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June 17, 2020

What they're saying about the Sixers: Joel Embiid learns to drive, Ben Simmons won't be 100%

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Joel-Embiid-Sixers-76ers-Nets_022120 Bill Streicher/USA Today Sports

Joel Embiid had 39 points and 16 rebounds in a dramatic win Thursday.

We've kind of been in a holding pattern as the NBA tentatively has its sites set on an Orlando re-start in a little over a month from now. The Sixers, who will have eight games to try and improve their playoff seeding (they currently slot 6th), have learned they'll be holed up in the Grand Floridian Resort in Disneyworld.

Which means Joel Embiid has a limited amount of time to hit the open road after reaching an important life milestone this week, albeit a little late:

Well, probably something with a lot of legroom?

We'll start with Embiid as we dive right into our latest version of what they're saying about the Sixers:

Best of the Bigs?

Paolo Uggeti | The Ringer

There is no surprise that Embiid numbers among the top five big men currently in the NBA according to the Ringer, as it does a series of top five NBA lists. But he does fall third, behind two other talented NBA stars in Anthony Davis and Giannis Antetokounmpo. Is the Greek Freak really a big man? He plays like more of a wing, but he is a seven-footer... and a freak, so... we'll let it slide. Here's what Uggeti had to say about JoJo:

Even more so than [Karl-Anthony, rated 4th] Towns, Embiid can have games in which he looks like the most unstoppable player in the world. His ceiling is just that high. To watch him operate when he’s truly on is to see not just a modern big, but a big who has found a way to bring old-school moves to this current NBA environment. Embiid might be better used from the inside out, but asking him to play from the outside in isn’t an issue either. He relies on his 3-point shot far too often, but he was shooting nearly 35 percent from deep on 3.7 attempts per game before the season was put on pause.

The downside with Embiid is that he always seems to be held back by injury. He has yet to play 65 games in a single regular season, and it’s unclear whether he’ll be able to (or should) across the rest of his career. Still, his talent is so high on both ends of the floor that he affects games in ways only a handful of players in the league can. He’s like a living boulder with a feather-light shooting touch, and if he ever stays healthy through a Sixers playoff run, it won’t matter whether he’s playing next to Ben Simmons or whomever the Sixers might trade him for. Philly will have a shot. [The Ringer]

Fully guaranteed 

Michael Kaskey-Blomain | CBS Sports

Aside from getting his license and revealing that he has been working out six days a week in preparation for the season resuming in July, Embiid made one more headline over the last week. With the NBA officially calling the regular season over, Embiid was able to solidify a few question marks financially. I won't try and explain it, I'll leave it to an expert:

Embiid bounced back well from his early injury issues, as he appeared in over 60 games during both the 2017-18 and '18-19 seasons, and was named an All-Star both times in the process. Heading into the '19-20 season, Embiid needed to log 1,650 total minutes to fully guarantee the remaining three years and nearly $95 million on his contract, and thanks to an agreement between the NBA and NBPA to prorate performance-based bonuses for the season, Embiid has hit the mark. 

The 1,650 minute total was based on an 82-game schedule, but the league has decided to consider March 11, when play was suspended due to the outbreak of the coronavirus, as the official end date of the regular season. At that point, the Sixers had played just 65 games, and in turn, the prorated number of minutes that Embiid needed to play was below the 1,329 that he logged on the season, according to Adrian Wojnarowski and Ramona Shelburne of ESPN. In other words, the remainder of Embiid's current contract is now fully guaranteed. Embiid is slated to make $29.5 million next season, $31.5 million for the 2021-22 season, and $33.6 million for the '22-23 season. He is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent in 2023. []

Cautious optimism

Noah Levick | NBC Sports Philadelphia

There was a very small silver lining when COVID-19's fury paused professional sports — and that is an added rest period for injured players. The Sixers had been pondering a playoff run without superstar point-forward Ben Simmons, but now with the three-plus month layover, the All-Star has had time to rest and rehab his back a little bit. Here's a snippet from a Sports Illustrated interview, via NBC Sports, from head coach Brett Brown on how he sees Simmons fitting in this summer.

For the Sixers, that’s especially true — any new information on Ben Simmons’ lower back or Joel Embiid’s conditioning is notable. Sports Illustrated’s Chris Mannix provided an update on Simmons through a conversation he had with Brett Brown.

“My opinion, and this is not confirmed yet, is that we are going to be able to inch him back into this,” Brown told Mannix. “Is he going to be 100%, I don’t expect that. But I think he is going to be available.”

It’s worth emphasizing that Brown considers his comment an “opinion,” and that it’s not a major departure from any previous update. [NBC Sports]

Star-less power

Rich Hoffman | The Athletic

Let's go with one more on Simmons here, or, without Simmons, as we dive into Hoffman's examination of what the Sixers' ideal playoff rotation might look like. The obvious questions are tackled, like how much and when does Al Horford play? And which secondary bench players aside from Shake Milton should get real minutes? Hoffman poses an interesting solution to the Horford issue, extrapolating that perhaps the underachieving, highly-paid big man would be most productive with his own "unit."

Since Simmons debuted at the start of the 2017-18 season, the organization has aggressively staggered its two stars. There are other chess pieces to move around, but the main tenet of the rotation is that one of Simmons or Embiid is always on the court. Now with a player (Horford) who isn’t a snug fit with Embiid, would the Sixers consider playing for stretches without either star?

In a smaller sample, the Sixers have outscored their opponents this season when Horford has played without both Simmons and Embiid. That has been due to an insane all-offense, no-defense approach. There is reason to be skeptical that they can keep up such an offensive pace, but the recent West Coast trip provided a blueprint for running the base “A to B” offense through Horford at the elbows along with Harris and Milton.

In this scenario, you’re only asking Horford (and Harris) to tread water for eight to 10 minutes against units that are at least partially made up of backups. If they could do that, the rest of the game falls on the shoulders of the Simmons-Embiid combo. Ultimately, I decided against this because the “no-defense” part of the Horford-only lineups (114.1 points per-100) stuck with me. [The Athletic]

Sleeper pick

Justin Grasso | Sports Illustrated

Another recent interview of note to Sixers fans came from Charles Barkley, who continues to show he has faith in Philly, his former team. Barkley famously jockeyed with Embiid, calling out the center for his inconsistency. Now he's back in the team's corner as the playoffs approach again.

On Monday, however, Barkley made a bold claim regarding the 76ers. On ESPN's 'Get Up,' Barkley was asked to reveal his two sleeper teams for this year's NBA Playoffs. For the Western Conference, Barkley chose the Portland Trail Blazers. For the East, Barkley's looking at the Philadelphia 76ers to shock the Conference, potentially.

"Are you saying those two teams can win a championship, or are you just saying those two teams are sleepers?" Barkley was asked. "Those two teams can win the championship," the NBA legend responded confidently. [Sports Illustrated]

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