GALLOWAY, N.J. — When the Philadelphia 76ers broke camp last year at Stockton, coach Brett Brown admitted he felt a bit unsettled. Now entering his fourth season on the Sixers’ bench, Brown has a much better view of what is his most talented team since arriving to Philadelphia.
“That was a frightening drive home (last year),” Brown told me as a guest of The Sports Bash on 97.3 ESPN radio. “Now what I see is there is depth, there is challenge position-wise, but there is talent, there are point guards, there is a sprinkle of some veterans, and it’s a completely different feeling that I have now that I did not have last year.”
Despite the fact most of the hype surrounds rookies Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons (more on him later) and Dario Saric, Brown is excited by the point-guard competition he has going on this season.
“It is a completely different sort of roster we have when it comes to the point-guard position,” Brown explained. “It was a challenge last year when we were trying to take some 2s and make them 1s. This year when you come in, you have Sergio Rodriguez, you have T.J. (McConnell) who’s improved dramatically over the year. At times, I put Ben at that position and it’s a very, very different than what we’ve been used to in the past, and so that flexibility is a lot of fun to coach.”
“We have so many young players that need to develop and know how to win,” admitted Rodriguez. The veteran point guard signed with the Sixers this offseason, and Brown considers him one of the best passing guards in Europe.
“We have a huge responsibility,” added Rodriguez.
While the point-guard position has more depth, Brown also stressed the relationship between his many big men, including Embiid, Jahlil Okafor and Nerlens Noel, who entered camp unhappy but didn’t carry that attitude out on the floor.
“The thing that I leave Stockton strongest about as it relates to Nerlens Noel is that he came to the camp with a professional attitude,” Brown stated. “He did not sulk. He competed. He needs to compete and come in and draw his own line in the sand. It is a competitive environment, as it should be. He handled it like a pro. I’m proud of him for handling it well and navigating his way through the logjam that we have.”
Noel got his first opportunity to play with Simmons, which could change a lot of players’ attitudes.
“His skill set on the offensive end, he is able to run that pick-and-roll or be in a pick-and-roll, drive defenders and find you, just a lot of things he is capable of, it opens up some things.”
Another big change at this year’s camp was seeing Embiid on the floor. While he has been in the building in years past, this season, while a bit rusty after missing the past two full seasons, he not only participated but stood out.
“He hasn’t played in a long time and he freely admits it,” Brown said. “I think most of that though is trumped by the fact that he is moving along well, and he’s an A-plus competitor. He loves basketball and competing at a high level.”
On a down note, there was some scary news waiting for Brown when he returned to Philadelphia. Simmons rolled his right ankle during the final scrimmage of the team’s training camp, and it was determined that he suffered a fracture of the fifth metatarsal bone of his right foot.
It’s unclear just how much time Simmons will miss, and considering Embiid’s injury history it was a ominous way for the team to break camp (no pun intended). But there still is plenty of optimism surrounding this team, due in large part to Embiid’s presence on the floor.
However, for Sixers fans who have vision of all this talent coming together and translating into victories right away, Brown throws some caution that way.
“I am always mindful that a large portion of our talent has never played one minute of NBA basketball or has never played together for that matter,” Brown warned. “So, I am careful to weigh my optimism.“
This is even more true now that Simmons will likely miss extended time. But for Sixers fans, if Embiid is on the floor opening night, win or lose, the team will have taken a big step in the right direction.