5 biggest takeaways from the Sixers' scrimmages


The Sixers wrapped up their three-game scrimmage slate with an overtime loss to the Mavericks. The team’s 1-2 record is irrelevant. 

What is relevant is how the Sixers played in those contests and what it means going into their first seeding game Saturday against the Pacers. 

There were dominant moments and encouraging signs throughout the scrimmages. Let’s take a look at a few takeaways ahead of the games that count in the standings.

The ascension of Ben Simmons

During the first two scrimmages, Ben Simmons looked like the best player on the floor. Sure, the three he hit in the Grizzlies game was good to see, but his overall play was excellent. He averaged 11.5 points, nine rebounds, nine assists and two steals in less than 25 minutes a game against Memphis and Oklahoma City.

While the move to the four seems like it could unlock more of Simmons’ potential and allow him to play more freely, there are going to be bumps along the way. Against the Mavericks, Simmons struggled from the field (2 of 10) and had just two assists in under 20 minutes. Simmons did have issues finishing around the basket, but the team’s horrendous shooting start — 26.3 percent in the first half — also hurt him.

That’s in stark contrast to the first two scrimmages where the Sixers shot the ball extremely well when their regulars were playing. Simmons has the ability to take over games, but to an extent that’s contingent on his teammates making shots.

Defensively, Simmons was exceptional in all three games. While he struggled offensively against Dallas, he was tasked with guarding potential MVP candidate Luke Doncic. Just like in their previous matchup, Simmons frustrated Doncic like few players can. Simmons has become one of the most dominant defensive players in the NBA.

Joel Embiid’s health

After just 13 minutes of action against Memphis, Embiid left the game with discomfort in his right calf. He then missed the final two scrimmages with what’s being described as right calf tightness. The team has said it’s precautionary and Brett Brown has repeated that message. Brown also said his expectation is that Embiid will be available for Saturday’s game.

It’s fair to be skeptical. Embiid’s health has been a constant issue since the Sixers drafted him. We’d heard about the great shape he’d kept himself in, working out six days a week. It’s understandable if you’re discouraged by his inability to play more than 13 minutes during the “preseason.”

But at the same time, the Sixers can’t take any chances. The injury occurred last Friday, meaning Embiid will have had a full week’s rest before Saturday’s game against Indiana. There is nothing more important to the Sixers' chances of a deep playoff run than Embiid’s health. 

It would’ve been great to see Embiid play in the scrimmages and build chemistry with a new starting five, but let’s be real, those scrimmages don’t matter in the big picture. What matters is Embiid being healthy and in shape for the playoffs. He’ll have eight seeding games to work with.

Shake Milton is going to be just fine

We all rightfully made a big deal about Shake Milton being inserted into the starting lineup as the team’s point guard. In the three scrimmages, Milton looked solid. Shooting is the biggest thing Milton brings to the table, and he hit 5 of 11 from three in three games. He also showed chemistry with Simmons, albeit in a very small sample size.

The level of intensity will elevate when the seeding games begin and be ratcheted up even more when the playoffs start. Aside from his shooting ability, the second-year guard’s poise is likely his biggest asset. Brown mentioned after the game against Oklahoma City that he expects teams to try to play the 23-year-old aggressively in an effort to speed him up.

“The physicality today I thought equaled what you’d see from the Celtics or Toronto as an example,” Brown said. “And I think he’s coming around from that perspective, dealing with the physicality things and still getting us into things, I think well. And he’s going to have to. To be the sort of starting point guard with a team that’s pretty good, there’s a hell of lot of responsibility in that role.”

If we’ve learned anything about Milton, it’s that he’s tough to rattle. He’s passed this early test. Now, eight more await him before the postseason begins.

Bully ball defense

Coming into the season, Brown talked about playing “bully ball defense.” This roster was built to form a defensive identity, perhaps sacrificing an offensive identity in the process.

In all three scrimmages, the Sixers were stingy. During the first half of those games — when the regulars were playing — the Grizzlies (28.6), Thunder (36.7) and Mavericks (35.6) all struggled from the field against the Sixers. Dallas is one of the best three-point shooting teams in the NBA, currently sitting second in both makes and attempts per game. The Sixers, who allow the fewest makes and attempts per game in the league, held them to 5 of 17 in the first half and 7 of 26 through three quarters.

“We played pretty good defense when we had our core players in the game,” Brown said postgame Tuesday. “I think the first three periods of each of the games, I like what I’m seeing with our defense.”

Even with Milton in the starting lineup, the offense may still look clunky at times with a lack of shot creators. As Brown likes to say, defense is where his team’s bread will be buttered.

Winging it

There’s still going to be competition for wing minutes going forward, but Matisse Thybulle and Glenn Robinson III really seemed to separate themselves from the rest of the group.

Thybulle, who leads all rookies in steals this season, continued his disruptive ways, collecting eight steals in three scrimmages. Thybulle’s on-ball defense has also been excellent at times this season. The concerns will be with discipline and making shots. Thybulle committed just two fouls in the first two scrimmages but had five against the Mavericks. His shot was a little off (3 of 12 from three), but Thybulle can make such a big impact even when his shot isn’t falling.

“Part of his evolution, and it needs to be a quick evolution — I think he’s doing great — is just trying to be wiser,” Brown said Tuesday, “trying to be aware of clock situations or bonus situations where you’ve got to be a little bit more sort of patient with things evolving.

"And I think that he plays at such a pace and a speed, and for the most part he really does create havoc and good things happen, but I feel like with Luka or just his experience playing right before players come around, all those things add up to give me more confidence.”

As for Robinson, who missed Tuesday’s scrimmage with a left hip pointer, Brown has praised him throughout camp and the first two scrimmages. Robinson was extremely active against Memphis and Oklahoma City and he shot the ball well (3 of 4 from three). His athleticism has stood out, whether it’s on the fast break or as a cutter or hustling after loose balls.

Some questions need to be answered in the rotation, but Thybulle and Robinson should be a part of it.

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