Give and Go: Surprises, victories and coaching

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Give and Go: Surprises, victories and coaching

Each week we'll ask three questions about the Sixers to our resident basketball junkies and see what they have to say.

Running the Give and Go this week are CSNPhilly.com Sixers insider Dei Lynam, CSNPhilly.com reporter John Finger and CSN anchor Amy Fadool.

Let's get started:

Which Sixer has been the biggest surprise so far?
Lynam: The biggest surprise for me has been Spencer Hawes. I expected Hawes to be solid, but he is delivering at a rate far greater than that. Hawes is averaging 17.2 points per game, more than six better than his career-best mark of 11.4 during his second season in the league. He is also shooting 57.6 percent from the field and averaging 11 rebounds per game, which ranks ninth in the NBA. Those numbers have made Hawes one of only 13 players to start the season averaging a double-double with points and rebounds.

People don’t think of Hawes as a credible starting center, but I would challenge them to say the big man’s numbers so far support that argument.

Finger: I'd like to say Evan Turner because he has finally embraced a style of offense in which he drives to the basket for short shots and chances at the foul line. Turner's scoring is no fluke. He could have been this type of scoring threat if he had been convinced to become a slasher rather than a jump shooter.

However, there has been nothing from the past to indicate that Michael Carter-Williams would be this good. His shooting statistics in college, his play in the summer league and in the exhibition games gave no glimmer that Carter-Williams was this good. In fact, Carter-Williams has done things in his first five games in the NBA that his predecessor, Jrue Holiday, never pulled off.

Fadool: I think many people are going to say Carter-Williams, and rightly so. But I’m going to say Turner. While it’s still early in the season, Turner has showed consistency in his scoring, something we haven’t seen from E.T. over the course of a season. So far, Turner has scored 26, 23, 20, 18 and 24 points, respectively, in the Sixers' first five games. If those numbers continue, I expect that Turner will get quite the payday during the offseason, especially after the Sixers declined to extend his contract.

Which win was the most impressive?
Lynam: The most impressive win for the Sixers of the three they have to start the season is definitely opening night over Miami. For starters, the 19-0 run to open the game over the defending champion Heat was unthinkable. Add in the fact that the inexperienced Sixers lost the lead and regained it in the fourth quarter before holding on to win was simply remarkable. A year ago, the Sixers were 4-47 when trailing heading into the fourth. They already have two such wins to start 2013-14.

Finger: On paper, the opening night win over the two-time defending champion Heat stands out. However, to come back from a 20-point deficit on the second night of a back-to-back against the Chicago Bulls is clearly the most impressive. Though it looked like a horrible matchup for the Sixers because of Chicago's size inside and Derrick Rose's and Luol Deng's skills on the perimeter, they wore down the Bulls in the second half. It was almost as if the Sixers pulled off a rope-a-dope against the Bulls in the way they wore them down.

Fadool: I think the obvious answer for most impressive win is the one over the Heat. It’s the two-time defending champs and included the Sixers withstanding a 45-point third quarter. It was impressive because the Sixers hung on to win, and closing out wins when leading was an issue last season. Coming back against the Bulls was good, but I was most impressed with the win over the Heat. It was flat-out fun to watch.

Biggest difference between Brown and Collins?
Lynam: The biggest difference between Brett Brown and Doug Collins is that Brown is in his first season with a fresh voice and Collins finished in his third season, one of great expectation that fell far short because of things far beyond his control. From a philosophy standpoint, the Sixers will shoot more three-pointers. Under Collins a year ago, they ranked 25th in threes attempted. This season, that number per game is up by more than four and the team ranks 14th in that category.

Finger: They are apples and oranges. Where Brown has allowed the offense to flow freely, Collins was a master at drawing up plays on the fly. Under Collins, the Sixers ran a structured offense that flowed around Holiday and the pick-and-roll. Brown's offense just is ... whatever it is. Brown also doesn't have a player over the age of 25, so the urgency from game to game isn't there.

It would be interesting to see Collins in a rebuilding situation with the young roster Brown has. If Collins could coax 34 wins out of the roster the Sixers put together last year ...

Similarly, it will be interesting to see Brown with the Sixers as they grow and how the structure of the offense and defense changes.

Fadool: Brown has a much different coaching style, and practicing style, too. He’s really focused on conditioning and I think and it’s shown in the early season. We’ll see if that continues, as the 82-game schedule wears on the players, but I think it’s working well so far. However, I think the biggest difference in coaching style between Brown and Collins can be seen in the play of Turner. E.T. was notoriously and continuously in Collins’ doghouse. I think Collins demanded a lot from Turner and in turn, the swingman wasn’t enjoying the game and letting it come to him. Alternatively, I think whatever methods Brown is using with Turner are working. He’s enjoying himself and playing his game, and it’s showing in his numbers.

Joel Embiid: With Mavs, Nerlens Noel 'to get the chance he wanted'

Joel Embiid: With Mavs, Nerlens Noel 'to get the chance he wanted'

CAMDEN, N.J. -- Nerlens Noel emerged from the trainer’s room in a red sweatshirt and made his rounds of handshakes and hugs. It would be his last time in the Sixers' training complex as a member of the team, marking the end of the longest-tenured player’s stay in Philadelphia.

The Sixers traded Noel to the Mavericks on Thursday for Justin Anderson, Andrew Bogut and a top-18 protected first-round pick, according to a source (see story). He went through a portion of practice and was removed from it because of the deal. 

Noel’s now former teammates had a strong reaction to his departure. 

“Nerlens, he’s my guy,” Joel Embiid said. “He’s been my best friend since I got to Philly and I’m happy for him. He wants to start. I think in Dallas he’s going to get the chance to start and they’re going to re-sign him and they’re going to pay him a lot of money. Here it was kind of hard for him to start unless they were starting us together. But I’m happy for him. He’s going to get the chance he wanted.”

Noel’s future with the Sixers had been in question for two years as he enters restricted free agency this summer. Last season, the team struggled to find a way for him and Jahlil Okafor, both true centers, to play together. This season, the logjam was magnified when Embiid made his debut and took over the starting role. 

Noel candidly spoke out about the overcrowding at the beginning of the season but that situation was sidetracked when he missed 23 games because of injury. Once he returned, he quickly was on the short end of minutes. 

“I need to be on the court playing basketball,” Noel said in mid-December. “I think I’m too good to be playing eight minutes. Like, no, that’s crazy. That’s crazy. That’s crazy. They need to figure this s--- out.”

The Sixers did figure out his role, later making him the defensive leader of the second unit as Okafor became the odd man out. The Sixers also considered the possibility of pairing Noel and Embiid in the starting lineup, as they did with Embiid and Okafor, but that experiment played out only over a handful of minutes. 

“I’m a little bit disappointed,” Embiid said of not playing more alongside Noel. “I thought we should have tried that a little bit more. I think the few times we did, it actually looked pretty good offensively and defensively.”

Of the bigs, it seemed like Okafor would be the one moved at the deadline after being held out of two games because of trade talks. In the end, it was Noel as the one to go on Thursday. 

“He’s one of my favorite players here,” Dario Saric said. “He’s always ready for jokes, he’s always ready to enjoy every moment.” 

Noel was the only player remaining from Brown’s first season as head coach with the Sixers. Brown could not comment on the Noel trade because it was not official at the time he addressed the media. 

Ilyasova leadership missed
On Wednesday night the Sixers dealt Ersan Ilyasova to the Hawks for Tiago Splitter, a 2017 second-round pick and 2017 second-round pick swap rights. Even though Ilyasova played only 53 games for the Sixers, the veteran leader left his mark.

“He was a consummate pro,” Brown said. “He helped teach our young guys about that professionalism and helped contribute to our culture. He was good. You add those things up and we’re going to miss him.” 

Ilyasova’s departure affects those who played with him and behind him. Embiid credited Ilyasova for stretching the floor when they were in the starting lineup together. 

Saric, though, is perhaps the most impacted by the trade. Saric moved to the second unit when Ilyasova took over the starting role. He learned from his fellow international power forward, who helped him adjust to the NBA on and off the court. Saric is likely to get the nod as a starter. 

“For me, it’s hard,” Saric said. “I lost in Ersan some kind of mentor.” 

Brown also plans to play Robert Covington and Richaun Holmes at power forward at times, as well. If Covington slides over from small forward, Brown eyes Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, Gerald Henderson and Nik Stauskas as players who could fill in at the three spot. 

The Sixers will resume activity on Friday morning for shootaround ahead of their game against the Wizards. They will approach that contest without familiar faces on the court. 

“I lost two good friends,” Saric said. “But this is the NBA. This is part of the business, part of the job.”

Joel Embiid unhappy with how Sixers handled injury updates

Joel Embiid unhappy with how Sixers handled injury updates

CAMDEN, N.J. -- Joel Embiid will miss the next four games and is slated to return March 3 against the Knicks in Philadelphia, so long as he is symptom-free. While Embiid wants to play as soon as possible, he’s just glad there is now a definitive timetable announced.

Prior to Thursday, the team had not announced a specific timeframe.

“I wasn’t too happy with the way it was kind of handled before,” Embiid said. “I saw the day-to-day part. I was told that I was going to miss at least two or three weeks. So I wasn’t happy with the way it was handled.

“I thought keeping my name out there was going to just like literally have people think about me all the time instead of just saying when I was going to be back. So I’m happy that they did that today and they said that I’m out for the next four games.”

Embiid suffered a left knee contusion on Jan. 22 against the Trail Blazers. He sat out three games and returned on Jan. 27 to play the Rockets. He has not played since then, sitting out the last eight games.

An MRI also revealed Embiid has a slight tear in his meniscus, which is not thought to be related to the contusion.

Embiid went through a full practice on Thursday for the first time, he estimated, in four or five weeks. (Wednesday’s practice was not intense.) According to the Sixers, they are encouraged by the progress Embiid showed but do not feel he is game-ready. Team doctors are holding him out the next four games to minimize the risk of aggravating his knee. In order for him to be cleared, Embiid has to be symptom-free.

Embiid had eyed a return on Friday against the Wizards because he was feeling well, he said, but he had some swelling on Thursday.

“No swelling, no pain, nothing,” Embiid said of his criteria to play.

Now the team -- and fans -- can move forward without daily questions of Embiid’s status.

“I think it’s good for everybody,” Brett Brown said. “For you all to understand, the people that buying a ticket to understand, for me as a coach to prepare my team that he’s not going to be here for four more games. I like that clarity. I’m fine with it. Obviously, you want him playing, but the mystery that surrounds that speculation I think is frustrating for people and we understand that.”

Embiid reiterated the patience aspect of the injury, noting he waited two years to rehab his foot and there is no need to rush his knee. Now everyone can be in the loop with his status.

“The end point is basically making sure I’m ready to play instead of just putting me out there,” Embiid said.