The 76ers kicked off their NBA pre-season campaign tonight in DC with a game against the Wizards. Nobody really expected a win and like all sports, pre-season results mean nothing. What does mean something though, are the signs of a healthy off-season and all of those were present in the Sixers loss to Washington.
Rookie center Jahlil Okafor stole the show by exploding early on by making all five of his opening shots and ended with 12 points in his NBA debut. It wasn’t just the point scoring that was impressive however, it was his footwork and his overall positioning.
He was matched up against both Martin Gortat and Nene, two veterans of the game and he simply dominated…how much? Well when went to the bench at the end of the first, the Sixers were outshot 23-11 by Washington to end the first Quarter..Big Jah is destined for big things!
The Sixers attempted to close back in on a Wizards lead by rallying to a 58-56 deficit going into halftime. Seven quarter points from Noel and eight from “Lord Covington” brought the team close but a dominant Offensive run from John Wall and Bradley Beal all but sealed it in the opening moments of the second half, giving the Wizards plenty of breathing space.
On the bright side though, newly converted forward Nerlens Noel seemed to partner exceptionally well with Okafor. How well? Take a look at this..
Okafor and Noel combined in the first half:
— max (@MaxOnTwitter) October 7, 2015
We don’t need to say anything more. The two looked brilliant together, whilst there were a few hitches as to be expected, they largely impressed everyone out there. For me personally, it was the selflessness of Noel that stole the show. There were several occasions he had a clean look to make a shot and would easily sink a two pointer but instead passed to the rookie who went on to convert the shot, giving Noel three first half assists…selfless sportsmanship, we can see this partnership blossoming nicely!
Noel himself had a big solo game too. He’s looking much better from the free throw line, his jumpers are getting better and it’s as though someone has stretched his defensive potential and moved it around all the categories. He looks like the perfect all rounder and is even putting up nice post moves too..
Meanwhile, Canaan also had a big game, if not a little inconsistent. But it wasn’t as if they were coming up against light opposition at the PG role. Canaan was matched against John Wall of all people so had his work cut out against this new look Wizards Offense. Canaan racked up 24 minutes, recording a team-high 13 points and six assists. He also seemed to be much more confident when shooting threes with nine of his points coming from beyond the ark…an encouraging sign.
However with all the positives, there were still some negatives. The team turned the ball over 24 times and some sloppy passing certainly didn’t help. On the flipside however, there were instances where the ball was being zipped around so quickly that it seemed almost imminent the ball would be turned over…but the pace would be toned down, they would re-establish control of the ball and convert it into a two pointer….the signs that this has been worked on this off-season are there!
But this is pre-season and any flaws found here will likely be addressed on the practice court soon enough. Turnovers and poor ball control were the two main flaws with this young Sixers side but it’s tough to be critical at 1) such an early stage and 2) on such a young team…they will improve, they will grind and they will learn.
The Wizards were almost the perfect team to face because they’re a side who want to showcase what they can do ahead of the new season. Predicted to be one of the top sides in their conference, this new look Wizards team was all about finding the dynamic and executing from range…they did just that by sinking 15 three pointers. It’s a team that will highlight positives because of how tough they are but also show you what needs to be improved in the same sense.
The Sixers continue their pre-season on Thursday when they host the Cleveland Cavaliers at the Wells Fargo Center.