On the Beat: Opening Night Roster Recap
On Monday, the 76ers settled on the 15-man roster they will take into Wednesday’s regular season opener versus the Boston Celtics. In all, five of the players that made the final cut were originally drafted by the franchise, while another five spent a portion of last season with the team. On top of that, there are two additional players that had some sort of prior connection to the Sixers, whether through summer leagues, or the NBA D-League.
Point guard was the position where the greatest, most wide-open pre-season competition took place. Ultimately, there ended up being only one job available in the backcourt, and it went to T.J. McConnell, a gritty, blue-collar underdog product from Arizona. He beat out Pierre Jackson and Scottie Wilbekin to serve as Isaiah Canaan’s back-up.
“It’s been a lifelong dream of mine to play in the NBA. To actually be fulfilling it, if it happens, I will be lost for words, realistically,” McConnell said at the end of Monday’s practice, which wrapped up about three hours before the final roster was officially announced. “It’s been a long process, and it’s been fun going against each other every day.“
Christian Wood, another player perceived to be on the roster bubble, landed a spot on the team as well. Like McConnell, Wood went undrafted this past spring; however, he performed well in the absences of Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor, showing a versatile ability to score inside and out.
The Sixers have again fielded a young roster. The average age of the team’s 15 players is approximately 24 years old.
In addition to Jackson and Wilbekin, Furkan Aldemir, Jordan McRae, and J.P. Tokoto were let go.
Below, check out a collection of capsules on the 15 Sixers that make up the Opening Night roster. The capsules feature a quick snapshot of each player’s pre-season, and a noteworthy quote from each player as well.
Canaan played in five of the Sixers’ seven exhibition games, missing back-to-back outings for rest during the second week of the pre-season. Canaan - who provide a perimeter threat at the point guard position - converted 10 of 33 triple attempts, while dishing out 21 assists against nine turnovers.
In Canaan’s Words - On desire to be Sixers’ Opening Night starting point guard (September 2015):
“It’s a dream of mine to be a lead guard for an NBA team.”
All in all, Covington, on the heels of a breakout first year with the Sixers, had a very solid pre-season, averaging 12.0 points per game, which ranked third on the team. Not surprisingly, he paced the Sixers with 15 pre-season three-pointers; he drained a team-best 167 triples last year. Covington was one of just three Sixers to appear in all seven exhibition games; however, he sustained a right knee MCL sprain in the final quarter of last Friday’s finale.
In Covington’s Words - On preparing for teams to be on alert for his three-point threat (October 2015):
“We’ve done it a lot this summer. Coaches have done a lot of work with me because they know how teams are going to play me. It’s just been more so a lot of upfakes and moving off dribbles. Creating not just for myself, and my teammates as well. Cause when teams run me off the line, that will just open up more for my teammates.”
Embiid’s story has been chronicled extensively. The third overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft will miss a second straight season due to an issue with the navicular bone in his right foot. In a recent radio interview on 97.5 FM The Fanatic, Brett Brown gave an update on Embiid, detailing Embiid’s approach to rehabbing his injury the second time around. “I think everything he tried to do, he’s doing better. Being meticulous wearing boots, not going overboard with any type of movements. What I see more than anything is just the hard reality stick that hit him, that there is no wiggle room any more. I feel very, very strong saying that I’m looking at a different person in regards to mindset and professionalism that he is approaching this all with. I’m proud of him. I feel like I know what can happen with him. He is the real deal.”
In Embiid’s Words - On being compared to Hakeem Olajuwon (June 2014):
“Obviously, everybody already knows that’s my idol. I love the way he played the game. I obviously want to have the same career like he had, be a Hall of Famer, but I’m excited and it motivates me every day when people say Hakeem Olajuwon, and he’s your idol, and it makes me want to work harder. I’m going to do everything to have a great career, healthy, and just take care of myself, and do some damage in the NBA.
Like JaKarr Samspon, and a handful of other Sixers, Grant made a point of getting back to the Philadelphia area in the middle of May for the start of the team’s off-season workouts. This time a year ago, Grant was in the midst of recovering from ankle and foot injuries that cost him the entire pre-season, and almost all of November. Now healthy, and having 65 games’ experience on his NBA resume, Grant - a hybrid swingman option - was steady during the exhibition slate. He logged six games, reaching double-figure points three times, and pulling down at least six boards three times as well.
In Grant’s Words - On belief that Sixers can compete for playoff spot (September 2015):
“We’re a team that’s getting better. I think it’s definitely possible to get to the playoffs. That’s one of the goals that we set out for the summer. Definitely more confident. This year, we’re going out and trying to win as many games possible. I think this year, we’re going to have a good season, a lot better season.”
Despite turning just 22 years old on October 19th, Richaun Holmes has already experienced some of life’s more notable milestones. He got married over the summer, and recently became a first-time father. On the court, Holmes - the first draft pick from Bowling Green since 1997 - has flashed intriguing potential, showing that he can both score and defend at the rim. He also demonstrated an ability to step outside the lane and knock down jumpshots (4-10 3fg).
In Holmes’ Words - On the smoothest and hardest parts of transitioning to NBA (October 2015):
“The flow of the game. The game flows so well, it's kind of easy picking things up as you go because it's all in the flow of the game. Lots of room to create things, and that sort. Just learning this system here in Philly, and just getting all the plays down in the system has been a little challenging. But, it's definitely coming along great right now.”
Landry - at 32 years old, and eight years in the NBA under his belt - has not been able to get on the court during the pre-season. He had surgery on his right wrist over the summer, and his cast was removed prior to the start of training camp. In July, Landry was picked up from Sacramento along with Nik Stauskas. The Sixers are his fifth different NBA. He has averaged 10.9 points and 5.0 rebounds over 477 career games.
In Landry’s Words - On impressions of a relatively young Sixers team (September 2015):
“I understand that this is a young team, but the sky is the limit. I played right away when I was a rookie. I think everybody on this team can play. I think if we come in, compete, work hard, pay attention to detail, you just never know. And I’m happy to be a part of that, and definitely excited about being a leader on this team.”
Like Wroten, Marshall has spent the pre-season working his way back from a right knee ACL injury. Marshall suffered his tear in January as well, two days after Wroten went down. Prior to the start of the Sixers’ pre-season camp, Brett Brown succinctly stated that Marshall can “pass the hell out of it.” Marshall has averaged 13.1 assists per 100 possessions over the course of 130 career NBA games (for the sake of comparison, Los Angeles Clippers’ point guard has averaged 14.5 assists per 100 possessions for his career).
In Marshall’s Words - On tone he will try to set with Sixers (September 2015):
“It’s got to be leadership. I don’t want to say three to four years makes me a veteran, but everything I’ve been through that makes me a veteran. Kind of just showing guys how to be pros.”
It was clear that McConnell had a fan in Brett Brown the day after the Pittsburgh, PA native made his pre-season debut against the Cleveland Cavaliers on October 8th. The Sixers pulled off an absurd comeback in that game, and McConnell’s hard-nosed second-half effort proved to be a major factor in the outcome. Later in the pre-season, he generated a 10-point, 10-assist double-double versus the Washington Wizards. Like Brown, McConnell is the son of his high school head coach.
In McConnell’s Words - On underdog mindset (October 2015):
“My thing is, no matter how tall, big, fast you are, if you get the job done, you get the job done, and that’s it.”
By all accounts, Noel had a very positive second pre-season with the Sixers. He ranked second on the team in scoring, with 12.2 points per game, and lead the club with 8.6 rebounds per game. He also generated two double-doubles. As has been widely discussed, the areas of focus surrounding Noel this season will be his transition from center to power forward, and his ability to create an effective frontcourt partnership with rookie center Jahlil Okafor.
In Noel’s Words - On having chance to play with Jahlil Okafor (October 2015):
“He’s a big body, and he’s savvy. Playing with someone like that is a whole different ball game than playing with just someone my size. Someone who knows the game, and can feel the game out. Jah is definitely that. I think it brings us to a new level.”
Arguably facing more scrutiny than any other Sixer this season, Okafor acquitted himself well during the pre-season. Aside from a two-point showing in the first of two meetings with the Nets, the Duke product deposited at least 12 points in each of his other five exhibition contests. Okafor shot 38.6 percent from the field in the pre-season. What might have been most encouraging, however, was that he converted eight of nine free throw attempts, after making just 13 of 32 free throw tries during the summer league.
In Okafor’s Words - On excitement heading into first NBA season (October 2015):
“Just the opportunity to play against the best players every night. It’s the ideal situation for me to see how good I can be playing against the best guys that play my sport, so I’m most excited about that.”
After earning himself a regular role in the Sixers’ rotation last year as an undrafted rookie free agent, Sampson wasted little time preparing for his sophomore NBA season. He was one of several players that reported back to Philadelphia for the team’s off-season program on May 18th, the earliest possible date. In addition to focusing on defense (his calling card) during the spring and summer, Sampson also devoted time to working on his offense, particularly his three-point shot.
In Sampson’s Words - On giving the Sixers floor balance with defensive presence (October 2015):
“[Defense] is why I’m here. That’s why I get the playing time I get is my defense, being able to play against some of the best, and compete, and make it hard on some of the best players in the NBA. I want to be that guy who can shut down or make it tougher on great players,” said Sampson, identifying LeBron James and Joe Johnson, Brooklyn’s veteran sharpshooter, as two of his favorite players to guard. “I want to be that guy, and take pride in that. Coach sees that, and we’re going to work on it, and continue to get better.”
Acquired in a trade with the Sacramento Kings the second week of July, Stauskas - originally taken eighth overall in the June 2014 NBA Draft - represents one of the five lottery picks currently on the Sixers’ roster. He managed to finish to his rookie season strong, posting 6.6 points and converting 42.1 percent from three-point territory over his final 22 games. Stauskas then carried that momentum over into a busy summer, during which he averaged 12.3 points and shot 50.0 percent on triples while playing for Team Canada at the FIBA Americas Championship. The Michigan product recently returned to practice after being sidelined for the first three weeks of the pre-season with a right knee stress reaction.
In Stauskas’ Words - On making most of time while rehabbing injury (October 2015):
“It’s been good because I’ve got to watch a lot. I’ve got to see what coach likes, what he doesn’t like. I’ve got to see the style of play and the kind of shots we get in our offense, the defense and how that kind of works. Also, I’ve been able to just work out and lift weights while the team’s practicing a lot, so I feel like I’ve gotten stronger, put a little size on my upper body, which is great.”
The longest-tenured member of the Sixers, Thompson has emerged as a defacto, on-court, right hand man of sorts for Brett Brown. Yes, Thompson gives the Sixers a legitimate three-point threat, having shot over 40-percent from the perimeter over the course of his first two NBA seasons. He also, however, brings intangible value to Brown. Originally an undrafted rookie out of Georgetown, Thompson is as familiar with Brown as any player on the roster, and is viewed by the head coach as one of the gatekeepers of the team’s culture.
In Thompson’s Words - On having longest tenure of any player on Sixers’ roster (September 2015):
“It’s crazy to say that. I remember when I was trying to make the team I was just thinking I would love the opportunity to just practice with NBA players, and just get better. I’ve always wanted to the opportunity to just get better.”
Wood made the most of the additional playing time he received when frontcourt starters Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor were nursing injuries during the second week of the pre-season. His best showing was a 13-point, 10-rebound double-double against the Knicks on October 12th. Wood decided to leave UNLV after his sophomore season, during which he averaged 15.7 points and 10.0 rebounds.
In Wood’s Words - On mindset while spending pre-season with Sixers (October 2015):
“I worked every day, never gave up, kept pushing, doing what the coaches have said. I stayed with it, and I’m here, and trying to do what I can to be on the team.”
Wroten - averaging 16.9 points and 5.2 assists - was off to the best start of his three-year NBA career before partially tearing the ACL in his right knee in a January 13th game against the Atlanta Hawks. Wroten continues to follow his rehab routine, and is waiting to be cleared for live contact drills.
In Wroten’s Words - On approach to recovering from partial ACL tear in right knee (September 2015):
“It’s a process. Taking it one day at a time. When I’m ready, I feel like I’m going to have a great year. My personal timeline is when I’m not thinking about it no more, when I’m back to me, and I want to be able to play how I want to play, and not be restricted.”