On the Beat | Blue x White Scrimmage Offers Encouraging Early Impressions

PHILADELPHIA, PA – To help usher in the feverish sense of excitement surrounding their new season, the 76ers took a trip to one of the oldest basketball venues in the country.

Sunday, with the timeless University of Pennsylvania’s Palestra serving as the backdrop, the Sixers hit the floor for their Blue x White Scrimmage. The event drew a near-capacity crowd to the 8,722-seat arena, and served as an introduction of the team to a fanbase eager to see what the upcoming 2017-2018 campaign has in store.

Between a promising stable of youngsters, and bolstered veteran contingent, there was a lot for Brett Brown to like about the Sixers’ spirited, almost two-hour long intrasquad competition (which required a two-minute overtime period, no less!).

The crisp fall air outside the Palestra and the loud atmosphere inside signaled to the fifth-year head coach that basketball season is indeed here. He called Sunday “a great day.” 

“To see our scrimmage after four good days of practice, you learned a lot,” said Brown, who, heading into the scrimmage, dubbed it a “pop quiz” in preparation for the Sixers’ pre-season slate, which starts Wednesday. “It was a good opportunity to see different people in different situations, and I think it was fun for the players as well.”

The Blue x White Scrimmage was formatted for three 12-minute regulation periods. Timeouts were permitted, and the action was overseen by an officiating crew.

Rising second-year assistants Kevin Young and John Bryant (a former Saint Joseph’s big man) coached the Blue and White teams, respectively. Brown and his lead assistants jumped into huddles throughout the afternoon.

The personnel for the Blue and White teams was the same for the first two periods of play, but then was shuffled a bit for the final stanza. T.J. McConnell helped fuel the White team’s successful comeback bid, which was ensured when a potential game-winning 3-point attempt from the Blue team went awry at the buzzer.

“Holistically, you’re seeing parts of the offense and defense that have to be fixed,” Brown said, “but my real sort of focus was the players, and who they matched up with, and how you think this thing’s going to play out. You’re always paying attention to that.”

While the most significant takeaway from Sunday’s scrimmage was arguably that it marked an encouraging jumping off point for the Sixers’ exhibition opener against the Memphis Grizzlies, it also gave the organization a chance to interface with loyal supporters in a historic setting.

“It was great,” Markelle Fultz said of playing in the Palestra. “There’s a lot of history behind this building, and then just Philly itself. It’s my first time really getting a chance to show the fans what the season’s going to be like. It was good.”

Before Sunday’s scrimmage got underway, Brett Brown told the team the Palestra was of “national importance,” according to Redick.

“I grew up a huge college basketball fan, I’m vaguely familiar with the history of the [Philadelphia] Big 5, and I also am pretty aware of the just the importance of basketball in this city,” Redick said. “It was fun to play in this building.”

Neither Fultz nor Redick had previously been to the Palestra.

As for some other lasting impressions from Sunday’s Blue x White Scrimmage, here are a few that stood out to us…

• Making his first appearance in a professional competition of any kind in the city of Philadelphia, Ben Simmons delivered as advertised.

The 2016 No. 1 pick displayed athletic, powerful finishing touch around the rim…

…was undeterred when driving inside…

…and proved to be a downhill, steamrolling force in the open court.

Defensively, Simmons began Sunday’s scrimmage as Markelle Fultz’s primary defender. As the afternoon went along, he had opportunities to guard wings and bigs as well.

“It’s not that complicated,” said Brett Brown. “His breakaway speed, his ability to get to the rim with his size, or find others, is elite.

“It’s only going to get more advanced, more comfortable playing in the system and with his teammates. He put it into another gear.”

“At the end of the day, I know how to get to the rim, score, and finish, and I feel like I open up a lot of doors for other players for them to score, too,” Simmons said.

• Of note Sunday was how the strengths of several young Sixers were amplified in the company of experienced vets. One such example came early on. 

Seeing Ben Simmons come up with a loose ball, 13th-year forward Amir Johnson immediately took off, sprinting down the near wing. His hustle was rewarded, as Simmons threaded him a well-timed bounce pass that Johnson subsequently gathered for a one-handed dunk. 

Whether in the heat of battle or in huddles, Brett Brown stressed Sunday that having seasoned players in the fold is immensely important. 

“There are messages, there are discussions that are in real time during a game that are so much more powerful from a peer to a peer, a teammate to a teammate, than me calling a timeout and having to go through things,” said Brown. “There is nothing like having veterans, and there’s nothing like having playing veterans, and we have them.”

• Furkan Korkmaz enjoyed a nice outing Sunday, seeming to pick up right where he left off when Turkey’s EuroBasket run ended in mid-September (Korkmaz scored 20 points in his final game). The 20-year old was an active presence for the White team. He showed off his floater, hit jumpers, and helped move the ball.

This sequence came at the end of the first quarter of action Sunday.

“Today in our scrimmage, I feel very well,” said Korkmaz, who added he’s still adapting to the schemes and culture of NBA basketball. “Today, I had confidence to show myself, but I think most important thing was we play all together as a team. Everybody enjoyed to be playing with each other, and fans also.”

“He really shot the ball well, and I thought he played well,” Brett Brown said. “We’re all going to walk out of here thinking he made shots, and that’s true, but I thought defensively he did some good things.”

One guy who’s been in the league for over a decade was particularly impressed.   

“He just came out of nowhere and surprised us today,” JJ Redick said of Korkmaz. “He played great. He kind of stole the show with the shooting. He was phenomenal today.”

• Markelle Fultz’s game is certainly easy and smooth to watch.

At the outset of Sunday’s scrimmage, he ran the point for the White team. Later on, upon switching to the Blue team and joining forces with Ben Simmons and Jerryd Bayless , Fultz was given chances to play off the ball as well.

“I’m pretty sure there’s going to be stuff [to review] on both ends of the floor, offense and defense,” said Fultz, when asked Sunday to evaluate how he played. “The good thing about this, you can play and then go watch and learn from it. I’m very looking forward to doing that.”

• When the Sixers broke training camp Friday, Jahlil Okafor was upbeat about how the team’s first four practices went for him on a personal level. Substantially leaner now than he was his  first two years in the NBA, Okafor looked spry Sunday, and managed to hold his own physically on the interior. He capitalized on multiple scoring opportunities over the course of the scrimmage.

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