Simmons shines early, but Sixers drop preseason opener

By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)

Memphis 110, Philadelphia 89 – Box Score

With Joel Embiid sitting out, the Sixers introduced Ben Simmons last in pregame introductions, a spot known as the hammer and reserved for the team’s top attraction. After having to sit out more than a year due to injury, Simmons finally got the chance to prove why he’s worthy of that position and of being a focal point of the team (and the league as a whole).

The 2016 1st overall pick wasted no time announcing his presence, scoring the first four points of the game, then finding J.J. Redick for a triple and nonchalantly delivering a half court lob to Richaun Holmes.

In all, Simmons scored or assisted on the team’s first 14 points, finishing the night with a final of line of 6 points on 2-8 shooting, 7 rebounds, and 9 assists against just 1 turnover. As expected, the outside shot wasn’t falling, but it was encouraging that Simmons was able to get where he wanted to on the court seemingly at will. Having Simmons run the pick-and-roll as the ball-handler also created some mismatches where Simmons found himself guarded by a much smaller guard, something he’ll be able to exploit easily as he gets more comfortable.

Simmons also created a ton of wide open looks for his teammates simply by drawing the attention of the Memphis defense. Robert Covington particularly benefited from some Simmons feeds, ending the night 4-10 from behind the arc. Covington has always been a bit below average percentage-wise from downtown because so many of his shots were heavily contested; I don’t think that will be as much of an issue this season.

On the other end of the spectrum, Markelle Fultz did not look great, shooting just 2-13 from the field for 4 points. The jumper that has been a contentious issue lately in training camp, after Fultz reportedly tinkered with it on his own, did not look smooth at all. Fultz also seemed to get off-balance any time he felt contact in the lane, rather than powering through and finishing strong. Let’s reserve the hot takes on Fultz until after he’s played more than 23 professional minutes. Unlike Simmons, who was at least around NBA competition for a year even if he couldn’t take the floor, this was Markelle’s initial first-hand look at this level.

Other Notes:

J.J. Redick shot the ball as advertised, nailing both of his three point attempts, including the below shot that turned into a 4-point play.

It’s incredibly nice to have a professional shooter who can calmly set himself and knock down a jumper. That was probably what I missed the most during the deep Process years. Also of note on that 4-point play, T.J. McConnell gave an emphatic fist pump, which is such an on-brand T.J. move for a preseason game. Respect the gritness.

Vegan Jah…not terrible! Jahlil Okafor looked spry in tallying 13 points on 5-6 shooting, 6 rebounds, and 2 blocks in 19 minutes.

There was the usual ball-stopping from Jahlil, particularly one instance where he was surrounded by three Grizzlies defenders, but still tried to put the ball on the floor, getting bailed out by a foul call. Still, as far as third-string centers go, it was a solid performance. You would hope for more than solid, third-string center from a third overall pick, but baby steps.

Sixers fans took an immediate dislike to Kris Humphries, who looked awful in his 7 minutes, missing both of his shot attempts, turning the ball over a couple times, and generally just looking uncoordinated and out of sync. The crowd began booing Humphries when he checked into the game or whenever he touched the ball; it was probably the quickest they’ve ever turned on a player. We won’t be seeing Humphries around past the next couple weeks.

The defense needs to be better, especially considering Philadelphia was facing a Grizzlies team playing without Mike Conley and Marc Gasol. If only there was a 7-foot-forever behemoth capable of quarantining the painted area and hounding smaller guards on the perimeter waiting to take the floor at some point. Such a force of nature would certainly help.

PFB 005 – 2017 NFL Week 5 Plays

By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)

In this episode of the podcast, NFL handicapper Dan Urda looks to bounce back from a rough Week 4 as we discuss all the action for the upcoming weekend.

Dan’s season record: 9-8; Week 4 record: 1-4
Sean’s season record: 5-3; Week 4 record: 1-1

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Sixers face Grizzlies in preseason opener

By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)

Embed from Getty Images

The most exciting Philadelphia 76ers season in recent memory is almost here. While the regular season opener against the Wizards in two weeks is what Sixers fans are really looking forward to, the newly condensed preseason slate of games should be a nice way to whet the appetite.

First up on the exhibition schedule is the Memphis Grizzlies, who have officially moved on from the Grit ‘n’ Grind era following the departures of “the Grindfather” Tony Allen and Zach Randolph this past offseason. Still, despite the greatness of Mike Conley and Marc Gasol, the Grizzlies will likely be hindered by their same, old problem: a lack of shooting and offensive creativity on the wings.

To compete for a playoff spot in the Western Conference hellscape, Memphis will need a Comeback Player of the Year-type season from $94 million man Chandler Parsons. Parsons has been more active on Instagram than the basketball court since joining the Grizzlies, stymied by knee issues that have led to multiple surgeries. Parsons says he’s his best shape of the past few years; anything above “barely ambulatory” would be a welcome change for Memphis.

Injury Notes:

Marc Gasol won’t be playing after hurting his ankle in the EuroBasket tournament. Tyreke Evans sat out Memphis’ preseason opener Monday with a migraine, but is expected to play in Philadelphia (update: Evans has also been declared out).

For the Sixers, the team has already confirmed both Joel Embiid and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot will not be playing against Memphis or Friday against Boston. Dario Saric will not play against the Grizzlies for DNP-rest; he’s in great game shape after playing in EuroBasket so this will give Brett Brown some extra minutes for other players. Amir Johnson sprained his ankle in practice Tuesday and is questionable to play.

Key Things to Watch:

  • Everything Ben Simmons – We’ve waited over a year to see the former first overall pick against opposing NBA competition. How will Memphis choose to defend a unique offensive threat like Simmons? Will they play off him considerably given his lack of outside shooting? Will Simmons show flashes of the defensive dominance Brett Brown has raved about in training camp? Which hand will Simmons shoot with around the basket?
  • The mysterious changing shot of Markelle Fultz – Fultz apparently went off and experimented with a different shot between summer league and training camp, something Brett Brown wasn’t too thrilled about. Fultz said it was just something he was toying with and we should expect his shot to remain similar to his Washington days. Something to keep an eye on.
  • Battle for bench minutes – Unlike years past, the Sixers have a deep roster of NBA-caliber talent on the perimeter. Fultz, J.J. Redick, and Robert Covington are all looked in as the starters. Who will receive the most minutes behind them from a group that includes Jerryd Bayless, T.J. McConnell, Nik Stauskas, Justin Anderson, and Furkan Korkmaz (plus TLC when he returns)? That picture may become clearer after Wednesday night.
  • Is there any hope for Jahlil Okafor? – Okafor has taken to veganism and slimmed down in an attempt to relieve stress on his knees and salvage his career. Will a lighter Jahlil be more agile defensively? Will he still hold the ball in offensive sequences as slow as something out of Inception? It would be nice for Okafor to enhance his value enough that the Sixers could recoup something in a trade.

Capping Corner – 2017 Week 4

By Josh Mansilla (@Manzilla36)

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.

Los Angeles Chargers -1.5

Nice outright winner with the Saints +5.5 last week to get back to an even 2-2 on the season.

This Sunday, I like the Chargers to play well and finally grab their first win of the season. Being in arguably the toughest division in the NFL hasn’t done Los Angeles any favors thus far. They are, by far, the best 0-3 team in the NFL, having lost to Denver and Miami the first two weeks of the season thanks to failed field goal attempts in the final seconds, and hanging tough for most of the game against an undefeated Chiefs team last week.

Los Angeles has a balanced offensive attack with Melvin Gordon on the ground (who is expected to play through a bruised knee injury) and a deep arsenal of weapons in the passing game. I expect Philadelphia to be in for a letdown here on the road following an emotional, last second win in Week 3 over the division rival Giants. The Eagles were already dealing with a number of injuries in the secondary and will also be without their highest paid player, Fletcher Cox, on the defensive line for this matchup. Look for Philip Rivers to have a solid game to lead the Chargers to their first victory.

27-23, Chargers. Good luck.

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

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NBA passes lottery reform and resting legislation

By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)

Thursday afternoon, by a 28-1-1 vote (Oklahoma City voted against and Dallas abstained), the league passed a lottery reform measure that basically amounts to shifting the deck chairs on the Tanktanic. The league also passed guidelines to try and curb the recent DNP-rest trend. In this blogger’s humble opinion, both moves do more to combat the NBA’s perception of its problems than actually make positive changes to the league.

First, let’s look at the new lottery system, which Adam Silver has seemed determined to overhaul ever since Sam Hinkie was too honest and forthright about his intentions for the commissioner’s liking. The new lottery odds are outlined in the chart below:

Starting with the 2019 draft, the major changes include the bottom-three teams all having a 14% chance at the first overall pick, with higher, flatter odds throughout the rest of the lottery. The top four picks are now selected via lottery, as opposed to the top three picks previously, meaning the team with the worst overall record can now fall as far as 5th.

Rather than doing something drastic to actually enhance the competitive balance issue, the league just wanted to appear like it was stopping the tanking “epidemic”. All this change will do is alter where the inflection points are to tank. There will absolutely be teams that gun for the best possible odds of 14%, even if it’s not 25%, because it’s still their best hope at obtaining a franchise-level talent. Now, more teams will feel they have a chance at those “best odds” because you only have to be in the bottom three to obtain them. This reform could actually lead to more tanking!

More drastically, some teams who are in the playoff hunt in April will definitely take a hard look at whether it’s worth it to get stomped by the 1-seed in the first round, versus maybe falling to the 10th-worst record and having a 14% chance at a top-5 pick. I really hope that happens and all the members of the older generation clutch their pearls about the integrity of the game.

For the Sixers, it’s funny that with lottery reform mainly targeted at what they did with the Process, this new system could stand to benefit them. If the Lakers pick falls within 2-5 next summer, Philadelphia would retain Sacramento’s 2019 first-round pick. The Kings are unlikely to be making the playoffs anytime soon in the battle royale that is the Western Conference, but you also wouldn’t expect them to be among the very worst teams in the league.

Therefore, the flatter odds at the back half of the lottery could stand to help the Sixers. For example, if Sacramento ends up with the 8th-worst record, the Sixers would have a 6.0% chance at the first overall pick and a 26% chance at a top-5 selection, versus 2.8% and 10% under the current system. One more lottery gift from Sam Hinkie because the league changed the system due to him would be sweet justice.

As for the new resting policy, it will give Adam Silver license to fine teams at least $100k for resting multiple players for a game or sitting healthy players for nationally televised games. Like tanking, the idea of resting players has caused more of a problem in the court of public opinion than harmed the actual foundation of the game. This new legislation is pointless; if teams want to rest guys, they’re going to rest guys. Now, we’ll just see a lot more cases of flu-like symptoms than before. At least DNP-rest was honest.

Ultimately, whether it’s maximizing lottery odds or keeping players fresh for a postseason run, smart teams are always going to find ways to work around the fringes of the rulebook. These reforms are largely ineffective in stopping what the league perceives as major problems to the game. Tanking has been going on for decades; the shuffling around of odds isn’t going to put an end to it.

PFB 004 – 2017 NFL Week 4 Plays

By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)

In this episode of the podcast, NFL handicapper Dan Urda quickly recap a winning Week 3 before diving into all the action for NFL Week 4.

Dan’s season record: 8-4; Week 3 record: 4-2
Sean’s season record: 4-2; Week 3 record: 2-1

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Sixers sign Emeka Okafor; Media Day Thoughts

By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)

For the better part of two years now, it’s been an open secret that the Sixers would like to move on from 2015 third-overall pick Jahlil Okafor. Yet, another training camp is here, and not only is Jahlil still in a Sixers uniform, but the team has decided to double down on its number of Okafors. In a surprise move that absolutely no one could have seen coming, the Sixers announced Monday that their 20th and final training camp roster spot was reserved for former second overall pick Emeka Okafor.

https://twitter.com/sixers/status/912301438738604033

Emeka, a distant cousin of Jahlil, hasn’t played in the NBA or any other league since 2013 due to a herniated disc in his neck. He was medically cleared last spring and reportedly had a handful of other training camp invites aside from the Sixers. Bryan Colangelo said he wanted to bring in Okafor and Kris Humphries to have the most competitive camp possible. I would make the argument that bringing in a young 20-something fighting to scratch and claw his way into his first big break would bring as much competition, with the added bonus of possibly uncovering a hidden gem. But I don’t have the same fetish for veterans as the high-collared Colangelo.

Ultimately, these last few training camp roster spots don’t matter; Emeka Okafor won’t be around once the roster is trimmed down for opening night of the regular season. Here were some of the notable items on media days from the guys who will still be here into the winter.

Contracts

Joel Embiid mentioned there have been talks about an extension, but acknowledged he doesn’t really have any leverage as he would just become a restricted free agent if an extension isn’t reached. He also shot down any notion that he wasn’t playing because he wanted a new contract; notch another L for Howard Eskin.

Robert Covington also confirmed he and the team have been discussing a contract extension. This item of business is probably the most important for the Sixers heading into the season. Unlike Embiid, who Philadelphia can retain via restricted free agency regardless, Covington would be a unrestricted free agent next summer if the two sides cannot come to terms. With the cat out of the bag on what a valuable player Covington has become, it would behoove the Sixers to make sure RoCo doesn’t hit the open market.

Quick Injury Notes

Joel Embiid said his goal is to be ready for the first game of the regular season and the team is not going to put him out there during the preseason if he’s not ready. On a more positive note, Embiid mentioned he had 2 or 3 scans since his surgery and everything has looked perfect.

Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot has only just begun running again after sitting out EuroBasket with knee tendonitis. Don’t expect to see TLC out there anytime soon, which could cause him to fall behind in what’s become a crowded field for rotational minutes.

Jahlil Okafor has yet to play 5-on-5, only recently participating 3-on-3. He does expect to be able to progress to 5-on-5 during training camp. Okafor revealed he went (mostly) vegan, in part, because he read how dairy causes inflammation and he’d been having trouble with swelling in the knee. Hopefully, the reduced inflammation and the weight loss helps keep him healthy, for both his own sake and his prospects as a trade asset.

There were a few Sixers who had positive health reports. Ben Simmons is 100% with no restrictions. Markelle Fultz is fully healthy; the ankle injured during summer league is not bothering him. Jerryd Bayless said his wrist feels great.

Quote of the day went to Amir Johnson, who revealed Rasheed Wallace is a big proponent of the college freshman workout plan.

We are a few weeks away from (hopefully) seeing these three out on the court together. Get hyped!

Capping Corner – 2017 Week 3

By Josh Mansilla (@Manzilla36)

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 Orleans +5.5

I split my two picks last week and now sit at 1-2 on the season. It’s tough to lose an under bet when the first half consists of only 3 field goals, but that’s exactly what happened in last week’s game between Tennessee and Jacksonville.

This week we are going to roll with the New Orleans Saints. I like for them to go into Carolina and not only cover the spread, but win straight up. Carolina’s offense failed to score a touchdown in its last game at home, and only accounted for two touchdowns the week before against a truly awful San Francisco defense (last seen giving up 41 points to the Rams in Thursday Night Football).

Meanwhile, the Saints have faced two defenses that would have been considered among the top units in the league coming into the season, Minnesota on the road in week 1 and New England last week. Although Drew Brees still seems to be finding his groove, I think he will have enough firepower to outscore Carolina. Greg Olsen is a big loss to Carolina’s passing attack and a banged-up Cam Newton being forced to stay in the pocket will only lead to another failed offensive performance. Saints go on the road and pull off the upset 27-20.

Good luck.

Week 2 record: 1-1; Season record: 1-2

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Sixers sign Jacob Pullen and Kris Humphries

By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)

With training camp set to kick off on Tuesday, the Sixers made two moves Friday to bring themselves one player shy of the 20-man camp roster limit. First, the team made a move to bring back someone who I’m sure needs no introduction for Philadelphia fans, after he played all of three games with the Sixers in the 2012 Orlando Summer League, averaging 13.7 ppg in 21.8 mins.

Signed to a training camp deal, the 27-year-old Pullen has never made his way onto the NBA stage, having spent his post-Kansas State career plying his trade in Europe. Most recently, the guard played for BC Khimki, a top-division Russian club, where he averaged 9.5 points in 16.6 minutes, shooting 36.5% from behind the arc.

As much as I enjoyed watching Pullen during his four-year career at Kansas State, it’s tough to envision a path for him to make the regular season roster with the Sixers. Philadelphia is starting Ben Simmons at “point guard”, with Markelle Fultz, Jerryd Bayless, and TJ McConnell also around to assume lead ball-handler duties. The Sixers already made a similar training camp signing in guard James Blackmon earlier in the summer. Look for Pullen to play some 4th quarter minutes in a handful of preseason games, but don’t expect him to stick around past mid-October.

More curiously, the team also signed big man Kris Humphries, most recently a member of the Atlanta Hawks, to a non-guaranteed deal.

Known more for his short-lived marriage to Kim Kardashian, the 32-year-old Humphries has bounced around the league after being selected in the late lottery by the Jazz in 2004. Without question, Humphries’ two best seasons came in New Jersey, where he averaged double-doubles for the Nets in both the 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons. Those two years were the only ones of his career where he averaged more than 21 minutes per game.

Bringing Humphries into camp has led to speculation in a couple different directions. One line of thought is that this is an added bit of insurance if Joel Embiid’s recovery from meniscus surgery doesn’t permit him back to action as quickly as the team and fans would like. However, the Sixers already have Richaun Holmes as a back-up center, and Amir Johnson making $11 million to instill veteran wisdom, not to mention Ben Simmons and Dario Saric being able to capably man the 5 spot, as needed.

Other folks think Humphries’ arrival may provide additional evidence the team is ready to trade Jahlil Okafor. The fact is, with or without Kris Humphries, the Sixers are ready to trade Jahlil Okafor. More than likely, the former Minnesota Golden Gopher was brought in because Bryan Colangelo thinks another veteran, borderline rotation player can only help create that “environment of winning” in training camp. Like Pullen, I wouldn’t count on Humphries to don any of Philadelphia’s four uniforms during the regular season.

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PFB 003 – 2017 NFL Week 3 Plays

By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)

In this episode of the podcast, I sit down with NFL handicapper Dan Urda to rehash our week 2 plays and go over a Week 3 slate heavy with home underdogs.

Dan’s season record: 4-2
Sean’s season record: 2-1

Support the site via its Patreon page.