After a week of work at their practice facility in Camden, New Jersey, the Sixers will play their first exhibition game of the 2021-22 season on Monday night.
Before the team’s preseason opener against the Raptors in Toronto, here are our observations on Day 5 of training camp:
An active leader
The Sixers concluded practice Sunday with fast-paced, high-energy three-man drills. The largest, most important player on the team, Joel Embiid, wasn’t exempt.
In years past, the Sixers have often been cautious in managing Embiid’s practice workload, seeking to minimize the risk of injury and unnecessary stress on his body. But even after Embiid suffered a small right lateral meniscus tear in last year’s playoffs, he hasn’t taken it easy.
Head coach Doc Rivers has been impressed by Embiid’s leadership.
“He’s been great,” Rivers said. “Everything — what he’s saying, what he’s doing. What we talked about this summer is you’ve got to do them both. You can’t do one and not the other. And he’s done everything. He’s missed very few reps in practice, if any. … Joel’s been in 98 percent of the practice (reps). And that’s been good. That’s leadership. So he’s really doing a lot of things that we need him to do.”
With Ben Simmons holding out of camp, the trio of Embiid, Tobias Harris and Danny Green are clearly the three most prominent Sixers leaders.
“We’ve had numerous conversations about our focus this year and where we want to go,” Harris said of Embiid. “For him, he’s talking a lot more to different guys — pulling guys to the side — so you’re just seeing him evolve as a player, not only on the court but also off the court, communication-wise. I think that’s a big key for his growth and our team growth, as well.”
Embiid (rest) is listed as out for Monday's game. Rivers said Saturday he doesn't expect to play any of Embiid, Seth Curry, Harris or Green in every preseason game.
Growth through grit
Until there’s some sort of finality with Simmons, it’s tricky to discern much about this year's Sixers.
That said, Rivers has one season’s worth of basketball to analyze. And, while he has desired schematic and stylistic tweaks, there are also less tangible concepts on his mind.
He was asked Sunday about the Sixers’ identity.
“I don’t know,” Rivers said. “I loved our team last year. (Identity is) a tough word because the mental toughness and the grit, we showed it a lot, but that’s where I want us to grow. I want us to be that team. ... I go back to last season and at the end of the season, each coach, we put down which are the two grittiest teams mentally. And it was Milwaukee and Phoenix. That doesn’t mean it always happens, but I didn’t think that was a coincidence last year.
“I thought that when we played (the Suns) in Phoenix we were tired, but I just thought they mentally beat us that game; they didn’t play well. I thought a lot of that was our defense, but we couldn’t finish the game. I just thought they (ground) us down by the end of it. Milwaukee, the game here you remember was (without) Joel, but we played terrific in that game. But by the end, we gave in. That’s the area I want to see us grow in.”
The Sixers squandered a 19-point advantage to the eventual champion Bucks in that March loss. They blew an 18-point lead and then a 26-point lead in consecutive playoff games against the Hawks, stunning collapses that sure support Rivers’ assertion the team can become mentally tougher.
Close to a full crew
The Sixers have no known health problems at the moment.
However, rookie center Charles Bassey won’t be with the team in Toronto. The Sixers are finalizing Bassey’s work visa, per a team official, and the 20-year-old is not expected to miss any additional time related to the visa issue.
Bassey joined the Sixers this August in Las Vegas but didn’t play in summer league. He didn’t sign his rookie contract — a three-year deal with Year 1 fully guaranteed and Year 2 partially guaranteed — until a few days before training camp.
“I don’t know the impact,” Rivers said. “It has to have one. … Not playing this game doesn’t matter one way or the other, to be honest. He’s had all the practices and he’s going to miss one game, so I don’t think that matters except for he needs to get into a game. And so he will. There’s nothing he can do about this. This is stuff that happens with travel. So it’s not a big deal.”
It’s likely not essential for Bassey to be fully ready for NBA playing time on Day 1 of the regular season. He isn't high on the Sixers’ depth chart.
Still, preseason minutes are always nice for non-veterans, and many young Sixers besides Bassey should receive them Monday night.