced. Certainly, defensive issues have shown up during the Sixers’ exhibition games when the opposition averaged 108 points.

Add in the facts that the Sixers have one 7-footer in Spencer Hawes and that rookie defensive whiz Nerlens Noel might not play this season, and rebounds are going to be few and far between.

Expect to see the Sixers dabble with some zone defense to help them protect the paint. Also expect the Sixers to get whistled for a bunch of defensive three-seconds calls, too.

Is a 9-73 season a possibility?
Doubtful. Though the Sixers will rank near the bottom of the standings in the NBA, there are a lot of bad teams in the league. The Sixers will get four chances to get wins against Charlotte, Orlando, Atlanta and Boston. They also face Phoenix, Sacramento and Utah twice apiece.

Of those 24 games, the Sixers ought to put together at least 10 wins and still be able to have a crack at the top pick in next summer’s NBA draft.

Fellow rookies predict Ben Simmons to come in 3rd for ROY award

Fellow rookies predict Ben Simmons to come in 3rd for ROY award

Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram headlined this year’s draft. Now that the players are nearing training camp, they are looking ahead to how their class will fair in the upcoming season. 

NBA.com talked to 38 rookies at the annual Rookie Photo Shoot this month to get their takes on their counterparts.

Simmons, Joel Embiid, Dario Saric and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot were named in the majority of the responses. Below are the categories in which the Sixers' rookies garnered votes. 

2016-17 Rookie of the Year
1. Kris Dunn (Timberwolves): 29.0 percent
2. Ingram (Lakers): 25.8 percent
3. Simmons (Sixers): 19.4 percent
Embiid and Saric also received votes

Best career
1. Ingram (Lakers): 26.7 percent
2. Dunn (Timberwolves): 16.7 percent 
3. Buddy Hield (Pelicans): 13.3 percent
Tie-4. Dragan Bender (Suns), Jaylen Brown (Celtics), Jamal Murray (Nuggets), Simmons: 6.7 percent
Dario Saric also received votes

Most athletic
1. Brown (Celtics): 38.7 percent
2. Brice Johnson (Clippers): 16.1 percent
3. Marquese Chriss (Suns): 9.7 percent
Tie-4. Malik Beasley (Nuggets), Kay Felder (Cavs), Gary Payton II (Rockets): 6.5 percent
Simmons also received votes

Best shooter
1. Hield (Pelicans): 65.7 percent
2. Murray (Nuggets): 20.0 percent
Luwawu-Cabarrot also received votes

Best playmaker
1. Dunn (Timberwolves): 29.4 percent
2. Simmons (Sixers): 26.5 percent
3. Tyler Ulis (Suns): 20.6 percent
4. Denzel Valentine (Bulls): 8.8 percent
5. Felder (Cavs): 5.9 percent
Saric also received votes

Funniest
1. Dunn (Timberwolves): 15.2 percent
Tie-2. Diamond Stone (Clippers), Denzel Valentine (Bulls): 12.1 percent
Tie-4. Brice Johnson (Clippers), Taurean Prince (Hawks), Ivica Zubac: 6.1 percent
Luwawu-Cabarrot and Simmons also received votes. Embiid ranked first in this category when he was drafted in 2014. 

Give and Go: Predicting Sixers' starting 5

Give and Go: Predicting Sixers' starting 5

Each week, our resident basketball analysts will discuss some of the hottest topics involving the Sixers.

Running the Give and Go are CSNPhilly.com Sixers insider Jessica Camerato, CSNPhilly.com producer/reporter Matt Haughton, and CSNPhilly.com producer/reporter Paul Hudrick.

This week, we'll take a stab at the Sixers' starting five for opening night.

Camerato
Let’s preface this prediction with a projection: This lineup will change multiple times throughout the season. I expect Joel Embiid to be in the starting five once he transitions into his rookie year, his first since he was drafted in 2014. The Sixers also will have to assess how different combinations translate onto the court, which will play out in game competition. 

Back to opening night. The backcourt is up for grabs at both positions. Last season’s starting point guard, Ish Smith, signed with the Pistons and Brett Brown has said he plans to start Ben Simmons, who can play point-forward, at the four spot. Jerryd Bayless has the edge over Sergio Rodriguez and T.J. McConnell with his proven veteran experience in the NBA.

The same goes for Gerald Henderson at shooting guard. That starting role is up for grabs given the inconsistencies of it last season, and that rookie Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot will be developing off the bench (or in the D-League).

Small forward is intriguing because the Sixers have so many bigs who can play the four and five ... so who’s the best fit for three? Dario Saric played power forward in Europe, but if Brown wants to incorporate him into the starting lineup, he could slide him into the 3-spot. Saric’s former teammate Stephane Lasme told CSNPhilly.com he could see Saric having offensive success at small forward with his size advantage, and defensively he could be challenged. The Sixers may go with non-traditional lineups when it comes to this position.

The power forward spot goes to Simmons. While he will handle point guard responsibilities, Brown wants to start him at the four at the beginning of his NBA career. 

So that brings us to center, the position that was in question last season and still is now. The conundrum of how to utilize Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor still exists. Both are natural fives, and last year they struggled playing out of position. I gave Noel the nod over Okafor in this starting combination because of the way he can run the court in an up-tempo system and spread the floor with Simmons. 

PG: Bayless
SG: Henderson
SF: Saric
PF: Simmons
C: Noel

Haughton
While the Sixers' final roster decisions shouldn't be too taxing for Brown, putting together the starting five will certainly prove to be tougher. Figuring out five players that mesh well on the court can take time and it will likely change throughout the course of the 2016-17 season.

The Sixers have options at point guard after signing Bayless and Rodriguez during free agency, but Bayless should get the nod here. His career numbers are better across the board than those of Rodriguez, who will take some time to readjust to the NBA game after not playing in the league since 2009-10. Plus, Bayless' ability as an outside shooter (shot a career-high 43.7 percent from three-point range last season) and the fact that he doesn't need to operate with the ball in his hands should make him an instant fit with No. 1 pick Simmons.

Shooting guard all comes down to what Brown wants in his starting lineup. Free-agent signee Henderson is clearly the best option, but Brown might prefer having the luxury of his skill set coming off the bench with Nik Stauskas opening up with the first unit. With that said, I still think Henderson will play with the starters. He gives the Sixers enough offense and is an upgrade on the defensive end.

The small forward spot belongs to Robert Covington ... for now. Sure, Saric is finally in the fold and figures to see time at that slot at some point in the future. I just don't see the Sixers throwing the Croatian into the fire during his rookie season. Jerami Grant will also snag minutes here, but he doesn't figure to get any consideration as a starter.

Power forward belongs to Simmons. That is all.

The crowded center position will be the Sixers' toughest selection. Embiid will be on a minutes restriction and won't play in back-to-back sets after missing two seasons, so he's likely out. That leaves Okafor and Noel. If you're like those in our CSN newsroom, you either fall in the Okafor camp or the Noel camp. Not both. I guess that means I'm on the Okafor side. I understand the complaints about his defense and they are valid, but when you give up 107.6 points per game as a team, that means everyone could stand to improve on D. Yes, even Noel. Okafor's talent on the other end, however, isn't up for debate. He can fill it up and will benefit from a gifted passer such as Simmons feeding him the ball.

PG: Bayless
SG: Henderson
SF: Covington
PF: Simmons
C: Okafor

Hudrick
Simmons, Henderson and Covington are almost locks to start. Many have penciled in Bayless at point guard because of his ability to shoot and how that will mesh with Simmons' playing style. Fair point, but Bayless is not a true point guard. Brown said that while he toyed with the notion of starting Simmons as a point guard, he didn't want to put that much on the rookie's plate. Enter Rodriguez.

Rodriguez is a true point guard that excels in the pick-and-roll, has good court vision and offers a calming influence. El Chacho, as the kids are calling him, has a great deal of experience in the Euroleague, taking home an MVP award and a championship with Real Madrid. He's not a knock-down shooter, but he can hit the occasional open three. His chemistry with Pau Gasol during the Olympics made me think of the possibilities of Rodriguez playing with Embiid, Okafor and Noel.

As far as center goes, you can really just take your pick. I'm going with Okafor only because he'll be the most helpful player to Simmons on the offensive end with his hands and ability to finish around the basket. Certainly Brown could opt for Noel if he wants a better defensive lineup. Both players may just be keeping that starting spot warm for Embiid.

PG: Rodriguez
SG: Henderson
SF: Covington
PF: Simmons
C: Okafor

Joel Embiid says he's '100 percent' back from foot injury, excited to play with Ben Simmons

Joel Embiid says he's '100 percent' back from foot injury, excited to play with Ben Simmons

AVALON, N.J. -- Joel Embiid has been waiting since 2014 to make his NBA debut. Two years later, the former third overall pick is nearing that day.

“I feel a hundred percent,” Embiid said Saturday at the Sixers Beach Bash. “I’m ready to get started. My summer has been great. We’ve been working out a lot this past summer, just getting some runs in. I’ve gotten a chance to play a little bit against the guys.” 

Embiid’s pro career has been sidelined by injuries, undergoing two foot surgeries in as many years. The first was to repair a stress fracture in his right navicular bone. The second, a bone-graft operation on the same bone. 

The 7-foot-2 big man has been rehabbing since then, traveling as far as Qatar in the process. This offseason Embiid was cleared for monitored, five-on-five drills. He joined the Sixers during the Las Vegas Summer League to continue his recovery away from game competition.

“It’s been really tough,” Embiid said. “The main thing is, I haven’t gotten a chance to get on the court and play, or help my teammates, or play in front of Sixers fans. I look forward to it and I can’t wait.”

Embiid said he “definitely” plans to be a go for training camp. He expects there will be a transition period once cleared to play given the length of his rehab, but notes he is a quick learner. Embiid also anticipates having restrictions, but has not discussed the specifics with the Sixers. 

“Probably,” he said. “But I think the restrictions would probably be about the fact that I haven’t played in two years. It’s not going to be about because people are worried that I’m going to re-injure myself, which I don’t think is going to happen.”

One player who is eager for Embiid’s return is rookie first overall pick Ben Simmons. The two have been friends since high school. They easily gel off the court, and plan to do the same in games. 

“He has great footwork, he has great touch, so I’m looking forward to playing with him,” Simmons said, continuing, “Off the court, we’re like brothers. We have fun.” 

Embiid has been present with the Sixers for games and practices. He has had numerous conversations with head coach Brett Brown about his days on the San Antonio Spurs coaching staff and how the organization achieved success with fellow big Tim Duncan, one of Embiid’s basketball role models. 

With an abundance of bigs, the Sixers will have to determine how they share the floor. For Embiid, who can also knock down long-range shots, he plans to fill whatever role the coaches outline for him.

“I think I’ll take a couple threes, but I’ll do what’s best for the team and whatever I’ll feel comfortable doing,” he said. “Obviously they’re going to need my presence inside and that’s what I’m going to do. But when I’m open, I might fire some threes.”

After a series of setbacks, Embiid is enthusiastic about the thought of making his NBA debut. 

“It feels great,” he said. “Especially after the past two years, I haven’t been able to do what I love. It just feels great.”