Sixers rookies being allowed to grow


Sixers rookies being allowed to grow

The theme most prevalent with the Sixers this season: Youth.
With four rookies, seven players who haven’t played in 82 NBA games, and no one on the active roster older than 25, the Sixers are the youngest team in the NBA.
For coach Brett Brown, the team’s youth is both a blessing and a curse. One can see the growing pains in games against San Antonio, Golden State and New Orleans. But even in those lopsided outings, there was much to be learned for the Sixers’ youngsters.
For two rookies, Michael Carter-Williams and Hollis Thompson, there has been value in every game and every practice.
Carter-Williams has faced the league’s top point guards, he’s nearly notched a pair of triple-doubles, and he’s had two games in which he turned the ball over six times. Carter-Williams has also been on the bench for four games with a foot injury and learned what one must do to maintain effectiveness following a short layoff. Through it all, he's the early front-runner for the league's Rookie of the Year award.
And the biggest lesson he's learned through his first month is quite simple.
“Maintaining every single day,” Carter-Williams said.
Though Carter-Williams has no veteran point guard sitting alongside him to show him the ropes about how to live the NBA life, that hasn’t been a bad thing. Brown says Carter-Williams has a freedom that most players never get.
Carter-Williams can succeed or fail and not have to worry about the cost.
“There’s nothing like opportunity. Let’s start there,” Brown said. “He’s getting big minutes, and he has the freedom to play and to make mistakes. I think that counts for a lot.”
It’s been a tremendous opportunity for Carter-Williams. Through his first 11 games in the league, the rookie is averaging 17.8 points, 7.0 assists, 5.6 rebounds and 3.1 steals. In NBA history, only one other player has averaged at least 17 points, 7.0 assists, 5.5 rebounds and 3.0 steals per game through a season ...
Magic Johnson in 1980-81.
It’s amazing what a player can do with no worries. Imagine what Evan Turner could have done as a rookie if he were allowed the freedom Carter-Williams and the other Sixers’ young players are allowed. Would Turner be a different player now? It’s a difficult question to answer. Perhaps the better question: Would Turner have benefitted from playing on a bad team his first two seasons instead of on teams that went to the playoffs?
During the Sixers’ postseason run in Turner’s second year, the No. 2 overall pick said he felt he wasn’t getting the same experience as the Wizards’ No. 1 overall pick, John Wall. Even though Turner was in the playoffs and the Wizards were doormats, Wall was getting valuable minutes.
There’s nothing like unfettered playing time, Brown believes.
“I stand by it,” Brown said. “Put people in a nice, clean and simple role and say this is what we want and master it in your first year and that’s the best road map for success, especially with rookies.”
But even with the Sixers, those nice, clean and simple roles have been tough to grant certain players. Take, for instance, rookie Hollis Thompson. The 6-foot-9 rookie from Georgetown has been thrown into a plethora of situations as a result of injuries to and issues with his teammates. Thompson has played in the paint and on the wing. He’s played against power forwards, small forwards and big guards. He's also had games in which he didn’t get off the bench and others, like last Saturday, when he logged 31 minutes.
How is that for a varied learning experience?
“I’m learning where I’m supposed to be and what situations I should be in,” said Thompson, noting that his forte is his ability to play defense. “I’ll do whatever.”
Thompson will do whatever he’s asked, but Brown doesn’t want to ask too much. The coach says his players, especially Thompson and rookie Brandon Davies, need to be placed into defined roles.
But Brown hasn’t had that luxury with Thompson.
“His natural position is a big wing -- he’s a three man,” Brown said about Thompson. “Once we sort of defined his role and anchored his role as defense -- Bruce Bowen -- then hopefully your shot is going to come around and it will because you invest time. Then his role will become cleaner.
“Right now, I piecemeal him and I see his head about to explode wondering where he’s supposed to be because he cares and he’s energized.”
Eventually, Brown says, the demands increase. For players like Carter-Williams, it will be about production and trips to the playoffs. Brown almost can’t wait to see how his top rookie will develop down the road.
“But once he’s taken advantage of that situation, his talent and his skill level is far greater than I imagined,” Brown said. “The thing that I stand by is there is a toughness and a leadership that is emerging from him that I project out. I get excited about it because he has a great intellect as a point guard than I would have guessed.”

Sixers-Thunder 10 observations: Joel Embiid electrifies in debut

Sixers-Thunder 10 observations: Joel Embiid electrifies in debut

Joel Embiid and Dario Saric playing in a regular-season game for the Sixers? Check.

Russell Westbrook being, well, Russell Westbrook? Check.

An overzealous fan giving Westbrook a crude salute and getting tossed from the arena? Yeah, check that one off too.

The Sixers' tight 103-97 loss to the Thunder in Wednesday night's season opener at the Wells Fargo Center had a little bit of everything (see Instant Replay).

Let's take a closer look at the action with 10 observations.

1. Embiid is already a rock star among Sixers fans thanks to his personality and social media antics, but if his game ever matches his fame, look out. When he caught the ball at the free throw line during the first quarter and did a mini "Dream Shake" to bury a jumper for his first NBA points and then followed it up on the other end with a massive swat of a Westbrook layup attempt, he gave the crowd an in impressive glimpse of his vast potential. He was even showered with “Trust the Process” chants when he stepped to the free throw line during the second half. Embiid finished the game with 20 points on 6 of 16 shooting and seven rebounds along with two blocks.

2. That's not to say the big fella was without his faults. After spending two years on the sidelines, Embiid was understandably amped up and tried to do too much at times on both offense (held the ball too much, four turnovers) and defense (over-helping on rotations, which left the paint open). Like anything involving Embiid, it's a process.

3. Note to fans: Westbrook is already a supremely focused and competitive player. He doesn't need any help to get going. However, one Sixers fan took it upon himself to rev up the Thunder's All-Star point guard with a special salute in the first quarter before being promptly ejected (see story). No wonder Westbrook scored 12 of his game-high 32 points in the first quarter and finished just one assist shy of a triple-double.

4. Saric didn’t have a great shooting night (2 of 12 from the field for five points), but he still looked relatively solid in the victory. The Croatian showcased the versatility that had the Sixers salivating over him for the past two years, including a number of pump/head fakes to get defenders off balance before he missed the ensuing shot. He was overmatched inside when OKC went to its super-sized lineup with mustache afficionados Steven Adams and Enes Kanter (combined 33 points and 17 rebounds) down low. But that’s more on Brett Brown leaving the rookie out to dry than Saric’s ability.

5. Speaking of Brown, I’m not sure if the Sixers will ever value possessions like they should under a head coach with his Spurs pedigree. However, just 14 for a squad that has finished 30th, 30th and 29th in that category during Brown's first three years at the helm is definitely a step in the right direction.

6. Surgery for a meniscus tear didn’t do anything to hamper Jahlil Okafor’s post moves. The second-year big man looked spry after playing in just one preseason game before the opener. His shot was a tad rusty (4 of 10), but Okafor managed eight points in 16 minutes.

7. I’ve been critical of the Sixers’ defense over the years mainly because … it was non-existent. That wasn’t the case Wednesday until the fourth quarter. They were outscored, 34-22, in the final period. For the most part, the Sixers closed out to shooters and rotated with purpose on the defensive end of the floor. They held the Thunder to 41.5 percent from the field and 27.3 percent from three-point range. Not bad when the “crown jewel” of the D in Embiid was limited to 22 minutes.

8. Jerryd Bayless might want to hurry back from that wrist injury. Sergio Rodriguez had the ball on a string all night long for the Sixers. The point guard had 12 points to go along with nine assists, zero turnovers and countless dribble moves that left Thunder defenders grasping at air. Not bad for a guy who hasn’t played an NBA game since 2010.

9. Sauce Castillo lives! OK, let’s not get ahead of ourselves, but Nik Stauskas was excellent. He was decisive with his movements and got himself going by driving to the rim. The guard posted 13 points on 5 of 6 shooting off the bench. Perhaps coming into a season without the pressure of having to live up to being the No. 8 pick in the 2014 draft and playing with close friend T.J. McConnell are what the third-year player needed.

10. Wednesday’s game was a thriller down to the end, but you can’t help but feel that some of the extra juice that would have been in the building for No. 1 overall pick Ben Simmons was missing. Instead of suiting up, Simmons held a press conference to discuss his health after foot surgery (see story).

Instant Replay: Joel Embiid shines in debut but Sixers edged by Thunder in opener

Instant Replay: Joel Embiid shines in debut but Sixers edged by Thunder in opener


The Sixers' first game of the 2016-17 regular season and the first of Joel Embiid’s career is in the books.

The Sixers lost, 103-97, to the Thunder in a closely-contested game that came down to the final minute. The two teams were separated by two points or less for nearly the final four minutes of the game. Ultimately, the Sixers fell scoreless in the last 50 seconds as the Thunder pulled away for the win.

The Sixers led by six, 87-81, with 5:30 left in regulation, but Oklahoma City closed the game on a 22-10 run.

Embiid exceeded his 20-minute restriction to clock 22:25. He scored a team-high 20 points (6 for 16 from the field, 1 for 3 from three, 7 for 8 from the line) to go with seven rebounds, two blocks, four turnovers and four fouls (see 10 observations).

Thunder All-Star guard Russell Westbrook recorded a double-double. He led all players with 32 points (11 for 21 from the floor, 1 for 2 from three, 9 for 11 from the line), 12 rebounds and nine assists. He scored nine points in the final 4:09 of the game to help Oklahoma City finish the Sixers.

Inside the box score
• Point guard Sergio Rodriguez posted 12 points, nine assists and zero turnovers in 31 minutes.

• Shooting guard Nik Stauskas scored 13 points in 22 minutes off the bench.

• Forward Dario Saric, also making his NBA debut, shot 2 for 12 from the field for five points in 27 minutes.

• The Sixers blocked 10 shots, led by Richaun Holmes' game-high three.

• The game featued 13 lead changes and seven ties. The Sixers' largest lead was 11 in the first quarter.

Sixers' regular-season firsts
The Sixers’ first basket/assist: Alley-oop dunk from Rodriguez to Gerald Henderson (you know, the play everyone — or no one — expected to see). 

Embiid’s first stat: A defensive rebound off a Westbrook missed jumper 19 seconds into the game.

Embiid’s first bucket: A 16-foot turnaround jumper with 8:17 remaining in the first.

Saric’s first field goal: With 8:51 to go in the first quarter, a 21-foot jumper off a pass from Rodriguez. 

Okafor’s first minutes: 7:47 left in the first quarter, subbing in for Embiid. Okafor scored eight points in 16 minutes.

Sixers’ first three: Henderson from Saric 1:14 into the first.

Injury update
Jerryd Bayless (left wrist soreness), Nerlens Noel (inflamed plica in left knee) and Ben Simmons (Jones fracture in right foot) did not play. Simmons spoke about his injury before the game (see story). Embiid was originally planned to be limited to 20 minutes, Okafor 12 to 14. 

Up next
The Sixers will host the Hawks on Saturday in an early afternoon game at 12:30 p.m.