Sixers Notes: Wright finally finds role under Collins

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Sixers Notes: Wright finally finds role under Collins

WASHINGTON -- All season long, Doug Collins has tried to figure out what to do with his wing players. Though he has guys who can shoot well, the Sixers lack speed on the wings.

Collins thought veteran Jason Richardson was the answer, but he went out with a season-ending knee injury. Nick Young stepped up for a tiny bit, but he too went down with an injury and was slow to rejoin the rotation.

It wasn’t until Collins turned to Damien Wilkins as his starter on the wing with Dorell Wright coming off the bench that it got straightened out. No, it’s not the second coming of Joe Dumars and Vinnie “The Microwave” Johnson from the champion Detroit Pistons teams in the 1980s, but the duo has solved a problem for Collins.

The key has been Wright coming off the bench. He scored 13 points in 25 minutes during Friday night’s win over the Wizards at the Verizon Center with a pair of three-pointers (see game recap). In his last 10 games, Wright has averaged nearly 13 points and has hit 22 three-pointers. Wright also has led the Sixers in scoring twice during that stretch, providing the punch off the bench the Sixers have needed.

“Dorell has been great,” Collins said. “We have had an issue all season long with our wings, how do we get it settled in? We need guys to settle into that mold a little bit and through injury it kind of found itself. J-Rich was a huge loss for us and then we tried Nick Young out there and then he got hurt. Then I moved Damien there and when Dorell thrived in that role off the bench.”

Providing scoring off the bench is not something veterans like Wright can do easily. The key to it, Collins says, is to come in ready to go, which is difficult for some players. As a starter a player can find the flow of the game, get his body warmed up and ease into things.

“The one thing you have to do is come in and get yourself into the rhythm of the game,” Collins said. “The one thing I’ve always said is that sometimes it’s harder for an older player who has been in the league for a while and maybe they have a lot of miles on them and maybe some injuries and it’s tough to warm up. When you come off that bench you have to be ready to roll.”

Wright has come into games firing.

“We’ve needed scoring from off the bench, so when I go in there I try to be aggressive as possible and look for my shot and take my shots in rhythm,” Wright said.

It’s not a completely foreign role for Wright even though he spent the last two seasons with Golden State as a starter. In six seasons with the Miami Heat, Wright started sporadically, but was never a main guy in the rotation.

However, in his first season with the Warriors, Wright led the NBA in three-pointers and three-pointers attempted. He also started all 82 games, averaged 38 minutes and was ninth in the NBA in steals with 124.

So if his shot isn’t going down, Wright says he has something he can fall back on. He even admits that he has enjoyed his new role off the bench.

“Yeah, it’s cool with me. As long as I’m out there being productive,” Wright said. “If I’m not scoring I can get rebounds and get the ball and make some plays. I’m happy with it.”

Brown out … again
Kwame Brown took his 27th straight DNP-CD on Friday night. He hasn’t appeared in a game since Feb. 20 in the Sixers’ loss at Minnesota.

Headed back to Washington, where Brown began his NBA career as the No. 1 overall pick -- with Collins as his coach -- one had to wonder if the veteran would see some action.

No such luck.

“Kwame hasn’t had a chance to play much and it’s been unfortunate,” Collins said. “When we signed Andrew Bynum, it set Kwame back. He saw that his role was going to be different. He came into training camp and he was hurt. He hurt some ribs before we got started and then started some exhibition games and hurt his calf. He was nicked up most of the year. I feel badly he hasn’t played -- I thought he was going to play more.”

Last July, Brown was signed to a one-year contract with a player option for a second season. Brown hasn’t told reporters if he planned on exercising his option, though it would be hard to imagine someone leaving $2.9 million on the table.

Joel Embiid not named All-Star starter, can still make it as reserve

Joel Embiid not named All-Star starter, can still make it as reserve

Joel Embiid will have to hope NBA coaches trust the process.

Embiid on Thursday was not named a starter in the 2017 NBA All-Star Game. LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jimmy Butler locked in the three Eastern Conference frontcourt spots. Kyrie Irving and DeMar DeRozan rounded out the backcourt.

James (25.6 points, 7.8 rebounds, 8.1 assists) and Antetokounmpo (23.7 points, 8.7 rebounds, 5.6 assists) were locks as starters. That left Butler, Kevin Love and Embiid as the next in contention. Butler is a two-time All-Star averaging 24.8 points, 6.8 rebounds and 4.8 assists in 36.8 minutes for the 21-22 Bulls. Love is posting 20.7 points, 10.8 rebounds and 1.7 assists in 31.6 minutes per game on the Eastern Conference-leading, 29-11 Cavaliers.

The Western Conference starting spots went to Stephen Curry, James Harden, Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard and Anthony Davis. 

The voting was made up of fan votes (50 percent), player votes (25 percent) and media votes (25 percent). Embiid has a chance to be voted in by the NBA coaches, whose reserve selections will be announced on Jan. 26. 

Embiid would have been named a starter had the results been based on fan voting (50 percent). He finished third ahead of Love and Butler.

Embiid was in the running for a starting role during a breakout rookie season. He is averaging 19.9 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.4 blocks in 25.4 minutes per game. Even though his playing time is capped at 28 minutes, he ranks seventh among all players in scoring per 48 minutes. He is eighth overall in free throw attempts per game (7.9) and 10th in those made (6.2).

Embiid had obstacles, though, when it came to the voting: rookie status, 28-minute restriction, limited games played (29) because of his allocated workload, and the Sixers’ record.

Even though the All-Star Game highlights individual achievements, team record is often taken into consideration. The Sixers have won seven of their last nine games (see story), but still stand well below .500 at 14-26.

When it came to the players’ vote, it is hard for a rookie who hasn’t even competed against every team in the league to make a strong enough impression for another player to influence their perception of the top talent. Embiid finished outside of the top five in the players' vote, behind James, Antetokounmpo, Butler, Paul George and Kristaps Porzingis. Meanwhile, the Sixers' big man finished fifth in the media vote.

Embiid and the Sixers were very active in pushing for the fan votes. Embiid received the social media support of celebrities including Triple H, Kevin Hart and MLB MVP Mike Trout, among others. The Sixers promoted Embiid through a Shirley Temple campaign based on his favorite drink.

Embiid picked up major steam in the last week of voting. He had trailed Love by 16,028 fan votes in the second returns on Jan. 12.

He took to Twitter to express his gratitude.

Dario Saric hitting his stride, altering games on Sixers' second unit

Dario Saric hitting his stride, altering games on Sixers' second unit

There was skepticism as to whether or not Dario Saric would ever play for the Sixers. He spent two years overseas after the team acquired him on draft night 2014, and as each month passed, more and more uncertainty grew around his future in the NBA.

Saric told the Sixers all along that he would come to Philadelphia. He urged them, I will play for your team.

The 22-year-old rookie (and that term should be used loosely given his lengthy professional career) is proving the wait was worth it.

“They said he was never coming back,” Joel Embiid said. “But Dario’s here and he’s making big plays for us.”

Saric is averaging 9.7 points and 5.9 rebounds in 24.1 minutes this season. That includes a transitional period wherein Saric was moved in and out of the starting lineup and shifted from power forward and small forward as the Sixers experimented with different rotations. Saric looked out of sorts and frustrated with himself at times. The newness of the league, team and system took its toll on the player who is his own toughest critic. 

Saric's numbers are up since Brett Brown locked him in to the second unit. He is averaging 11.0 points and 6.7 boards during the Sixers' 7-2 stretch. 

“If Joel Embiid weren’t in the league, you’d have to talk about him in consideration for Rookie of the Year,” Brown said. “There is an appeal that he has developed, I feel, from our fans. They respect him. How can you not? He is so blue collar. I think the plays he makes, the effort-based plays, the physical plays just count for everything. ... I hope that he recognizes we appreciate his passion and we appreciate how he plays.”

Saric put on a show in the fourth quarter of the Sixers' statement win over the Raptors Wednesday. He had a pair of blocks in under a minute, including one against Jared Sullinger which sent Embiid into a frenzy on the bench (video here)

“Dario never blocks shots and he had two in a row,” Embiid said. “Especially at the rim like that, blocking Sullinger, that’s the type of play we need. The crowd obviously got into it. I’m just glad he’s here with us like he promised he was going to be after two years.”

Saric followed up the blocks with an offensive rebound and layup that pushed the Sixers' lead back up to six points. He topped off his fourth-quarter spurt with a three-pointer from T.J. McConnell to put his team up seven. 

“Every guy has their own job,” Saric said. “Sometimes you can do it better but always you need effort. You've to give 100 percent, try to fight, try to win. Give everything that you have in that moment. Your whole body, just move it. ... I had a good game. Sometimes the game gives you open shots. Sometimes it gives you a situation where you cannot do nothing. I tried to come and bring some energy. I tried to change the game in that way.”

Saric finished with eight points, nine rebounds and two blocks in 24 minutes off the bench. He hadn’t recorded two blocks since Nov. 9 against the Pacers. 

“I think Dario is the key to helping us secure that win, big-time,” Nerlens Noel said. “I think he really took that game more toward our favor.”

There were bound to be growing pains for Saric with all the massive challenges involved in playing in the new league. His basketball world has been flipped upside down in less than a year, not to mention his adjusting to life outside of Europe. It took some time but Saric is hitting his stride, and it is led by his disciplined mindset.

“Sometimes when you're doing bad and you don't have an opportunity to do something, (you have to) give the team its energy," Saric said. "I tried to bring some kind of energy and I did that good. I don't know. Maybe it's because I want to win the game. That's the easy answer."