Notebook | Assessing Preseason Following China Farewell

by Brian Seltzer
Sixers.com Reporter

Preseason Thoughts

Had the final quarter of Monday’s 115-112 loss to the Dallas Mavericks gone differently, the 76ers would have been heading home from the NBA China Games 2018 with a perfect record in exhibition play – a feat that would have marked a first in the Brett Brown coaching era.

And while no one would ever contend that a strong preseason a league champion makes, that the Sixers were generally successful over the past two weeks should count for something.

With the core from last year’s 52-win team still largely intact, there certainly seemed to be carryover – signs of the coveted “corporate knowledge” dynamic Brett Brown so often alludes to – in terms of style of play.

As of Tuesday morning, the Sixers ranked tenth in the preseason in net rating (6.7), tenth in defense (102.2 defrtg), fourth in assist percentage (67.3), and ninth in 3-pointers per 100 possessions (10.7). Brown, of course, preaches passing, defense, and spacing.

The club’s chemistry appears to be in a good place, too.

But for as much as the Sixers’ pre-season performance was in line with Brown’s expectations, he knows that rotation and personnel matters still need to be determined.  

“I think in general, it’s going to take a little bit of time, a little while to get into a rhythm, as it should,” the head coach said Monday, when asked to assess the preseason.

Specifically, Joel Embiid thinks, on defense.

The Sixers’ finished the previous campaign with the third-best defensive rating in the league (103.8). However, during training camp, the team began started to install some new wrinkles that revolved around helping keep the 7-foot All-Star at the rim.  

“There’s a lot to work with, and everybody’s a willing learner,” said Embiid, “so I’m excited for the season.”

Brown concurred.

“I think that the guys’ effort and attitude is incredible.”

Embiid Excellent in Preseason

Speaking of effort and attitude, of all the ways that Joel Embiid dazzled and dominated this preseason, his buy-in to those two particular areas just might have been what encouraged Brett Brown the most.

Yes, the numbers Embiid put up in exhibition action were great. Appearing in each of the Sixers’ four contests, he averaged 23.0 points per game, which, as of Tuesday morning, was good for third in the NBA. His 92 total points were an NBA-high.

Embiid also shot 53.8 percent from the field (81.3% from inside five feet), and accounted for 8.5 rebounds per game.

When looking ahead to a season in which Embiid hopes to make an MVP bid, Brown has referred to the 24-year old’s ambitions in the context of being the Sixers’ “most valuable person.”

To-date, Embiid has lived up to the billing.

“Where I get most excited is,” Brown said Monday, “his leadership and his maturity have been excellent.”

Take, for example, Embiid’s reaction to Monday’s loss to the Dallas Mavericks. There was perspective, but also some pain after the Sixers came up short in a back-and-forth battle that featured seven ties and 14 lead changes.

“Me personally, every time I step on the court, I want to win, and my teammates also feel the same way,” said Embiid.

“That’s the mindset you want to have. It doesn’t matter if it’s preseason or not – you got to want to get better, and get the win.”

Exactly the type of talk Brown wants to hear.   

“Joel’s attitude, along with his health and performance, is a tremendous package to start the season.”

Departing, With Appreciation

For as fast-paced as the Sixers’ week-long trek to the Far East was, players were paying attention to the details, and soaking up every aspect of the experience.

Just about everywhere the team went, throngs of passionate, supportive Chinese hoop heads followed.

“I think the most amazing thing to me was just coming into the hotel and leaving, and there were big fans there every day, no matter what time it was, just because they really appreciate the players,” Ben Simmons said. “It was great that we have an event like this, come and play the game we and everyone else loves, really show our game and skill, and the fans here be appreciative of it.”

Simmons, not surprisingly, was one of the Sixers, along with Joel Embiid and Markelle Fultz, who were in highest demand for autographs and selfies.  

“The atmosphere at the hotel, the games, and walking around – the love we got has been amazing, something I’ve never seen before,” said Embiid. “I’m really grateful, and we all really appreciate it.”  

Brett Brown believes the Sixers’ journey halfway around the world could serve as a positive springboard for the new season.

“I think that this trip brought us together,” he said, “and I’m really excited to coach this team.”