Notes on Royce White's unofficial Sixers debut from Friday

Notes on Royce White's unofficial Sixers debut from Friday

Hey, the Sixers are 2-1 in the pre-season! A winning record! That doesn't mean anything close to anything, but it's a novel concept for a team whose regular season is surely going to start a losing one, and nearly as surely stay a losing one for the remainder of the year. The Sixers moved back over .500 in this exhibition stretch on Friday with a win over the Celtics at the lovely Bob Carpenter center in Newark, Delaware, where their new D-League affiliate team (the 87ers!) will eventually play its regular season home games.

The Sixer fans that tuned in to the game on Friday night likely did so for one reason that had nothing to do with the team winning or not--the chance to see enigmatic forward Royce White in action for the first time as a Philadelphia 76er (and for many of us, the first time period). The Sixers' new big man, picked up from Houston in an off-season trade, has long been promised to have All-Star-type potential, but fans have never seen it in a pro game, as his anxiety disorder (and accompanying fear of flying) and controversial battle against some NBA health policies have thusfar kept him from playing in the regular season.

Royce White did indeed play for the Sixers on Friday, however, and fans that saw him can now say with relative certainty that it's more than anxiety and machine-raging keeping Royce from stepping in and being an instant Rookie of the Year candidate. His Sixer debut was a heavily flawed one, one that shows how long he has to go to be a productive rotation player in the NBA, but one that did flash a little of the potential we've so long heard about that makes him so enticing as a prospect.

The most pronounced aspect of his debut performance was, of course, the fouling. Royce checked in with about six minutes to go in the first quarter, and by the 3:21 mark, he already had four fouls, picking up his fifth within a minute of checking in again in the third quarter. Some of the calls were kind of ticky-tack, but he's definitely a little careless with his screen setting on offense--he got called for two moving picks in that first quarter, and could have easily been whistled for one or two others--and occasionally too aggressive with his ball-stopping on defense.

Even more alarming than the fouling might have been Royce's shooting. A stretch four White is not, as his two jumper attempts--one open from the free throw-line, one from solidly beyond the arc--both went so long he nearly banked them in, while he also airballed one of his two free throws on the night. Royce's post moves do not seem particularly sophisticated at this point, either, so it might be a little tough for him to find ways to score in the half-court for this team.

The defense was also a little touch-and-go for White. In addition to the surfeit of fouls, Royce also had a little trouble negotiating the pick-and-roll on defense, over-committing on the ball-handler and failing to rotate back to his man, a particular issue when guarding Celtics big Kelly Olynyk, an excellent outside shooter. He does seem to have good hands on D, at least, as he was once able to make up for his poor defensive positioning by getting a hand on a cross-court pass to Olynyk, starting the fast break the other way.

And indeed, it seems like transition will be where White can really excel for this team. An excellent rebounder--White grabbed three in less than ten minutes, one a hard-fought board over Gerald Wallace--White also has the ball-handling skills to go length-of-the-court with it, as he did off a rebound in the first quarter. For someone whose conditioning has oft come in to question, he also looks to be in decently athletic shape, if still a little doughy, as he was able to drive baseline past Olynyk in the third quarter for a resounding dunk.

Ultimately, it was more bad than good with Royce White's debut effort, but it was nothing that we shouldn't have expected, and nothing that can't be improved. In his player profile on White for ESPN, hoops scribe Tom Haberstroh suggested that White should probably hang out in Delaware for the whole season with the 87ers, playing himself back into game shape and learning to cut out his more careless mistakes. That would certainly make sense, though given how little interest the Sixers seem to have in actually winning ballgames this year, it wouldn't be shocking to see them let Royce do the same on the pro squad.

Either way, Royce should certainly be one of the most interesting subplots to follow on the Sixers this year, as he hopefully learns how to play a more fundamental game that allows his considerable talent--which we only really saw a fraction of on Friday night, and will hopefully see further glimpses of tonight against the Nets--to shine through. The most important thing about his game on Friday was that he got on the court at all, and now it's up to Royce and the Sixers' staff to figure out how his presence can actually be a positive for this team.

Sixers being cautious with Jahlil Okafor early in training camp

Sixers being cautious with Jahlil Okafor early in training camp

GALLOWAY, N.J. — The Sixers lost Jahlil Okafor for the final 23 games last season because of a small meniscus tear in his right knee. Now they are being cautious as he prepares for his second year.

As part of the Sixers’ prescheduled load management for Okafor, he participated in a portion of practice and then worked out individually with head strength and conditioning coach Todd Wright.

“They just told me to relax once I did what they wanted me to do today,” Okafor said. “I was off to the sidelines. I feel fine. I’ll be good tomorrow.”

Okafor learned during his first NBA season that he should speak more openly with the staff about his body.

“Communication is key,” he said. “I think last year I didn’t really communicate how I was feeling, so I wasn’t able to get the help I needed.”

The team held three practice sessions in the first two days of training camp. Okafor said he knew the Sixers would be cautious with his workload. He is poised to improve upon his rookie year in which he averaged 17.5 points and 7.0 rebounds in 53 games last season.

“I’m 100 percent healthy,” he said. “I’m all good.”

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."