I woke up on Friday morning looking forward to reading a lot of articles related to the last day of 76er training camp (I live on the west coast). I checked my twitter feed first, and saw that Ben Simmons rolled his ankle after stepping on Shawn Long’s foot in a scrimmage. An MRI was planned later in the day. So I figured it wasn’t bad, at least there is a chance he could play in the team’s preseason opener against the Boston Celtics, if not, no big deal, he will still play in the other preseason games.
Later in the day Brett Brown went on a Philadelphia radio station and said that the starting lineup for the first preseason game would be Jerryd Bayless, Gerald Henderson, Robert Convington, Ben Simmons, and Joel Embiid. It doesn’t mean that was going to be the final starting 5 heading into the regular season, but fans were going to see two of their lottery picks from the last three years start together in action.
More excitement was stirred up with so many reports from media members who have been attending training camp in the last week about how Brett Brown essentially had the majority of the offense run through Simmons, from the post, at the top of the key as an actual point guard, and pushing the ball in transition.
So at the very least I thought we were going to see that at some point in the preseason.
Literally, an hour later, news broke that Simmons fractured his foot, I was at work when the news came on my twitter feed and I put my hands over my face in disbelief. This will be the fourth year in a row where a top 76er lottery pick will miss a chunk (in some cases all) of the season because of injury.
There has been speculation as to what type of break Simmons sustained to the fifth metatarsal in his right foot, (and like many other Sixer fans, I went to WebMD trying to get my medical degree through the Internet in one hour), and while it hasn’t exactly been confirmed that it was a Jones Fracture, big men and foot injuries are a something that scares basketball fans everywhere.
Simmons will get surgery on his foot and numerous reports since have said that Simmons is expected to miss at least 3 months, so at least we all know he will be back at some point during the season. In the meantime, while we wait, here are some players to watch for throughout the preseason.
1. Nik Stauskus
Sauce Castillo is entering his third year and it’s most likely a do-or-die scenario for his preseason. His rookie season with the Sacramento Kings was not great relative to his lottery draft status, and you can attribute some of that to a myriad of things, such as… well.. he was a part of the Sacramento Kings. The 76ers basically gave up nothing in return from the trade to acquire Sauce and pick-swapping rights with the Kings for the 2015-16 and 2016-17 drafts. So while the Sixers wouldn’t exactly lose anything if Stauskus doesn’t pan out, the team would like to see him make strides and get somewhat of a gain from that trade.
To put it lightly, Stauskus was not good in the 2015-2016 season, he played better after the all-star break but his numbers and overall production was nowhere near the level of a second year player drafted 8th overall. Stauskus had the reputation of being a shooter with size, qualities that are the most translatable to the NBA, but he has been everything opposite of a knock down three point shooter. He shot 32.6% from 3 last season, and if you have a reputation as a shooter you need to atleast be shooting in the 38-40% range. If Stauskus doesn’t show out this preseason he could get cut of the final 15 man roster.
2. The 2014 first rounders
It has been a long two years in the making but we will finally get to see Joel Embiid and Dario Saric on the court for the 76ers, albeit in pre-season, it will be welcoming to see them on the court nonetheless. Ben Simmons injury stinks on a number of levels but it does open up more minutes for the Sixers bigs to play against NBA competition.
This will benefit Saric the most because he is basically a 6’10 and a less athletically gifted version of Simmons. He won’t bare the offensive responsibilities Simmons’ was supposed to handle, but you can at least do some of the same things.
I have well documented my excitement for Joel Embiid but this will be the first time in 2 years the man, the myth, the social media legend, will step on the court since his days at Kansas. It’s a day Embiid has said he has “worked his ass off” for and before the Simmons injury, he was the spotlight of training camp, taking away the spotlight from Simmons, the top overall pick. Part of that attention is that the mystery around Embiid the last 2 years has been as big as his actual size, and we will see the beginning of that mystery when he starts against the Celtics. He will be rusty, and I’m sure there will be times during the season were fans were overreact when Embiid doesn’t live up to the lofty expectations instantly. I’m just glad we get to see him on the court, because he was fun to watch in college.
3. TJ McConnell and the final roster spot
Last year, McConnell came to the team as an undrafted rookie out of Arizona, and during that time he proved to me that he belongs on an NBA roster. He may not be starter material, but he is a serviceable point guard that will do whatever is needed of the team. He won’t turn the ball over and he will make sure the team runs their offensive sets.
For the first time in four years a player on the Sixers roster will be fighting veterans for a roster spot. Gerald Henderson, Jerryd Bayless, and Sergio Rodriguez are proven talents and already have their spots locked up (they were the Sixers biggest free agent acquisitions of the summer), leaving McConnell as a bubble player, much like Stauskus and to some degree Hollis Thompson. Thompson will most likely stay on the roster because he has been arguably the best shooter on the team outside of Robert Covington for the last 2 seasons.
By my count 13 Roster spots are already locked up, which leaves two remaining spots available. McConnell will have to beat out one of Stauskus, Cat Barber, Brandon Paul and Shawn Long. If McConnell can’t break the 15 man roster this year, other teams in need of a serviceable and reliable back-up should look at McConnell because he is an NBA player.