Sixers media luncheon recap: Everything from Embiid to defensive assignments

The Philadelphia 76ers had their fifth annual media luncheon on Wednesday afternoon. The media took full opportunity to get all of the information that they could get about everything from Joel Embiid’s health to the defensive assignments to who will be running the point on offense. Sports Are Philly writer Matt Gregan compiled notes, tweets, and quotes about everything that went down at Wednesday’s media luncheon. 

On Joel Embiid’s health and any restrictions on him for this season

Joel Embiid had a magical rookie season last year after missing the first two years of his career due to foot injuries. However, he wound up missing most of the season due to a partially torn meniscus. That left many questions about Embiid’s availability going into this season. As of right now, he is not able to participate in the 5-on-5.

Head coach Brett Brown, when asked about when Embiid will be able to play 5-on-5, couldn’t give a direct answer to the reporters.

However, Embiid is looking healthy and showing major signs towards being ready to play 5-on-5.

“If you walk in the gym, it looks like he could play 5-on-5 basketball,” general manager Bryan Colangelo said, via CSNPhilly’s Gordie Jones. “But we’re going to take our cues from the people who know best.”

The Sixers medical staff is being run by newly hired president of athletic care, Dr. Daniel Medina. Medina is currently favoring what Colangelo phrased as “a hyper-conservative progression”.

“There is a plan in place,” Colangelo said, “and it’s a progression-based plan. It’s criteria-based, and as he’s checking off boxes, and continues to jump over each and every successive item, then we’ll put him out there on the floor. There’s no timetable. There’s no scheduled number of minutes. There is no decision on back-to-backs. All of that is yet to be determined. This really is about creating an opportunity for him to have long-term sustainable health, not to get ready for the first preseason game per se, or the second preseason game. Again, that progression is going to lead to hopefully a full season of competitive basketball, without restriction. That’s the goal.”

The Sixers preseason begins Oct. 4 against Memphis at the Wells Fargo Center, and everyone is hoping to see Embiid out there on the court. However, Colangelo says that that doesn’t matter very much.

“It’s not about being ready for the first practice or the first game,” Colangelo said. “And he will be out there for the first practice and the first game. The question is how much, how little, if at all. Those things will be determined by certain criteria along the way.”

Colangelo also said, via Philly.com’s Keith Pompey that Embiid is “doing a lot on the court. More so than you would imagine based on some of the dialogue we are having today.”

While the primary focus is on Embiid’s health, the question of extending his contract will also be coming into play within the next year. Colangelo is “cautiously optimistic” that he can extend Embiid’s contract before Oct. 16, the NBA’s deadline for extending players on their rookie deals.

Who is going to have the point guard duties?

Sixers coach Brett Brown said once again that he plans to use Ben Simmons as his point guard this season. He also added, via CSNPhilly’s Gordie Jones that Markelle Fultz will not be excluded from “decision-making and point guard-type of responsibilities this season”.

“Once the ball is missed and you have sort of jailbreak, Markelle’s going to be in (the) open court with the ball,” Brown said, via CSNPhilly’s Gordie Jones. “He will be at that point one of the primary ballcarriers. When it’s a static situation and you’ve got to run a play at the start of the year, Ben Simmons will have the ball. … At the start of the game and it’s a dead ball, we’re going to give Ben the ball.”

On Ben Simmons

Brett Brown also said, via CSNPhilly’s Gordie Jones, that Simmons is “an elite passer”, as well as a guy who has “jaw-dropping speed”.

“He’s (Ben Simmons) playing 5-on-5 and dominating the gym,” Sixers general manager Bryan Colangelo said, via CSNPhilly’s Gordie Jones.

One of Simmons’ only weaknesses is that he struggles to shoot the ball from outside. Brett Brown said, via Sixers.com’s Brian Seltzer, that the team’s shooting coach, John Townsend, traveled to Australia multiple times over the offseason to work with Simmons on his shooting ability. Brown also said that a key objective for Simmons this season is to not be afraid to take shots, and that the anticipation is that other teams will sag off of Simmons and let him take jump shots.

However, Simmons makes up for his lack of shooting ability with his ability to drive to the rim and draw fouls. Simmons should be able to get to the line often due to his aggressiveness paired with the ability to drive the rim.

Simmons, the number one overall pick in the 2016 draft, missed all of last season due to a broken bone in his foot. There were questions going into this season on whether or not he will be on any type of minutes restrictions going into this season. Well, to the relief of Sixers fans around the world, Philly.com’s Keith Pompey reported that there will be no restrictions for Simmons this season.

The Sixers starting lineup and defensive assignments

Philly.com’s Keith Pompey reported that Dario Saric is going to start out the upcoming season as the team’s sixth man, while Robert Covington will be in the starting lineup.

However, it isn’t quite as simple as just having Saric be the team’s sixth man. Saric possesses a boatload of talent, and can be used at almost any position at any time.

“His gift of basketball intellect is high, and so when you say where does he fit in, I’m saying anywhere we want,” head coach Brett Brown said, via CSNPhilly’s Gordie Jones. “Where does he fit in to start games, end games, I don’t know. I just know that in my opinion, that’s probably the Rookie of the Year (last season), and his skill package and his toughness and his intellect will be fit in where it’s needed most — in a timely fashion, we believe.”

The Sixers will be attempting to play positionless basketball, meaning that they are attempting to make other teams figure out how to stop them instead of putting the primary focus on defending other teams. A byproduct of this is that the defensive assignments for the Sixers starters are not as simple as having each position guard their position on defense.

On Markelle Fultz

Playoff Talk

When asked by NBA.com’s Ian Thomsen, general manager Bryan Colangelo originally said, “Forecasting that would definitely, I believe, be unrealistic. But hoping for that? It’s on everybody’s mind.”

On Wednesday’s media luncheon, Colangelo revisited talk of the playoffs.

“I don’t think it’s unrealistic to want to be in the playoffs, or have a goal to be in the playoffs,” Colangelo said, via CSNPhilly’s Gordie Jones. “That is our goal, but (there are) things you have to look at with respect to the situation we find ourselves in. I think it’s premature to throw anything out with respect to a number (of victories) or any goal, but I would say our objective is to make the playoffs.”

There has been a lot of excitement about this Sixers team going into the season, and head coach Brett Brown realizes it too.

Brown knows that the team is “in a different phase”, but he also knows how hard it can be to take the step up from losing to winning games and making the playoffs. Going into the season, he is going to try to control the excitement, which partly stems from the players themselves, for this season.

“I really don’t say anything to them about tempering expectations,” he said, via CSNPhilly’s Gordie Jones. “Then you’ve got to own it. … Words are one thing, actions are another.”

Figuring out how to coach this team

The Sixers are still shopping Jahlil Okafor

Jahlil Okafor has been fighting for a spot on this team ever since he was drafted third overall in the 2015 draft. This year will be no different, as the team is still shopping trading him away. However, that isn’t going to affect how head coach Brett Brown coaches him.

“Bryan’s (Colangelo) going to do his job,” Brown said, via Philly.com’s Keith Pompey. “I’m going to coach him, and we are going to see what goes on with the rest of the league in relation to whatever else is out there. But I’m coaching him like he’s mine.”

Throughout the offseason, Okafor changed his diet and was able to lose 20 pounds. He should be quicker and in better cardio shape going into this year’s training camp.

“Jahlil’s effort to get back in shape and try to earn his way back into this team is respected,” Brown said.

Okafor will get “every opportunity to earn playing time”, Brown said. The backup center position is currently being fought over between Okafor, Richaun Holmes and free-agent signing Amir Johnson. With Embiid’s short-term future up in the air, there will certainly be a lot of minutes to go around between these three players.

Excitement for the upcoming season

Mandatory Photo Credit: Bill Streicher/USA TODAY Sports

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