On the Beat: Point Guards Ready to Set Tempo

by Brian Seltzer
Sixers.com Reporter

The focus throughout the 76ers’ pre-season has understandably been on the team’s promising young frontcourt.  But, in order for Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor to maximize their effectiveness as a duo, especially on the offensive end of the floor, someone or - perhaps better put - some collection of players will have to get them the ball.

With the more seasoned Tony Wroten and Kendall Marshall each recovering from January ACL tears, the Sixers will turn to a pair of relatively green point guards at the start of the season.  Although Isaiah Canaan, the team’s top available point guard, is entering his third year in the NBA, he’s only appeared in a total of 69 games, 21 of which have been starts.   

T.J. McConnell, initially considered a darkhorse candidate to make the roster, won the competition to be Canaan’s back-up.

“I’m excited,” said Canaan, readying for his first Opening Night start.  “It’s the beginning of the new year.  We’ve been having a lot of different line-ups throughout the pre-season.  Now, we can find a core chemistry, and get it all together.”

Canaan topped the Sixers in scoring during exhibition play, averaging 13.0 points per game.  Perhaps the most eye-catching aspect of his pre-season box line was that he distributed 21 assists, and posted a 29.5 assist percentage.  He committed only 9 total turnovers.

“That’s one spot I was pretty pleased with,” said Canaan, referring to his assist-to-turnover ratio.  “Trying to keep my turnovers down.  That’s an area I want to watch throughout the season.  Keep the assists high, and turnovers down.”

As for McConnell, an undrafted prospect that stands 6’2,” 200 pounds, he represents another underdog story on the Sixers’ roster.

“That’s been the case for all of us.  We’ve been counted out in whatever we’ve done, and we just prove people wrong,” McConnell said.  “If people don’t believe we can do it, that’s their problem.  We can only control what we can control, and that’s what we do on the court.”

McConnell said his top priority will be to “just...run the team.”

“It’s all about pace in the NBA.  If you have good pace, and you know when to speed guys up, and slow them down.  The main thing is just playing at your own pace, and I think we’ve done a good job of that so far.”

Practice Points:

  • Nik Stauskas went through the entirety of Tuesday’s practice at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine.  It marked the first time he was a full participant since sustaining his right knee stress reaction on October 1st.

    “I would say about a week ago, week and a half ago, I started feeling good, like I could come back out on the floor, but it wasn’t as simple as that,” Stauskas said.  “They had to ease me into things.  I spent a lot of time on the [anti-gravity treadmill] AlterG.  I spent a lot of time going 50 percent through things.  It wasn’t until these last couple days that I got to go through things harder.”

    Brett Brown said Stauskas would be a game time decision for Wednesday’s regular season opener against the Celtics.

  • Christian Wood joined T.J. McConnell as the only two undrafted free agents from this year’s rookie class to make the Sixers’ final cut.  Woods’ journey has taken some dramatic turns.  Originally expecting to be drafted in the first round, he wound up getting passed over entirely. Woods then landed a Las Vegas Summer League gig with Houston, before signing a multi-year contract with the Sixers two weeks before the start of training camp.

    “It was a blessing,” Wood said about getting his first NBA opportunity.  He personally thanked Brett Brown, Sam Hinkie, and Delaware 87ers General Manager Brandon Williams this morning.  

    “[Since] draft day, I know more now about what I need to do.  Got to work hard, be here every day, be here early, gel with the guys, know the plays.  Bunch of little stuff.”

  • Like their NBA parent club, the Delaware 87ers - the Sixers’ Development League affiliate - announced an addition to their coaching staff.  Veteran European coach Andrea Mazzon will serve as an assistant to head coach Kevin Young.  

    Over the course of a career that began in 1985, Mazzon, according to his website, has won 58.0 percent of the games he’s coached, and has overseen 13 playoff seasons.  He’s received or been a finalist for his league’s coach of the year award seven times.

    “We’re proud to welcome Coach Mazzon to the 87ers family, as we continue to assemble a diversely skilled staff to promote a foundation of growth and development,” said Sevens General Manager Brandon Williams in a statement.  “This bolsters our approach to both training and game strategies.”

    Mazzon is 54 years old.