Sixers won't abandon risky, up-tempo offense


Sixers won't abandon risky, up-tempo offense

It’s a remarkable stat when put into a proper context.

The Sixers shoot the ball so quickly that 46 percent of the shots they have taken this season have come in the first 10 seconds of a possession. No other team comes close to matching that number.

Meanwhile, the Sixers average 100 possessions per game, which are nearly two possessions more than the next closest team.

In other words, when rookie NBA head coach Brett Brown says the Sixers are going to use their speed, he isn’t kidding.

“We’re adamant about playing at that pace,” Brown said after Monday’s practice session at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine.

But in the midst of a four-game losing streak with losses in eight of their last nine games and in 10 of their last 12, could the Sixers be going too fast? After all, as Hall of Fame coach John Chaney used to say about his deliberate and static offense at Temple University, “speed kills.”

The Sixers have committed 93 turnovers in the last five games, with 26 in the victory over Milwaukee on Nov. 22. They also have had 33 shots blocked during the most recent losing streak. That means in the last four losses, the Sixers have given away an average of 25 possessions per game without getting a shot at the rim.

Is the speed game killing the 6-12 Sixers? Perhaps. But at least Brown knew there would be some issues with playing at such a high tempo with the youngest team in the NBA.

“We knew it. We knew the problems would come,” Brown said. “We wanted to focus on the pace. We knew there would be pain and we’d take a hit. … We’re going to get better down the road incrementally when we understand how to use [a high pace] and not use it recklessly. We knew it was coming but, honestly, we didn’t know it was going to be this poor at times.”

The players enjoy the freedom of playing at a breakneck speed and the chance to make decisions on their own. However, there is some danger in that freedom. Now that teams have had a chance to go over the game film on the Sixers, there are fewer surprises. The opposition understands that it isn’t too difficult to get the Sixers to take a quick shot or coax a turnover.

Sometimes with quick shots and turnovers, the Sixers’ defense is put on its heels. Considering that the Sixers give up a league-worst 110.1 points per game, the defense has been tested often (see story).

That doesn’t mean the Sixers are going to give up and slow it down. Far from it. Rookie point guard Michael Carter-Williams says the Sixers need to find a balance.

“We’re trying to find an in-between of playing fast and taking good shots,” Carter-Williams said.

To find the right recipe, Brown says he has to come up with some different ideas. The coach also said the onus will be put on him to teach his players the difference between a quick, bad shot and a quick, smart shot.

Brown also wants his players to understand that playing at a high pace is the only chance the Sixers have against some of their opponents.

“I just want to coach it better,” Brown said. “I don’t want to get on our heels and say we’re not going to run anymore because it comes with too many problems, which it does a the moment. I want to persevere with this style and this way of playing because … we have learned that we are not going to beat some of the teams we’ve beaten any other way.”

Meanwhile, with Orlando headed to the Wells Fargo Center on Tuesday night following a game in Washington on Monday, the Sixers’ speed will again be a weapon. And just like with any weapon, there are plenty of risks.

Used to challenges, Brandon Paul fighting for Sixers roster spot

Used to challenges, Brandon Paul fighting for Sixers roster spot

Brandon Paul returned home from school to tell his mother a story from the day. What exactly he wanted to share, he doesn't remember anymore. It was quickly overshadowed by the sadness he saw on her face when he entered her bedroom.

"She was sitting on the couch and had the TV on," Paul recalled. "I could see she had tears in her eyes. I didn't really know what was happening. She basically told me we were at war. It was so surreal."

Paul was 10 years old in 2001. He was about to experience six months he had never expected.

Paul's father, police officer Cliff Paul Sr., was deployed to a base in Spain as part of a law enforcement security group. He already had been deployed in the past with the Navy, including to the Persian Gulf. This time, it meant leaving three sons at home.

"You're young," said Paul, a Sixers roster hopeful. "You can only register so much. I just remember crying. At school, I was acting different. My friends were like, 'Why is Brandon acting all different?' A teacher got involved and I started yelling at kids. They said, 'Why are you acting like this?' and I kind of broke down in class. That was the first time I ever showed that type of emotion."

Paul stepped up despite being the middle child. He would look out for older brother Cliff Jr. and younger sibling Darius, he assured his father.

"Brandon said just as we departed, 'Don't worry dad, I'll take care of the family,'" Cliff Sr. said in a telephone interview. "It was very comforting. He'd always been kind of the unsung leader of those three in their shenanigans (laughs). It seemed like he was more mature than the other two, and he just kind of assumed that role."

Over the months, the family was able to communicate via Skype. His mother, Lynda, helped Paul get through the period by making sure he knew his father was not going to be fighting in the war. Paul kept his word to watch over his brothers, which often included spending time at their outdoor basketball hoop.

"That's kind of when I became the man of the house, so to say," Paul said. "I kind of took it upon myself to keep the family together. ... That was a challenging thing that helped me mature faster than most of my friends."

The 6-foot-4 guard has used that early maturity to persevere throughout his basketball career. In college at Illinois, he suffered a broken jaw during a collision on the court. His jaw was wired shut for six weeks.

After going undrafted in 2013, Paul signed a deal with Nizhny Novgorod in Russia. He came back to the United States in 2014 to play for the Canton Charge in the D-League. Just a few games in, he tore the labrum in his left shoulder. 

Paul fought to return in 3½ months, only to tear his right shoulder during a summer league scrimmage with the Bulls. He missed another four months recovering from surgery.

In 2015, Paul was once again playing for the Charge. He was a few weeks away from the NBA playoffs when he dislocated his left shoulder a second time. 

"After the first one I was like, 'I can't believe this is happening,'" Paul said. "After the second one I thought, 'I can't believe this is happening again. I'm about to play for my hometown team.' ... The third one, that was the one that took a real big mental toll on me. I had already gone through two and I was playing well enough and had a bunch of teams ready to call me up. It was the worst timing."

Paul went overseas again to make an impact. Last season, he led FIATC Joventut of Spain in scoring (13.2 points per game). Paul played for both the Hornets (Orlando) and Sixers (Las Vegas) summer league teams in July. Following a strong showing, the Sixers signed him to a non-guaranteed deal.

Paul entered his first training camp at 25 years old. He jumped instantly when he saw an opportunity to make an impact. Paul scored 15 points (6 for 10 from the field) with four rebounds in 13 minutes against the Celtics in the preseason opener. He has appeared in four games, averaging 7.3 points and 2.3 rebounds while shooting 50 percent from the field and 36.4 percent from three. 

The Sixers have until 5 p.m. Monday to make their final cuts and bring their regular-season roster to 15. It currently stands at 19. Paul, Cat Barber, Shawn Long and James Webb III are the most likely Sixers to be waived and spend time with the D-League affiliate, the Delaware 87ers.

If that happens, Paul will continue to fight to land in the NBA, as he has been doing for years.

"A-plus human being," Brett Brown said. "He's high class. He really is a polished person. I think there is a toughness in him. He's physical. He is a two-way player — he can make a shot and he can guard. I think he's got a real bounce, he's hungry. He's been great to have around. I believe he's an NBA player."

Jahlil Okafor eager for more minutes as knee heals

Jahlil Okafor eager for more minutes as knee heals

CAMDEN, N.J. — Jahlil Okafor has been patient with his right knee. He was disciplined with restrictions and recovery during the preseason, recognizing the goal of being ready for opening night. 

At the same time, once he got back on the court he wanted more. Okafor played eight minutes Friday against the Heat, his first game since Feb. 28 before undergoing surgery to repair a right meniscus tear. 

“I don’t think I’m going to do eight again,” Okafor said Sunday. “They kind of heard me complain about that a lot. I think it’ll definitely be more than eight, but it won’t be much more.” 

Okafor has been limited since aggravating his knee during the final day of training camp. He practiced “to tolerance” on Sunday, according to the Sixers. Okafor did not participate in the team scrimmage and worked out individually with assistant coach/head of strength and conditioning Todd Wright. 

The second-year big man did not feel soreness on Saturday following the game. On Sunday, he felt “kind of stiff” during practice. Brett Brown has been watching Okafor’s movement closely. While Okafor considered it to be “good,” Brown was a tougher critic. 

“I think he looked OK,” Brown said. “He didn’t look great to me today. I’ll give him a B-minus … It’s always how do you move? East, west, north, south, how do you move?” 

Okafor scored four points and had one rebound, one assist, one block and one turnover in Miami. He focused on his defense during the game. When he subbed out, he checked in with Elton Brand on the bench to receive feedback from the now-retired veteran. Okafor plans to continue to tap into him for advice throughout the season. 

With opening night three days away, Okafor still plans to be on the floor for it.

“I am optimistic about it,” he said. “I should be ready to go.” 

Robert Covington sprained his right ankle in Friday’s game and did not practice Sunday. Brown anticipates Covington, who has been starting at small forward, also will be ready to go Wednesday. 

“I do (expect him to play),” Brown said. “But we won’t know that for sure yet.” 

Sixers waive retired Elton Brand
The Sixers waived Brand on Sunday, making his retirement official. Brand announced his intentions to walk away from the game Thursday. The Sixers' request of waivers was a procedural step. The roster currently stands at 19. 

“It’s been an honor, it’s been a privilege to play this game, the game that I love, and I’m certainly going to miss it,” Brand said last week (see story). “But it’s definitely time now.” 

Brand celebrated his career with his teammates at Komodo in Miami on Thursday night ahead of their preseason finale against the Heat.