No. 1: Brown offers up high praise of Embiid -- Injuries have kept former lottery pick Joel Embiid from suiting up for the Philadelphia 76ers until this season. Now healthy, the Sixers have taken a slow-and-steady approach to Embiid's minutes as the preseason rolls on with hopes that the center will be as up to speed as possible once the 2016-17 season takes flight in two weeks. Coach Brett Brown has been nothing but impressed by Embiid's play and, according to Jessica Camerato of CSNPhilly.com, has big plans for his big man:
Brett Brown already had envisioned Joel Embiid as the “crown jewel” of the Sixers' defense. With his towering 7-foot-2 frame, Brown saw him as a force protecting the basket.
The same goes on the other end, too.
“I think that he is going to be the focal point both offensively and defensively,” Brown said Thursday.
Going into the preseason, point-forward Ben Simmons seemed the key to the Sixers' offense given his versatility to score at multiple positions. But the No. 1 pick suffered an acute Jones fracture at the end of training camp and is out for an undetermined amount of time. His absence leaves glaring holes for Brown to fill.
Even when Simmons was on the court, though, Brown saw glimpses early on of Embiid’s knack with the ball. He had been wowing people during his rehab with videos of his three-point shooting, and also yearned for the ball in the post. Embiid’s skillset reminded Brown of a future Hall of Famer he coached on the Spurs' staff.
“You see him and he just has ‘it,’" Brown said. "Years ago, you saw it with [Tim] Duncan. I see it with him in regards to a real target offensively and a real sort of centerpiece defensively.”
Taking on that role is a shift in mindset for Embiid, whose field goal attempts at Kansas maxed out at nine (three times). He has shot 2 for 6 from the field in both preseason games, capped at 12 minutes a night. Embiid is averaging 5.5 points and 3.5 rebounds in his first two contests.
“When I was in college I didn’t have that type of mentality,” Embiid said. “I don’t think I’ve ever reached more than 10 shots during a game. I think it’s different now and Coach wants me to do that. I’ve kind of proven in practice I can do that. It’s going to take time. I’m an unselfish player, so I just want to play as a team. I’ve got to make sure I let the game come to me.”
Embiid is working to establish his flow in the offense. He found himself rushing shots and settling for too many jumpers. Embiid is also trying to get into a rhythm in the four-minute clumps he is being played.
His offensive development will be a work in progress, and the Sixers believe it is worth the wait.
“We all know it’s going to take time,” Brown said. “We all get it. Nobody can rush what is unfair. We’re going to expect growth. There’s going to be some stumbling blocks. But I believe that his potential, his upside, his desire to be great is real. I think that his talent, if we keep him nice and healthy, has the chance to allow me to do what I just said.”
No. 2: Walton wants Russell to be more aggressive on offense -- As a standout at Ohio State, Los Angeles Lakers guard D'Angelo Russell averaged 19.2 ppg and was the focal point of the Buckeyes' offense. As a rookie in the NBA, Russell scored 19 points in 14 of his 80 games played. New Lakers coach Luke Walton is looking for Russell to seek his shot more in 2016-17, which was the case for the young guard in the team's preseason win Sunday night. Jovan Buha of ESPN.com has more:
D'Angelo Russell bounced back from what he dubbed an "average" performance in the Los Angeles Lakers' preseason opener, finishing with 21 points (7-of-14 shooting), 4 rebounds, 5 assists, 4 turnovers and a steal in 24 minutes in the team's 101-97 preseason loss to the Denver Nuggets on Friday.
Following the game, coach Luke Walton offered constructive criticism of Russell's performance, claiming the second-year point guard still needs to master the delicate balance of reading an NBA defense and deciding the proper time to shoot and pass out of pick-and-roll sets.
"He struggled a little bit early because he really is trying to do the right thing, do what we're asking him," Walton told reporters after the loss. "But at this level, there's a fine line of doing what the coaches want and playing off feel. The guy has got a phenomenal feel for the game. So a lot of picks he was coming off, he was trying to play make even though he was open for the shot.
"So what we're trying to tell him is, any time you're open, shoot it. We want you to play make, we want you to get everyone involved from the point guard position. But when you're coming off screens and you're open, the best way to make that defense pay is to shoot. He's one of the best shooters we have."
Despite Russell's advanced feel of the game, he struggled scoring out of the pick-and-roll last season, shooting just 38.3 percent and ranking in the 36th percentile among qualified pick-and-roll ball-handlers, according to NBA.com/stats.
Walton added that the key isn't Russell necessarily hunting for his shot more, but observing how a team is defending the Lakers' pick-and-rolls, and then exploiting the holes in that game plan.
"It wasn't being more aggressive. It was just getting better at recognizing what the defense is giving you," Walton said. "If the defense isn't giving you the shot, then we don't want you shooting the ball.
"But the way Denver was playing, a lot of their bigs were dropping way back and D'Angelo is one of our best scorers. So if that's the case, if he shoots 20 times at the end of the night, we're fine with that because we think those are good shots."
Given the pressure and expectations Russell faces while transitioning into being the face of the Lakers in the post-Kobe Bryant era, Walton acknowledges that such nuanced offensive concepts will take time to fully grasp and implement.
"It's got to be challenging," Walton said. "He's [20 years old]. He's the starting point guard for the L.A. Lakers. I think he's naturally a scoring point guard. I think that's who he is naturally as a player, but he wants to win. He's willing to play the right way and willing to play how the coaches ask him to play, which is to move the ball and get it out of your hands and then get off some screens and turn in the weak-side shooter.
"All of these things, he's willing to do right now. I think it gets tough when you're that young and you're still learning how to do it all to combine and to know when to do each one. We'll stay on him about it."
No. 3: Celtics' Bradley aims to be better playmaker -- Boston Celtics guard Avery Bradley boasts All-Defensive credentials (First Team, 2015-16 and Second Team, 2012-13) on his resume. He has also steadily grown his offensive game over the years, from the 9.2 ppg he averaged in 2012-13 to a career-best 15.2 ppg last season as one of the better offensive options on the Celtics. Yet Bradley isn't happy with that growth and says he wants players league-wide to know him for both his offense and his defense, writes Scott Souza of the Providence Journal:
In his first six seasons with the Celtics, Avery Bradley has gone from a defensive specialist, to starting guard, to knockdown shooter, to the team’s second-leading scorer and an NBA all-defensive selection last season.
This summer, Bradley said he focused on being a better distributor and decision-maker in hopes of adding to his game. Through two preseason contests, he has averaged 5.5 assists to go with 12.5 points and 3.0 rebounds on 47.6-percent shooting — 40 percent on 3-pointers — in less than 23 minutes per game. Based on the 36 minutes Bradley would be expected to play on a nightly basis, that averages to 19.8 points, 8.7 assists and 4.8 rebounds.
“I knew he could shoot the ball,” Horford said. “But he’s a much better shooter than I thought. He can really shoot the 3, pull-up, and he’s also a really good passer.
“You get so caught up in his defense, and how great he is defensively, that you lose sight of some of the things he can do on offense. I am just excited to be able to play with him because I feel like I will be able to get him open through screens, and handoffs, and he can shoot the ball.”
Bradley said he spent last summer working on getting his team defense on par with his individual defense, and it paid off with him being recognized as the best defensive guard in the league. He said he is hoping his assist numbers this year reflect a similar dedication to being a better facilitator.
“I know it’s something that I needed to improve,” said Bradley, whose career-best coming into the season was 2.1 assists per game last year. “In order to take my game to the next level I needed to add that to my game. That’s something that I’m challenging myself every single game, every single practice, to get my teammates involved. I know I have a lot of opportunities to do it. I’m starting to look at the game, and see the game different, understanding where my spots are and where I can get guys shots.”
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