Could lead to an interesting season
Though the 76ers don’t conclude the preseason until Friday night against the Wizards, Brett Brown believes he has a firm handle on his rotation for Wednesday evening’s regular-season opener against the Celtics.
While starters Ben Simmons, Josh Richardson, Tobias Harris, Al Horford and Joel Embiid are a given, impressive rookie Matisse Thybulle appears to have secured the backup shooting guard spot over second-year pro Zhaire Smith and Raul Neto is a logical pick over Trey Burke as the No. 2 point guard.
Defense is the Sixers’ calling card and Thybulle has been terrific at that end of the floor. When a reporter asked if Brown would be comfortable with Thybulle in the rotation, Brown asked the reporter, who said he would be. “Well, then, that’s what we’ll do,” Brown replied.
As for Neto, he’s better than Burke at getting the Sixers into their offense and a more dependable defender. Burke’s strength is the ability to score points in bunches.
Combine Thybulle and Neto with reserves James Ennis, Mike Scott and Kyle O’Quinn and that could be Brown’s 10-man rotation to start the year.
“I am not married to anything, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say at this stage, I didn’t have some pretty good ideas,” said Brown after Thursday’s practice at the team’s training facility.
Though five new Sixers among the 10 sounds like a decent amount of change, the Sixers have been able to minimize the issues with potential unfamiliarity. Horford has been impressed by how well the players get along and how much they enjoy spending time with one another, which may have sped up the getting-to-know-each-other process.
The entire team went out to dinner last week in North Carolina and then watched the movie “The Joker.”
“I think the willingness of everyone trying to make that happen (is a big reason),” Horford said. “We’re doing things as a team, as a group. That has been nice. I feel like those kinds of things bring teams closer and help with team bonding.”
On the floor, Brown has been especially pleased with the Sixers’ offensive unselfishness, which is an encouraging sign.
The caveat is the Sixers’ regulars have only played “two or three periods” together in the preseason, according to Brown. If Boston’s Jayson Tatum comes out and scores 30 in the first three quarters Wednesday, Brown will have to make some adjustments.
“The rules change in significant ways,” Brown said. “… It gets far more scrutinized when it’s that type of environment than it does right now.”
Based on the preseason, expect Brown to use Ennis as his first sub for Embiid midway through the opening quarter, which allows Harris and Horford to slide over to their natural positions of power forward and center, respectively. That way, Embiid can come back late in the period and provide offense alongside more of the second unit.
The most telling time is always end-game situations. Will it typically be the five starters playing? Or could guys like Thybulle — especially on defense — and Scott be in the mix, depending on the opponent?
On Thursday, Embiid repeated his goals of wanting to secure the No. 1 playoff seed in the Eastern Conference, win 60 games and earn an NBA championship.
Embiid thinks the acquisition of Horford should help make the jump from last year’s 51 victories to 60 because Horford gives the Sixers a much better option at center than before for the games Embiid will miss due to rest and the dreaded “load management.”
“I’m most excited for the games I don’t play,” Embiid said. “I feel like it’s going to be a different story than past years.”
Delivering a healthy Embiid to the postseason for the first time is imperative if the Sixers plan on winning the franchise’s first title since 1982-83. You can bet Embiid will be in uniform for fewer than 54 of the first 58 games in which he played last season with that in mind.
It should be an incredibly interesting season.
Tom Moore: firstname.lastname@example.org; @TomMoorePhilly