- Second-year Sixers guard Shake Milton has taken over starting point guard duties in team practices, moving All-Star Ben Simmons to the power forward slot and big man Al Horford to the bench, the significance of which has been unpacked by The Athletic’s Derek Bodner. Horford, 34, signed a splashy four-year, $97MM contract (worth up to $109MM with incentives) in 2019 free agency, but has underwhelmed during his first season of that deal. “I think [Milton] has a huge opportunity to help us accomplish what we believe we can, and he’s been doing an amazing job just running the team,” All-Star center Joel Embiid said of the move.
After signing with the Sixers during the last week of June, sharpshooter Ryan Broekhoff has yet to report to the NBA’s campus at Walt Disney World. In a Twitter statement on Sunday, Broekhoff explained the delay.
“I am not with the 76ers right now in Orlando because my wife who is high risk tested positive for COVID,” he wrote. “We have a young son and my focus needs to be with my family at this time. I appreciate the 76ers for their support.”
As the team waits to see whether Broekhoff will be able to report to Orlando, here’s more on the Sixers:
- Speaking to reporters on Monday, 76ers head coach Brett Brown said he has been playing Ben Simmons “exclusively” at power forward during the first few Florida practices and has been impressed by what he has seen. “He’s so dynamic,” Brown said, per Tim Bontemps of ESPN. “Let’s just talk about running. There’s nobody faster in the NBA. So to always have the ball and dribble it up against five guys … to do that dilutes some of his potent weapons. So, watching him fly up the floor, watching him and Joel (Embiid) play off each other, has been a really good look. I think they’ve been fantastic together.” As Bontemps notes, if Brown intends to play Simmons at the four, it would likely mean having Shake Milton in the starting five, with Al Horford coming off the bench.
- Sixers forward Glenn Robinson III is experiencing some upper back discomfort and received treatment today, but was still able to participate fully in practice, writes Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer. The club doesn’t consider it a serious issue, Pompey adds.
- In case you missed it, we also rounded up a series of Sixers-related notes on Saturday.
One of the Sixers‘ priorities will be deciding what role Shake Milton will play, writes Derek Bodner of The Athletic. The second-year guard hadn’t seen much playing time before injuries to teammates gave him an opportunity shortly before the hiatus. In the final nine games before the break, Milton averaged 17.8 points and 4.1 assists while shooting 57.4% from the field and 60.4% beyond the arc.
Most of that production came after Ben Simmons was sidelined with a back injury. Now that Simmons has recovered, coach Brett Brown will have to take a fresh look at how all the pieces fit together and determine whether both guards will be in the starting lineup.
“Ben’s an amazing player,” Milton said. “He’s very unselfish. I mean, I’m unselfish too. I feel like we could definitely feed off each other. His ability to pass, his ability to see the court, his ability to play defense … I don’t see it being a problem at all.”
There’s more Sixers news to pass along:
- Newly signed Ryan Broekhoff wasn’t part of the Sixers’ traveling party to Orlando, according to Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer. The team didn’t offer any other information before this morning’s practice session, and a spokesman said updates will be provided when appropriate. The former Mavericks shooting guard signed with Philadelphia in late June.
- Even though Simmons has proclaimed himself fully healthy, Brown intends to bring him along slowly until the actual games begin, Pompey tweets. “I think in general when you look at the scrimmage situations, you’re going to see something that’s quite frugal,” Brown said. “I believe when it gets in the regular-season games, you are going to see normal numbers that I played him. That answer isn’t delivered because of anything to do with health. It’s delivered because I think that’s the way I want to do it, and the way that I will do it with (Joel Embiid) and Tobias (Harris) as examples, because of their stature more than anything to do with health.”
- After acknowledging chemistry has been an issue with the Sixers this season, Harris became a leader in maintaining communication with teammates during the break, writes Paul Hudrick of NBC Sports Philadelphia. “I think it’s always important to make sure guys mentally are in the right space,” Harris said. “Just being a teammate or brother. We were around each other for so long, so when we go into quarantine with the pandemic we have, I just thought it was really important to keep us in the loop with one another with what we’re doing.”
Although the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference will still be up for grabs when the NBA’s eight “seeding” games begin on July 30, that race has lost much of its luster as a result of the injuries, COVID-19 cases, and opt-outs that have decimated the Nets‘ and Wizards‘ rosters.
Technically, the Magic (30-35) are the No. 8 seed at the moment, but they’re just a half-game back of Brooklyn (30-34) for the No. 7 spot and seem likely to pass a Nets team that will be without at least seven players, including Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Spencer Dinwiddie, and DeAndre Jordan.
That would leave the Nets to hang onto the No. 8 seed by holding off the Wizards (24-40), who will be missing Bradley Beal, Davis Bertans, and John Wall, but could force a play-in tournament if they finish within four games of Orlando or Brooklyn. Washington is also currently without Thomas Bryant (coronavirus), Gary Payton II (coronavirus), and Garrison Mathews (personal), though some or all of those players may eventually rejoin the team.
While that race for the seventh and eighth seeds may not be quite as dramatic as the NBA would like, there could still be some interesting jockeying for position further up the standings in the East.
The 53-12 Bucks have a 6.5-game cushion over the 46-18 Raptors, so Milwaukee will likely clinch the top seed even if they’re on cruise control during the seeding games. But Toronto’s lead on the third-seeded Celtics (43-21) is just three games, and Boston’s eight-game schedule looks less daunting than the Raptors’ slate.
Five of the Celtics’ eight games are against the Nets, Wizards, Magic, Grizzlies, and Trail Blazers, all of whom are at or near the bottom of the playoff race. The Raptors, meanwhile, will face Orlando and Memphis, but also have games against the Lakers, Heat, Nuggets, Sixers, and Bucks. The Celtics and Raptors face each other as well, in a game that will have important tiebreaker implications.
That No. 2 seed isn’t as important as it once was, given the lack of home court advantage available, but it could mean facing the Magic instead of the Pacers, which should be a more favorable matchup even with Victor Oladipo sidelined.
Speaking of the Pacers, they’re currently tied at 39-26 with the Sixers, with the No. 5 seed up for grabs. Clinching that fifth seed would likely mean securing a first-round matchup with the fourth-seeded Heat instead of the Celtics or Raptors.
The Heat, meanwhile, are 41-24, putting them two games behind Boston and two games ahead of the Sixers and Pacers. They seem like a relatively safe bet to hold their position in the No. 4 vs. 5 matchup, but a hot or cold streak in Orlando could affect their spot in the standings, especially with games vs. Boston, Toronto, and Indiana (twice) on tap.
What do you think? What do you expect the top eight spots in the Eastern Conference to look like by the time the playoffs begin? Will they look relatively similar to the current standings, or will there be some shuffling that results in some unexpected first-round matchups?
Head to the comment section below to weigh in with your thoughts!
Sixers center Joel Embiid and guard Shake Milton are among those who have expressed some reservations about the NBA’s restart plan, though both players will participate this summer, writes Derek Bodner of The Athletic. Embiid’s concerns stem from a suspicion that not all of his fellow players will follow the restrictions and protocols put in place by the league.
“There’s some guys that like to go out, there’s some guys that like to do stuff, there’s some guys that like adventure,” Embiid said. “I know myself. I know I’m not gonna put everybody else at risk. But the question is, is everybody else gonna do the same? Just being around this business, I surely don’t think so.”
Milton, meanwhile, was less concerned about the health and safety guidelines in place than about his belief that the resumption of the NBA might draw attention away from the ongoing fight for social justice reforms.
“I don’t really think we should be playing,” Milton said, per Bodner. “I feel like… there’s an issue going on right now in the world that is way bigger than the sport, way bigger than the game of basketball, and I feel like we’re on the cusp of finally having people tune in and really try to listen and try to understand more about the things that are happening in our country. I feel like the moment is too big right now, and I don’t want the game of basketball to overshadow it.”
Despite their apprehensions, both Embiid and Milton stressed they’re committed to helping the 76ers compete for a championship in Orlando this summer.
Here’s more from around the Atlantic:
- Celtics forward Jayson Tatum isn’t overly enthusiastic about restarting the season at the Walt Disney World campus and only recently finalized his decision to play, writes Tim Bontemps of ESPN. “There’s a multitude of reasons why I wasn’t comfortable,” Tatum said. “… (I’m) still not excited about it, not thrilled. Obviously, what we’re fighting for (in society), against racism and social injustice and (for) equality. Obviously the virus is still very well and alive and continues to rise in Florida. For me, just being away from my son for two or three months, that’s what’s really bothering me. … Especially when they’re that young — their growth, they change every week. Just knowing I’m going to miss out on that.”
- Veteran forward Lance Thomas, who was with the Nets last fall, is among the veteran free agents receiving interest from the team, league sources tell Ian Begley of SNY.tv (Twitter link). Brooklyn is eligible to sign three substitute players to replace DeAndre Jordan, Spencer Dinwiddie, and Taurean Prince, who all contracted COVID-19. The club is also said to be eyeing Amir Johnson.
- Marc Berman of The New York Post explores Jason Kidd‘s candidacy for the Knicks‘ head coaching vacancy, noting that some insiders believe he’s the best “long-shot threat” to presumed frontrunner Tom Thibodeau. However, opinions on Kidd are mixed. “I wouldn’t hire Jason Kidd if he was the last coach standing,” one NBA source (who has worked with Kidd) told Berman. “It would be a terrible choice. There’s a reason Milwaukee is in the place where they are right now — coaching.”
- Zhaire Smith‘s latest injury is another example of how the Sixers’ decision to acquire him during the 2018 draft hasn’t panned out, according to Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer. Smith will sit out the remainder of the season with a bone bruise in his left knee. He has appeared in just 13 games during the first two seasons of his career and the club unsuccessfully tried to deal him in Feburary, Pompey adds.
The Sixers may arrive in Orlando with more lineup questions than any other contender. The most significant involves what to do with Al Horford, writes Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer. The veteran big man was pulled from the starting lineup Feburary 11, but was reinserted three games later after Ben Simmons suffered a back injury.
Horford looked good in eight straight starts before the hiatus, but may be headed back to the bench now that Simmons is fully recovered. Horford seemed like a valuable addition when he left the Celtics for the Sixers last summer. But he hasn’t found a way to be effective playing alongside center Joel Embiid, particularly when Simmons is on the floor at the same time, which results in spacing issues.
“I just want us to be playing well and to be playing at a high level,” Horford said. “I’m going to continue to work and be an assistance to a team any way I can. I do know for us to be successful I have to play with different lineups. I have to play with Joel sometimes. I have to play with different people. It really doesn’t matter.”
There’s more from Philadelphia:
- Coach Brett Brown wants to use Simmons in more of an off-the-ball role, which could mean additional playing time for Shake Milton, according to Derek Bodner of The Athletic. Milton averaged 17.8 points and 4.1 assists in the last nine games before the break and moved into the starting lineup after Simmons’ injury. However, Brown is wary about expecting too much from the 23-year-old in the postseason. “I always get nervous about relying on young guys for the NBA playoffs. Shake is no different,” Brown said. “… But I’m going into this excited. I think some of the performances that he had on a consistent basis (earlier in the season) can’t be that far out of reach where maybe he can produce a large portion of that again.”
- In the same piece, Bodner examines which role players the team can count on when the season resumes. He suggests Glenn Robinson III, who was acquired from the Warriors at the trade deadline, may move up in the rotation.
- Rookie Matisse Thybulle has embraced Brown’s message for players to keep their conditioning at a B level and raise it to an A in Orlando, writes Lauren Rosen of NBA.com. “In a matter of two weeks, I feel like I’ve gotten back into really good shape,” Thybulle said. “I think it’s going to be easier to build on after this. Like Coach said, being at a B, I feel like I’m definitely there, and once we start playing, it’s going to fall into place.”
Ben Simmons had missed the Sixers‘ last eight games due to a back injury and was projected to be sidelined indefinitely when the NBA suspended its season in March. However, the four-month layoff has paid off the former No. 1 pick, who confirmed this week that he’s fully healthy and ready to participate in the NBA’s restart, as Tim Bontemps of ESPN writes.
“I’m feeling better than I was when I started the season,” Simmons told reporters on Thursday. “But I’ve been working since I had the injury, working ’til now to prepare for whatever happens, wherever we go. So I’m feeling great, I’ve been rehabbing this whole time, so I’m feeling ready. And I’m feeling very comfortable.”
Some players, especially those with a history of injuries, have been apprehensive about participating in the NBA’s restart, given the brief ramp-up period to the eight seeding games and the playoffs. However, Simmons didn’t express any reservations about the league’s plan.
“Wherever my team is, I feel like it’s my responsibility to go down there and represent Philadelphia in the highest way possible, and I think this is the right way to do it,” Simmons said, per Bontemps. “If we’re safe down there, and I trust in what the NBA is doing, and they’re taking extreme precautions with this. So I feel like if we’re all going, I’m in. I’m with my teammates and I never would want them to go down and not expect to see me there. So I’m all-in with my team.”
Here’s more on the 76ers:
- Head coach Brett Brown acknowledged on Wednesday that the offensive fit of his starting lineup – especially when Al Horford has been part of that group – has been “clunky.” However, as Paul Hudrick of NBC Sports Philadelphia details, Brown believes the group is “built for the playoffs” and will weigh potential roles for Horford and Shake Milton during the training camp period. “In a perfect world, you’d like to go into those eight (seeding) games and have some minor tweak and rotation changes as opposed to Game 5 and, ‘Oh, crap, we’ve got something that’s a little bit funky here,'” Brown said.
- In a separate story for NBC Sports Philadelphia, Hudrick profiles DePaul forward Paul Reed, suggesting that he’s the sort of versatile prospect the Sixers should target with one of their second-round picks.
- Ryan Broekhoff‘s wife has an auto-immune disease and the couple has a one-year-old son, but the veteran sharpshooter ultimately decided to join the Sixers for the NBA’s restart, writes Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer. “We spoke to (76ers GM) Elton (Brand) and spoke to (Brown) and just wanted to get some more information of how the bubble would be down in Orlando, and if anything happens at home, what are my options to get back and take care of my family,” Broekhoff said. “… I think the opportunity in the end was too hard to pass up.”
Sixers wing Zhaire Smith has suffered a bone bruise in his left knee, per Derek Bodner of The Athletic (Twitter link). He will skip the NBA’s season restart, which kicks off on July 30 in Orlando. Bodner also notes that Smith should make a full recovery by the start of the 2020/21 NBA season.
According to Bodner (Twitter link), Smith began feeling pain in the knee ahead of the team’s restart training camp last week. The Sixers won’t be able to sign a substitute player, since injured players aren’t eligible to be replaced. After adding shooting guard Ryan Broekhoff, the team is currently carrying 17 players.
Smith, the No. 16 pick by the Sixers in the 2018 draft out of Texas Tech, has been hampered by lower-extremity injuries since entering the league. The 6’3″ shooting guard has played in just 13 of a possible 147 games.
Though Smith’s injury should not greatly affect the current Sixers roster’s depth in a season restart, the fact that he has suffered another season-ending malady after sporadic play in his sophomore campaign cannot be comforting to the Philadelphia front office.
JUNE 27: The signing is official, the Sixers announced on Twitter.
Broekhoff, who will turn 30 in August, signed with the Mavericks in the summer of 2018 and spent a season-and-a-half with the club, averaging 4.0 PPG and 1.8 RPG with a strong .403 3PT% in 59 total games (10.7 MPG). He was waived in February when Dallas signed Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.
Since becoming a free agent, Broekhoff – who spent the first few years of his career with Besiktas in Turkey and Lokomotiv Kuban in Russia – has drawn interest from multiple international teams, including Anadolu Efes. However, it appears the veteran sharpshooter was prioritizing a potential return to the NBA, and now has the opportunity to join a playoff team for the summer restart.
The 76ers currently have 15 players on standard contracts and one on a two-way deal. Because Broekhoff has just two years of NBA experience, he can be signed into the team’s empty two-way slot, as noted by Rich Hofmann of The Athletic and Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer (Twitter links)