Joel Embiid's Return, Seth Curry's Consistency and More 76ers Observations

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Photo Credit: Philadelphia 76ers Twitter (@sixers)

By Matt Gregan, Sports Talk Philly Staff Writer

The Philadelphia 76ers have, in many ways, been through a roller coaster ride to begin this season. They were one of the hottest teams in basketball after the first handful of games, but then COVID-19 went through the locker room. A plethora of players, from All-Stars Joel Embiid and Tobias Harris to role players like Matisse Thybulle, missed time with the virus. All the missed time resulted in the team hanging around .500, where they currently sit at 12-11 and in eighth place in the Eastern Conference. The team is just now getting back to a semblance of normalcy, with Embiid back and getting his legs under him and the team pulling out big wins like the one on Friday night against the Atlanta Hawks. In this edition of Sixers observations, I dive deeper into Embiid's play since his return, the team's rough offense and more.

Joel Embiid's return to the court

Embiid's performance has been a mixed bag since returning on November 27 from a nine-game absence due to being in the NBA's health and safety protocols. He quickly re-established his presence on the court, dominating Karl-Anthony Towns and anyone else the Minnesota Timberwolves attempted to guard him with. While the Sixers wound up losing in double overtime, Embiid finished with 42 points and 14 rebounds.

It seemed as though the big man came back in stride from his layoff due to getting COVID-19. However, things were not all smooth sailing for Embiid. Over the following two games, Embiid labored and really struggled to get anything going offensively. He averaged 14.5 points while shooting a terrible 21.2 percent from the field and 65.0 percent from the free-throw line. This included a 13-point performance on 3-of-17 shooting in a loss to the rival Boston Celtics. Despite the shooting struggles as he gets his legs under him, Embiid still produced in other areas. He grabbed 18 rebounds in the loss to the Celtics while dishing out six assists and committing no turnovers.

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Why 76ers Should Remain Patient With the Ben Simmons Trade Market

By Matt Gregan, Sports Talk Philly Staff Writer

As some in the national media begin to clamor for the Philadelphia 76ers to trade Ben Simmons now, general manager Daryl Morey should stick to his guns and remain patient with the Simmons trade market.

As ugly as the Simmons situation continues to be, it is not hurting the team's on-court chemistry. The Sixers were playing like one of the best teams in the league, sitting at 8-2, before COVID-19 surged through their locker room over the past few weeks. The players on the court were not phased by the off-court drama centered around the Simmons situation.

While trading him now would obviously help the team get a better supporting cast around All-Star Joel Embiid, I believe it is worth it for Morey to continue to be patient. The current offers are unsatisfactory, according to multiple reports, leading Morey to say earlier this year that the Simmons situation could last for years.

The Athletic's Sam Amick reported yesterday morning "Simmons isn't going anywhere until Morey is able to swap him for a truly elite player." That is nothing new, but Amick also reported the 76ers have a list of 30 players they would be willing to take back in a Simmons trade. According to the report, the team believes that five to 10 of those players could become available over the next year or two. Morey is definitely playing the long game, as he should, with Simmons.

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Tyrese Maxey Quickly Growing Into Key Player for 76ers

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Photo Credit: Philadelphia 76ers Twitter (@sixers)

By Matt Gregan, Sports Talk Philly Staff Writer

Tyrese Maxey, through 12 games this season, has shown an extreme amount of poise and focus for such a young player. At 21 years old, the Philadelphia 76ers are asking him to adjust to a new role while also balancing the other aspects of the game. He has taken all of it in stride, quickly proving to be one of the team's key players this season.

Maxey showcased his scoring ability in Tuesday's loss to the Bucks, dropping a season-high 31 points. He scored from all over the floor, whether it was his patented floater or his improved three-point shooting. He put the work in during the offseason to improve his outside shooting, and thus far it is showing. He has increased his percentage from deep from 30.1 percent as a rookie to 38.5 percent so far this season. Not only has he increased his three-point percentage, but he also is taking 3.3 attempts per game, nearly double what it was his rookie season.

The improvement Maxey has shown in his outside shooting this season is just the cherry on top of the cake in terms of his overall scoring ability. He already showed, and continues to this season, that he excels at scoring in the paint. He possesses an excellent ability to finish at and around the rim using his floater, which has led to him shooting an incredible 66.7 percent from inside the restricted area this season.

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Seth Curry's Hot Start, Tyrese Maxey's Improvement and More 76ers Observations

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Photo Credit: Philadelphia 76ers Twitter (@sixers)

By Matt Gregan, Sports Talk Philly Staff Writer

The Philadelphia 76ers sit atop the Eastern Conference standings at 7-2. The team is riding a five-game winning streak despite being without multiple starters. In this edition of Sixers observations, I dive into Seth Curry's hot start, the strides Tyrese Maxey made at point guard and more.

Seth Curry on pace for best season of career

One positive note to take away from last season's playoff debacle against the Atlanta Hawks was the play of Seth Curry. He averaged 21.0 points per game while shooting 58.3 percent from the field and 59.1 percent from beyond the arc. He showed everyone he was capable of producing at an elite level and was one of the main reasons the series went to seven games.

Curry did not miss a beat coming into this season, picking up right where he left off in the playoffs. He is averaging a career-high 17.8 points per game and is currently second in the NBA in three-point percentage (53.1 percent). He is a big reason why, despite all the injuries and Joel Embiid's offensive struggles, the Sixers are off to a 7-2 start to the season.

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76ers Heading Into Tough Stretch as Harris Goes Into Health and Safety Protocols and Green Injures Hamstring

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Photo Credit: Philadelphia 76ers Twitter (@sixers)

By Matt Gregan, Sports Talk Philly Staff Writer

The Philadelphia 76ers had their best team performance of the young season on Monday night, defeating the Portland Trail Blazers 113-103.

The win came despite the team being without All-Stars Joel Embiid (rest) and Ben Simmons (personal reasons), and Tobias Harris was a late scratch due to being placed into the NBA's health and safety protocols. The team became even more short-handed when Danny Green was forced to leave the game early in the second half with a hamstring injury.

The 76ers, set to play five games over the next seven days, including two back-to-backs, will be without the services of most of their starting lineup at different points over the next couple of weeks. Embiid, battling a knee injury since the opener, will likely miss at least one game in each of the back-to-backs due to planned rest. Green, already ruled out of today's game against the Chicago Bulls, could miss anywhere from a few days to a few weeks depending on the severity of his hamstring injury.

Philadelphia will also be without Harris for the foreseeable future, according to a report by the Inquirer's Keith Pompey. According to the report, Harris was both symptomatic and a close contact of someone who tested positive for COVID-19. This means that, according to the NBA's health and safety protocols, Harris could miss at least 10 days.

However, all is not lost. Monday's win provided a blueprint for how the Sixers could win short-handed. The role players stepped up and head coach Doc Rivers switched up the game plan to involve a faster pace and more passing.

"It’s one of those games where I thought every single guy did something to help us win the game," Rivers said. “They kind of stayed within their roles. They understood what we needed getting into the paint and creating plays. Portland is a much-improved defensive team; they’re up, they’re hedging, they’re physical, they show. And it challenges you to move the ball, and I thought we did that tonight."

The 76ers assisted on 34 of their 43 made field goals, an incredible 79.1 percent rate. Five different players finished with five or more assists, led by Andre Drummond and Tyrese Maxey with seven each. The team also remained disciplined in the turnover department, committing only 10 turnovers.

Seth Curry led the team with 23 points, six rebounds and five assists. He has not missed a beat since last year's playoffs, when he was one of the hottest shooters in basketball. He is averaging a career-high 16.4 points per game while shooting 54.1 percent from beyond the arc through the first seven games of the season. Curry, after the game, commented on the team's adjustment playing without Embiid and Harris.

"We had a different style of play tonight — moving the ball around, playing aggressively as a team," Curry said after his big performance against Portland. "We pass the ball, we’ll get good shots the majority of the time tonight. But it was just picking my spots and when to just move it on."

Multiple players stepped up for the Sixers on Monday, including Drummond and Georges Niang. Drummond put together a fantastic stat line, tallying 14 points, 15 rebounds and five steals in addition to his team-leading seven assists. Drummond is an improvement over Dwight Howard at the backup center position due to his versatility and increased scoring potential, both of which were showcased against the Trail Blazers.

Niang had a career night while playing a season-high 31 minutes off the bench. He finished second on the team with 21 points while also adding in five rebounds and five assists. President of Basketball Operations Daryl Morey certainly hit on both of his free agent acquisitions this past offseason.

Monday's win was a complete, balanced team victory. The 76ers showcased a potential blueprint for how to win short-handed, and unfortunately they will have to put it to the test immediately. They begin a stretch of their schedule where they play five games in seven days with a matchup against the 6-1 Bulls tonight.


Georges Niang Signing Quickly Paying Off for Sixers

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Photo Credit: Philadelphia 76ers Twitter (@sixers)

By Matt Gregan, Sports Talk Philly Staff Writer

Nobody batted an eye when the Philadelphia 76ers signed Georges Niang to a two-year, $6.7 million contract this past offseason. However, it did not take him long to become a key player in Philadelphia’s rotation and one of the top bench options for head coach Doc Rivers.

Niang made a big impact before even the first game of the season. He brought a veteran presence, and even some comedy, to the locker room when he joked before the season about knowing what his role on the team would be.

“I think I have a pretty good idea,” Niang joked after a training camp practice back on October 18. “Make sure my guy doesn’t get in Joel’s [Embiid] way so Joel can go score, yeah, space the floor.”

Through the first seven games of the season, Niang has proven that he is effective at spacing the floor and providing space for Joel Embiid to work in the paint. He is taking 5.3 threes per game and hitting them at a 43.2 percent clip.

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76ers' Struggles Exposed Through First Five Games of 2021-22 Season

By Matt Gregan, Sports Talk Philly Staff Writer

The opening five games of the 2021-22 season have been tough for the 76ers. They have failed to be able to get into a rhythm, especially late in games, and have had to rely on trotting out Joel Embiid every game despite a sore knee that he re-injured in the opener when he banged knees with a Pelicans player.

Thursday night's win over the Detroit Pistons should have been able to come easier, but instead it took the Sixers down to the last minute to put away a winless Pistons team. That came despite a monster performance from Embiid, who finished the game with 30 points and 18 rebounds.

"We need to get way better," Embiid said after Thursday's win over the Pistons. "No disrespect to Detroit, but they haven’t won a game so we can’t be happy about our performance tonight. There’s nothing to be happy about. But as a team, we just played New York. It was a different energy level. They were tougher than us, more physical. They got what they wanted. We couldn’t guard our own men. We need to be way better defensively than we have been. We’ve got to guard our own men."

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Sixers President Leaks Retro Court Design Honoring the Spectrum

Image 1Photo: Twitter/@ChrisHeck76

By Michael Lipinski, Sports Talk Philly Contributor

Sixers president Chris Heck is such a tease.  Heck gave a sneak peek at the Sixers retro court that will pair with the Sixers' previously leaked retro jerseys.  

 

A quick breakdown of the court:

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Joel Embiid’s Knee is Already (Still?) Hurt

Image 1(Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)

By Michael Lipinski, Sports Talk Philly Contributor

ESPN’s Ramon Shelburne is reporting that Joel Embiid is dealing with a “minor” knee injury that he suffered in the season opener against New Orleans.  Embiid collided with Jonas Valanciunas in that game and was unable to walk for two days according to the report. 

 

Embiid, who’s played in three games since the collision, told reporters that he “probably shouldn’t have played “against Brooklyn but wanted to be there for his teammates in the absence of Ben Simmons.  The All-Star was originally “questionable” for that game. 

Kudos to Embiid for his team first attitude but if the Sixers want to have any chance at making a run, he needs to address the knee issues immediately.  Embiid struggled with a torn meniscus last year during the playoffs and it affected his effectiveness.

Embiid never had surgery on the torn meniscus, a procedure that is orthoscopic with a recovery time of six-to-eight weeks.  It would’ve been ideal to address this injury, which can linger without surgery, during the off-season.   


3 Early Observations From Sixers' 2021-22 Season

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NEW YORK, NEW YORK - OCTOBER 26: Joel Embiid #21 of the Philadelphia 76ers looks to pass as Mitchell Robinson #23 and RJ Barrett #9 of the New York Knicks defend during the first half at Madison Square Garden on October 26, 2021 in New York City. (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

By Matt Gregan, Sports Talk Philly Staff Writer

The Philadelphia 76ers, as they contend with life without All-Star guard Ben Simmons, have gone through some ups and downs through their first four games of the 2021-22 season.

The Sixers opened up the year with an easy win over the New Orleans Pelicans followed by a crushing loss to the Brooklyn Nets due to the team's familiar late-game struggles. The team then took care of business against the Oklahoma City Thunder before proceeding to get outworked in a bad loss to the New York Knicks. Through the first four games, the early-season results have been a mixed bag.

Here are three observations from the Sixers' 2-2 start to the season.

1. Utilizing the big men as passers has become an early-season staple of the Sixers' Ben Simmons-less offense

With no clear point guard on the roster, head coach Doc Rivers has been forced to come up with a multitude of different ways to run the offense. One of those has been to utilize the passing abilities of the team's big men.

Joel Embiid, through the first four games of the season, is averaging a career-high 4.5 assists per game while turning the ball over at the lowest rate of his career (2.3 per game). Passing has clearly been one of the things that the big man worked on this past offseason.

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