Sixers' Carter-Williams standing up to the test

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Sixers' Carter-Williams standing up to the test

BOX SCORE

NEWARK, Del. -- Michael Carter-Williams knows it’s going to be tough.

As a rookie point guard who just had his 21st birthday, the 6-foot-6, 185-pounder is ready for the pounding. He expects the opposing teams to get aggressive with him and make him work for every inch on the court. In Friday night’s 97-85 victory over the Boston Celtics at the University of Delaware’s Bob Carpenter Center (see Instant Replay), veteran Avery Bradley was gunning for Carter-Williams from the jump.

In fact, at one point during the first quarter, Bradley had been clutching and grabbing Carter-Williams so much that his shirt tail had come out of his shorts and was flapping in the breeze.

“I thought he was exceptional,” Sixers head coach Brett Brown said. “Each game I see him, he does something that gets you even more excited. You hear about his potential and you think you know, and then all of a sudden you see him against arguably the best perimeter defender and he was physical and Michael didn’t back down. He went by him and I thought that his performance tonight against a very physical defender was excellent.”

It was rough, too. But Carter-Williams has stood up to the test. In three preseason games, including battles against Bradley and the Oklahoma City Thunder in England, Carter-Williams has committed just one turnover. In Friday night’s game against the Celtics, Carter-Williams had zero turnovers in 30 minutes.

The rookie had six points on six shots with six assists and six rebounds against the Celtics. He also added a steal and was a plus-21. He had no trouble finding Thad Young (20 points), Spencer Hawes (17 points) or Evan Turner (12 points, nine rebounds) as the Sixers rolled.

“I think I’m picking my poison a little bit,” Carter-Williams said. “I’m taking smarter chances and trying to squeeze some passes, but only once in a while. I try to make the simple play a lot and so far it’s been working.”

The 11th pick in last June’s draft, Carter-Williams was highly regarded for his athleticism and size as a point guard, though his shooting is a bit suspect. Moreover, rail thin and young, some felt Carter-Williams would have trouble with the older and stronger guards in the NBA. After all, every point guard goes through some growing pains, especially rookies.

But as he explained, Carter-Williams pays attention to the fundamentals. He’ll make the simple, correct play instead of the flashy one. That’s what a coach wants from a point guard. Especially a coach who was collegiate point guard and a son of a coach.

But not everything was perfect in Brown’s eyes. Yes, Carter-Williams was perfect in the turnover column, but he left plenty of room for improvement. Playing an up-tempo style of offense in which the goal is to get the ball and take off, the Sixers’ plan is to wear out the opposition. However, there were times during the second half when it appeared as if the Sixers were dragging a little bit.

Ideally, Brown said, the Sixers will move even faster with the ball and it will be up to Carter-Williams to make the team go.

“It has to be the way we play,” Brown said. “At times it scares the heck out of you because you turn it over a lot and we’ve said it’s going to happen and I’m prepared to live with some of that now. Hopefully, we can get a little smarter on the kick-aheads and some of those passes we’re throwing long. But pace has to be our identity. We put a premium on fitness and we want to get out and go.”

If Brown wants the offense to move faster, Carter-Williams isn’t going to argue. What player is going to argue with going faster?

“Whatever coach wants,” Carter-Williams said. “If he wants us to play faster, that’s what we’ll have to do. As a player, I’m going to adapt to that and try to play as fast as I can and as fast as [Brown] wants. I don’t think my turnovers will suffer from that.”

In other words, giddy-up.

The Sixers continue the exhibition season on Monday night when the Brooklyn Nets come to the Wells Fargo Center.

Brett Brown has 'completely different feeling' in training camp this year

Brett Brown has 'completely different feeling' in training camp this year

GALLOWAY, N.J. — Brett Brown left training camp last September with an unsettling feeling. He had just completed long days of scrimmages, drills and planning, and yet he sensed the Sixers were not ready to tackle the 82 games that lied ahead. 

“I remember driving back to Philadelphia last year knowing in my heart of heart that this group was going to be challenged,” Brown said Thursday following the morning practice session at Stockton University. “That was a frightening drive home. That drive home scared me because I felt like, I know what we have and how are we going to be able to maneuver through this?”

Brown was right. The Sixers lost their first 18 games and began the season 1-30. They stumbled the rest of the way, finishing the 2016-17 campaign with a dismal 10-72 record. 

“We really didn’t know who the point guard was,” Brown said. “We came in extremely injured, we were trying to make the Nerlens [Noel]-Jahlil [Okafor] thing work, there really weren’t a lot of veterans to look around [and see], and you knew it.”

Now in his fourth training camp as head coach, with 47 wins and 199 losses with the Sixers behind him, Brown has different emotions as the team nears the end of training camp on Friday. 

Instead of a constantly-changing lineup of players, the Sixers are building a roster that can serve as the foundation for the future. There are nine new players on the team, including first overall pick Ben Simmons and rookie Dario Saric. Joel Embiid will make his NBA debut after two years of injuries, and the Sixers added veteran leaders in free agency.

Brown has a clearer picture of what the team could look like this season and beyond. He is coaching training camp to enter a new chapter, not to simply make it through the upcoming months. 

“You can leave and you can sniff reality,” Brown said. “Now what I see is there’s depth. There are challenges positionally as we’ve talked about. But there’s talent. There’s point guards. They’re sprinkled in with some veterans. How we grow it and play it is still on the table. To me, it’s a completely different feeling that I have now that I did not have last year.”

The additions of Jerryd Bayless and Sergio Rodriguez at the one spot lessen the coaching load for Brown. He also can turn to T.J. McConnell from last season. The depth is a far cry from when the Sixers were quickly changing at that position and didn’t find a consistent starter until they traded for Ish Smith in late December.

“That position, I think, is vital when you start putting a bunch of 20-year-olds around it and trying to find some type of organization,” Brown said. “You just can’t replace a point guard’s intellect. You can’t replace, I think, somebody that has great command from that position. It certainly helps me.”

Brown expects to feel “proud” when the Sixers wrap training camp on Friday. He is looking forward to getting the season underway, beginning with two practices at the new training complex in Camden before their first preseason game Oct. 4 against the Celtics. 

Brown anticipates his drive home this time will be a much different trip. 

“I feel comfortable that we’re ticking boxes and we’re achieving the goals that we set out from the start of what we wanted to get done in Stockton,” he said.

The Sixers continued to monitor load management on Thursday, as Okafor, Embiid and Gerald Henderson did not participate in the morning scrimmage. Bayless also did not go through the scrimmage because of a sore left wrist. 

Nerlens Noel thinks he and Ben Simmons can be a lockdown defensive duo

Nerlens Noel thinks he and Ben Simmons can be a lockdown defensive duo

GALLOWAY, N.J. — The Sixers' abundance of big men lends itself to numerous combinations in the frontcourt.

On Thursday, Nerlens Noel had his first experience playing with Ben Simmons. The center gelled with the rookie forward.

"It's a great duo, I think," Noel said following the morning practice session of training camp at Stockton University.

Noel has been paired with many big men during his career with the Sixers. Last season, he faced the challenge of playing out of position at times with Jahlil Okafor. The logjam prompted him to speak out about the current makeup of the roster (see story).

After playing with Simmons, Noel saw how the two can share the court.

"I think we complement each other very well, especially on the defensive end," Noel said. "He's definitely a lockdown type defender that digs in."

Even though Simmons has yet to play an NBA game, Noel already envisions how he can help the Sixers.

"He just plays basketball the right way," Noel said. "When your big man does that, it makes it a lot easier because he is very versatile being a point-forward type. That opens up a lot of things for him to be able to open up for his teammates."