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October 08, 2019

Instant observations: Sixers open preseason with blowout win as Simmons hits first three

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Joel-Embiid_100819_usat Tom Szczerbowski/USA TODAY Sports, File

Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid.

Ben Simmons' first made three as a member of the Sixers was the headline of Philadelphia's exhibition against the Guangzhou Loong-Lions, and the Sixers laid a comprehensive beatdown on their Chinese opponent to start their preseason off on the right foot.

As always during the preseason, the most important accomplishment of the night was emerging from the game unscathed, with the starters all getting extended rest in the second half to let the young guys play.

Here's what I saw on Tuesday night.

The Good

• Prior to the game, Brett Brown indicated to reporters that the first half would look more like an actual rotation, with the second half being used to rest the starters and try out some different stuff. So if you're looking for any positive indicators regarding the young guys, Matisse Thybulle checking in with the first wave of subs is a great one.

Everyone saw him tear things up at Philadelphia's Blue & White scrimmage, but Brown has sometimes been reluctant to give young players minutes over veterans in the past. This is a good early sign of what Thybulle has been doing behind the scenes.

And not for nothing, but he made the most of his minutes on the floor early. Thybulle got caught with his hand in the cookie jar and was in foul trouble for most of the first half, but he looked comfortable and confident on offense, stepping into threes and even throwing down a nice dunk in semi-transition.

At this point, it should also go without saying that he came up with a couple of defensive highlights, and it sure seems like watching him block jump shooters will be a regular occurrence. All the early indicators are positive for this kid, and it would be a nice change of pace for the Sixers to get positive contributions from a rookie.

• The most noteworthy trend from the first half was something I didn't see coming, with Philadelphia adopting an aggressive, full-court defense on more than a handful of possessions. With more length and athleticism on the roster than ever before, Brett Brown sent the dogs after the Loong-Lions, and they created at least a couple of turnovers by trapping the Chinese team on their side of halfcourt.

It's possible the Sixers were just rolling this out because they knew they could overwhelm an inferior opponent, but that feels counterintuitive for a team trying to hone their chemistry and get better before the season. If they weren't going to try to use this in spurts against NBA opponents, it seems unlikely they'd unleash it as a gadget scheme against Guangzhou.

I'll be asking Brett Brown about this following the game, but I like the idea behind it at the very least, and it fits well with their promise to be more aggressive on defense this season.

• Okay, I am really sorry for burying the lede here, but Ben Simmons finally took and made an effing three while wearing a Sixers uniform. Our long national nightmare is finally over.

Philadelphia has been ground zero for some of the most celebrated three-point makes in recent memory. As they once did with Markelle Fultz, the home crowd basically willed Simmons to shoot with a loud "SHOOOOOOOOT" cheer reminiscent of what it sounds like when the Flyers are on the power play at a home game. And once that thing hit bottom, it looked like the crowd was going to storm the court.

The first one is always the hardest. Now that it's out of the way, Simmons needs to start letting it rip.

• You have to consider the opponent here obviously, but the Sixers did what they were supposed to do against an outmatched team and absolutely overwhelmed them with size. Joel Embiid was a foul-drawing machine in the first half, Tobias Harris pulled down five offensive rebounds and almost had a few more, and they set the tone of the tempo of the game from the opening tip.

There were times when we didn't see this from the Sixers in regular-season games against NBA competition. When we've asked players about what stands out about this group so far, they've talked a lot about the competition level and professional approach in camp, and they delivered on those claims Tuesday night.

• I was down on Shake Milton coming into camp after a horrific showing at Summer League, but as it turns out, that may just end up being a reflection of his positional future. As an off-ball guard/wing playing next to Shake Milton, he had an encouraging stretch of play in the third quarter where he knocked down a couple of shots and showed good instincts. That appears to be where his future is.

It helped that he was playing alongside Raul Neto at the time, who might be edging into my personal lead for the backup point guard spot (though Brown gave Trey Burke first crack at those minutes tonight). The offense flowed nicely with Neto on the floor, and he even had some success searching for his own shot. 

The Bad

• Since Ben Simmons made a three, I am pretty sure this section gets retired for the evening.

Okay, I'm just kidding, I can always nitpick.

• If Thybulle's inclusion in the first-half rotation is a good sign, it has to be a bad sign for somebody else's chance at minutes. And since he didn't step on the floor for the first time until two minutes were left in the third quarter, Zhaire Smith would seem to be the logical guy to bring up here.

Smith was always a long-term project coming out of Texas Tech, and we're a long way from having to set off any alarm bells here. Brown has been transparent about his desire to move guys in and out of the lineup on a given night, and he'll get his chances to prove himself. The problem is that if Thybulle keeps playing like this, he's going to lock down a spot in the rotation early, and there won't be a lot of room to barge in for Smith.

The Ugly

• That performance from the Guangzhou Loong-Lions qualifies here. Woof.


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