Sixers training camp observations: Bench success, Joel Embiid dismissing the scale, more

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Early bench success, tossing out the scale in Sixers camp observations originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

For the first time this training camp, the Sixers are off on Friday. 

They held their third practice Thursday. The unquestionable story of the day was Joel Embiid’s extended thoughts on Ben Simmons’ holdout (and more), but below are three observations on other matters: 

2s greater than the 1s (for now) 

By all accounts, the Sixers’ second unit impressed during the first three days of camp. 

“The blue (team) was phenomenal — the second group — today,” Sixers head coach Doc Rivers said. “They dominated practice today. And white struggled today, which happens early in training camp. Shake (Milton) and (Furkan Korkmaz) and Matisse (Thybulle), (Andre) Drummond and Georges (Niang), that group, they’re having a hell of a camp right now.”

One of the two bench newcomers, Niang hasn’t found acclimation difficult. 

“Obviously training camp is training camp, right? But I think we’ve done a good job of really being on a string on defense,” Niang said. “And we’ve done a great job of moving the ball offensively. Any time you can put those two things together, that’s going to make for a good recipe, especially to winning. Obviously me and Dre are new but Shake, Furk, Matisse, they’re such easy-going guys. To blend in with them and be successful, they’ve made it very simple.”

Just about everyone who’s been asked about Niang has commented on his intelligence as a player. He’s low-maintenance, too, content to stand in the corner and give his teammates space if that’s what’s best for the group.

It sounds like Rivers is encouraging him to do more offensively than in Utah, where Niang often played in lineups with multiple Jazz ball handlers, among them Mike Conley, Jordan Clarkson and Joe Ingles. 

“You can trust him to bring the ball up in transition, get us into something,” Thybulle said of Niang. “Good passer. He’s a smart player. He spaces the floor really well and it makes it easier for guys like Shake and Furk to get in the lane. And he’s willing to make extra passes, and also he’s a great shooter."

The downside of the Sixers’ bench outplaying the team’s starters is what it says about the first unit. However, it’s not remotely surprising that Tyrese Maxey’s adjustment to a true point guard role is taking time, or that it hasn’t been effortless for the other four starters to play next to a 20-year-old. 

Throw the scale out the window 

Embiid looks to be in good physical condition and said at media day he has “no problem” with his right knee after suffering a small lateral meniscus tear last postseason.

His opinion of the scale is likely relatable to a lot of non-athletes, though.  

“I don’t know,” he said. “I don’t get on the scale. It’s not good for my mental health.”

Whatever he weighs, the impression is Embiid has opened camp in a solid place as far as health and fitness. Given his gargantuan value to the team, that’s always an area that will be closely scrutinized. 

“I just kept doing whatever I did last year," he said. “Like I said at the beginning of last year, I kind of started focusing more on my body, whether it’s the nutritionist, chefs, all the little stuff — PT and all that stuff. And last year I started probably two or three weeks before the season, and it helped a lot. 

“So that was something that you see the results, how I was able to go through the whole season, and the only thing that happened was probably the freak injury. But other than that, I felt pretty good. So I just wanted to keep on going, because I guess it’s working. I just kept on going. But I’m not where I want to be. Still working my way back up but by the first game, I should be all good.”

Another interesting segment from Embiid’s absorbing session with reporters was his perspective on why he plans to attempt more three-pointers this season.

The Sixers ranked 26th last year in three-point frequency, per Cleaning the Glass. They were 21st and 20th in the two seasons prior. Embiid made a career-high 37.7 percent of his long-distance tries and was also an excellent mid-range shooter. 

“Well, I shot about five today and I was 0 for 5, so that’s not good,” he said. “But I’m not going to stop. I think it’s just about looking at last year, and specifically that Game 7. You could feel every time they hit a three — Trae (Young) or Kevin Huerter, one of those guys, (Bogdan) Bogdanovic — it felt like the game just changed. Being on the court, it’s a killer when you play good defense and someone hits a three. So it hurts a lot.

“And I feel like as a team, we gave up opportunities a lot. … As far as myself, I just feel like I’m pretty open most of the time, especially from three, because obviously that’s a shot they want to give me. They don’t want me to get inside that three-point line. But outside of that, I’m usually pretty wide-open.

“I just want to take advantage of it and help the team. I feel like over the years, probably except my first two years here playing when we had JJ (Redick) and Marco (Belinelli) — we used to launch threes and shoot a lot of them — and then I feel like since then, we haven’t taken advantage of it. It has to be on all of us, not necessarily (just) me. Seth (Curry) has to shoot; he’s a great shooter, one of the best ever. He has to shoot way more. Tobias (Harris) definitely, he’s just got to let it fly. And then obviously we’ve got Danny (Green), who’s not afraid to let it fly. But I think as a team, we just need to shoot more of them.”

Where could Reed slide in?

Paul Reed replaced Embiid at center for a few of the late-practice possessions that reporters were able to watch. 

That certainly doesn’t mean Reed is set to be a spot starter, though it’s apparent Rivers sees promise in the reigning G League MVP. 

“He’s going to be valuable because listen, Joel’s not going to play every night, and that’s when you slide Drummond in,” Rivers said. “And we’re going to play someone at the five. I want someday for him to be a four but right now in his career, he’s probably a small five. He can rebound the heck out of the ball, he has great speed and he’s learning the game.”

With veterans ahead of him on the Sixers’ depth chart at both frontcourt spots, Reed has no obvious path to consistent minutes. Nevertheless, it would be a stunner if only 10 Sixers received regular-season opportunities. 

“He’s got to beat someone out, No. 1,” Rivers said. “He’s got Drummond in front of him. So that’s always the first thing. The second thing is just learning the game — learning the five, being able to talk on defense, understanding the sets, what you’re looking for. But what I do like about him is he just has a nose for the ball, finds the ball. If there’s a loose ball, if there’s an offensive rebound, Paul Reed’s going to try to get it. The biggest thing I love about him is he’s not scared of anybody. He’s going to compete. He doesn’t care who you are, he’s going to go after you.

“But today he was a foul magnet. He had three fouls in a 30-second stint today in the scrimmage, and so he’ll have to learn how to back off. Guys are so clever. Joel, when he wants to, can draw a foul. But (Reed) will get that, too. He will.”

Reed is not short on ambition. At media day, he said his goals for Year 2 are to help the Sixers win a championship, make the Rising Stars Challenge and shoot at least 45 percent from three-point range.