PHILADELPHIA: The 76ers began what many hope to be a trip that ultimately ends in the NBA Finals against the Guangzhou Loong Lions. The preseason kicks off amid a week of controversy and careful treading of social and political topics. Daryl Morey, the outspoken and progressive general manager of the Houston Rockets, created a firestorm over the weekend with a statement of support for protesters (separatists) from Hong Kong.
Chinese authorities and corporations have lashed out at the NBA over the statement causing Adam Silver to release a statement. But despite fears that this would impact relations, the game took place as planned.
What we looked for:
Starters Minutes – Brett Brown strongly hinted that the starters will mostly be limited to first half action. The second half will primarily be a showcase for the bench players. Jonah Bolden, Shake Milton, and Zhaire Smith will have the opportunity to showcase their athletic advantages against a non-NBA team.
How it went:
Joel Embiid was limited to first half minutes. He scored 17 points in just 13 first half minutes. In regular season form, Embiid was 9-9 from the free throw line as he physically overmatched the Loong-Lions front court.
The rest of the starters all played into the second half, but no starter played more than 22 minutes in the game.
Pace – “Ben Simmons is one of the fastest players in the NBA; you aren’t going to ask him to slow down,” said Brett Brown at his annual media luncheon. This team is massively built and will have a significant size advantage most nights. Against Guangzhou, they will enjoy both a size and an athleticism advantage. The Sixers are built for the more half court pace of the NBA playoffs, but most nights in the regular season, they will want to get out and run. Against an international team, they should be able to play at whatever pace they want.
How it went:
The 76ers forced 23 turnovers, had 10 steals and converted that defensive activity into 144 points. They took 96 field goal attempts and 37 free throws. There were times where Guangzhou was simply unable to keep with with the pace of Ben Simmons, Josh Richardson, and Matisse Thybulle.
Richardson particularly seemed up for the opportunity to be a running mate of Ben Simmons, saying after the game, “I know he likes to run, so I’m just trying to make sure I’m one of the guys that can keep up with him.”
Forcing turnovers – The Sixers were ranked 19th in forcing turnovers in 2018/19. The team is working to find a balance between forcing low efficiency shots and forcing turnovers. The advantage of forcing turnovers is more of a benefit to the offense than perhaps the best way to lock opponents up. Especially when it comes to the bench, being able to jumpstart a fast break with a turnover will be key to scoring as easily as possible.
How it went:
As mentioned, 23 forced turnovers included 10 steals, three from rookie Matisse Thybulle. He was extremely active and disrupted virtually everything the Loong-Lions wanted to do in his 16 minutes of play. He added two blocks to his steals and was a plus 33 in those 16 minutes. So far, in his first month or so working with the team, he is showing signs of being a Robert Covington clone on defense. Brett Brown spoke after the game about Thybulle: “I really like his energy, and I really don’t want to water him down. I want him to just get into it and use his length, and from time-to-time he’s going to have a reckless attempt at steals or he’s going to come up with a foul, but in general I’m happy to live like that for awhile with him.”
I asked Matisse after the game about turning over teams and letting Ben Simmons turn that into easy offense:
It makes it that much more exciting. It’s one thing to get a steal, but it’s another thing to get a steal that leads into fast and easy offense. Not just for the points, but getting the team and the crowd involved is usually when you get those highlight plays. You build momentum.
Perimeter shooting – Against an overmatched opponent, you should expect the team to settle into trying to get shots from their preferred locations, meaning in the corners from three and at the rim.
Ben Simmons working on his outside game
How it went:
Ben Simmons hit a three to end the first half. The crowd willed it to happen and the 13,407 announced fans erupted. Josh Richardson expressed less surprise but acknowledged the moment. “It’s not like a huge deal, because he has been making them in practice the last few weeks. I have only been up here practicing with the team for two weeks, I’ve been seeing it. But it was dope. And I was wondering why the crowd was standing up and everything, and I was like, ‘What’s happening?’ And I looked at the situation and I looked at the clock, and I was like, ‘Ah, OK.’ So, I kind of stood in the corner and kind of did this with my hands like, ‘Shoot it if you want it, bro.’ Because nobody really wants to feel forced to do something, so I was like, ‘If you want it, take it.’ He shot a deep one, too. It was a couple of steps behind the line. It was great to see him make one in a game.”
Brett Brown speaks prior to the game on 10/7/19