Sixers Notes: Brown figuring out 'Bomb Squad'

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Sixers Notes: Brown figuring out 'Bomb Squad'

NEWARK, Del. -- Just two months into the job, Sixers coach Brett Brown hasn’t had much difficulty putting together a starting five. Three games into the exhibition season, Brown has settled on Spencer Hawes, Evan Turner, Thad Young, James Anderson and Michael Carter-Williams as his first five.

That was the easy part.

“I might tinker with it during the preseason, but I don’t need to,” Brown said. “I feel the need to play more of the bench guys and the young guys to see what we have there. I’ll persevere with that starting group and give them as much court time as I can.”

The trick will be for the coach to figure out the rest of his rotation. Tony Wroten, the 6-foot-6 guard, is the first man off the bench. But after that, Brown hasn’t quite figured out which players work well together.

And he’s not really in a hurry to find out.

Prior to Friday night’s exhibition game against the Boston Celtics at the University of Delaware’s Bob Carpenter Center (see Instant Replay), Brown said one of the objectives for the game was sizing up the second unit.

“If you look at that group it’s kind of like The Bomb Squad,” Brown said. “They come in with reckless abandon, they don’t know what they don’t know and it gets even a little more trickier with Royce (White). We haven’t seen him and it’s all guesswork for me when I see those young guys come in with the second group.”

Brown went with Wroten, Darius Morris and White as his first players off the bench and used 12 players during the opening half. Getting time for the bench players hasn’t been difficult for Brown. Finding the right mix will be a challenge.

“It hasn’t been hard,” Brown said. As long as I know my first wave of subs and you manage it, then you go with gut feel and you try to end games with guys you think can win games.”

It wasn’t always that way. Brown says when he was coaching in Australia that he used to script out his substitutions before the game. Over time he learned he didn’t need to micromanage the game so much. Instead, because Brown likes to run an up-tempo offense, he bases his sub routines on whether or not his players are tired.

“I’m so focused on fatigue. They aren’t running like we want to run or guard how we want to guard for whatever reason,” Brown said. “I don’t like subbing for mistakes at this stage of the season because I want to help them and I want them to learn, but I do sub for fatigue reasons.”

In other words, Brown lets the game play out naturally before sticking his thumbprint on it.

White gets active
Like everyone else, Brown wanted to see how much ballyhooed rookie White handled his first action with the Sixers.

After a run of two-minutes, 42 seconds in the first quarter, White made his presence felt.

Literally.

White picked up four fouls in less than three minutes. In the third quarter, White was on the floor for less than three minutes before picking up his fifth foul.

He was busy.

In a little more than eight minutes, White had a dunk, a layup, a foul shot, three rebounds, a steal and a pair of turnovers.

“That’s the deepest I’ve ever gotten in a short amount of time,” White said. “I had four in two minutes. That’s unheard of. That’s unprecedented.”

But it was preseason and Brown allowed White to get some minutes. More than anything, White needed to run.

“That was great,” White said. “It was like a dream come true all over again. I played in one preseason game last year, but it’s been so long. It felt great.”

The 6-foot-9 rookie also saw some action at the five-spot on the floor. Before the game, Brown was asked where White’s natural position is.

“Four, maybe five. He’s strong enough to play five,” Brown said. “He reminds me of [Spurs forward] DeJuan Blair. He’s strong enough that he can play behind and not get manhandled, but clever enough where he could create problems for a natural five.”

Give and Go: Which Sixer has been the most surprising?

Give and Go: Which Sixer has been the most surprising?

With the team at the All-Star break, our resident basketball analysts will discuss some of the hottest topics involving the Sixers.

Running the Give and Go are CSNPhilly.com producer/reporters Matt Haughton and Paul Hudrick.

In this edition, we pick the Sixers' most suprising player this season.

Haughton
Imagine an underdog beating the odds to not only make an NBA roster, but also play significant minutes. Now imagine him doing it twice.

T.J. McConnell continues to shatter any perceived limitations put on his career.

McConnell came into last season as an undrafted free agent that was expected to be cut. Instead he beat out several other point guard candidates to stick on the roster. Not only that, he managed to become a mainstay off the bench as he played in 81 games for the Sixers.

Fast forward to this season and McConnell was to be buried on the bench behind free-agent signees Jerryd Bayless and Sergio Rodriguez.

It's a good thing nobody told the Pittsburgh native about those plans. He again played a solid reserve role off the bench while Bayless missed most of the season with an injured wrist. Then when Rodriguez sat out with an illness in a December matchup in Detroit, McConnell pounced on the opportunity. He just missed a triple-double with 12 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists in an 18-point win over the Pistons and the rest is history.

McConnell has been the team's starting point guard ever since. The numbers aren't going to wow anyone: 6.3 points, 6.1 assists and 3.0 rebounds in 24.9 minutes a game. However, he's a consistent contributor and a leader on an improved Sixers team.

Hudrick
T.J. McConnell. And it's not even close.

Before the season started, I projected McConnell to the D-League, considering him a solid emergency point guard. McConnell Wally Pipp'd his way into the starting lineup when Sergio Rodriguez was out with an illness. McConnell has flourished while Rodriguez has struggled.

Since becoming a starter, McConnell has averaged 8.9 points, eight assists and 1.7 steals in 31.4 minutes per game. He's averaging just two turnovers a game and also managed to hit two game-winning shots in that span. Most importantly, the Sixers are 14-11 when McConnell has started this season.

The most impressive personal stat for McConnell may be the 49 percent he's shot from the field over his last 24 games. McConnell never looked for his shot last season. He shot only out of desperation and his numbers reflected that. You can see his comfort level rising and his confidence in finishing around the rim.

McConnell is likely not the long-term solution at point guard for the Sixers, but I have to eat crow and say that at the very least, he's a solid NBA player.

2017 NBA draft prospect watch: Jayson Tatum lights up Virginia, Wake Forest

2017 NBA draft prospect watch: Jayson Tatum lights up Virginia, Wake Forest

We're have just a few weeks left in the college basketball regular season, so everyone is looking for a big win. Or in the case of a top prospect, a big performance to show all the scouts.

Let's take a look at whose stock rose and whose fell this week among eight top freshmen.

Jayson Tatum, forward, Duke (6-8/204)
America is finally seeing the Jayson Tatum that was highly touted coming into his one-and-done stint with the Blue Devils. The move to power forward has ignited his game and helped catapult Duke in its seven-game winning streak. His line Saturday against Wake Forest — 19 points on 6 for 11 shooting, 3 of 5 from three, and seven rebounds — was pretty good and he made some clutch free throws to clinch the win.

But can we talk about his Virginia game? Seriously, this may be the gem of his college career. Tatum's Blue Devils were held to just 21 points (he had seven of those) by Virginia's stingy defense in the first half. So what does he do? Score 21 by himself in the second half to lead the Blue Devils past a top-15 team. He had 28 points on just 13 shots, making 6 of 7 from three while adding eight rebounds, a block and a steal. He had a 7-0 run by his lonesome that put Duke up for good. He's likely a three at the next level, but Tatum displayed all the tools to be an effective three while dominated at the four, a much-needed boost for the soon-to-be top-10 Blue Devils.

Lauri Markkanen, forward, Arizona (7-0/225)
The three-point shooting slump isn't quite done yet for the Finnish freshman, but at least he's found his scoring touch again. Markkanen had a pair of double-doubles in Wildcat wins this week over Washington St. and Washington, all while only making 1 of 6 from beyond the arc. He's now just 4 for 19 from three in his last five games, a slightly worrying stretch that has brought his three-point percentage down to 46.5 percent.

Still though, he didn't fail to produce in 68 minutes combined over a three-day span. First, he had 19 points and 11 rebounds vs. Washington St. in a 78-59 win, his first double-figure rebounding effort since his last game vs. the Cougars. He then came through with 26 points and 13 rebounds against Washington in a 76-68 win. He was able to hit some jumpers but also competed inside, making his way to the free-throw line nine times and making eight from the stripe. It's certainly encouraging after some lackluster showings over the last two weeks.

Markelle Fultz, guard, Washington (6-4/195)
After missing two games last week with a knee injury, Fultz came back fully healthy with a pair of nearly identical performances. On Thursday, the impressive freshman shot 7 for 16 from the field, 2 of 6 from three, and had 19 points to go with four assists during an 83-81 loss to Arizona State. Two days later, he shot, get this, 7 for 16 from the field, 2 of 6 from three, in the loss to Arizona. He did make to the charity stripe more often (make 10 of 15 from the free-throw line) and finished with 26 points and six assists.

In the defeat, Fultz still played 38 minutes and scored or assisted on over 55 percent of the Huskies' points. Sure, he had four turnovers, but when you have the ball in your hand as often as he does, it's bound to happen. It's a pretty good idea of what he'll be doing for a team that finds itself at the top of the lottery this year. He showed off every part of skill set — shooting, getting the rim, finishing, etc. — Saturday and nearly led the 9-18 Huskies to a win over the No. 5 team in the country.

Lonzo Ball, guard, UCLA (6-6/190)
Most players don't dominate a game while taking the fewest shots among his team's starters. Most players aren't Lonzo Ball. Ball messed around with a triple-double while taking just nine points Saturday night, coming up just short with 15 points, eight rebounds and eight assists for the Bruins, who beat USC, 102-70.

Three teammates scored more points than Ball, but that's in part thanks to how well he spreads the ball and runs the offense. His maturity doesn't just come on offense. He's also solid on the defensive end, in part thanks to his 6-6 frame at point guard.

Malik Monk, guard, Kentucky (6-4/185)
Kentucky's catalyst keyed the Wildcats to two more wins this week as they extended their win streak to four. Monk was his normal volume shooting self in the two games against Tennessee and Georgia. He took a total of 31 shots, up from 30 over two games the week before. While he made just 10 of the 31 attempts, the formula seems to be working because the Wildcats keep winning.

He had 20 points with four threes and eight rebounds in a blowout win over Tennessee. The more impressive effort came with worse stats in the road victory against Georgia. He made just 3 of 11 but got to the free-throw line for 11 attempts and got it done for Kentucky in other ways, notably five assists and three steals. Monk has been labeled an offense-only guard, so the trio of steals are a welcome sight. How he'll defend ones and twos at the next level will be a real defining challenge for him.

Quick Hits
• Florida State lost consecutive games and forward Jonathan Isaac was relatively quiet, scoring 15 points on 14 shots over the two games. He had just three free throw attempts yet still reeled in 12 rebounds and had four blocks.

• Kansas' Josh Jackson provided 16 points on 14 shots Saturday, as the No. 3 Jayhawks defeated No. 4 Baylor. Jackson, by making his only attempt vs. the Bears, is up to 35.3 percent from three.

• NC State fired its coach this week, but that didn't stop Dennis Smith Jr. from being his normal self. In a pair of losses to ranked teams, Smith had 43 points, nine assists and seven rebounds combined.