Justin Anderson is in his second stint with the 76ers, having signed last month as a free agent, and he has noticed a big difference in the team’s two All-Stars in Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid upon his return.
The Sixers have only had two full days of practice as they prepare for their first preseason game next Tuesday at home against the Boston Celtics. Even in the first two days, Anderson has seen Embiid and Simmons take more of a leadership role and Dwight Howard add a veteran voice.
Seeing Howard lead is no surprise as he enters his 17th NBA season, but what has impressed Anderson is the growth in Simmons and Embiid since his first stint with the Sixers.
Embiid, 26, and Simmons, 24, are not exactly old-timers, but according to Anderson, they are ready to take another step up in a leadership capacity both in words and actions.
A 6-foot-5 swingman known for his defensive tenacity, Anderson was first acquired by the Sixers in February 2017 from the Dallas Mavericks and played with the team the rest of that season and the 2017-18 season.
In 2017-18, Simmons and Embiid participated in the playoffs for the first time. The Sixers advanced to the Eastern Conference semifinals, losing to the Boston Celtics in five games.
“I think it is natural in anybody’s growth that you see those guys come back with a different, not only approach, but a different work ethic,” Anderson said after Tuesday’s practice. “Those guys are attacking practice. Talking to both of them, they feel refreshed.”
Simmons missed the end of the regular season and the playoffs after undergoing left knee surgery on Aug. 10. From the beginning of individual workouts last week, Simmons has said he feels fine. Anderson seconds that comment.
“Playing five on five, he is coming out and dunking, pushing the ball in transition, creating shots for other people,” Anderson said. “I mean what a world-class athlete.”
He said Embiid has been just as impressive, especially as a perimeter defender.
“He has been great,” Anderson said. “He has been up at the level in the screen, he has been switching off guys, he has been guarding some small (players), sliding his feet, keeping guys in front. He has really bought in and been a willing defender, very different than what I have seen in the past.”
Anderson says that Embiid and Simmons have set the tone the first few days in practice.
“Just seeing those guys, their preparation, their work, how hard they are competing right now at practice, it just makes you want to jump on board and follow their lead and hopefully get to the promised land,” Anderson said.
Anderson, 27, who signed a partially guaranteed contract with the Sixers, has played parts of five NBA seasons with four different teams.
A former first-round pick of the Dallas Mavericks, Anderson said he is more than happy to help the younger players but says that Embiid and Simmons, along with Howard, have provided the necessary leadership.
“Here I am going into year six and it has been a grind to get here, but with the leadership of Ben and Joel, those guys have kind of come into, talking to the younger guys and using their voices so much more at practice, so far I haven’t really said anything,” Anderson said. “This is their team and those guys are being the vocal leaders that maybe they weren’t in the past.”
Anderson, who appeared in 10 regular-season games and three playoff contests last year for Brooklyn, says with Simmons, Embiid and even Howard picking up the leadership mantle, it has enabled him to concentrate on his game.
“Those guys have been doing a great job stepping up and helping out,” he said. “It has allowed me to kind of just focus on competing and working my butt off to try to make this team and make this roster and ultimately help this team win.”