Sixers camp questions: How many wins this year?

slideshow-sixers-team-intros-uspresswire.jpg

Sixers camp questions: How many wins this year?

With the Sixers' training camp set to open at the end of the week, there are questions that come to mind -- many questions. Over the next couple days, we will ponder those burning questions entering the Brett Brown era.

How will the Sixers fare in their division, the Eastern Conference and overall?

The Sixers are a good bet to be a lottery team given Nerlens Noel, the No. 6 overall pick in June’s draft, is sidelined for the first couple months of the season. They also have a rookie starting at point guard in Michael Carter-Williams, no experienced shooting guard and a starting center in Spencer Hawes whom would definitely be a backup on a winning team.

Brooklyn -- with its high-priced, All-Star-laden roster -- is the favorite to win the Atlantic division. The Nets have great talent with Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry. However, age could factor in along with having a rookie head coach in Jason Kidd.

New York will say it has a legitimate shot in the Atlantic after winning the division last season. Carmelo Anthony led the league in scoring last year with 28.8 points per game to help the Knicks win 47 games. The Knicks showed great improvement defensively, holding opponents to the seventh-fewest points per game (95.7).

The Sixers, Boston Celtics and Toronto Raptors are all in similar situations with rosters that are looking to the future. The Raptors and Celtics have more guys with experience than the Sixers, but they are merely players that have received quality minutes and not big-time talents.

With that said, the Sixers will likely occupy the cellar of the Atlantic Division.

In the East, Miami is clearly the class of the conference. However, Indiana and Chicago -- with a healthy Derrick Rose -- will be equally difficult to beat. Those three opponents account for 10 of the Sixers’ 82 games this season.

Teams that should have similar struggles to the Sixers are Charlotte and Orlando. Cleveland, Washington and Detroit all got better on paper. Meanwhile, Atlanta and Milwaukee have changed some personnel, but were both playoff teams last season.

The Western Conference has been the stronger conference for a number of years now. The four teams I can’t see the Sixers beating at all are Oklahoma City, San Antonio, Houston and the Los Angeles Clippers. It would take an extraordinary effort on a given night for Brett Brown’s team to beat any of those squads when healthy.

Phoenix and Sacramento are rebuilding franchises and are the two best bets for the Sixers to at least split those matchups.

The west’s other teams have more or comparable talent to the Sixers, who will struggle to compete on the road against those squads but could stay in the fight at home.

Overall, I see 20 wins for Brown’s team in his first year as Sixers head coach.

Sixers being cautious with Jahlil Okafor early in training camp

Sixers being cautious with Jahlil Okafor early in training camp

GALLOWAY, N.J. — The Sixers lost Jahlil Okafor for the final 23 games last season because of a small meniscus tear in his right knee. Now they are being cautious as he prepares for his second year.

As part of the Sixers’ prescheduled load management for Okafor, he participated in a portion of practice and then worked out individually with head strength and conditioning coach Todd Wright.

“They just told me to relax once I did what they wanted me to do today,” Okafor said. “I was off to the sidelines. I feel fine. I’ll be good tomorrow.”

Okafor learned during his first NBA season that he should speak more openly with the staff about his body.

“Communication is key,” he said. “I think last year I didn’t really communicate how I was feeling, so I wasn’t able to get the help I needed.”

The team held three practice sessions in the first two days of training camp. Okafor said he knew the Sixers would be cautious with his workload. He is poised to improve upon his rookie year in which he averaged 17.5 points and 7.0 rebounds in 53 games last season.

“I’m 100 percent healthy,” he said. “I’m all good.”

Joel Embiid adjusting to new challenges in 1st NBA training camp

Joel Embiid adjusting to new challenges in 1st NBA training camp

GALLOWAY, N.J. -- With Joel Embiid's excitement to be on the court following two years of injuries comes the reality of his lengthy setback.

Embiid is participating in his first NBA training camp this week. While he has impressed with his natural abilities and improved skills, Embiid is facing challenges as he gets accustomed to the league.

"Everything is kind of off right now as far as catching the ball or shooting," Embiid said after practice Wednesday. "I've still got to get in the flow of the game."

Embiid has yet to play since being drafted in 2014. For the past two years he has worked out individually and in controlled settings. Practices, even in training camp, are different. 

"You see all the time when you realize he hasn't played basketball for a long time," Sixers head coach Brett Brown said. "He's trying to gather his feet and find his balance, he's trying to figure out stuff in real time speed on defensive assignments and rotations."

On Wednesday, Embiid went through practice without any minute restrictions and was feeling healthier from the cold and virus he had been battling (see story). Teammates have praised his physical presence and eagerness to compete. He makes an impact with his 7-foot-2 presence alone, but there is more he wants to improve. 

Embiid is adjusting to the speed of the game. He has been facing challenges with getting the ball in the post and spoke to the coaches about his frustrations. The staff explained they are focusing on pick-and-roll defense and getting out to run during training camp, but he will get that desired location in game situations. 

“You continue to see the size of Joel Embiid,” Brown said. “He's a big man and he's got a mindset to back up his physical gifts. He really wants the ball. He wants to get deep catches. He wants to dunk on people.”

Embiid always has been realistic about his transition to his rookie season. He has pointed out many times that he is a fast learner, and is anxious to soak up new knowledge and apply it to the court.

"It's really frustrating," he said. "But like I've said, you've got to trust the process, which I've been doing."