Five Sixers storylines to watch for this season


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.

In long-awaited NBA debut, Joel Embiid treats Sixers fans to a show

In long-awaited NBA debut, Joel Embiid treats Sixers fans to a show

The crowd erupted as Joel Embiid stepped to the free throw line. They chanted a phrase Embiid has been repeating for the past two years, a fitting welcome to his NBA debut.

“That was great,” Embiid said after the Sixers' 103-97 loss to the Thunder on Wednesday in the season opener (see Instant Replay). “That’s my motto, 'Trust the process.'”

After two years of rehabbing foot injuries, Embiid has his first regular-season game behind him. Embiid scored a team-high 20 points, shooting 6 for 16 from the field, 1 for 3 from long range and 7 for 8 from the line. He also recorded seven rebounds, two blocks, four turnovers and four fouls in over 22 minutes. 

“The beginning I was nervous, but once you make that first shot, it just goes away,” he said. “The fans were so into the game that it was fun. I love having fun.”

Sixers head coach Brett Brown enjoyed watching Embiid on the court as much as the big man liked being on it. Brown has seen the 7-foot-2 center grow and develop during his rehab. Finally, he was able to utilize his versatile skills in a real game setting.

“I can't say this loud enough,” Brown said. “For the city to be rewarded with a player that we all understand has unique gifts, special gifts, for him to go through all the things he has been through and play like he did on opening night, the city deserves it. Most importantly, he deserves it.”

Now that Embiid has been cleared to play, he would like to do so for longer periods of time. He began the preseason at 12 minutes and was increased to 20 in segmented spurts for opening night. Even though he exceeded that limit by over two minutes, Embiid is itching to be cleared to play more extensively. 

“It sucks,” Embiid said. “I feel like I could have played more but you know you’ve got to trust the process, got to trust those guys. If I have my minute restriction at 20 minutes, I guess I’m going to go with that. But obviously I want to play more and more and I think it can help the team better. But they have a plan for me and I’ve got to follow it.”

Embiid has maintained he wants to be a clutch player. Brown looked to him toward the end of the game as the Thunder pulled ahead late in the final quarter. He drained a fadeaway jumper to tie the game at 97 apiece with 50.7 to go. 

Later trailing by four with 10 seconds left, the Sixers went to Embiid. While he was whistled for an offensive foul, Brown was glad to have a go-to unlike in years past. 

“You have a target,” Brown said. “We tried to get the ball to him a lot. … By and large, to have somebody like Joel, where the mystery is solved like, 'What do you do?' You get him the ball as much as you can.”

The more the Sixers found Embiid, the more the Thunder had to try to defend him. Thunder head coach Billy Donovan knew what his team was going up against. He watched Embiid as a high schooler and coached against him during his tenure at Florida. 

“He’s gifted and skilled,” Donovan said. “It was probably our guys' first time seeing him … I knew the talent, the gifts. The one thing with him is, he’s got great footwork. He’s hard to guard because he’s herky-jerky. He moves. He’s got a lot of [Hakeem] Olajuwon to him.”

Opening night had been two years in the making. Even though the Sixers didn't win, the significance of the evening didn't disappoint. 

"I thought this moment was going to be special," Embiid said, "and it was just great."

Best of NBA: Davis' 50 points not enough in Pelicans' loss to Nuggets

Best of NBA: Davis' 50 points not enough in Pelicans' loss to Nuggets

NEW ORLEANS -- Jusuf Nurkic scored 23 points, Will Barton added 22, and the Denver Nuggets survived a dominant performance by Anthony Davis to defeat the New Orleans Pelicans 107-102 in both teams' regular season opener Wednesday night.

Davis had 50 points, 16 rebounds, seven steals, five assists and four blocks. His production helped New Orleans trim a deficit as large as 14 late in the second quarter down to two points in the waning minutes. He simply didn't have enough help.

The rest of the Pelicans combined to shoot 21 of 58. Tim Frazier scored 15 for the Pelicans. E'Twaun Moore added 10 points, but missed a 3-point attempt that could have tied it with 24 seconds left.

Danilo Gallinari scored 15 for Denver and Wilson Chandler added 12 points (see full recap).

Celtics top Nets in Horford's home debut
BOSTON -- Isaiah Thomas had 25 points and nine assists, Jae Crowder added 21 points and Al Horford pitched in 11 in his Boston debut on Wednesday night as the Celtics survived a late scare to beat the Brooklyn Nets 122-117 in their season opener.

Bojan Bogdanovic scored 21 for Brooklyn, including a 3-pointer to make it 120-117 with 47 seconds left after the Nets erased most of a 23-point deficit against the Boston bench. But he missed one with a chance to tie it after Joe Harris intercepted Thomas' cross-court pass, and the Celtics were able to hold on.

Justin Hamilton came off the bench to score 19 points and grab 10 rebounds for the Nets in coach Kenny Atkinson's debut (see full recap).

Turner's opening act leads Pacers past Mavs in OT
INDIANAPOLIS -- Myles Turner scored 30 points, tied his career high with 16 rebounds and made a 3-pointer with 1:18 left in overtime to start an 8-0 run that allowed the Indiana Pacers to close out a 130-121 victory Wednesday night over the Dallas Mavericks.

Three-time All-Star Paul George added 25 points, including another 3 with 55 seconds left to seal Indiana's fifth season-opening win in six years.

Deron Williams scored 25 points, while J.J. Barea and Dirk Nowitzki each added 22 as the Mavs lost their fifth straight in the series. They still haven't won in Indianapolis since February 2014.

Dallas didn't tie the score or take a lead until the fourth quarter, yet still forced overtime when Harrison Barnes' open 3-pointer made it 115-all with 2.3 seconds left.

Turner could have won it with a long buzzer-beating 3, but it bounced off the back of the rim (see full recap).