Philadelphia 76ers

Slumping Sixers miss Young in loss to Raptors

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Slumping Sixers miss Young in loss to Raptors

BOX SCORE

As one key Sixer returned to the Wells Fargo Center on Wednesday night, another was noticeably absent.

With the Toronto Raptors in town for a game to determine sole possession of first place in the Atlantic Division, the Sixers got their rookie point guard Michael Carter-Williams back after a foot injury put him on the sidelines for the last four games.

But even with Carter-Williams back, the Sixers were missing a huge piece in Thad Young, who was not with the team in the 108-98 defeat (see Instant Replay).

Young was tending to some personal issues and coach Brett Brown isn’t quite sure when the seven-year veteran will return. Without Young, the Sixers struggled on defense as the Raptors drilled 14 three-pointers. They also had difficulty hanging onto the ball, committing 20 turnovers that helped the Raptors build a 16-point lead in the second half.

Without Young, Brown had to alter his rotation and his substitution patterns. That meant Spencer Hawes was playing power forward and sometimes guarding a quicker player in Rudy Gay, and Daniel Orton got his first start of the season.

“When a guy is out of the lineup you have to be versatile and do whatever you’re called for,” said Hawes, who led the Sixers with 28 points and 10 rebounds.

However, there are some things that can’t be replaced.

Where Young was missed the most was in his leadership ability. A strong voice on and off the court is one thing. But to lead by example and on defense like Young does really resonates. With Young on the floor it would have been difficult for the Raptors to go on a 15-5 run in the final 2:15 of the third quarter to turn a six-point deficit into a 16-point debacle.

“You look at it and say, ‘Why and who was on the floor?’ You’re always challenged by not having too many of your senior players [on the bench],” Brown explained. “But there aren’t many senior players.”

The Sixers got no closer than 10 points in the fourth quarter with that run by the Raptors at the end of the third quarter deciding the game. Hawes and Evan Turner battled foul trouble during the second half and Carter-Williams was shaking off the rust.

When it came time to hold the fort at the end of the third quarter, the Sixers couldn’t pull it off.

“That period was a killer,” Brown said. “You can lose games in that period of time. My answer is that our young guys have to fix that. They have to grow or we’re going to see something similar at the end of the third period.”

The Sixers went 2 for 6 with a turnover during that fateful stretch, while Toronto went 6 for 6 with five three-pointers.

“Discipline,” Hawes said. “I see that quarter ending in a barrage of threes. Closing out quarters is always important, but especially in the second half when you work hard and fight to be in it and then you give it up in a two- or three-minute span. We have to address that.”

It’s one thing to address it and put in plans to halt a decisive run, but it’s another to have the horses to do it. Without Young, the Sixers were missing a major cog.

And add in a tough shooting night for Turner, who went 4 for 13, and six turnovers from the rookie Carter-Williams, and the result wasn’t tough to fathom.

“His rhythm was a little off and his fitness was evident where he hadn’t played basketball at that level in a while,” Brown said about Carter-Williams. “And like any young player, he gets so excited to come back and play that he tries too hard to put his imprint on the game. He tried to force things in the paint and he didn’t let the game come to him as naturally as he normally does. It was clear that Michael hadn’t played in a while.”

Carter-Williams didn't dispute the idea that he was a little excited to get back on the floor.

“I felt pretty good and my foot wasn’t bothering me,” Carter-Williams said. “I struggled a little bit just getting back into the swing of things.”

With four straight losses, the 5-8 Sixers are a half-game behind the Raptors for first place in the Atlantic Division. They will try to snap the losing skid on Friday night when the Milwaukee Bucks come to town.

Sixers notes, quotes and tidbits: Simmons' defensive assignment; Saric's role

Sixers notes, quotes and tidbits: Simmons' defensive assignment; Saric's role

Sixers coach Brett Brown reiterated Wednesday that he plans to use Ben Simmons as his point guard this season, while adding that Markelle Fultz will not be excluded from “decision-making and point guard-type of responsibilities” on occasion.

Brown also didn’t rule out using the 6-10 Simmons as a small-ball center.

Simmons and Fultz have been the top picks in each of the last two drafts, but Simmons missed last season while his broken right foot healed.

Simmons, who played a single season at LSU, is “an elite passer,” in Brown’s estimation, as well as a guy who has “jaw-dropping” speed.

Brown has also found that the 6-4 Fultz, selected after the Sixers engineered a trade with Boston for the most recent No. 1 choice, is very coachable. And his skill set is as advertised.

There will be times, as a result, when each runs the point.

“Once the ball is missed and you have sort of jailbreak, Markelle’s going to be in (the) open court with the ball,” Brown said. “He will be at that point one of the primary ballcarriers. When it’s a static situation and you’ve got to run a play at the start of the year, Ben Simmons will have the ball. … At the start of the game and it’s a dead ball, we’re going to give Ben the ball.”

Defensively, Brown envisions Fultz playing opposing point guards and Simmons guarding power forwards. The matchups with the other projected starters are also conventional. Joel Embiid will play centers, Robert Covington will guard the other team’s best wing and JJ Redick will check the other wing.

Brown also said Simmons “has a chance to be an elite defender,” though his reputation in college was otherwise. Fultz also played a lot of zone in his lone year at Washington.

The Simmons-at-center discussion was an interesting one. Brown said it is “possible” he will use Simmons – or possibly 6-10 Dario Saric – in that capacity at times, noting that the Warriors closed games with no one bigger than 6-7 Draymond Green (and more recently, 6-10 Kevin Durant) on the court.

“When you get down to the last six minutes, inevitably it ends up a smaller game,” Brown said.

As for Simmons’ health, president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo said that hasn’t been a concern for a while.

“He’s playing 5-on-5,” Colangelo said, “and dominating the gym.”

Fluid rotation
Much is still to be determined about the rotation, given the presence of veterans like Amir Johnson, Jerryd Bayless, Richaun Holmes, Nik Stauskas and (possibly) a slimmed-down Jahlil Okafor.

And what of Saric? He averaged 12.8 points and 6.3 rebounds as a rookie last season, while appearing in all but one game. There is speculation that he might wind up the sixth man, but Brown is not yet certain about that.

“His gift of basketball intellect is high, and so when you say where does he fit in, I’m saying anywhere we want,” he said. “Where does he fit in to start games, end games, I don’t know. I just know that in my opinion, that’s probably the Rookie of the Year (last season), and his skill package and his toughness and his intellect will be fit in where it’s needed most -- in a timely fashion, we believe.”

Milwaukee guard Malcolm Brogdon was chosen Rookie of the Year, while Saric and Embiid made the All-Rookie team. Now Saric is one of many players for whom Brown must find time.

“The gym’s going to tell us a lot,” he said.

And, he added, “I feel the first third of the season is going to be a lot of learning for all of us.”

Playoffs?
Playoff talk has been rampant for a while, and when asked by Ian Thomsen of NBA.com about that, Colangelo said, “Forecasting that would definitely, I believe, be unrealistic. But hoping for that? It’s on everybody’s mind.”

Colangelo revisited that on Wednesday.

“I don’t think it’s unrealistic to want to be in the playoffs, or have a goal to be in the playoffs,” he said. “That is our goal, but (there are) things you have to look at with respect to the situation we find ourselves in.”

He pointed out the difficulty of making the postseason with two rookie guards. According to the Sixers’ research, it hasn’t happened since Houston did so in 1998-99, with a backcourt of Cuttino Mobley and Michael Dickerson.

Then there is the matter of incorporating the other new pieces, like Redick and Johnson.

“I think it’s premature to throw anything out with respect to a number (of victories) or any goal,” Colangelo said, “but I would say our objective is to make the playoffs.”

Brown, 75-253 in his first four years on the job (including last year’s 28-54), knows the team is “in a different phase,” as he put it, and understands how difficult it can be to take the next step. At the same time, he too is caught up in the excitement of the playoff talk, which has in part emanated from the players.

“I really don’t say anything to them about tempering expectations,” he said. “I like them saying stuff. Then you’ve got to own it. … Words are one thing, actions are another.”

But certainly he likes how hard they have worked in the offseason, and sees the potential.

“Years ago,” he said, “I heard a phrase: ‘If they show you who they are, believe them.’ That’s over a period of time. … On first glance, when I check some of our guys, I think they have a real chance for greatness. We aspire to win a championship in the city. Then you want another one, and then another one.”

As Sixers camp nears, Joel Embiid still not ready for 5-on-5

As Sixers camp nears, Joel Embiid still not ready for 5-on-5

The foremost question on everybody’s minds when Sixers president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo and coach Brett Brown met with reporters over lunch Wednesday afternoon was simple: When is Joel Embiid going to be able to play 5-on-5?

“Right now,” Brown said, “we can’t give you a direct answer.”

The 23-year-old Embiid, who as a rookie in 2016-17 displayed uncommon skills and equally uncommon charisma, underwent surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee in March, ending his season after 31 games.

The 7-2, 280-pound center is the obvious key to a young, promising team, but he is not yet ready to go full-tilt. 

“If you walk in the gym, it looks like he could play 5-on-5 basketball,” Colangelo said. “But we’re going to take our cues from the people who know best.”

And right now the Sixers’ medical staff, headed by the newly hired vice president of athlete care, Dr. Daniel Medina, favors what Colangelo called “a hyper-conservative progression.”

“Will he be ramping that up throughout the preseason?” Colangelo said “Yes. How many games, we’re not certain. Is it every game? We don’t know. That will be based on what we’re told.”

The Sixers open training camp next Tuesday in their Camden, New Jersey-based facility. The preseason begins Oct. 4 against Memphis at the Wells Fargo Center, while the regular season opens Oct. 18 in Washington.

“It’s not about being ready for the first practice or the first game,” Colangelo said. “And he will be out there for the first practice and the first game. The question is how much, how little, if at all. Those things will be determined by certain criteria along the way.”

Colangelo said, in fact, that he has a document that spells out the criteria that must be met before Embiid can play.

“There is a plan in place,” Colangelo said, “and it’s a progression-based plan. It’s criteria-based, and as he’s checking off boxes, and continues to jump over each and every successive item, then we’ll put him out there on the floor. There’s no timetable. There’s no scheduled number of minutes. There is no decision on back-to-backs. All of that is yet to be determined.”

Embiid, the third overall pick in the 2014 draft, missed his first two seasons while recovering from a broken foot. He averaged 20.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.5 blocks last season, despite a minutes restriction; he averaged just 25.4 a game.

When Brown was asked whether Embiid will be on such a restriction this season, he said, “We all hope not, obviously.”

The other question about Embiid concerns whether he and the team can reach an accord on a contract extension. Colangelo said he is “cautiously optimistic” that that can happen before Oct. 16, the NBA’s deadline for extending players on their rookie deals.

But the primary question remains about Embiid’s health.

“This really is about creating an opportunity for him to have long-term, sustainable health,” Colangelo said, “not to get ready for the first preseason game per se, or the second preseason game. Again, that progression is going to lead to hopefully a full season of competitive basketball, without restriction. That’s the goal.”