Fultz, Saric on Track; Holmes Update
Following Sunday’s practice in Camden, the Sixers issued positive updates on Markelle Fultz and Dario Saric. Both are listed as probable for Monday’s pre-season re-match with the Boston Celtics. Fultz was sidelined Friday with soreness in his right shoulder, while Saric was held out of the team’s first two exhibition outings due to rest.
In respect to Fultz, Brown is particularly excited that the 2017 No. 1 pick is on track to suit up against the Celtics, on the road, no less. The head coach thought Fultz held his own in Wednesday’s pre-season opener, and moving forward, is eager to utilize the 19-year old in “different environments,” with and without Ben Simmons.
“He played in relation to getting to where he wanted to go on a basketball court,” Brown said Sunday, when asked about his observations from Fultz’s first game. “Him playing downhill, and playing in open court, making some good plays, there were enough positives that didn’t really shine out on a stat sheet that we should all remember, and that’s the first thing I reminded him of.”
Fultz said Sunday he was pleased with how he played Wednesday when he didn’t have the ball in his hands, citing screening that got teammates open, and the cuts he made throughout the evening. He was also happy with his defensive effort.
“What’s really reassuring is when you get him in an office and you sit down and talk with him, he works – he’s a prideful worker,” Brown said of Fultz. “He’s a prideful learner, he’s a prideful defensive player, he’s compliant in relation to, ‘I’ll do whatever it takes to fit in and earn my stripes.’ [He] doesn’t want anything, [he] doesn’t expect anything. There’s not entitlement just because [he was] the first player chosen.”
Come Monday, Fultz could very well have the opportunity to go up against one of the NBA’s best at his position in Kyrie Irving. Like Fultz, Irving boasts top pick pedigree.
“I’m definitely looking forward to going against him,” said Fultz, who has spent a lot of time watching Irving. “Any chance you get to test yourself against one of the best point guards in the NBA, I love to do that so I can see where I am, see where I need to improve.”
Irving, the 2012 Rookie of the Year and a four-time All-Star, has achieved a level of success that Fultz hopes to one day reach.
“That’s where I want to be in my career,” he said Sunday. “I want to be one of the best point guards.”
As far as Saric goes, Brown was glad to have the forward back on the floor Sunday.
“He’s great,” said Brown. “I just am such a personal fan of Dario. He’s everything you’d want in a competitor, he’s everything you’d want in a teammate. He’s tough. He really was a welcomed addition to practice.”
Also on Sunday’s health front, the Sixers provided the following news on Richaun Holmes:
Brown felt badly for the third-year big man.
“He’s really invested time over the summer and come back in tremendous shape,” said Brown. I thought that he was playing very well.”
In a pair of pre-season showings, Holmes combined for 14 points, 5 rebounds, and 3 blocked shots in 29 minutes. Brown called the playing time “well-earned.”
With Holmes out for the time being, Jahlil Okafor, and even Dario Saric, could see extra reps at center.
Anderson Showing Strides
As if words weren’t enough to convey his anticipation for the 2017-2018 campaign, Justin Anderson’s off-season work ethic backed up his excitement.
Roughly one week after the Sixers’ regular season ended in April, the feisty forward reported back to the club’s training complex in Camden, and immediately got to work. He remained a fixture in the building for the rest of the spring and summer.
Why did Anderson consider it so important to be a regular presence in the gym? Acquired by the Sixers from Dallas last February, the 2015 No. 21 pick felt he needed to get more “face time” around Brett Brown’s coaching staff. After all, given how busy the Sixers’ schedule was following the February trade deadline, Anderson didn’t have the chance to take part in a single formal practice session with his new squad.
“It meant everything to me to be around our coaches,” Anderson said a few weeks ago, at the outset of training camp. “When you get drafted to a team, obviously they get to know you right away. But when you get traded mid-season, they’re trying to figure you out on the move, on the run. There’s so many things I have to look forward to, and I just can’t wait to get this season kicked off right.”
So far, through the Sixers’ first two pre-season outings, Anderson’s enthusiasm has translated to on-court productivity. Wednesday against Memphis, the 23-year old logged 15 minutes off the bench, scoring 5 points.
This past Friday, Anderson, a high-energy, aggressive competitor by nature, was even more active. He tallied 10 points on 4 for 8 shooting, including an encouraging 2 for 2 effort from behind the 3-point arc. Anderson also supplied 6 rebounds and 3 blocks, the last of which came in emphatic, chasedown fashion.
From the Sixers’ first exhibition contest to their second one, Brown saw Anderson make strides, particularly in respect to physicality and movement.
“To play more out of a ‘rocket step,’ where we call it a ‘0.5,” said Brown, evaluating Anderson’s contributions following Friday’s setback to the Boston Celtics. “You get half-a-second to shoot it, drive it, or pass it. The ball can’t stick.”
Entering his third NBA season, Anderson has a few personal objectives in mind. He wants to be stronger this year, have better in-game stamina, be reliable on both ends of the court, and serve as a spark, using his passionate approach to get the home crowd into games.
With a week of pre-season tilts now in the books, Anderson appears to be on his way.
“To be completely honest, my biggest focus is our team goal,” said Anderson, who a season ago averaged career-highs of 8.5 points, 4.0 rebounds, 1.4 assists, and 21.6 minutes in 24 games on the heels of joining the Sixers. “I want to be a piece of this major puzzle. We obviously have some tremendous young talent, tremendous leadership now with veterans. This is something in the works of being really good, and if everyone understands their role, it’s just going to carry us that much further.”
By now, most fans who follow the Sixers are probably well-versed in the three factors that Brett Brown harps on the most in terms of desired style of play – defense, pace, and space (3-point shooting).
Retracing the growth of the team since the head coach’s arrival five years ago, the second of these three items – pace – was probably the one the Sixers internalized and executed upon the quickest.
To review, in Brown’s first year, the Sixers topped the NBA in possessions per game. Since, in the seasons that have followed, the club has gone on to rank seventh, sixth, and fifth in the league in this same statistical category, respectively.
Brown, however, has long been aware and willing to publicly acknowledge the potential risks that accompany playing at uptempo, high speed, especially when it comes to ball protection. Reconciling this matter appeared to move to the forefront of his pre-season to-do list after the Sixers yielded 24 turnovers in Friday’s 110-102 loss to Boston.
“The turnovers are an area that we, in the past, had a decision to make,” Brown said Friday. “You had a bunch of young guys, you wanted to play fast, you turned your head a little bit to them in exchange for playing with more freedom. That can’t happen this year. We really have to pay more attention to the turnovers.”
Moving forward, Brown would rather see the Sixers hold onto the rock like they did Wednesday, in their pre-season opener against Memphis. That night, the club was charged for just 14 turnovers.
With a transition to NBA point man now in full swing, rookie Ben Simmons realizes that helping the Sixers cut down on giveaways is a responsibility that, in part, starts with him.
“Definitely,” the 2016 No. 1 pick said Friday. “That just takes time with learning everybody’s positions.”