76ers are nearing the end of this season's training camp at St. Joseph's University. Their morning session ended about 11:45 inside Hagan Arena. They'll practice tonight and then twice tomorrow before wrapping up what will be a 5-day training camp.
Here's the injury update: Tony Battie (right knee synovitis) and Andre Nocioni (ankle sprain) practiced, guard James Florence (hamstring) and Darius Songaila (lower back stiffness) did not practice. This morning's session was non-contact, so likely both Battie and Nocioni will be limited tonight when the team does more competitive drills and scrimmages. As a reminder, Saturday night's session from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. is open to the media and to season-ticket holders so hopefully we'll have a long blog post after watching a full practice.
After this morning's session, a lot of the questions still centered around the progress of rookie guard Evan Turner. Sixers coach Doug Collins discussed Turner's progress and we talked to Turner himself. It's difficult at this point to really get a feel for Turner's role, but we'll let everyone read into Collins' quotes. You can also watch the video of Collins, which should be embedded at the bottom of this post.
"What I saw last night was when Lou and Evan were together, when Lou had the ball and Evan was off, they struggled, because Evan wasn’t sure and Lou didn’t do a good job of getting us into our stuff," Collins explained. "Then we moved Evan to the ball and Lou off and they both were good. So you can see where they’re most comfortable now. What we’re doing with Evan is we’re mixing and matching him so he can do a little bit of both. But at the end of the day, Lou is a scorer. That’s what we’re going to have to do, put him in those positions, because when we put him out there to run the team it really takes away from what he does best."
We followed that question by asking Collins to assess Turner in the same manner he assessed Lou (saying 'at the end of the day, Lou is a scorer.'). At the end of the day, what is Turner?
"A facilitator right now," Collins said. "But what he’s doing is he’s picking his spots. He’s shooting the ball well. And more importantly, he’s having fun. It’s like the lights have gone on and he’s having fun. All of a sudden he’s joyous and smiling and I’m seeing energy; I feel like a lot of the weight has been lifted off of him. I think when he’s gotten with all of our good players, I don’t think he feels like all eyes are on him. I think early he felt like everything he was doing, everybody was watching, every step he was making. I think now he can fit into the group and not feel like the microscope is on him right now."
We then asked Collins if he feels Turner has improved since July's summer league in Orlando.
"He’s light years," Collins said. "He’s in better shape. He has more confidence. He feels better about himself and he’s earning the players’ trust. He’s becoming a good teammate. And that’s what I’ve talked to him about, is throw yourself in the mix and be a good teammate."
Here's one thing I overheard, in reference to discussing specifically how Turner needs to improve off the ball. And we've been hearing that a lot, Turner needs to improve off the ball. (And perhaps it's slightly worrisome that we're discussing how the No. 2 pick in the draft needs to improve off the ball.) But here you go: Collins is running that cluster play we've discussed previously, which requires each wing to make one strong decision (either curl or go backdoor or pop out, etc.). Because Turner is used to life at Ohio State, where he either had the ball or he was cutting with the sole intention of getting the ball, Collins was explaining that sometimes Turner is making one cut and then, when not open, reversing his cut back into the play. Obviously, because there is often a second cutter following Turner's cut, it's not helpful to the offense if he's clogging the action. Seems like an easy fix, but at least it's an example of what the coaches mean when they say they need to improve Turner's off-the-ball movement.
Turner addressed that topic.
"Last year, obviously, if I didn’t have the ball, if I was coming off the ball, I had confidence I was getting it back," Turner said. "Sometimes here it’s more of a communication, or getting out of the way so somebody else can make a move. Getting reads and stuff is kind of hard, I don’t want to run into the way of anybody trying to make a play."
Turner called that summer league the "worst of the worst" and "the bottom pits of my life." How's he feel through a few days of his first training camp?
"I feel like a vet now," Turner joked. "Nah, I’m doing all right. Getting used to the speed of the game. People are so strong and sometimes it takes more wear and tear on your body than it did in college. It’s going well, I’m learning the plays and picking it up pretty well ... I think I’ve been doing pretty well in regards to coming off screens and doing what the coach is asking me. I’ve been making shots and everything and playing decent defense."
There's been a lot of hype around point guard Jrue Holiday in the first week of camp. Let's add to that hype: Jrue looks bigger and stronger. Collins touched on something today which was on display during the team's scrimmaging: Holiday's ability to finish with his left hand around the rim. It's quite likely that when everyone gets to see Holiday play on Tuesday against the Nets, they're going to be similarly excited about watching Holiday this year. During the scrimmage, Holiday drove right into the lane, spun back to his left hand in the heart of the lane, and went up to finish against one of the opposing big men (maybe Speights). He just hung in the air, shifted his body away from the defender, and finished with his off hand. It was a play that perhaps no one else on the team could have made.
"He’s unbelievable," Collins said. "What I’m doing right now is he’s such a hard worker. He wanted to come out and work some more and I said, ‘Jrue, remember, you didn’t play the first 60 games last year and so you could do all that. Now you’ve got to start thinking 36 minutes a night, all 82 games. I don’t want you to leave your legs here right now.'"