As the Philadelphia 76ers exited the court following their preseason opener Wednesday night, it was more than clear that one the NBA’s most promising young teams still have more than a few kinks to work out.
While there were a few new faces taking the court in this highly anticipated preseason contest against the Memphis Grizzlies, namely Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz, the scoreboard at the Wells Fargo Center displayed a familiar looking lopsided defeat that fans have grown accustomed to over the years.
All summer long, the hype train behind the Sixers has been building. A weak Eastern Conference led Vegas to peg the team that won just 28 games last season with an over/under win mark at 40.5. Simmons and Fultz, plus the likes of J.J. Redick and the prospects of a healthy Joel Embiid, make for a tantalizing group that could theoretically be significantly better than the team the Sixers trotted out last night.
But the NBA is a man’s game. And despite all of the high hopes the Sixers hold, Wednesday night was a quick peek into what potentially could be the team’s immediate world due to their inexperience.
“It’s not about how we sit up here and play in practice against each other, it’s how we play against another team,” Robert Covington said after the 110-89 loss. “Coming out and us playing the way we did, there’s ups and downs, and that’s part of the game. Guys are still learning. It’s the first time, first showing, that these guys have been out here… From everything that we’ve done, the preseason and training camp and everything, it don’t actually amount to actually putting it into a game perspective. Guys got a taste of what the NBA game is like, how fast it moves, so now we can go back and adjust to that.”
As the rest of the preseason unfolds in Philadelphia, the “guys” that Covington was likely referring to will be under the microscope heavily. Being in the unique position that the Sixers are in by having the last two No. 1 overall draft picks on their roster presents an obvious reason for excitement. The promise of the future, however, may not immediately translate to the present.
While Simmons was responsible for more than a few highlights, and even opened the game by either scoring or assisting of the Sixers first 14 points, his struggles were on display as well. Finishing the night just 2-of-8 from the field, missing a few layups and failing to even attempt a jump shot, the 6-foot-10 point displayed what he needs to work on as much as what he already has figured out.
Fultz, on the other hand, was even worse off. Known for his sweet shooting in college, Fultz tweaked his jump shot form this summer and is far from reaping any benefits of the change. In his debut, the 19-year-old shot just 2-of-13 from the field. Brown has been on record since training camp started saying the team needs to help Fultz get back to where he was as a shooter prior to the change. But it appears that change back won’t come overnight.
Despite the new-look Sixers receiving a shellacking in their first public appearance, Brown didn’t seem all that surprised with the overall results.
“Kind of what I thought was going to happen,” Brown said. “You always come in and you want to be better prepared. I thought we were very erratic.”
And even amid the struggles of their two rookies, Brown saw some bright spots in their respective games that should keep lit the hopes of an eventual bright future.
“I thought there were some good signs with Ben and Markelle early,” Brown said. “In the first half, I think they had 10 assists and no turnovers as a pair. You’re always reminded of the early stages just how precious stuff can bust you out of things, and we were challenged defensively.”
The sky isn’t falling for the Sixers after just one preseason game that didn’t even feature two of their core players in Joel Embiid and Dario Saric. But getting back into actual basketball action allows for a reality check that no matter how promising your team may look on paper, there will always be growing pains and bumps in the road.
“He’s going into a whole different treeline here in the NBA,” Brown said of Fultz and his struggles. “He didn’t, and I thought we didn’t, finish as well as we needed to. It’s part of a very, sort of slippery slope, it’s the learning curve that all 19-year-old rookies are going to have to go through, and we will help him get through this.”
Even without putting on his best performance, Simmons seemed to impress more than a few people in his debut. And while his nine assists and seven rebounds didn’t help secure a preseason win for Philadelphia, they did lend a look to what could lie ahead in Simmons’ future.
“Oh my god,” Grizzlies head coach David Fizdale said of Simmons. “I don’t want to see that for the next 15 years. That kid, they’re not talking about him enough. The way he moves with the ball, his ability to see the floor, the way he can get to places on the floor. Once he gets confidence in his shot to where you really have to close out all the way to the three, wow. He’s a big-time talent.”
Covington, who was the recipient of a few Simmons assists, feels the same way about his teammate as Fizdale does. It’s all there for the Australian native; he just needs to get more experience.
“Ben brings everything,” Covington said. “He’s very versatile, offensive, defensively, he’s a monster on both sides. He doesn’t even realize how good he is just yet because he’s only played one game. The more he gets games under his belt, he’s gonna start learning and getting adjusted to it. When he sits up here and starts figuring out that, you know it’s just gonna open up more for him.”
Free agent signings and high draft picks can provide all of the excitement in the world during the offseason, but the reality of putting it all together can quickly bring expectations back down to earth.
The Philadelphia 76ers have a future as bright as any in the NBA, but that road to fulfilling that potential and promise is still a long one.
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