Sixers vs. Raptors: Battle of the Resurgent Center Busts

Sixers vs. Raptors: Battle of the Resurgent Center Busts

Andrea Bargnani is a highly-touted seven-footer taken high in the draft
about a half-decade ago. His first few years, he struggled greatly
adjusting to the pro game, and he had to endure a lot of losing and a
lot of bust-type accusations. But this year, it seems like he's finally
starting to put it together—he's scoring inside and connecting from
range, he's rebounding better, and he's become more reliable on defense,
largely thanks to some strong coaching. As a result, his team has
started off the season stronger than many have expected.

Sound familiar? It should—it's almost the exact same story as that of
our own project big man, Spencer Hawes. There are some major
differences, of course—Hawes was only taken with the #10 pick while
Bargnani was #1 overall in 2006, Bargnani has already had his first big
payday, signing for $50 million / 5 years three off-seasons ago, and his
production had already started to approach his hype, as he averaged
over 21 points a game last year (albeit with mediocre shooting numbers,
lackluster rebounding and poor defense). But there's no doubt that both
Bargs and the Unibrow are having career years so far in '11-12, with
Bargnani scoring 23 a game on 54% shooting for the 3-4 Raptors, and
Hawes averaging a near 14/12 for the Sixers on inconceivable (and
unsustainable) 65% shooting.

The Barganni-Hawes matchup will undoubtedly be the one most worth
watching in tonight's home game against the Raptors, though the Sixers'
entire starting lineup is littered with questions right now. Will Jrue
Holiday start attacking the basket again? Will Jodie Meeks retain his
stroke from last night's hot streak? Will Andre Iguodala rediscover the
touch he flashed earlier this season? Will Elton Brand find a way to get
involved with the offense after being their most consistent producer
last season? Thaddeus Young, Lou Williams and (for the most part) Evan
Turner have all been solid as expected coming off the pine, but our
starting unit still leaves a lot to be desired across the board, and we
can't expect our bench to bail us out every time, as they've been doing
so far this season.

8:00 tip from the WFC. The Sixers go into their first Atlantic matchup
one game above the Celtics and one-and-a-half above the Raps, their
first division lead of any size in recent memory. With upcoming games
against Toronto, Indiana, Sacramento, New York and the Wizards (twice),
there's no reason why the Sixers can't expand that lead further over the
next week, before the schedule starts getting a little more
challenging. Let's keep this momentum—legitimate momentum, this early in
the season!—going as long as we can.

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."