Photo credit: Bill Streicher -
 USA Today Sports

Photo credit: Bill Streicher - USA Today Sports

7 for 6: International Edition

| The Sixers are making waves around the world; a trip across the pond, their first All star since 2013, and another confusing update on Markelle Fultz |

London

The Sixers made a trip across the pond last week and took on the Boston Celtics. Before the game, they took in some sights from England’s most famous city. Joel Embiid and Timothe Luwawu Cabbarot hung out with some of their soccer (sorry, football) heroes. The team also put together a basketball clinic at a local gym. And on a big stage, the famous O2 Arena, the two teams gave the locals quite the show. The Celtics are the best team in the Eastern Conference and the Sixers came into the game having won four straight.

It was truly a tale of two halves. The Sixers opened up a big lead in the first half, at one point leading by 22 points.  But Boston took control in the 2nd half and won the game 114-103 What were the causes for another meltdown? JJ Redick said on his podcast that one of the rims in the game was crooked. Kyrie Irving agreed, and there is statistical evidence to back it up.

Ultimately, the game was lost when the Sixers decided to show London what they do best; turn the ball over. Over the last 22.5 minutes of the game, Boston went on a 70-34 run. During that time the Sixers coughed it up 16 times. It’s a problem that has plagued the Sixers all season, and the team is all too aware of the issue.

“Our mission is to continue to reduce them [turnovers], but not let it become something we’re scared of,” Brett Brown said on Jan. 15th. “I don’t want the guys playing scared, I want them playing smart. We’ve kind of stamped off on a style of play, we don’t walk the ball up the floor, thats not who we are, it’s not how I want to play, so it comes with some pain.”

Brown certainly has a point; the Sixers play an up tempo system with a lot of passing, and a lot of running. Turnovers are more likely when you’re passing more. But there’s a ceiling on the success this team can achieved until they become more efficient and stop giving away opportunities. It’s a shame that the game in London serves as another showing of the Sixers’ bad habits.

Jonah Bolden

The Sixers already have a strong international presence on their roster. Joel Embiid is from Cameroon, Dario Saric is Croatian, and Timothe Luwawu-Cabbarot is French. Ben Simmons is Australian, and come next year, he could have a fellow Aussie by his side.

Jonah Bolden, the team’s second round pick from 2017, is currently playing overseas on the Israeli club Maccabi Tel Aviv. He’s just 22, and that’s fairly notable in EuroLeague where most of the players are older. But despite his age he’s shown flashes of versatility and skill that make him an intriguing prospect for next season.

The modern NBA is all about size and versatility. Bolen has that in spades. He obviously has to refine his game, but his skill set would be a match made in heaven with this roster, especially if he can improve his outside shooting.

So when will we see him in Philadelphia? His contract with Maccabi Tel Aviv is for three years, but the Sixers could possibly buy him out like did with Dario Saric and bring him over early.

“We have pledged to the agent and Maccabi that we would have an open mind to consider any and all scenarios, but yes, there is a scenario where I can envision him in a Sixers uniform next season,” Bryan Colangelo said to The Athletic.

Dario Saric; International Treasure

Sports Illustrated’s Anddrew Sharp wrote a fantastic piece this week about International Players in the NBA. It’s a massive feature with quotes from players and executives, both past and present. Any NBA fan should give it a read.

One player quoted in the piece was Dario Saric. English isn’t Dario’s first language, but he does generally have a good grasp on speaking it. If anything, the language barrier has given Dario a certain magic with his words.

He’s basically an American at this point; downing cheesesteaks and watching It’s Always Sunny.

What in the world happened to Markelle Fultz’s jump shot?

Markelle Fultz still hasn’t returned, but his availability at practice has opened up. That means we’ve been able to see him practice. The team has indicated in recent weeks that Fultz’s supposed injured shoulder has basically healed and he’s moved on to getting into game shape. If his shoulder really was injured, it would have been tough to practice shooting with that injury. So rust is fair to expect.

Unfortunately, what we’ve seen has not been pretty. His free throws certainly look better, as do his mid range shots. But my goodness, what has happened to his 3 point shot? He’s heaving it towards the basket and missing badly. It looks like he isn’t strong enough to shoot from that distance.

It’s another saga in a perpetually confusing injury process. When can we expect Fultz to return? Brett Brown doesn’t seem to have a date in mind. The other day he said that his return will be predicated on “as much of an eye test and a gut feel as a distance [from the basket in which Fultz can shoot].”

To me those are pretty blunt words from the head coach. It sounds like he doesn’t want to play Fultz until he sees the shot at a place that it needs to be. When it gets to that point appears to be anyone’s guess.

Embiid The Star

In some positive news, Joel Embiid rode a surge of fan votes and was named as an All Star Starter on Thursday evening. He is the first Sixers to be named an All Star since Jrue Holiday in 2012-13. On the season, Embiid is averaging 24 points, 10.9 rebounds, 3.4 assists, and 1.9 blocks. Should Ben Simmons be named as a reserve, the Sixers will send two players for the first time since 2001-02.

“He and I have been doing this for a long time, and I have been with him the longest out of any of the players in the locker room. He’s gone through a lot,” Brett Brown said after Embiid was named an All Star. “And to think that somebody that has played…for that small sample size is now on the All-Star team and starting, his story of perseverance is remarkable.”

Embiid is perfect for all star weekend. He should inject some life into an otherwise lackluster event on the NBA calendar. He certainly has the charisma to do well in front of a camera. (Embiid was also in the Go90 web series “The 5th Quarter” this week, playing himself as an office intern. Yeah, you read that correctly. You can check out the episode here.) And if there was any reason to actually televise the All Star draft, Embiid is as good as any.

After the game in Boston on Thursday, Embiid had a funny call back to 2014. When he was being held out during his first season, Embiid spent a lot of time on social media interacting with fans, and one of his early twitter gems came in 2014.

Well, he’s an All Star now. So will he be coming back? As Embiid put it, “I have to pass that and move on to the next one.”

Speaking of the game, the All Star Game will also be using a different format this year; rather than having teams from each conference, the leading vote getters (Steph Curry and LeBron James) will instead pick their team from the pool of All Stars. The starters will be picked first, followed by the reserves. The reserves will be revealed on Jan. 23rd on TNT.  It will be interesting to see where Embiid is picked.

Bigger work load for Embiid?

Speaking of Embiid, things are generally going well for The Process. Amassing so many all star votes is great to see, but Sixer fans should be excited about some other Embiid news that came out last week. On Jan. 8th, Embiid said that by February, he expects to play in back to back games, something he has never done in his four years with the team. Last year he debuted under a strict minutes restriction. Although those restrictions have gone away, the team has still been cautious about the big man playing in back to back games.

Embiid’s health hasn’t been an issue this year, aside from some back tightness last month. He’s on pace to play in 63 of 82 possible games. I think most would be satisfied with that amount. If Embiid can add to that workload it can only boost the Sixers. Having him available more often, even just marginally, could really help push the team into the playoffs. They have 9 back to back sets remaining this year, including 3 in February. We’ll keep an eye on this to see if the Sixers let Embiid go all out.

Brett Brown defeats his mentor

The Sixers also took on the San Antonio Spurs last week. Brett Brown spent over 10 years in San Antonio as a player development coach. The Spurs are a model franchise in the NBA, and they’ve been on the forefront of a lot of modern ideas in the sport. One such practice that has spread out of San Antonio is resting players. They have famously held out their stars on back to backs/against lesser teams in order to keep them fresh for the playoffs. A few years ago, no one would have batted an eye if the Spurs rested their guys against the Sixers, a team of undrafted, fringe NBA caliber players.

But perhaps the Spurs got too comfortable in that approach; they rested key players (Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli. Kawhi Leonard is out indefinitely with a quadriceps injury) again this time, but lost the game 112-106. It was the first win for Philadelphia against San Antonio since 2011.

There was also this very cool moment after the game

I think it speaks to how close this team is that they unanimously insisted on Brown ringing that bell. Any talk of there being a losing culture surrounding this team is a narrative with little evidence.