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Sixers bench players forming ‘bulldog’ identity in training camp

James Ennis III gives the impression the Sixers' bench is no longer an Achilles' heel.

Kyle O'Quinn is part of a Sixers' backup unit James Ennis III is taking the identity of "Bulldogs"
Kyle O'Quinn is part of a Sixers' backup unit James Ennis III is taking the identity of "Bulldogs"Read moreDAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer

The 76ers’ bench was its Achilles’ heel last season.

But James Ennis III gave the impression Friday that that’s no longer the case.

After being asked what are the early signs of the backup unit’s identity, the veteran swingman responded, “bulldogs.”

“We got Mike Scott leading us, myself, Furkan [Korkmaz], Kyle [O’Quinn] and whoever is on the second team will be bulldogs,” he said. “We’re ready to get stops.”

Scott, Ennis, Korkmaz, O’Quinn, and Trey Burke made up the second unit during the end-of-practice five-on-zero drills the media witnessed.

Coach Brett Brown said swingmen Korkmaz, Matisse Thybulle, Zhaire Smith, Shake Milton, and Marial Shayock are all getting time with the second unit. Meanwhile, Burke and Raul Neto are splitting time as the backup point guard.

Neto trying to adjust to Sixers verbiage

Neto said he’s having a tough time adjusting to the Sixers’ terminology.

“A lot of things are the same that I used to do before, just different names,” said the Brazilian, who played for the Utah Jazz the last four years.

He’s “pretty sure” by the beginning of the regular season he’ll be fine with all the terminology and plays. The Sixers’ season-opener is Oct. 23 against the Boston Celtics at the Wells Fargo Center.

“It just takes time and repetition to get used to it,” Neto said.

More defensive hype

All week, the Sixers have been preaching about how dominant they can be on the defensive end.

Friday was much of the same.

“We are so big and we are aiming to be the top defense in the league," Joel Embiid said. “And we got the right guys to accomplish that.”

The Sixers’ starting lineup has four players at least 6-foot-9 in Tobias Harris (6-9), Ben Simmons (6-10), Al Horford (6-10) and Embiid (7-2). Josh Richardson, the other starter, is just 6-6.

Embiid takes playful jab at Roy Hibbert

Joel Embiid wouldn’t be Joel Embiid if he gave a usual response.

The trash-talking All-Star center was asked after practice Friday what it’s been like working with player development coach Roy Hibbert.

“Well, I’ve been busting his [butt],” Embiid lightheartedly said. “But [he’s] another guy with size. He helps a lot, another guy who is strong. So he’s been good.

“He’s in that trainers’ room every day after we work out, because I’m always hitting him. But he’s a great guy.”

The 7-foot-2 Hibbert was a two-time All-Star center. The 32-year-old concluded his nine-season NBA career in 2017. The Sixers hired him in August.

He was drafted 17th overall in 2008 by the Toronto Raptors and traded to the Indiana Pacers soon after the draft. Hibbert played seven seasons in Indiana. He had key roles on the Pacers squads that reached the Eastern Conference Finals in 2013 and 2014. Hibbert spent the 2015-16 season with the Los Angeles Lakers before finishing his career the next season with the Charlotte Hornets and Denver Nuggets.

Thybulle, Smith solid, but different types of defenders

The Sixers will tell you they have two good defensive wings in rookie Matisse Thybulle and second-year man Zhaire Smith.

They are just different types of defenders.

“Matisse’s ability [is] off the ball where he can cover ground and shoot gaps, get in lanes and pick stuff out of the sky with his length,” head coach Brett Brown said.

Meanwhile, Smith has a solid center of gravity that enables him to get a lower balance level than the person he’s guarding.

“I say he reminds me of [Los Angeles Lakers shooting guard] Avery Bradley at times,” Brown said of Smith. “That side of it stands out of it for me of him. ....

"[Smith and Thybulle] are both tremendous athletes, and for their ages.”

Thybulle, 22, and a four-year player out of the University of Washington, has yet to even play in an NBA preseason game. Meanwhile, Smith, 20, played in eight games total -- six in the regular season -- after missing the majority of his rookie season with a broken foot and a life-threatening allergic reaction to food.

So being able to carry over their solid training-camp effort to an actual game will be the next step.

But they are making solid impressions, nonetheless.