The Philadelphia 76ers won their preseason opener behind strong outings from Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons.
After another long offseason, the Philadelphia 76ers are finally back. The (pre)season started on a high note, with Brett Brown’s squad blowing through Melbourne United in swift fashion. The reigning NBL champions hung around at times, but the game was never close.
Ben Simmons led the charge with eight points, eight rebounds and 14 assists, using his athleticism to get to the rim and attack at will. He didn’t shoot any jumpers, but he didn’t really need to. Melbourne had approximately zero players capable of matching up with him.
The same can be said for Joel Embiid, who took Alex Pledger — Melbourne’s 7-foot-1 center — to town at the rim. The big fella tallied 17 points and 10 boards in 23 minutes.
The Sixers played their regular rotation through three quarters before dipping into the reserves for the fourth quarter.
Fultz was energetic early on, playing strong defense and scoring off dimes from Ben Simmons. In the third quarter, he hit both free throw attempts and knocked down a mid-range jumper. His athleticism, fluidity and skill level certainly pop. He’s going to be just fine.
Simmons set the tone early, forcing his way to the rim, scoring underneath and dishing out assist after assist. At one point in the first quarter, he threw the ball off the backboard, caught it and set up a cutting Markelle Fultz. He also clamped down on defense.
Not many players in the NBA can handle Embiid. The odds of an Australian team possessing a capable Embiid stopper is slim. In 23 short minutes, Embiid bullied his way to 20 points and 10 rebounds on an efficient 7-11 shooting.
In his first game coming off the Sixers bench, Redick looked solid. His shooting percentages weren’t spectacular, but that’s life for someone who lives on the perimeter. He found his spots off the ball and looked at home in the sixth man role. We’ll see if that’s permanent.
It’s somewhat surprising that Bayless played such a prominent role off the bench tonight. After a summer in which most people assumed a trade or buyout was imminent, he might be in the running for a legitimate rotation spot. He didn’t do anything bad tonight and, at one point, threw down an oddly impressive two-handed dunk.
Brown made a couple interesting lineup decisions that are worth noting. First and foremost, Markelle Fultz got the start over J.J. Redick. He performed well, notching 14 points and four assists while making some impressive players on defense.
Before the game, Brown made it known that Fultz starting on opening night is a legitimate possibility. Spacing will always be a concern, but we got our first taste of Fultz’s jumper tonight.
He missed a couple short-to-mid range shots early on, but made some noise in the third. After drilling two free throws, he dribbled up court, went to his trusty hesitation move and drilled a smooth pull-up jumper.
There is video evidence.
Fultz didn’t attempt a three, but he functioned well both on and off the ball when sharing the floor with Simmons. His three turnovers were a bit concerning — his handle was a bit loose at times — but this was an overwhelmingly positive opener for the former No. 1 pick.
Another notable lineup decision was the involvement of Jerryd Bayless, who manned the two-guard spot off the bench. T.J. McConnell, on the other hand, didn’t get any playing time until the fourth quarter.
Before the half, Melbourne’s best player and the reigning NBL scoring champ — Chris Goulding — went down with an ankle injury after colliding with Joel Embiid. Hopefully it’s nothing significant. Wilson Chandler went down with a left hamstring strain in the first quarter.
The Sixers’ next preseason game will be at the Center on Monday, Oct. 1 against the Orlando Magic.