Sixers first-half review: Bynum's absence felt in big way

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Sixers first-half review: Bynum's absence felt in big way

Yeah, the waiting is the hardest part …
--Tom Petty

Undoubtedly, one single player and one solitary story have dominated the Sixers’ season.

No, we don’t need a road map to figure this out …

So as we sit and wait for Andrew Bynum’s knees to cooperate and give us a proper basketball season in Philadelphia, let’s contemplate the lost first half in which the Sixers limped to a 22-29 record that was defined by those pesky injuries and a dysfunctional roster.

Deep breath now …

Obviously, the Sixers were built with Bynum in mind. In a mediocre world -- forget perfect -- the Sixers’ offense and defense would all flow through the dominant big man. More importantly, the trickle-down effect that Bynum would create was supposed to be incredible. With a center demanding all of the attention, point guard Jrue Holiday wouldn’t face so many double-teams on offense, nor would he be the focus of every team’s pick-and-roll on defense.

Imagine Holiday with his quickness and passing savvy negotiating the offense without being held back by the total focus of the opposition’s game plan. Averaging nearly 19 points and nine assists per game, Holiday just might have been able to improve upon those statistics with a bona fide big man.

Bynum’s presence would have done wonders for the Sixers’ perimeter game, too. Remember during the exhibition season when the Sixers had a knack for drilling those transition and kick-out three-pointers? Wonder why that went away when the regular season began?

Nope, no need to think too hard. The reason why Nick Young, Jason Richardson and Evan Turner haven’t had those unfettered looks at the basket has been sitting on the bench in a stylish sport coat all season long.

So what do we make of the Sixers’ first half? Doug Collins said it has been his most difficult as a coach, which is understandable given the injuries and the frustration that manifested from them. But then again, injuries are a part of it. Every team has injuries, though maybe not to players as important as Bynum was to the Sixers. Still, it’s one thing to negotiate through injuries and hold the fort until the team is full strength again, and it’s yet another to be caught with your pants down when the injury bug bites.

Clearly, the Sixers got caught with their pants down.

How so? Well, aside from last year’s compressed, 66-game schedule and the 2006-07 season when a 19-year old Bynum played 82 games, the big fella has missed a significant portion of nearly every season of his career for injuries. In other words, Bynum is prone to getting hurt.

Without Bynum the Sixers have had second-year, 6-foot-9 big man Lavoy Allen starting at center for a majority of the season. Allen has been good in flashes, but he never has to look over his shoulder to worry about playing time because he sees Kwame Brown standing there.

Thad Young, clearly the Sixers’ most important player, has been dynamite as an undersized power forward, and again makes one wonder just how good he’d be playing alongside a true big man like Bynum.

The same goes for Spencer Hawes, who is solid with his high-post game, but sometimes has trouble when he wanders deep into the paint.

Indeed, the Sixers are game and giving an effort, but they clearly have been overmatched at times.

Sigh …

“I put a lot of responsibility on myself and I don’t ever want to use injuries as an excuse,” Collins told reporters on Wednesday. “I think excuses are for losers, for people who want to take a step back and say, ‘Woe is me, look what’s happened.’ I’ve never done that. If I did, I’ve never be where I am today. It’s not like I’ve been some great champion, but I think I’ve been a guy who’s sort of hung around for 40 years who’s using that mentality.”

But it can only get better, right?

Right?

The Sixers have to hope so.

First-half awards
MVP: Thad Young

Holiday seems like the obvious choice here since he’s the Sixers’ lone All-Star and could become the first player in team history to average more than 18 points and eight assists per game since Wilt Chamberlain did it in 1968. That’s some pretty heady stuff.

But just where would the Sixers be without Young?

This season, Young has thrived despite the fact that he’s been playing out of position. He took over the starting power forward spot out of training camp and never looked back. Along the way he has turned in 12 double-doubles, averaged 36 minutes per game, shot 52.2 percent from the field and averaged a career-best 7.4 rebounds and 15 points per game.

Better yet, Young has done all of this while routinely taking on the opposition’s best offensive player every night. In back-to-back games this month, Young held All-Star Carmelo Anthony to 8-for-28 shooting and then returned the next game to hold All-Star Zach Randolph to just four points, with two of them coming on a tip in late in the game.

Best game: Sixers 106, Celtics 100
Nov. 9, 2012 at the TD Garden, Boston

Clinging to a scant lead in the fourth quarter, the Sixers stood up to three late-game rallies by the veteran Celtics to win at TD Garden. The teams traded haymakers until there were 25.7 seconds left in the game when Turner sank a pair of foul shots.

With 21 seconds left, Dorell Wright forced a turnover from Jason Terry and fed Turner for another bucket with 17 seconds left.

Turner finished the game with 25 points and 11 rebounds while Jrue Holiday turned in 21 points and 14 assists to withstand a 20-assists performance from Rajon Rondo.

Worst game: Pistons 94. Sixers 76
Nov. 14, 2012 at the Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia

There are a number of games that could have fit this bill, but the loss at home to Detroit stands out the most. Not only did the Sixers shoot a season-worst 29.8 percent in this one, but also they lost to a team that went into the game with an 0-8 record.

Greg Monroe had 19 points and 18 rebounds in this one, while the Sixers were led by 14 points from Allen.

Notable performances
Lavoy Allen -- 14 points and 22 rebounds vs. Charlotte on Feb. 9, 2013
Spencer Hawes -- 21 points and 14 rebounds vs. Orlando on Feb. 4, 2013
Jrue Holiday -- 33 points and 14 assists vs. Toronto on Jan. 18, 2013
Jason Richardson -- 20 points and eight rebounds vs. Utah on Nov. 16, 2012
Evan Turner -- 22 points and 13 rebounds vs. LA Lakers on Jan. 1, 2013
Dorell Wright -- 28 points and six rebounds vs. Memphis on Dec. 26, 2012
Nick Young -- 30 points and five assists vs. LA Lakers on Dec. 16, 2012
Thad Young -- 29 points and 15 rebounds vs. Oklahoma City on Nov. 24, 2012

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.”