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September 17, 2021

Mailbag: Joel Embiid foes, Charles Bassey's contract, Deathloop, and Spain recommendations

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Joel-Embiid-Marc-Gasol-Sixers-Raptors-0428_USAT John E. Sokolowski/USA Today Sports

Who will torture Joel Embiid now that the Gasols are gone?

It has been a (relatively) quiet week on the Ben Simmons trade front, and at this stage of the offseason, that means it's quiet in Sixers land. That's quite alright, frankly, as it gives everyone a chance to take a breath and collect themselves before drama inevitably ensues in a couple of weeks.

But that does change the focus of our usual mailbag compared to the average week. With training camp and media day approaching, let's touch on a few Sixers questions and some deep offseason content while we wait.

The guys who have flummoxed Embiid over the years have usually had a similar profile: big-bodied guys who don't allow Embiid to win with strength and who can potentially drag him out to the three-point line on the other end, wearing him down physically over the course of the game. He has not succeeded as much as perhaps as he should against Enes Kanter, for example, because he tries to bang with him in the post rather than exploiting Kanter's lack of foot speed in pick-and-rolls (not that Philly has had many ballhandlers to help him do so, obviously).

We were robbed of the opportunity to see Embiid vs. Nikola Jokic last season, but those games have been relatively even statistically despite Embiid being way ahead in the Ws department. Embiid handled Rudy Gobert in a big way last season, though I wouldn't expect him to cook the French center quite that dramatically every time out. There are certainly guys who are going to make him work. Heck, Clint Capela gave him serious problems at times in that Hawks series.

And in terms of the pain-in-the-ass factor, are we sure we can count out Al Horford yet? He's going to have a little extra juice going up against Embiid, and getting to see them go at it at least four times in the regular season ups the ante a bit. 

Here's what I would say: I don't think Embiid is a one-on-one assignment at this point, with teams committing extra resources to stop him basically every time out. What I'd like to see from Embiid this season is a more diverse approach when up against a big who has flaws he traditionally hasn't exploited. He can play at an MVP level even without doing that, but it would take his game to another new level.

The Bassey situation as I understand it is basically no different than it was in mid-August when I last reported on it. The sticking point is the structure of the contract. Bassey and his agent are after a multi-year guarantee, and while my understanding is that the team would like to have him on a multi-year contract, they're only willing to guarantee the first year of the deal.

This is a fairly typical stance on players selected deep in the second round. Paul Reed, who was on a two-way deal for a lot of last year, signed an NBA contract after being named the MVP of the G-League bubble and impressing the Sixers with his work ethic, and he still got a three-year minimum deal with the final two years non-guaranteed. 

The Athletic's Derek Bodner recently reported that Bassey had a multi-year guarantee offer on the table had he been drafted, which has contributed to the hold-up on getting a deal done. As of now, the most likely outcome looks like Bassey signing the one year non-guaranteed tender so he can get to free agency next summer. But it's not set in stone as of this writing, and maybe one side ends up blinking before camp opens up. 

I would say the big reason he can't be Siakam is that Siakam himself is sort of an outlier development story. Expecting every young toolsy prospect to go from sort of a defensive specialist/role player into a 20+ per game scorer is pretty unrealistic, even if they had some similarities in profile at earlier stages of basketball. 

For Reed, some of the concerns come down to figuring out what he does/what role he plays. The Sixers have played him some at both the four and five, and there are drawbacks in both spots. As a five, he's still pretty slight (even in a smaller current league) and is a bit too "off script" as a defender to be trusted as the defensive anchor yet. At the four, Reed's shooting becomes more of a focus because of how he'll be used within the offense. It's especially hard to develop him there when Embiid is your best player and warrants playing a shooter next to him at the four at all times. If Reed shows up to camp and is a reliable shooter, giddy up, but he's still a project there rather than a finished product.

If the buy-in is there, Reed can play a role for sure. He has proven adaptable when the coaching staff has asked different things of him and has earned strong reviews for time spent in the gym along with Tyrese Maxey. The more he focuses on what the staff wants from him — screens, rim-running, intelligent defense, glass attacking, and the occasional outside shot when he's wide open — the better chance he has to stick.

I think it would take something dramatic happening for the Sixers to get desperate in Ben talks. Pinpointing that is tough — is it a brutal start to the year without him? A major injury that forces them to reconsider their short and/or long-term outlook? Simmons going on national television and threatening to retire? I'm not sure where the line is, exactly. But I do think they've drawn their line in the sand, and Daryl Morey is a guy willing to sit through some weirdness if it's for the ultimate betterment of the franchise.

Now that being said, I don't necessarily think any one-for-one swap is a desperate move. For example, if the Kings suddenly put DeAaron Fox on the table and are willing to make a one-for-one deal, I wouldn't characterize thinking about that deal as desperate so much as it might just be a realistic best offer. Fox is really good and ascending, albeit not the dream fit or readymade All-NBA guy fans were/are hoping for. Sure, there are plenty of straight-up swaps that would be desperate, but you could probably talk yourself into a handful of sub-Lillard players at this point.

I don't suspect Morey and Co. will go this route — I still think their eyes are on a big fish — but I have learned to never say never (the hard way at times). 

In our household, we are big fans of Anthony Bourdain (RIP) and consulted both Parts Unknown and some of his writing on Spain before heading out. As it turns out, it's not all that easy (or cheap!) to go to some of his favorite spots because they have attracted plenty of attention in the years since.

With that in mind, some places worth seeking out, IMO:

  1. Arzak (San Sebastian) — One of Bourdain's mentors (a Spanish culinary legend) founded this place, a three Michelin star restaurant in Spain's culinary capital. It's a constantly changing menu based on what they can procure fresh, to the point that they provided us with a printed menu to take home of our trip there, complete with the bottle of wine we ordered. It was our big splurge meal of the trip, as tasting menus are not cheap, but the food and service was tremendous and we got to meet Elena Arzak, the daughter of the founder who studied under her dad and from what I can tell effectively runs the place now. 10/10 experience.
  2. Quimet and Quimet (Barcelona) — Way on the other side of the spectrum, this is a very small tapas bar in the Catalonian capital that I don't think fits more than 10-15 people at a time. You're only permitted to stay around 45 minutes, with people waiting outside to shuttle in as patrons leave. But they had a tremendous selection of meats and cheeses, a wide variety of tapas classics, and offered perhaps the best/kindest service of the trip despite the emphasis on speed. Plus, it was plenty affordable, with red wine for (I believe) around 2.50 Euros a glass.
  3. Ganbara (San Sebastian) — We had to stand in a drizzle under an umbrella for about 30 mins to get seated here, and I think I would have done it for twice as long in hindsight. The mushroom dishes here were simply outrageous, served with (I believe) foie gras and an egg yolk. I am not even a mushroom guy, generally speaking, and yet this was still one of my favorite things I ate across 10 days in the country. Also happened to meet an absolutely delightful group of British folks on holiday while waiting in line, who we shared a few street beers with while waiting for the table. 
  4. Paradiso (Barcelona) — Genuinely don't remember if I ate anything here but it is worth a trip for the bar alone. Back through a speakeasy-esque tunnel and into a dimly-lit, wood-themed bar, this is one of the best cocktail bars I have ever been to (and if you believe in ranked lists, one of the best in the world). It's impressive stylistically, with menus lit up like constellations in the night sky and drinks ranging from an iceberg setting to billowing with smoke, and they taste as good if not better. 

But honestly, the beauty of Spain is that we were able to eat and drink well pretty much everywhere. The cities and towns are designed in a way for you to bounce from one spot to the next, having a glass of wine or beer and a small plate or two before moving on to the next spot down the block.

On the sightseeing front, the two coolest things we did (IMO) were going to Segrada Familia in Barcelona and Alhambra in Granada. And if it floats your boat, a wine tour in Basque country really hit the spot. 

Dune is at the top of the list for me in the entertainment sphere by a pretty comfortable distance above the rest. I haven't read the whole series but loved the first book, has a great cast, and is helmed by probably my favorite current/working director. It'll be on streaming but I would get in a Bubble Boy suit to see it in theaters if necessary.

The other big one for me is the live-action Cowboy Bebop series Netflix is dropping in mid-November. I would say there's a high chance of it being absolutely awful compared to the series it is based on, but seeing an alternate spin on one of my favorite pieces of entertainment ever is at least a little exciting in the lead-in.

Outside of that, sort of a wait-and-see for me at this point. Gaming wise, I'm interested to check out the new Halo when that finally drops and I'm excited for a new Metroid release in October. I have never read the Isaac Asimov series it is based on but I am intrigued by the new Foundation series that is dropping on Apple TV+ next week. 

If you're asking me, "The Process" was over when the league stepped in and Bryan Colangelo took over the team. The fruits, side effects, and most importantly people of "The Process" certainly lasted much longer, especially in Embiid's case, but to me there was a clear exit point.

I don't think I ever ran into this specific issue with Dark Souls 2, but it's also the only Soulsborne game I didn't feel that compelled to beat. Might revisit at some point, but seems unlikely. 

Even considering that I have now picked against them in back-to-back weeks, pretty good! Nick Sirianni impressed me in his debut regardless of what you think of the Falcons, and this team looks like it's going to be a fun one if nothing else. The lower expectations on Jalen Hurts coming in should (hopefully) allow us to live through some ups and downs without losing our minds quite yet, and he came out of the gate absolutely firing on all cylinders. I don't trust the defense (read: the secondary) all that much but I'd rather watch shootouts anyway.

I think it's too early to give a rating (and I'm planning on weighing in with a firmer verdict early next week) on Deathloop but early returns are strong. The game holds your hand a bit in the beginning but then starts to really open up after the first hour or two, and it's one of those games where puzzling out feels both fun and intuitive. Listening to idle conversations between guards, for example, can provide you with a clue that leads you to another clue that leads you to a potentially game-changing moment. You can play it fast-paced if you want and just blunt force your way through the game, but as someone who loves stealth games (including other Arkane games like the Dishonored series), it feels more rewarding to move methodically through the different levels.

My one big gripe is that enemy AI is absolutely braindead a lot of the time, and as someone who likes a fair degree of challenge in his games, that was a bummer for me. I also own it on PC and am one of many people dealing with crashing issues at the moment, in spite of running it with an RTX 3080. Hoping that's a temporary issue, but it's not what you want to deal with as you get to know a game.

There were a lot of other Deathloop questions, so that's a subject we'll definitely revisit soon.

So, I think EK is asking me the PG version of the FMK game, though it's unclear if Peck and Migrate are good or bad. Peck like a kiss or peck like peck an eye out? Migrate together or abandon it entirely? For the sake of the exercise, I'll assume peck is the "F" equivalent and Migrate is the "kill" equivalent, the bad option, noting that Deathloop still has a lot left for me to explore:

PeckHades. Choosing between Hades and Returnal was basically impossible for me because Hades is about as expertly crafted as it gets. The care put into everything from the art to the voice acting to the weapon system is pristine. I think it's probably a deeper and more accessible game than Returnal with more paths to winning on any given run. And yet...

NestReturnal. I think the moment-to-moment gameplay in Returnal is as good as it gets and it brought a genre I love to a bigger scale in a style that I really admire. I love how it incorporates risk/reward. I love the feeling of cutting off a zipline midair to turn a fire a rocket at an enemy, a level of verticality that isn't present or possible in a lot of rogue-lite games. I loved the mystery horror of the story. It is not perfect and had issues near launch but absolutely excels at what it's good at and is just the right amount of difficult for me. 

Migrate: Deathloop. Let's touch base on this after I finish the game. It's mostly a victim of falling short of two games I adore at the moment. 


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