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.

In long-awaited NBA debut, Joel Embiid treats Sixers fans to a show

In long-awaited NBA debut, Joel Embiid treats Sixers fans to a show

The crowd erupted as Joel Embiid stepped to the free throw line. They chanted a phrase Embiid has been repeating for the past two years, a fitting welcome to his NBA debut.

“That was great,” Embiid said after the Sixers' 103-97 loss to the Thunder on Wednesday (see Instant Replay). “That’s my motto, 'Trust the process.'”

After two years of rehabbing foot injuries, Embiid has his first regular season game behind him. Embiid scored a team-high 20 points, shooting 6 for 16 from the field, 1 for 3 from long range and 7 for 8 from the line. He also recorded seven rebounds, two blocks, four turnovers and four fouls in over 22 minutes. 

“The beginning I was nervous, but once you make that first shot it just goes away,” he said. “The fans were so into the game that it was fun. I love having fun.”

Brett Brown enjoyed watching Embiid on the court as much as he liked being on it. Brown has seen the 7-foot-2 center grow and develop during his rehab. Finally, he was able to utilize his versatile skills in a real game setting.

“I can't say this loud enough,” Brown said. “For the city to be rewarded with a player that we all understand has unique gifts, special gifts, for him to go through all the things he has been through and play like he did on opening night, the city deserves it. Most importantly, he deserves it.”

Now that Embiid has been cleared to play, he would like to do so for longer periods of time. He began the preseason at 12 and was increased to 20 in segmented spurts for opening night. Even though he exceeded that limit by over two minutes, Embiid is itching to be cleared to play more extensively. 

“It sucks,” Embiid said. “I feel like I could have played more but you know you’ve got to trust the process, got to trust those guys. If I have my minute restriction at 20 minutes, I guess I’m going to go with that. But obviously I want to play more and more and I think it can help the team better. But they have a plan for me and I’ve got to follow it.”

Embiid has maintained he wants to be a clutch player. Brown looked to him toward the end of the game as the Thunder pulled ahead late in the final quarter. He drained a fade away jumper to tie the game at 97 apiece with 50.7 to go. 

Later trailing by four with 10 seconds left, the Sixers went to Embiid. While he was whistled for an offensive foul, Brown was glad to have a go-to unlike in years past. 

“You have a target,” Brown said. “We tried to get the ball to him a lot. … By and large, to have somebody like Joel, where the mystery is solved like, 'What do you do?' You get him the ball as much as you can.”

The more the Sixers found Embiid, the more the Thunder had to try to defend him. Thunder head coach Billy Donovan knew what his team was going up against. He watched Embiid as a high schooler and coached against him during his tenure at Florida. 

“He’s gifted and skilled,” Donovan said. “It was probably our guy’s first time seeing him … I knew the talent, the gifts. The one thing with him is, he’s got great footwork. He’s hard to guard because he’s herky-jerky. He moves. He’s got a lot of (Hakeem) Olajuawon to him.”

Opening night had been two years in the making. Even though the Sixers didn't win, the significance of the evening didn't disappoint. 

"I thought this moment was going to be special," Embiid said, "and it was just great."

Best of NBA: Davis' 50 points not enough in Pelicans' loss to Nuggets

Best of NBA: Davis' 50 points not enough in Pelicans' loss to Nuggets

NEW ORLEANS -- Jusuf Nurkic scored 23 points, Will Barton added 22, and the Denver Nuggets survived a dominant performance by Anthony Davis to defeat the New Orleans Pelicans 107-102 in both teams' regular season opener Wednesday night.

Davis had 50 points, 16 rebounds, seven steals, five assists and four blocks. His production helped New Orleans trim a deficit as large as 14 late in the second quarter down to two points in the waning minutes. He simply didn't have enough help.

The rest of the Pelicans combined to shoot 21 of 58. Tim Frazier scored 15 for the Pelicans. E'Twaun Moore added 10 points, but missed a 3-point attempt that could have tied it with 24 seconds left.

Danilo Gallinari scored 15 for Denver and Wilson Chandler added 12 points (see full recap).

Celtics top Nets in Horford's home debut
BOSTON -- Isaiah Thomas had 25 points and nine assists, Jae Crowder added 21 points and Al Horford pitched in 11 in his Boston debut on Wednesday night as the Celtics survived a late scare to beat the Brooklyn Nets 122-117 in their season opener.

Bojan Bogdanovic scored 21 for Brooklyn, including a 3-pointer to make it 120-117 with 47 seconds left after the Nets erased most of a 23-point deficit against the Boston bench. But he missed one with a chance to tie it after Joe Harris intercepted Thomas' cross-court pass, and the Celtics were able to hold on.

Justin Hamilton came off the bench to score 19 points and grab 10 rebounds for the Nets in coach Kenny Atkinson's debut (see full recap).

Turner's opening act leads Pacers past Mavs in OT
INDIANAPOLIS -- Myles Turner scored 30 points, tied his career high with 16 rebounds and made a 3-pointer with 1:18 left in overtime to start an 8-0 run that allowed the Indiana Pacers to close out a 130-121 victory Wednesday night over the Dallas Mavericks.

Three-time All-Star Paul George added 25 points, including another 3 with 55 seconds left to seal Indiana's fifth season-opening win in six years.

Deron Williams scored 25 points, while J.J. Barea and Dirk Nowitzki each added 22 as the Mavs lost their fifth straight in the series. They still haven't won in Indianapolis since February 2014.

Dallas didn't tie the score or take a lead until the fourth quarter, yet still forced overtime when Harrison Barnes' open 3-pointer made it 115-all with 2.3 seconds left.

Turner could have won it with a long buzzer-beating 3, but it bounced off the back of the rim (see full recap).