Vander Blue in tight battle to make Sixers

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Vander Blue in tight battle to make Sixers

There aren’t too many secrets about the Sixers’ roster for when the team opens the season against the Miami Heat on Oct. 30. The starting lineup is basically set with Thad Young, Evan Turner, Spencer Hawes, Michael Carter-Williams and James Anderson.

Off the bench, coach Brett Brown has been going with Royce White, Lavoy Allen, Tony Wroten and Darius Morris. With big man Daniel Orton recently picked up from Oklahoma City, the Sixers have some size to help in the post.

That leaves a handful of battles for the last couple of spots. And as the exhibition season has progressed, Vander Blue has given Brown exactly what he wanted to see.

“I think Vander is an in-your-face, full-court athlete who’s ready to get out, go and jump people,” Brown said. “I like Vander because there is no back-down and he has some dog in him and he has some athleticism.”

Brown says Blue has a “spark” to his game that could help as he vies to make the team along with players like Khalif Wyatt and Hollis Thompson. In three exhibition games, Blue is 6-for-13 shooting, with two highlight-reel dunks to go with three steals and two turnovers in 14.7 minutes per game.

Often, Blue, a 6-foot-4 guard who played three seasons for Marquette, finds himself picking up the ball handler full-court.

“Coach likes me on the ball and to pick it up full-court and use my speed and length to bother the smaller guards,” Blue said. “I have a lot of experience playing off the ball as well. I can guard a one through a three.”

Blue smiled when he was told that Brown said he had “some dog in him.” He’s always been that way, Blue said, but maybe he became tougher when he went undrafted last June. He hooked up with the Rockets’ and Grizzlies’ summer league teams before signing a partially guaranteed deal with the Sixers just before the start of training camp.

“The whole draft process just gives me more fuel to add to the fire so I can prove that I can make a team and help a team,” Blue said.

Since then, Blue has given the Sixers some energy in practice and in exhibition games, something that has made him stand out with the coaches and the Sixers’ veteran players.

“Vander has had a great couple of practices,” Young said. “He’s done a really good job as far as coming out and paying attention and doing the things he needs to do and make plays to help his team. Vander has really showed a lot of poise in practice.”

As for earning one of the last spots on the team, Blue says he hasn’t thought about it too much. The idea, he explains, is to focus on the immediate future.

“I just wake up every day and think about coming to work, not thinking about the next day,” Blue said. “I’m just coming in every day and trying to get better and play as hard as possible.”

Joel Embiid adjusting to new challenges in 1st NBA training camp

Joel Embiid adjusting to new challenges in 1st NBA training camp

GALLOWAY, N.J. -- With Joel Embiid's excitement to be on the court following two years of injuries comes the reality of his lengthy setback.

Embiid is participating in his first NBA training camp this week. While he has impressed with his natural abilities and improved skills, Embiid is facing challenges as he gets accustomed to the league.

"Everything is kind of off right now as far as catching the ball or shooting," Embiid said after practice Wednesday. "I've still got to get in the flow of the game."

Embiid has yet to play since being drafted in 2014. For the past two years he has worked out individually and in controlled settings. Practices, even in training camp, are different. 

"You see all the time when you realize he hasn't played basketball for a long time," Sixers head coach Brett Brown said. "He's trying to gather his feet and find his balance, he's trying to figure out stuff in real time speed on defensive assignments and rotations."

On Wednesday, Embiid went through practice without any minute restrictions and was feeling healthier from the cold and virus he had been battling (see story). Teammates have praised his physical presence and eagerness to compete. He makes an impact with his 7-foot-2 presence alone, but there is more he wants to improve. 

Embiid is adjusting to the speed of the game. He has been facing challenges with getting the ball in the post and spoke to the coaches about his frustrations. The staff explained they are focusing on pick-and-roll defense and getting out to run during training camp, but he will get that desired location in game situations. 

“You continue to see the size of Joel Embiid,” Brown said. “He's a big man and he's got a mindset to back up his physical gifts. He really wants the ball. He wants to get deep catches. He wants to dunk on people.”

Embiid always has been realistic about his transition to his rookie season. He has pointed out many times that he is a fast learner, and is anxious to soak up new knowledge and apply it to the court.

"It's really frustrating," he said. "But like I've said, you've got to trust the process, which I've been doing."

Noel, Brown have had open dialogue about Sixers' big man situation

Noel, Brown have had open dialogue about Sixers' big man situation

GALLOWAY, N.J. — Nerlens Noel’s recent comments on the logjam of big men on the Sixers' roster did not come as news to head coach Brett Brown. While Noel had not been this publicly outspoken on the issue, he and Brown have been having open discussions about it. 

“I have been talking to Nerlens a lot and I have a fondness for him,” Brown said Tuesday on the first day of training camp. “I don’t begrudge Nerlens Noel at all for what he said. I don’t have any problems with it.”

The Sixers' crowded frontcourt this season is a continuation of last season’s conundrum in which Brown was tasked with playing Noel and Jahlil Okafor, two natural centers, together. The depth has increased with the return of Joel Embiid and additions of Dario Saric and Ben Simmons. 

So when Noel doubled down on Monday by saying, "I don't see a way it can work,” Brown recognized where the center's opinions were coming from as he enters his fourth season in the NBA. 

“I feel if we do anything well, we communicate with our players freely,” Brown said. “It is one hundred percent transparent — hard conversations ahead, easy conversations ahead. I have spoken with Nerlens about this a lot. 

“My messaging and my mood and attitude and things that come out of my mouth haven’t changed once. I feel very confident that I’m giving him the advice that he should hear from me and it still allows me to do my job. 

“We have talked about it freely, like I have talked about it with Jahlil and Joel. Those situations are part of pro sports. They’re ever-present with me and us right now.”

Noel has been a rare mainstay among a revolving door of players over the past three years. He is in a unique situation with Brown in that the two have experienced a long list of the team’s ups and downs together. Noel feels comfortable talking honestly with Brown about his viewpoints. 

“I’ve known Brett probably longer than most guys here and we’ve built a different type of relationship,” Noel said. “It’s been very front and forward and we talk and we keep it real. That’s what he’s been doing with me and that’s why I’m able to continue to talk to him about myself and him just telling me what position I’ll be in — he’ll try to put me in — to succeed.”

With Brown having an understanding of Noel, his focus is on what Noel can bring to the team this season. He believes Noel has an edge over Embiid and Okafor for minutes early on because Noel is the only one among the trio starting camp without restrictions from previous injuries. 

There is a tough competition for playing time among the bigs, and camp is about proving oneself through basketball, not through personal opinions. Brown was impressed on the first day of camp by the manner in which Noel approached the morning practice amid the comments.

“He has handled it with me and in the training session today like a pro,” Brown said. “He came to mean it. He didn’t back down at all. There was no moping or sulking or him being stubborn. He played. That’s what he has to do. I think that’s a real reflection of anybody of how you handle adversity. Today he handled it like a true pro and a true competitor.”