7 for 6: Shifting Focus Towards the Off-season

| This week on 7 for 6: Embiid goes under the knife (again), a new player gets a chance to shine, and the annual Draft Lottery update |

Embiid Has Surgery

The Sixers announced on Friday that Joel Embiid underwent successful arthroscopic surgery to repair his torn meniscus. According to the surgeon, Embiid will be able to resume weight-bearing activities within two weeks, and should be back to basketball this summer.

All signs indicate that the surgery went well. A meniscus repair, at least in this instance, is a relatively minor procedure, so it’s good to hear that there were no complications. Team president Bryan Colangelo also sounded content in his statement.

“Joel, his representatives and our medical staff conducted extensive research based on prioritizing the best possible treatment and recovery outcome for Joel’s knee injury resulting in today’s procedure by Dr. [Neil S.] El Attrache,” Colangelo said in a statement. “We are very pleased with his post-surgical assessment and forecast for a healthy return to basketball activity.”

Embiid himself gave us an update on social media just hours after the surgery took place.

 

Never change, Joel. Never change. I mean, except for getting hurt so often. We’d be okay with you changing that.

Shawn Long

The last three seasons have been rife with roster turnover. In the doldrums of The Process, many criticized Philadelphia for fielding a roster of D-Leaguers who wouldn’t even sniff other rosters. Despite this criticism, the Sixers have found a few diamonds in the rough, like Robert Covington. Not everyone sticks, but a number of players have seized their chances and carved out a role that they wouldn’t have been able to otherwise. The latest player to do this is Shawn Long. The team signed Long to a multi-year contract on Mar. 16th, after his 10-day contract expired. Against Chicago on Friday, the forward scored a career high 18 points (8/10 FG) and seven rebounds as the Sixers defeated the Bulls.

Long has nice touch near the basket and hustles for rebounds. He’s a willing roll-man on screen plays, and fairly confident driving to the basket. After spending most of this year in the D-League, Long is finally getting his chance on the big stage. Last week he put up three straight games of double digit scoring and at least six rebounds, including a 15/10 double double versus Indiana.

Will Long be here next season? It’s hard to say. Although he went un-drafted in 2016, he was a tremendous player in college. He won the 2016 Sun Belt Player of the Year Award playing for Louisiana-Lafayette. Over his four years he averaged 17 points, and 10 rebounds on 50% shooting. He doesn’t quite have the range of a player like Richaun Holmes, so his upside may be limited to an energy role-player off the bench, but there is certainly a use for a player like that. He’s someone to keep an eye on as the Sixers figure out their front-court.

Jerami Grant

The Sixers played the Thunder on Wednesday for the first time since trading Jerami Grant to Oklahoma City. It was nice reunion between the team and a former player.

“It’s still family, everybody in the organization,” Grant said of his former squad. “They’re doing well, they’re playing a lot better, so I’m happy for them.”

Of course, his former coach had nothing but good things to say about Grant.

“He lives right, he’s prideful, he wants to be good,” Brown said before the game last week. “He’s a wonderful person and a great teammate. There’s a cleanliness, there’s a wholesomeness to Jerami Grant along with pedigree, his family tree … that makes him for sure to me an NBA longtime player.”

Grant is coming off the bench for OKC right now. He’s averaging 5.5 points, 2.5 rebounds, and 1 block per game in 19 minutes per game. He’s also raised his 3 point percentage up to 38%.

Dario Saric

It’s amazing how far Dario Saric has come during his rookie season. In the beginning of this season, Saric wasn’t displaying the passing acumen that he displayed in Europe. But now with much of the offense running through him, we’re really getting a chance to see what Saric has to offer as a passer. Like this ridiculous look against Boston last Sunday.

And his passing isn’t the only way he’s dominating. He torched the Bulls to the tune of a career high 32 points on Friday. It might have been a bigger story had Phoenix’s Devin Booker not scored 70 (!) points on the same night.

Saric, who is almost never the best athlete on the court, is surprisingly adept at navigating the post. He is patient with his fakes and has excellent touch on his shots. He may not blow by defenders, but he’s protects the ball on drives and lumbers his way to the rim with crafty footwork and patience. Watching him, you wonder how he’s able to be so effective. It helps that his three point shooting has improved (nearly 37% in his last 10 games) so that defenders actually bite on his fakes on the perimeter.

And let’s be clear; these are not empty stats. Saric is helping the Sixers win games against teams fighting for playoff positioning. They defeated Boston 105-99 and Chicago 117-107 (their first win over Chicago since 2013). To do so with a short-handed roster is no small feat, and Saric is the engine driving the team down the stretch. He’s simply a joy to watch.

Trade Rumors

The trade deadline passed over a month ago, but the rumor mill never stops in the NBA. This week two reports involving the Sixers raised some eyebrows. Firstly, news broke that the Sixers had made a significant offer for Pacers’ star Paul George at the deadline. According to Liberty Ballers, the Sixers offered Robert Covington, one of their big men (presumably not Embiid) and multiple first round picks for George.

That is quite an offer for a player who could simply leave after next season. But George is the kind of player that you would make a serious offer for. Losing Covington would hurt, but George is a great defender in his own right, and a more versatile offensive player. He’s also good at playing without the ball in his hands, so he’d be a good fit next to Ben Simmons.

Of course, this deal never happened. But it is interesting to consider the possibilities.

The next rumor concerns a deal that did take place, just not to the correct team. On The Ringer’s NBA Show, Chris Mannix claimed that Boston is kicking itself for not acquiring Nerlens Noel. The Celtics had reportedly gone after the big man for six months, but couldn’t strike up a deal. Noel was traded to Dallas hours before the trade deadline.

There weren’t specifics in this rumor, but from the outside you can see the reason that the Sixers were hesitant. Noel is very talented, and the idea of him playing in the same conference for the next 10+ years had to weigh on Bryan Colangelo’s mind. Boston does have a lot of assets, but they’re the biggest historical rival for Philadelphia. Instead, they shipped Noel to the West. Trading Noel was a hard pill to swallow, but the deal would look even worse if he was anchoring the defense of a rival for the foreseeable future.

If anything, these rumors keep us entertained. While the league’s focus shifts towards the postseason, the Sixers are sure to keep the phones active leading up to the NBA draft. Jahlil Okafor could still be moved, and we don’t have a sense for who the Sixers like in this upcoming draft. Obviously they need guards who can shoot, but with the Lottery still pending, the Sixers’ position in the top 10 could change.

Lottery Update

Speaking of that draft lottery, standings have taken an interesting turn. Entering Sunday four lottery teams teams had the same number of wins; Philadelphia, New York, Orlando, and Sacramento. The Phoenix Suns, meanwhile, are gunning for the number two spot. They’ve lost nine straight games, and now are just a half game behind the Lakers for the second best lottery odds. The top three is still well defined, but the Lakers are slipping towards the third spot.

 

 

The Coach on the Draft

While Brett Brown still has games left to coach this year, his focus has partially shifted to that of potential draft prospects. In the midst of the NCAA Tournament, highly ranked prospects like Lonzo Ball, Malik Monk, and Josh Jackson have gotten a chance to show their skills on a nation stage.

Brown, because he was hired in August of 2013, wasn’t heavily involved in the 2013 draft process that saw the Sixers trade away Jrue Holiday and acquire Nerlens Noel. Since then, he’s had to change how he approaches the annual draft.

“We never, in my Spurs [tenure], we never paid much attention to the top of the draft. We weren’t gonna be in that position [to have a lottery pick]. So now, you’ve learned over the years how to study it, pay attention a little bit better,” Brown told reporters last Friday.

When asked how he watches the March Madness games, Brown gave a simple answer.

“Like I’m gonna coach one of them [the players].”

Brown didn’t name any players who the team was targeting specifically, but he did focus on one area of need for the team.

“I’m always paying attention to shooters,” Brown said. “It really does, on so many levels, make the world go round and it especially does with the group that we’re constructing…I’m very opinionated when it comes to shooting. I feel like if I see somebody shoot three or four times, and just watch their form and footwork and their preparation, you form a pretty quick opinion. It takes you about a second to look at their stats, and it helps you validate what you think or contradict what you think. But shooters are really what’s most on my mind.”

Brown’s comments affirm what many fans feel; the team needs shooters, particularly guards who can create shots for themselves. While the team hasn’t given much indication that they prefer one player over another, this draft is guard heavy. The Sixers shouldn’t have much trouble finding a good shooter.

All stats are up to date as of Mar. 29th

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