Seltzer's Notebook: Sixers Among League Leaders in International Players

by Brian Seltzer
Sixers.com Reporter

Sixers’ Roster Reflects Game’s Growth
Tuesday evening, the NBA will begin its 71st season, with three games on the schedule. 

According to a press release issued by the league, never before have there been more players with international roots - 113 - on opening night rosters than this year. Furthermore, 41 countries and territories, excluding the United States, will be represented across the NBA.

In terms of personnel, the Sixers boast a strong international feel, laying claim to six players hailing from overseas. The group consists of Joel Embiid (Cameroon), Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot (France), Sergio Rodriguez (Spain), Dario Saric (Croatia), Ben Simmons (Australia), and Nik Stauskas (Canada).

“I think it’s different being in the States, being an NBA player, and not being an American,” Embiid said Tuesday. “There’s not a lot of us that get to do that, so it’s kind of special.”

The big man is one of 14 Africans who will be on an active roster to start the campaign.

The Sixers are tied with Dallas, Denver, Oklahoma City, Orlando, San Antonio, and Toronto for the second-highest number of international players among the NBA’s 30 teams. Utah has the heaviest international influence, with eight players holding citizenship abroad. 

Per Saric, a special camaraderie tends to exist in basketball circles among non-Americans, especially Europeans.

“Europe players always sometimes stick together,” he said. “Of course, we are proud, we are from Europe.” 

A member of Turkish Basketball Super League affiliate Anadolu Efes the past two years, Saric has a solid background in international hoops. Not only did he experience the Euroleague first-hand with Efes, he travelled to Brazil for this summer’s Olympic tournament in Rio as well. 

Saric is one of five Croatians to make a 2016 opening night roster.

“All Europe, we don’t have so much good players like United States,” said Saric. “I think it’s good for our basketball, and we have a good league, like Euroleague, and I think everybody’s happy because of that.”

Based on recent indications from Brett Brown, the Sixers could potentially have as many as three internationally-born players - Embiid, Rodriguez, and Saric - in the starting line-up Wednesday, when they host Oklahoma City.

Opening Night Frontcourt Notes
Between player availability and minute restrictions, there were multiple factors that Brett Brown had to manage this preseason in respect to his frontcourt rotation. At least for the time being, it appears as if a similar dynamic will carry over into the regular season.

Following Tuesday’s practice in Camden, New Jersey, the fourth-year head coach gave an update on his opening night plans for the Sixers’ big men. Of note is that Joel Embiid has already been “locked in” for 20 minutes, and the specifics for Jahlil Okafor’s playing time remain under review. 

“You’ll intermittently sub that,” Brown said, referring to Embiid and Okafor, “and Richaun Holmes will make up the rest. The five-spot is locked in with those three. 

“I feel like [Wednesday], we’ll be able to better figure out how many four-minute sections does Jahlil actually get.”

Last Friday, Okafor logged nearly eight minutes in the Sixers’ pre-season finale in Miami. The appearance was his first since February 28th, when he began experiencing right knee pain. 

Nerlens Noel is unavailable, as a result of left knee soreness. He underwent elective surgery on Thursday

Ben Simmons, of course, is sidelined, too. Dario Saric is the projected starting four-man for Wednesday’s tilt versus the Thunder, but beyond that, the Sixers will be turning to a few of their combo-forwards, such as Jerami Grant, for depth.  

“In my heart of heart, I think he’s more of a ‘three’ than a ‘four,’” Brown said about Grant. “We put him over at a four because we have to right now." 

Brown also allowed for the possibility that Robert Covington could be used at power forward in certain situations.

More on Okafor
Since returning to game action on the final day of the preseason, Jahlil Okafor’s status, namely that of his rehabbed right knee, has been a closely-monitored storyline.

He’ll learn the specifics of his role for opening night - playing time allotment, substitution patterns - the day of the game, but came off the practice courts Tuesday feeling encouraged.

“I went through the entire practice again, no issues,” Okafor said. “I feel fine right now. I feel really good about my knee.”

In fact, Okafor said his knee is feeling as good as it has at any point since he underwent surgery to repair his meniscus. The third pick from the 2015 draft has his focus zeroed in on Oklahoma City. 

“I’ll probably be nervous, excited, I’ll have a lot of family there, so that’s always fun,” he said. “It’s like another debut for myself, since I haven’t played in so long.”

Okafor’s previous regular season appearance was a 26-point effort on February 28th in Orlando.

“It doesn’t feel like it’s been less than a year. It feels like a very long time, so I’m really excited to be back out there.” 

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