Sixers fall to 0-2 in late loss to Celtics

By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)

Boston 102, Philadelphia 92 – Box Score

Playoff expectations were in the air at the Wells Fargo Center Friday night for the Sixers home opener. A capacity crowd, featuring M. Night Shyamalan, Samuel L. Jackson, and Meek Mill courtside, were ready to see Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, and the rest of this deep roster flip the page on the Process era. Unfortunately, instead of a triumphant reintroduction to competitive basketball in the City of Brotherly Love, fans were treated to a whistle-happy referee show and a fourth-quarter collapse.

The only things louder than the “Trust the Process” chants were the “refs you suck” calls echoing through the arena in the second quarter. Both sides were the beneficiary of some questionable whistles, but the Celtics ended up attempting twice as many free throws as the Sixers on the evening (32 to 16). Nevertheless, the Sixers still found themselves ahead by 9 with four a half minutes left in the third quarter, thanks largely to hot shooting from their two starting guards. J.J. Redick and Jerryd Bayless combined to score 37 points on 8-13 shooting from downtown.

The lead wouldn’t last though, as Bayless and company had no success stopping Boston in the pick-and-roll in the fourth quarter. Kyrie Irving (21 points) and Shane Larkin (10 points on 4-5 shooting) sliced through the lane for easy scoring opportunities at will. Usually able to cover up for his teammates’ mistakes, Joel Embiid looked tired and a step slow all night. Boston outscored Philadelphia 33-20 in the final frame, giving the injury-riddled Celtics their first win of the year and dropping the Sixers to 0-2.

Rookie point guard Ben Simmons (it’s cool they announce him as a 6’10” point guard in pregame) tallied another double-double with 11 points, 11 rebounds, and 5 assists. He had more trouble in the half court than Wednesday night in Washington, as Boston wisely played extremely far off him; Simmons did not attempt a single outside jumper. With driving lanes generally cut off, Simmons shot just 4-11 from the field and committed 4 turnovers. As always though, he was absolutely lethal as a one-man fast break in the LeBron/Giannis mold.

In speaking about his minutes restrictions this week, Joel Embiid said something to the effect that he’s just going to play until he’s tired. Well, he probably shouldn’t have played Friday then, because he looked flat-out exhausted. Embiid didn’t make his first field goal until the third quarter and shot 0-6 from three, moving to 0-10 on the season. The big man finished 4-16 from the field, still getting 11 points and 14 rebounds because his D-level game is still better than some others. Embiid probably needs to operate more in the post until he gets his legs back under him, and his defensive rotations and mobility on that end also appear slow. Embiid will rest on the second night of the back-to-back Saturday night in Toronto.

Finally, Markelle Fultz struggled with 6 points on 2-9 shooting and committed 4 fouls in just 19 minutes. He did go 2-2 from the foul line, eliciting a cheer from the crowd; his form was still cover-your-eyes ugly. Nevertheless, in spite of his largely subpar play, Fultz was still responsible for the play of the night, spinning his way through the lane and dishing to Embiid for an easy dunk. Just picture a lot more of this over the next decade and you’ll feel better about Sixers basketball right now.

 

Examining Sixers Rebounding Woes in Opener

By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)

In their season opening loss to Washington, the Sixers did a lot of things to warrant winning the game, including out-shooting the Wizards from the field (45.7% to 43.3%). However, Washington had more opportunities at the basket, both because they won the turnover battle and because they did a better job competing on the glass. The Sixers ended the night with a poor 69.8% defensive rebounding percentage, allowing the Wizards to collect 16 offensive rebounds. In particular, Philadelphia had difficulty with Marcin Gortat, as the Polish Hammer collected 5 O-boards by himself.

Walling off the defensive glass is clearly an area where the Sixers will have to perform better going forward; a 69.8 DREB% isn’t going to cut it. For reference, last season, the Knicks were worst in the league at 74.1%. I took a look at each offensive rebound and tried to determine who was at fault in each instance, providing video for some particularly poor jobs in rebounding.

  1. Bradley Beal (1st quarter) – J.J. Redick goes toward the rim rather than getting a body on his man. A long rebound caroms out to Beal. At fault: Redick

2. Otto Porter, Jr. (1Q) – Robert Covington and Ben Simmons are both under the basket following a Beal miss. Porter rushed in and poked at it from behind Covington, eventually collecting the ball as Covington gets called for the foul. At fault: Covington

3. Jason Smith (1Q) – Smith never even controls the ball before it’s knocked out of his hand and Embiid corrals it. I’m not going to assign blame to anyone here as the Sixers weren’t negatively impacted.

4. Marcin Gortat (1Q) – Gortat banged a jumper off the front iron and it ricocheted back out to him. Joel Embiid turned and went toward the rim rather than boxing out the shooter. At fault: Embiid

5. Marcin Gortat (2Q) – Gortat pushes Amir Johnson down too far under the basket, enabling Gortat to pull the vintage Tyson Chandler move and bat the ball out to a teammate. At fault: Johnson

6. Otto Porter, Jr. (3Q) – Porter poked at the ball and it deflected off the rim before Robert Covington was able to collect it. I’m not sure this play was really an issue, so I’m not assigning any fault.

7. John Wall (3Q) – This was a play where about 6 people were fighting for the ball under the basket and Amir Johnson happened to deflect it outside the arc to Wall. This was a scrum and it wouldn’t be fair to blame any one player.

8. Marcin Gortat (3Q) – Amir Johnson had a box-out on Gortat, but a long John Wall three led to an even longer rebound, which Gortat tracked down in the corner. This play was more bad luck than anything.

9. Marcin Gortat (3Q) – This was a tip-in attempt by Gortat off a Wizards miss in the pick-and-roll. Amir Johnson had helped contest the shot at the rim, so it’s likely Robert Covington’s responsibility to wall off Gortat after the switch. At fault: Covington, but tough play to make

10. John Wall (3Q) – As he often does, Wall is going a million miles per hour in transition. TJ McConnell does enough to get in front of Wall and force a miss, but his momentum keeps him backpedaling under the basket, allowing Wall to tip in his own miss. At fault: McConnell, but nearly impossible to stop Wall in the open court

11. Ian Mahinmi (3Q) – A Jodie Meeks jumper catches nothing but iron, and the ball deflects past Joel Embiid into the waiting arms of Mahinmi. At fault: Embiid

12. Kelly Oubre, Jr. (4Q) – Robert Covington got caught watching an Otto Porter three and completely forgot about his man Oubre in the corner. Oubre cut in along the baseline and almost jammed home the rebound. At fault: Covington

13. Ian Mahinmi (4Q) – In a continuation of the play above, Dario Saric reached out for the ball and would have had it if not for the cutting Oubre. After Oubre’s putback attempt missed, the ball bounced to Mahinmi, who put it in the basket. At fault: Saric technically, but really still Covington’s fault for this entire sequence

14. Bradley Beal (4Q) – A loose ball following a Wall miss deflects off about 6 different players before Beal picks it off the floor along the baseline. Everybody was hustling here.

15. Kelly Oubre, Jr. (4Q) – Here, Oubre succeeded in his massive dunk attempt. In a show of poor team rotation, Ben Simmons left his man, Porter, to gravitate under the hoop. When the shot went up, he put a body on Gortat. TLC shifted over to box out Porter, leaving Oubre completely unchecked along the baseline. All this trouble on the weakside started because Dario Saric and Markelle Fultz did not do a good job defending the pick-and-roll. Guys were trying here, it was a tough sequence. Maybe blame falls to Saric for getting pump-faked in the first play, leading to the shot. Hard to say.

16. Marcin Gortat (4Q) – Gortat tipped in a missed shot from Wall. Embiid went too far off his man, feinting at the help on Wall; Gortat took advantage to cut under and establish prime rebounding position. At fault: Embiid

Ironically, it was the two Sixers who you would consider the team’s best defensive players, Covington and Embiid, who showed up a few times each for poor effort or technique on the glass. As a team, Philadelphia could certainly clean up the instances where guys completely left their men. Friday’s opponent, Boston, was 25th in the league in offensive rebounding percentage (21.2%) last season and is at only 20.0% in their first two games. By just eliminating egregious mistakes, the Sixers shouldn’t have as much of a problem in this area against the Celtics.

Sixers Fall in Final Minute in Season Opener

By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)

Washington 120, Philadelphia 115 – Box Score

Sixers fans may have heard something similar plenty of times over the years, but in Wednesday night’s season opener, Philadelphia fought hard, only to come up just short in the final minute. However, unlike early seasons of the Process, this wasn’t the case of plucky underdogs playing above their talent level. No, this loss indicated a team just as talented as a Wizards team that’s a perennial playoff team in the East, losing due to some untimely turnovers. For that, at least, Sixers fans should be encouraged.

As you might expect with a Sixers squad that’s still very young, Washington won the turnover battle 17-9. But it was some of the more seasoned Sixers that had the two most critical giveaways of the game. With Philadelphia down 2 and under a minute remaining, Jerryd Bayless had the ball in transition with Ben Simmons streaking wide open for a game-tying dunk. However, his pass was deflected by Otto Porter and scooped up by Bradley Beal.

Then, after Robert Covington blocked Marcin Gortat on the other end, he had the ball on the wing and tried to swing it to a wide-open Bayless in the corner. Beal deflected the pass though, leading to another turnover. You can’t give away two possessions in the closing minute of the game and expect to win, it’s as simple as that.

Despite the loss, there were plenty of reasons for excitement, and I’m not just talking about a Wizards home game being packed by about 30% Sixers fans who were constantly chanting Trust the Process, or Jeff Van Gundy saying on the ESPN broadcast that the Sixers looked like the 5th best team in the East. The biggest reasons to believe this is going to be an unbelievably fun seasons were on full display with Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons both showing out.

Embiid blew past his minutes restriction “in the teens” and ended up playing 27 minutes. He looked perfectly healthy and tried to prove it right from the get-go by almost sending Jason Smith to an early grave with this tomahawk dunk attempt.

In all, Embiid recorded 18 points, 13 rebounds, and 1 block, even without hitting any of his 4 three-point attempts, which we know he’s capable of knocking down. On the whole, the big man looked very composed. Rather than some of the more wild isolations and post-ups we saw last season, Embiid played nicely off his teammates within the structure of the offense, as in this nice little dribble-handoff pick-and-roll with J.J. Redick.

Meanwhile, Simmons became only the second player in franchise history to record a double-double in his rookie debut (Michael Carter-Williams was the other) with 18 points, 10 rebounds, and 5 assists. Ben didn’t even think about taking an outside shot, but it rarely mattered, as he was able to get out into transition for easy buckets so seamlessly. It takes 3 seconds here for Simmons to go from collecting those loose ball off an Embiid block to laying it in on the other end.

Simmons also got to the rim in the half court on a handful of occasions, able to burst past Otto Porter, the type of quicker wing opposing defenses will try to throw at him throughout his career. He also scored off a couple pick-and-rolls with Embiid and Saric; Simmons was much too quick for Gortat to have a chance of cutting him off. The passing ability was on full display with the 5 assists. Although there were no highlight-reel dishes, Simmons continually made the right reads (only 1 turnover was a terrific sign). An early drive into the paint and kick to Bayless in the opposite corner for three was the type of play that’s relatively straight-forward, but will always be there for Simmons.

Other Game Notes:

  • Robert Covington was an absolute monster and I hope he knows how he’s planning to invest the $60-70 million in guaranteed money that will start coming his way after next month’s extension. RoCo hit 7 of 11 from downtown, confidently stepping into shots like he was not only the former MVP of D-league, but the whole league. As usual, he got his hands on everything defensively, deflecting a number of balls, collecting a steal and 2 blocks. The team-high 5 turnovers were something to clean up going forward.
  • J.J. Redick did what he was brought here to do, going 4-8 from behind the arc. It’s so refreshing to see the ball swing to an open player in the corner and feel confident the shot is going down.
  • In the back-up center role, Amir Johnson didn’t have a great Sixers debut, shooting 2-7 and fouling out in just 15 minutes. Saric played small-ball center in the fourth quarter, which was when the Sixers made a big 15-2 push to get back into the game. Dario didn’t have a whole lot to do with it though, struggling with 3 points and 3 rebounds on the evening. Get well soon, Richaun.
  • Markelle Fultz was *fine*. He confidently got to the basket to score 10 points on 5-9 shooting, even hitting a sweet pull-up jumper over Kelly Oubre.

Still, in his one trip to the free throw line, Fultz’ shot looked absolutely broken. That shoulder needs to heal up so the team can lock him in the shooting lab and fix whatever the rookie did to screw up his form over the summer.

PFB 007 – 2017 NFL Week 7 Plays

By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)

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In this episode of the podcast, I enjoy the fruits of my off-air wager with our NFL handicapper Dan Urda, before we dive into Week 7 NFL action.

Dan’s season record: 11-13; Week 6 record: 1-3
Sean’s season record: 7-5; Week 6 record: 1-1

Support the site via our Patreon page.

Sixers end preseason on a high note

By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)

Philadelphia 119, Miami 95 – Box Score

As far as preseason finales go, aside from Markelle Fultz sitting out with knee soreness, the Sixers couldn’t have asked for a better final tune-up than what transpired Friday night against Miami. Philadelphia dominated the Heat from basically start to finish, particularly while the starters were in the game with that opening 5 all finishing with double-digit plus-minuses.

In his second game of the preseason and playing in Kansas City, close to his college stomping grounds at Kansas University, Joel Embiid was the main attraction. While he didn’t have the same type of dominant outing as Wednesday night against Brooklyn, shooting just 1-7 from the field, Embiid still flashed that game-changing ability to caused him to get paid earlier this week.

On the defensive end, Embiid quickly showed Hassan Whiteside that there would be no easy buckets around the rim.

Meanwhile, the big man’s propensity for drawing fouls continued. In less than 3 minutes, Embiid drew 3 fouls on Whiteside, triggering a fantastic sequence where Embiid pointed to the Heat bench and told them they needed to get Whiteside out of the game (you might recall Embiid and Whiteside had a bit of a twitter rift around the All-Star voting last year, making this exchange even better).

Embiid’s final line was 5 points, 7 rebounds, and 1 block in 15 minutes. There was also the requisite play where he fell awkwardly and might have slightly sprained his ankle, but indications are he should be fine. All in all, it’s ridiculous that we consider this to be an off night for the franchise center.

A guy who in no way had an off night was Ben Simmons, who finished with 19 points on 9-11 shooting, 7 rebounds, 5 assists, and 0 turnovers in 18 minutes. While Simmons’ only jumper was an ugly shot that somehow banked in, he still proved he can score without the outside shot as a threat. Whenever he gets a smaller guy on him, Simmons goes down and puts him in the torture chamber down low. This is 6’7″ Justice Winslow looking like a freshman having to fill in as an extra body in a varsity scrimmage.

Simmons also got out and ran the floor, showing good chemistry with Jerryd Bayless on a couple occasions.

With the newfound depth of the Sixers roster, Brett Brown is now capable of putting four shooters around Simmons with either Embiid or Dario Saric at the 5. In those situations, the floor is spread well and Simmons has plenty of room to navigate the lane and attack the rim. Based on what we saw here against Miami, that’s bad news for opposing defenses.

J.J. Redick is out to prove he deserved that $23 million contract, and the way he’s shooting this preseason, that deal might be undervaluing him. Redick went 5-6 from three against the Heat, bringing him to 12-14 in the preseason. It hasn’t all been Redick knocking down wide open looks thanks to gravity provided by Embiid or Simmons either. The former Duke star can subtly navigate his way around the arc and make a quick change of direction or one-dribble move to create just a sliver of space for himself. All he needs is a split second of room and the shot is going up (and going down).

Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot made a strong final case for himself to be the main wing off the bench as the season gets underway. TLC dropped 17 points, attacking the basket more than we’ve ever seen from him in a Sixers uniform, sinking 10 of 11 free throws. He also showed some strong secondary play-making, tallying 3 assists. Luwawu-Cabarrot has easily the highest two-way potential between himself, Justin Anderson, and Nik Stauskas. TLC playing well in the present as well makes it an easy decision for Brett Brown.

Although the Heat were sitting startign point guard Goran Dragic, it’s still very encouraging that the Sixers had no difficulty in dispatching a Miami team that also in the group for the last few playoffs spots in the Eastern Conference. Philadelphia won handily both of their preseason games in which Joel Embiid played. He and the Sixers appear poised to pick up right where they left off in that excellent month of January before he was injured. The first, real test begins Wednesday night against the Wizards.

PFB 006 – 2017 NFL Week 6 Plays

By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)

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In this episode of the podcast, NFL handicapper Dan Urda offends me by not considering Kareem Hunt to be a superhero, as we discuss the top plays for Week 6.

Dan’s season record: 10-10; Week 5 record: 1-2
Sean’s season record: 6-4; Week 5 record: 1-1

Support the site via our Patreon page.

Sixers Sign Joel Embiid to Max Extension

By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)

As the old saying goes, if you Trust the Process, the Process will reward you with a $148 million extension. At least that’s the case for Sixers center Joel Embiid, who cashed in on his immense potential in a big way Monday, agreeing to terms on a 5-year, max extension to remain in Philadelphia.

The extension kicks in beginning in the 2018-19 season, and also includes the “super max” criteria, where the contract could go as high as $178 million if Embiid makes an All-NBA team or wins MVP or Defensive Player of the Year this season. Given what we saw last season, Embiid making an All-NBA team isn’t out of the question if he’s able to play somewhere around 65-70 games this year.

No one denies Embiid is one of the most talented players in the league, but health is the $148 million question. The big man has played only a total of 31 games in his first three NBA seasons and was only recently cleared for full court 5-on-5 in practice following meniscus surgery in the spring. The quickest way to submarine a promising, young team is have 25% of your salary cap earmarked for a guy unable to take the court.

However, the Sixers do appear to have added some protection for themselves in the deal, full details of which are yet to come out. Wojnarowski stated “the deal will include some salary-cap protection for the 76ers should Embiid suffer injury that causes him to miss significant playing time” and Zach Lowe relayed that the extension is “perhaps the most complex in NBA history”.

Yahoo’s Shams Charania tweeted that the deal was only 50% guaranteed money, before deleting the tweet. The CBA allows you to work in non-guarantees on designated player extensions related to pre-existing conditions, so the Sixers might be protected if Embiid suffers a recurrence of his back, foot, or knee injuries. If the Sixers found a way to lock Embiid up long term while insulating themselves from the ever-present injury risk, this deal is a home run.

Ultimately, the Sixers were pot committed with Embiid. He’s the surest path to becoming a true contender if he can stay on the court, and some team was sure to sign him to a max deal if he went into restricted free agency next summer. Getting ahead of the situation now allows the team to maintain a sense of goodwill with Embiid’s camp, tack on a 5th year to the deal, and include the injury provisions we’re yet to see detailed.

If Embiid stays reasonably healthy, this deal will be a no-brainer as the Sixers fight for Eastern Conference supremacy in the coming years. If he continues to struggle to stay on the court, the team may have found itself an out clause; we’ll see. Until then, Tru$t the Proce$$.

Richaun Holmes out with a fractured wrist

By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)

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While the Philadelphia Eagles were busy dismantling the Arizona Cardinals Sunday, their neighbors on South Broad received some bad news. The Sixers announced that backup center Richaun Holmes suffered a fractured left wrist in the team’s preseason game against Boston Friday night and will be re-evaluated in there weeks. Purportedly, the injury happened on a play where Holmes was fouled hard by Aron Baynes while attacking the rim.

Holmes is this year’s annual winner of the “Sixers center who will miss the beginning of the season” award. Given the training staff’s history with getting guys healthy and back on the court, we can expect to see Richaun return next fall. Seriously though, it’s a tough blow for a 23-year-old who was set to receive a lot of playing time, both behind Joel Embiid and in the starting lineup when Embiid inevitably sat out games.

In Holmes’ absence, free agent acquisition Amir Johnson will receive more minutes. Johnson was a slightly better rebounder (14.7 TRB% to 12.9%) and defender (105 defensive rating to 107) than Holmes, and shot better from three (34.0% to 28.9%), albeit on significantly less attempts. Still, any incremental help on the short term is negligible in the face of getting added development for a guy like Holmes who could play a role within the franchise for years to come.

The other domino effect involves Jahlil Okafor, who was unlikely to get off the bench, but should now see limited time as a rotational big. From a “trying to win games and make the playoffs” perspective, this is bad news. The Sixers were 12.2 points per 100 possessions better last season with Okafor on the bench versus on the court. As everyone has been quick to mention, getting Okafor on the court might be enough to garner trade interest if he can succeed over a small sample size. I think the last thing other executives need is additional game film of Okafor looking lost defensively.

Hopefully, Holmes’ wrist injury is able to heal quickly and we see him return to the court before the calendar flips to 2018. Until then, the Sixers will be back in action Monday night in Boston.

Capping Corner – 2017 Week 5

By Josh Mansilla (@Manzilla36)

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Throughout the 2017 NFL season, NFL handicapper Josh Mansilla will be providing his weekly plays, along with a brief write-up on how he sees the games playing out. We’ll track his picks each week to see how well he assists our readers.

New York Giants -3

Two winless teams face off this weekend and something has to give. I like for the Giants to pick up the win laying the small number at home.

The Chargers have a below average rush defense (18th in the NFL this season per Football Outsiders) and are coming off a week where they allowed the Eagles to run for over 200 yards, a group not exactly known for their rushing attack. I feel like Los Angeles’ less than stout defense should help the Giants balance their offense.

Paul Perkins is clearly not the answer at running back, and the New York coaching staff finally appears to be the last ones to come to that realization. Fourth-round rookie running back Wayne Gallman came into the game last week and provided some spark, running for 42 yards on 11 carries and adding a receiving touchdown. I look for New York to finally establish the ground game, which will help open up their explosive aerial attack with Odell Beckham Jr. and company.

31-24, Chargers. Good luck.

Week 4 record: 0-1; Season record: 2-3

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Sixers Drop to 0-2 in the Preseason

By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)

Boston 110, Philadelphia 102 – Box Score

In the Sixers’ second preseason contest, they found themselves up against the Celtics’ new “Big Three” of Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward, and Al Horford. Meanwhile, Philadelphia’s own star-to-be trio was down two members, with Joel Embiid remaining out of action and Markelle Fultz sitting as a precautionary measure due to a sore shoulder. As a result, things went about how you might have expected.

Boston controlled the action the entire night. Only hot shooting from downtown for the Sixers kept them in the game (14-31 from three as a team). An especially concerning trend was Boston, a team known to be a poor rebounding club, dominating on the offensive glass (17 Celtics offensive boards). Amir Johnson received the start, and he, Richaun Holmes, and Jahlil Okafor all needed to do a better job in that area.

While the three-point shooting won’t be quite as good most nights, it does speak to the front office’s decision to surround Ben Simmons with shooters. The two big wing acquisitions of the past two offseasons, J.J. Redick and Jerryd Bayless, combined to go 6-8 from three. The floor spacing will be much improved this season compared to the collection of D-league brick layers out there in years past.

As for Ben Simmons, the rookie tallied 8 points, 3 rebounds, 5 assists, and 3 steals, against 5 turnovers. The defensive versatility Brett Brown raved about in training camp was put on display, with Simmons covering everyone from Jayson Tatum to Gordon Hayward to Kyrie Irving.

The offensive end was a mixed bag. Simmons’ stepback jumper still looked ugly, and his forays to the rim did garner him a handful of trips to the free throw line, but also two charge calls. His most impressive play came when Simmons did not have the ball in his hands, finishing this half-court feed from T.J. McConnell:

The good news is the Sixers will get a second crack at these Celtics Monday night in Boston. You would expect both Markelle Fultz and Dario Saric (rest) to be out there. Until then, keep an eye out for Joel Embiid in the streets of Philadelphia.