Furkan Korkmaz

Ben Simmons power forward
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Ben Simmons’ move to power forward has league saying, ‘but if it works…’

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Every minute Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, and Al Horford shared the court this season, Philadelphia’s offense looked stuck in the mud, scoring less than a point per possession (0.98) and with all the spacing of a New York subway at rush hour.

For a few games in February, coach Brett Brown came upon a “this might save my job” solution — moving Horford to the bench to get more shooting on the floor. That lasted just three games before reality hit hard, first Simmons’ back pain had him out (meaning Horford was back in as a starter), then came the coronavirus and the interruption of the season.

In Orlando for the restart and with a fully healthy Simmons (something the 76ers would not have had if the playoffs started as scheduled in April) Brown is leaning into his February idea:

Ben Simmons has been practicing at the four, Shake Milton moved in as the starting point guard, and Al Horford has slid to the bench.

On paper, this looks like the kind of move that could unleash the sleeping giant that is the 76ers.

However, the reality is this new starting five — Milton, Josh Richardson, Tobias Harris, Simmons, and Embiid — has not played one minute together this season, and after just eight seeding games they are going to be asked to play important minutes together against quality teams.

It’s a move that has the league saying, “but if it works…”

Brown’s high risk/high reward play makes the Sixers the most interesting team to watch in Orlando.

If this comes together quickly, Philadelphia is a threat to Milwaukee to come out of the East. Or, the Sixers could continue to be an all defense, no offense team that finds itself leaving Florida after the first round of the playoffs.

Both outcomes feel legitimately possible. Throw in questions about how Philadelphia will deal with what is essentially the longest road trip of their lives — Philly was a dreadful 10-24 away from the Wells Fargo Center, but 29-2 in it — and there are even more unknowns.

Brown, an eternal optimist, likes what he sees in an Embiid and Simmons front line. Here is Brown after watching the new look for a few practices (via NBC Sports Philadelphia).

“Just a chemistry, a relationship in finding each other. Just with Ben playing sort of an interior position, more than being the primary ball carrier … you could see sort of like that big-big relationship, high-low duck-ins, Joel would be posted, Ben would play peekaboo at a low zone on the other side of the floor, come down and trail, we throw it to Jo and a rim run guy would duck in. And I felt the partnership, the relationship. The big-big mentality of finding each other was crazily obvious.”

Simmons added:

“I feel like I have a very high IQ on the court and see things a lot differently and can pass the ball very well, so that’s a threat. But I love playing in that pick-and-roll situation, or pick and pop, whatever it is. it just gives us so many different options and is tough to guard.”

Moving Simmons off the ball opens up pick-and-roll options for the Sixers — Milton (or Harris) can have the ball as a playmaker and Simmons can set a screen then dive hard to the rim, or work on the short roll and distribute, taking advantage of his 6’10” frame and quickness. Simmons mentions pick-and-pop, other teams pray he tries it. (While there is a video floating around NBA Twitter of Simmons hitting threes in an empty gym with no defenders around him, don’t think for a second that means he will start taking them in games, let alone making them.)

With this lineup Embiid can become more of a post-up man where he is a beast scoring a league-best 1.12 points per possession (with at least 100 post-ups, via NBA.com stats). This is where Milton becomes a threat, he shot 44.2% on catch-and-shoot threes this season. Combine that with Harris and Richardson — both respectable from beyond the arc — and the Sixers have a starting five that looks to be a real threat. On paper.

Expect Simmons to get minutes as the primary ball-handler and shot-creator with the second unit, which also will have Horford, Matisse Thybulle (producer of the best content coming from the bubble), Furkan Korkmaz, and some combination of Harris and Richardson. Brown envisions that group playing fast.

“You’ve get Ben with the ball and you play downhill and you space everyone else out. There’s a lot of great things that happen from that, as simple as that sounds.”

Philadelphia’s championship aspirations are built on its defense — and that has been and should remain elite. The 76ers were sixth in the league overall on defense for the season, and while that slipped after the All-Star break it should be back in Orlando. The 76ers are long and disruptive, plus they have one of the game’s best rim protectors in Embiid. As his minutes go up in the playoffs, the defense should improve with it.

That defense will keep Philadelphia in games. A healthy and motivated Embiid makes them a threat. This is a team that came within a handful of bounces on the rim on a wild Kawhi Leonard shot from being in the NBA Finals a season ago. The defense can get them back to that spot.

Do they have enough offense to win those games? That is another question.

Their only hope to take a step forward was playing Simmons off the ball and limiting the painful Embiid/Horford combined minutes. With the season on the line Brett Brown if finally playing to the Sixers biggest strengths.

Whether that is enough will be answered in the heat of a Florida gym next month.

Mock NBA expansion draft: Celtics, Nets, Knicks, 76ers, Raptors

Mock NBA expansion draft
(Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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The NBA season is on hiatus. NBC Sports is not – even if we have to venture into fantasy.

We’re holding a mock NBA expansion draft. Keith Smith is setting protected lists for existing teams. Kurt Helin and Dan Feldman will run two new teams as this project culminates in an expansion draft.

Current teams can protect up to eight players. Each team must make at least one player available. If selected, restricted free agents become unrestricted free agents. Pending options can be decided before or after the expansion draft at the discretion of the option-holder. Anyone selected in the expansion draft can’t return to his prior team for one year. Players entering unrestricted free agency and players on two-way contracts are essentially ignored.

We’re unveiling protected/unprotected lists by division. Players are listed with their 2020-21 salary. Up now, the Atlantic:

Boston Celtics

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 7

Ineligible – 0

Analysis: Boston’s decisions are fairly cut and dry. Jayson Tatum, Romeo Langford, Grant Williams and Robert Williams are all on their rookie-scale contracts. Jaylen Brown will be starting a four-year contract extension. Kemba Walker was just signed to a max contract. Marcus Smart and Daniel Theis are good values and key rotation players.

The toughest decision was on Gordon Hayward. Carrying a salary over $34 million, the Celtics are betting he’ll go undrafted and will return to the team. Everyone else was a fairly easy decision to leave unprotected.

Brooklyn Nets

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 5

Ineligible – 2

Analysis: The Nets are keeping their big four in Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Spencer Dinwiddie and Caris LeVert. Jarrett Allen is still on his rookie-scale contract, so that’s an easy decision. With over $101 million on the books for just Durant, Irving, Dinwiddie and LeVert, Nicolas Claxton and Rodions Kurucs help bring some low-cost upside to the back-end of the roster.

DeAndre Jordan will likely go unselected, given his age and $30 million-plus owed through 2022-23. If Jordan is selected, Brooklyn can bank some potential luxury tax savings down the line. Taurean Prince was on the fence, but given his disappointing play this season, and lack of fit in a lineup featuring Durant, the Nets will take their chances he’ll be selected.

New York Knicks

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 6

Ineligible – 1

  • Maurice Harkless

Analysis: The Knicks are clearing the decks for a run at free agency this summer. The expansion draft could only help along that way. New York is protecting their young players with upside, as well as Julius Randle, last year’s big free agent addition. The Knicks are also protecting Damyean Dotson and Allonzo Trier. Not out of fear of losing them, but in hopes that either of the expansion teams will select a bigger salary and take it off the New York cap sheet.

Dennis Smith Jr. was the only questionable player to leave unprotected, but $5.7 million is simply too much for a player out of the rotation. The other five players aren’t part of the future in New York, so that decision was easy.

Philadelphia 76ers

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 3

Ineligible – 4

Analysis: Philadelphia’s decisions make themselves. The highly paid players are key rotation players. Furkan Korkmaz and Shake Milton are steals on minimum contracts. Matisse Thybulle is only entering year two of his rookie scale deal. Zhaire Smith was on the bubble, but he’s young enough, and under team control, that he’s worth protecting.

Al Horford is very unprotected. His signing simply hasn’t worked out for the Sixers. He’s a player Philadelphia is open to talking about a trade with either of the expansion teams. With an extra first-round pick, the 76ers hope to dangle it to entice a team to select Horford.

Toronto Raptors

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 3

Ineligible – 4

Analysis: The Raptors don’t have to expose any of their core rotation players in the expansion draft. Up front, Pascal Siakam just inked his contract extension, and OG Anunoby is still on his rookie scale deal. Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson are all free agents. In the backcourt, Toronto can protect Kyle Lowry and Norman Powell, along with undrafted find Terence Davis. And Fred VanVleet is a free agent.

The leaves just a handful of players who don’t have a role for the Raptors. Toronto could even entertain offering a second-round pick to entice either expansion team to select Stanley Johnson and take his $3.8 million off the cap/tax.

Glenn Robinson III: 76ers never explained role to me

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Glenn Robinson III said he was open to taking a discount to re-sign with the Warriors this summer.

Then, they traded him and Alec Burks to the 76ers.

Robinson, via Spencer Davies of Basketball Insiders:

“Even when (Golden State) played Philly, I showed them what I could do,” Robinson told Basketball Insiders. “So to play those consistent minutes a night and perform well… that’s the most disappointing part about coming here is that — both of us (are) coming off career years where we’re looking at hopefully big numbers after the season. I know I’ve got a family to feed. So you think about all those things.

“All those things play a role, and then when you come here and your role’s not really explained or you don’t know what’s going on with the trade — it’s not like it was a trade where you come in and immediately have an impact. It’s a little different, so… this team is full of wings, full of guys who can play. So really, I don’t really understand it. But it’s a business, you’ve got to make it happen and go out and try to do your best every night.”

76ers coach Brett Brown, via NBC Sports Philadelphia:

And that is not true. With all of our players, you sit down and you go through this clearly. After All-Star break, every single one of them got a roadmap — this is your role, this is what we expect.”

“I get when you have a career year on a poor team and it’s a contract year, I understand it. I coached those years myself,” Brown said. “And so in the middle of all of it, he’s good people. He’s a good person and he’s trying to figure out what his next step is while coexisting in a team framework.

These types of issues come up all the time. A player going public often signals a more intense dispute, and that might be the case here. But it also sounds like Robinson might have just answered honestly when asked.

The 76ers have been particularly unsettled since acquiring Robinson. They benched Al Horford. Then, Ben Simmons got hurt. Then, Joel Embiid got hurt. Robinson feeling stable just isn’t a priority. Backups have to deal with the chaos.

Philadelphia uses several players at forward besides Robinson – Tobias Harris, Al Horford, Matisse Thybulle, Furkan Korkmaz, Mike Scott and Burks. The 76ers’ rotation famously mixes and matches several combinations. That makes the adjustment even rougher.

But I wonder how much this about an undefined role vs. a smaller role. After averaging 13 points and 32 minutes per game with the Warriors, Robinson is down to six points and 15 minutes per game with the 76ers.

Robinson also hasn’t played well with Philadelphia, missing all nine of his 3-pointers and not defending as well as hoped. I bet that contributes to his frustration.

The 76ers won’t use Robinson like the Golden State did. Philadelphia has too many talented players to give Robinson that large of a role. He must comes to terms with that.

But the 76ers can also do more to make him feel comfortable. Whether or not Robinson is being reasonable, managing ego is part of a coach’s job.

Embiid scores career-high 49, 76ers beat Hawks 129-112

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PHILADELPHIAJoel Embiid scored a career-high 49 points and grabbed 14 rebounds, Tobias Harris had 25 points and the Philadelphia 76ers beat the Atlanta Hawks 129-112 on Monday night.

Missing All-Star Ben Simmons for the second time in three games because of a back injury, the Sixers mixed up their starting lineup and got 15 points from Furkan Korkmaz in a reserve role.

Trae Young led Atlanta with 28 points despite missing nine of 11 from 3-point range. De'Andre Hunter added 22 and John Collins had 21 for the Hawks.

After trailing by 21 in the first half, the Hawks outscored Philadelphia 23-9 to start the third quarter. They closed out the period with an 8-0 run and took a 92-91 lead into the fourth after Young nailed a 3.

The Sixers went up to stay on four consecutive free throws by Embiid. Harris sank a 3-pointer to extend the lead to 105-98.

Embiid’s dunk and 19-footer put Philadelphia up by 15 with 3:08 left, and the All-Star center heard “MVP!” chants when he went to the foul line in the final minutes. Embiid made 14 of 15 free throws and 17 of 24 from the floor. He hit a 3 in the final minute to set his personal best. His previous high was 46 against the Lakers on Nov. 15, 2017.

Simmons only played five minutes in a loss at Milwaukee on Saturday before exiting. He had tests on Sunday and needs further evaluation.

Coach Brett Brown wouldn’t speculate on the extent of the injury or how long Simmons will be sidelined. But it appears the team is preparing to play without him for a while.

Bucks pull away in second half behind 31 from Giannis Antetokounmpo, rout Sixers

AP Photo/Morry Gash
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MILWAUKEE — The Milwaukee Bucks turned a tight game with the Philadelphia 76ers into a mismatch immediately in the second half, led by the reigning league MVP.

Giannis Antetokounmpo had 31 points and 17 rebounds, Khris Middleton scored 25 points and the Bucks beat the 76ers 119-98 on Saturday night in a matchup of Eastern Conference rivals.

Antetokounmpo scored Milwaukee’s first 11 points in the third quarter as the Bucks took advantage of the absence of Philadelphia big man Joel Embiid, who went to the bench less a minute into the period after picking up his fourth foul, and quickly put the game out of reach.

“We came out the third quarter and played fast,” Antetokounmpo said. “We were able to rebound the ball and just attack them. Joel had four fouls. That worked in our favor. We tried to be aggressive in the third quarter and set the tone.”

Antetokounmpo added eight assists as Milwaukee won for the 16th time in its last 18 games to improve its NBA-best record to 48-8.

The Bucks led 56-50 at the half before Antetokounmpo’s scoring outburst put the Bucks in control. Milwaukee would go on to outscore the 76ers 37-23 in the period.

Embiid, coming off a 39-point performance on Thursday night, had 17 points and 11 rebounds but shot just 5 for 18. Furkan Korkmaz and Shake Milton also scored 17 points apiece for the 76ers, who fell to 9-20 on the road.

“I liked what I was seeing in the first half, and the death knock was Joel sitting,” 76ers coach Brett Brown said. “We just didn’t respond well to Milwaukee playing their tails off, and they shot the heck out of the ball.”

Philadelphia lost All-Star point guard Ben Simmons early in the first quarter. Simmons, who missed the 76ers’ previous game with lower back tightness, headed to the locker room after making consecutive driving layups, the second with a little more than 7 minutes left in the opening quarter. He didn’t return after the injured flared up.

“We never got in a rhythm. Losing Ben, then foul trouble, not making shots and some calls that could have gone a different way,” Embiid said. “But it’s on us.”

The 76ers shot just 35%, while the Bucks connected on 53% of their shots.

The Bucks got off to a scorching start, taking a 12-2 lead sparked by seven points from Antetokounmpo. Milwaukee led by as many as 11 in the quarter and held a 31-21 lead at the end.

Philadelphia pulled within 37-36 in the second before the Bucks used a 10-2 spurt to push the lead back to double digits.