The Sixers have a numbers problem at the center position, but that wasn’t the case at this afternoon’s practice. Joel Embiid and Jahlil Okafor were both limited in the third day of training camp, leaving Nerlens Noel as the only big guy to suit up for the team’s scrimmages today.
No need to panic! Both big guys got strength and conditioning sessions in alongside Gerald Henderson, so it appears this was a routine maintenance day for two players coming off injury layoffs. Bryan Colangelo and Brett Brown have already hinted that Embiid will sit out of back-to-backs this season, so limiting him during the team’s stretch of two-a-days is perfectly reasonable.
The big men and Henderson were joined by Jerryd Bayless on the sideline, who was held out of the scrimmage with left wrist soreness.
One man benefitted from the leaner rotation. Nerlens Noel got to play alongside Ben Simmons for the first time today, and he opened up to reporters about the experience:
#Sixers Noel: 'Today was my first day playing with Ben. He's really good. I think we complement each other well.'— Tom Moore (@tmoore76ers) September 29, 2016
This highlights part of the disconnect between Noel and his teammates over this summer. While it’s great they can get reps together now -- particularly since Simmons can make the game much easier for Noel on offense -- Simmons has already developed a rapport with some of the other players, and it’s a shame he couldn’t do the same with Noel.
Meanwhile, Nik Stauskas opened up about his mentality entering training camp:
#Sixers Stauskas: 'It's a big year for me. I feel like I let my confidence waver a lot (last season).'— Tom Moore (@tmoore76ers) September 29, 2016
.@NStauskas11 cont "It’s time for me now to make the improvement I’ve been trying to make over the last two years. It’s time to show that.”— Keith Pompey (@PompeyOnSixers) September 29, 2016
Stauskas was honest about the issues plaguing him over the last couple seasons, and his view certainly coincides with an outsider’s perspective. A large portion of his missed jumpers last season were uncontested, and he simply failed to knock down good looks. You can trace at least part of that to his psyche.
This preseason is close as it gets to make-or-break for Stauskas. He’s right on the roster bubble at the moment, and he needs to put in a strong performance in order to guarantee his spot on the team this season. The Sixers need shooting in the worst way, so now would be a great time for him to regain his stroke.
To the video!
Stauskas giving it up, and Simmons showing some inside strength. pic.twitter.com/7xFWw99vRT— Brian Seltzer (@brianseltzer) September 29, 2016
Stauskas can help himself by flashing more as a playmaker as well. We saw a lot of the ball-dominant Simmons in Summer League, and it’s easy to forget he’s a big, bruising force that can do work without the ball. Not too many guys can deal with his combination of size and athleticism.
Grant with a corner three / McConnell with solid two-way play. pic.twitter.com/J9aYQsjpFz— Brian Seltzer (@brianseltzer) September 29, 2016
If Jerami Grant is going to play the three this season, this is the type of shot he has to make with consistency. His work there will be easier this season — assuming Brown doesn’t throw out double-big lineups again -- but he’s still a tough fit alongside the team’s primary pieces.
Grant is the type of athletic, long-armed defender teams covet. He has a lot going for him on defense and he’ll be in prime position to benefit from the attention Simmons draws on offense. The only question is whether he can capitalize on the looks created by drive-and-kicks, and that will largely determine his role for this team.
Last but not least is The Homie:
Dario swishes 20-footer at buzzer. Working on endgame situations. pic.twitter.com/4R6KAaRAH3— Tom Moore (@tmoore76ers) September 29, 2016
Dario Saric figures to be a jack-of-all-trades for the Sixers depending on lineup composition. Though his jumper is not as important to his offensive role as Grant’s, his ability to shoot will have a similar impact on how the Sixers utilize him.
The early signs are encouraging. If he can hit shots off the bounce like this with any reliability, he’ll be an even bigger weapon than many expected him to be. Merging his creativity and tenacity with the ability to shoot off the bounce or the catch would add another layer of firepower.
Positive signs continue to radiate from training camp. Tuesday can’t get here soon enough.