So Glad Jrue Made the All-Star Game Instead of Those Other Dudes on Good Teams

So Glad Jrue Made the All-Star Game Instead of Those Other Dudes on Good Teams

When Golden State's David Lee was interviewed after a recent Warriors
win about the possibility of being honored with an All-Star nod, he said
that what would make the nomination so special was that it would come
because his team had played well, reflecting better on him by
comparison. Needless to say, this was not the case with our own Jrue
Holiday, but if I were him, I would find the honor of being chose in
spite of my team far more flattering and special than being honored
because of my team. If you're chosen as an All-Star when your team has a
16-24 record and hasn't won consecutive games since November, you must
have been really, really good this season.

Jrue Holiday has been really, really good this season. Better
than we would have thought, better than we could have expected, better
than we might've even hoped. He was put in just about every possible
position to flounder—given far more responsibility than he had in
previous years, but with far fewer weapons to work with—and still
managed to put up not just career numbers, but numbers nobody else in
the league is putting up. (The list of players averaging 19 points and
nine assists starts and ends with Jrue.) When watching him put in a
signature takeover performance during that game against the Raptors, I
posed the question (to myself) "Has watching Jrue this year been worth
having to watch the rest of the team?" I concluded that indeed, it had.

Jrue's numbers (and he's not just a numbers guy, he's damn
impressive to watch as well) have been good enough this year that his
All-Star candidacy should've been a no-brainer. But certain
coaches—let's call one of them D. Collins, for example—insist that when
choosing All-Stars, you work from the top of the standings down, and if
you come up with enough plausible candidates before you get to the 9th
and 10th seeds, tough luck for the guys on those lottery-bound teams.

And so candidates like Brooklyn's Deron Williams, Milwaukee's
Brandon Jennings, and especially New York's J.R. Smith were given
protracted consideration for All-Star status, with three of the four TNT
analysts choosing Smith to just one (Barkley, duh) going to bat for The
Damaja. No matter that all three's stats were easily inferior to
Holiday, that D-Will was so bad at the start of the year that his coach
basically got fired for it, and that Milwaukee and New York would gladly
trade either Jennings or Smith for Holiday in a heartbeat—these guys
were on teams with winning records, therefore they must have been
worthier than Holiday.

Thankfully, Jrue was the one who got the nod—along with the
Cavaliers' Kyrie Irving, who had an even worse record (but arguably an
even more impressive season) than Holiday. As happy as I was that Jrue
had been selected, it's nothing compared to how angry I would've been if
we were deprived of the One Good Thing that could've come out of the
Bynumless era of the 2012-13 76ers because coaches decided that other
dudes should be awarded for having better teammates. The TNT bros still
waxed infuriantingly rhapsodic about Smith's snub—et tu, Ernie
Johnson?—but whatever. Justice was done.

So for the second straight year, the Sixers have a first-time
All-Star. But more than Iguodala's selection last year—which, while not
undeserved, was certainly helped dramatically by the Liberty Ballers'
excellent first half to the season—this one really feels earned. The
Sixers have been awful to watch this year, but at least we have Jrue,
one of the best guys in the East, representing for us, making sure we
don't fade into total national anonymity as we wait for Bynum's legs to
grow back. We can't wait to see him running the fast break with Paul
George and getting backdoor feeds from Joakim Noah in Houston a couple
weeks from now.

Despite blowout loss, Sixers see potential in Joel Embiid, Jahlil Okafor playing together

Despite blowout loss, Sixers see potential in Joel Embiid, Jahlil Okafor playing together

BOX SCORE

Brett Brown was ready to do it Wednesday night. The matchup against the Kings presented an opportunity to experiment with playing Joel Embiid and Jahlil Okafor together. That pairing had to wait two days, though, after the Kings game was postponed

On Friday, Embiid and Okafor shared the court for just under 13 minutes in the Sixers' 105-88 loss to the Magic (see Instant Replay), who also rolled out a duo of bigs in Bismack Biyombo and Nikola Vucevic. 

“I thought we had our moments,” Embiid said. “We shared the ball, we made shots. Obviously we need to play more together and learn how to play with each other.”

Embiid and Okafor first played together for 5:29 in the second quarter. They scored all of the Sixers' 12 points during that time, including a pair of threes by Embiid. They also combined for five boards. The Sixers outscored the Magic, 12-9, with the bigs in together.

The benefits of the floor spacing was apparent. Oftentimes in the game, Okafor could be seen open at the basket with a hand up for the ball while Embiid was also getting looks from long range. 

“I liked our spacing, I liked the high-low stuff we were doing,” Brown said. “I think when you post Joel, that Jahlil is going to play sort of hide-and-seek on the other side of the floor, and work that low zone, and become — I hope — a potent offensive rebounder. When you post Jahlil, Joel has the ability to space to three.”

Brown turned to Embiid and Okafor again in the fourth. At that point, the Magic had a 23-point lead. Their next 7:25 together was a chance to give them a long run in live game action. They combined for another 12 points and four rebounds. All of their buckets were layups, dunks or free throws. Both teams scored 19 points with Embiid and Okafor in that segment.

Both Embiid and Okafor finished the game with double-doubles: 25 points, 10 rebounds and four assists for Embiid; 16 points, 13 rebounds and two blocks for Okafor. 

“I thought they played well together,” Vucevic said. “I thought it was tough to guard them because they’re both really good offensively.”

Okafor credited his friendship with Embiid, which dates back to high school, as a key to coexisting well on the court. Both emphasized their off-the-court relationship would help them in a game situation. 

“I think the communication piece went really well,” Okafor said. “He was talking to me, I was talking to him.”

Scoring and communication always seemed to be the easier parts of the pairing to tackle. Defense, though, was the challenge given that one of the centers would have to guard the four spot. Okafor noted their transition D as an area that needs improvement.

“We’re both used to going right to the rim,” Okafor said. “I think I had a couple easy buckets. That’s something we’ll be able to fix.” 

Brown had based his decision of when to play Embiid and Okafor together on the matchups. While the two could boast their own edge on the offensive end, Brown didn’t want to play them in a scenario in which they’d be at a huge defensive disadvantage. 

“It’s not offense to me, it’s defense. That’s the thing that is most challenging,” Brown said. “We want to play fast. We want to put points on the board. You don’t want to play in the 80s. You don’t want to do that, that’s not our sport anymore. So you want to make sure that you're capable of guarding the opposition.”

Vucevic noticed the challenge from an opposing perspective. He understands the necessary changes since playing alongside Biyombo.  

“It takes time for them to get adjusted, especially for the guy that will be playing the four defensively,” Vucevic said. “They’re not used to that because they always back down to the paint guarding the fives. It’s a different look. They have to work on it, communicate, and I think they’ll be fine.” 

On a night with few highlights in a 17-point blowout loss, Brown was able to take away a positive from this anticipated duo.

"I thought Jahlil and Joel did a really good job," he said. 

Sixers Notes: Joel Embiid unhappy with effort; Robert Covington hurt

Sixers Notes: Joel Embiid unhappy with effort; Robert Covington hurt

Joel Embiid didn’t see four quarters of basketball from the Sixers in their 105-88 loss to the Magic Friday night (see Instant Replay). Their efforts were inconsistent as they fell flat in long stretches and allowed the Magic to build up double-digit leads as high as 29 points.

The Sixers gave up a 16-0 run in the first and shot just 6 for 26 (23.1 percent) in the quarter. The Magic, who had lost a one-point game to the Grizzlies in Memphis the night before, rallied together to seize this opportunity.

“They just made a lot of shots that we didn’t,” Embiid said. “That’s the game, but we didn’t play hard all 48 minutes and we need to do a better job next time.”

The Sixers didn’t break 30 points until 4:33 to go in the second and attempted just two free throws in the first half. By the end of the third, the Magic had a 21-point lead which they held on to with in ease in the fourth. 

The Magic outshot the Sixers on all areas of the floor: 47.4 percent to 37.9 from the field and 50.0 to 28.1 from three. While the teams had nearly equal percentages from the line, the Magic shot 18 for 26 compared to only 7 for 10 from the Sixers. 

“They missed a lot of shots,” Magic forward Jeff Green said. “We got stops, were aggressive, guys just played hard and created for one another and played as a team.”

Covington injured
The Sixers are waiting to learn more news on the extent of Robert Covington’s injury. In the fourth quarter, Covington exited and did not return after suffering a left knee sprain when he collided with T.J. McConnell chasing a loose ball in front of the Sixers’ bench. If the starting small forward has to miss time, Sixers head coach Brett Brown is thinking ahead to possible lineup changes. 

“We'll try to figure out what his next week represents,” Brown said. “If we aren't with him, maybe there's a chance we can look at Dario [Saric] a little bit at the three.”

Covington is averaging 8.5 points, 5.1 rebounds and 1.9 steals in 27.5 minutes per game. Saric has been coming off the bench at power forward behind Ersan Ilyasova. He started 10 games earlier this season at the four spot. 

Embiid honored
The Sixers honored Embiid during a timeout for being named NBA Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month (October and November). Embiid was appreciative of the award and has his sights set on the bigger picture this season.

“All the hard work I’ve put in, it feels great,” Embiid said earlier in the day at shootaround. “Obviously, maybe the bigger picture is Rookie of the Year, that’s what matters. … I don’t have my mind set on that. But if I can get it, that would be nice.”

Brown sees this recent showing as just a glimpse into what Embiid will be able to do over his career. Embiid leads the Sixers with 18.7 points, 7.9 rebounds and 2.2 blocks. 

“This in infant stages, early days for him,” Brown said. “His body of work, given his lack of playing basketball, really is jaw-dropping for what I think he can be. To jump in and get rookie of the month I think is a real, sort of, quick snapshot view of him now. I think what he’s going to be is going to be extremely special.”

Embiid also is shooting 51.4 percent from three, including 3 for 5 against the Magic. When asked if he would like to participate in the three-point contest All-Star weekend, he said "it would be nice" and noted he would have to work on the speed of his release.