This past week we’ve seen the Sixers build on their win over the Mavericks on October 28th. With wins over Atlanta, Utah, Indiana, and Houston the Sixers took a five game win streak in to their Thursday night matchup with the Sacramento Kings. We’ve seen them win with and without Joel Embiid and Markelle Fultz as Ben Simmons continues to shine in his first season and Dario Saric is starting to resemble the guy that should have been Rookie of the Year last season. What have we learned during this stretch?
Raise the cat:
Ben Simmons has looked every bit as good as advertised early in this season, averaging 17.8 points, 10.1 rebounds and 8 assists on the year. His defense has improved and he’s become a real problem for opposing coaches who need to find a way to defend him. His only knock against him is his lack of a good outside shot, but it’s not stopping him from being a dominant player while on the court. He’s aware of his limitations and he’s still controlling the game as he runs the point for the Sixers. Still, this is only his first season in the league and he should be able to develop a better outside shot as he continues to grow and improve.
As a point guard, his primary job is to run the offense and the Sixers have done a nice job putting good shooters around him like JJ Reddick and Robert Covington. Even Jerryd Bayles, prior to being injured, was shooting well again from outside. This is helping Simmons control the game and tempo without being forced to attempt low percentage shots. You can expect him to work on this part of his game throughout this year and going forward in his career, but what he’s doing now is amazing in terms of sheer productivity. If he can continue to play at this level for the entire season, there’s no reason that he shouldn’t be able to take the Rookie of the Year award as well as lead this team in to the playoffs.
Look at the flick of the wrist:
Speaking of Jerryd Bayless, his injured wrist has popped back up again and he’s out for the next few games and maybe more. The wrist is the same one that held him out of all but three games last season and should be something that the Sixers are cautious with going forward if they plan on keeping him for this season and beyond. His improved three point shooting, currently sitting at 42% for the season, has continued as he’s developed later in his career.
A point guard that doesn’t regularly get assists in higher numbers, his only real value can be outside shooting and defense and we’re all aware of how poorly he plays defense. While I’ve never been a fan of Bayless, his fit with this team seems to be unquestioned as he provides the outside shooting that the team needs and should be a regular on the second team, even though he’s been a starter this year. If Markelle Fultz can come back healthy and take over the starting role everyone assumed he would have, Bayless could prove to be just the player the Sixers need off the bench going forward.
Saric is back:
Dario Saric has finally returned. After being inserted in to the starting lineup and not being the focal point of the offense on the second team, Saric has seen his shooting and efficiency go up, quickly, as he’s playing on the first team and getting minutes with quality players that can get him open looks. (See Simmons, Ben) He’s currently shooting just under 41% from beyond the arc and if he continues to improve, as he did later in the season last year, he should see that number go up as well. With his height and ability to score and rebound, Saric is just as much of a defensive problem as Simmons 9can be on the floor. He’s not going to get to the hoop as Simmons does, but he can provide a spaced out floor when playing the four or five spots on the team, as we’ve seen this past week. I like Dario and hope that he’s able to continue to grow and establish himself as an important piece of the “Process” in Philadelphia.
Trust the process:
Joel Embiid has been rested this past week, missing the Sixers win over the Jazz, but looks returned against the Kings in explosive fashion with 15 boards. While most people are irritated at the Sixers medical staff and the way they’re handling Embiid, I can’t see fault with it right now. He’s contributing 20.5 points per game and 10.1 rebounds to go along with 1.4 blocks. That’s quite impressive for a guy that’s only averaging just under 28 minute per game.
As the season goes on and his health remains stable, the Sixers may just look like they know what they’re doing regarding his health and future. (While I don’t know if they’re doing the same with Fultz) Embiid has been a force when playing to go along with Simmons to give the Sixers a really big advantage when playing as he can shoot from outside and draw out defenders to give Simmons more room to work. This floor spacing has helped the Sixers and as Embiids confidence grows we should expect to see him spend some more time down in the paint, controlling what he can from the post. He has the ability to take over games, but he’s very good when paired with Simmons on the court and there’s no reason to mess with that now. If the guy could get up to about 35 minutes per game by the end of the season, come playoff time, the Sixers could be a real problem for teams they may face in the Eastern Conference.
The hidden star:
Richaun Holmes has returned to the team and he seems to be picking up right where he left off. 6 points and 5 rebounds in his two games in just over 12 minutes per game, work out to 18 and 15 over 36 minutes if he were to get that many minutes. While it’s not unheard of, there’s no reason to believe that he will ever see those type of minutes over the course of a season, Holmes has become a perfect backup to Embiid and a guy that isn’t a liability while on the court. As his stamina and game speed come back to him, the Sixers should be able to count on him for ten and seven while backing up Embiid and providing a good base for the second team. Holmes has been a soldier for the Sixers over the past few years as they dealt with Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor and he’s done all that’s been asked of him. He’s carved out a nice role for the Sixers and he’s still young enough to develop in to a better and more complete player, as noted from his improved outside shooting last year.
The Sixers as a whole have looked much improved to start the season and after getting off to a poor start, they’ve won their last five games prior to last night’s narrow loss and only seem to be getting better. This isn’t me saying that they’re going to be one of the bet in the league this year or even next but they should continue to grow and could be a dominant team in the Eastern Conference over the next several years. While the season is still young, if they can get quality contributions from people like Justin Anderson, TJ McConnell, Amir Johnson and TImothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, there’s no reason to think that the Sixers could finish in the top eight and cause some issues for teams like the Celtics and Cavaliers come playoff time. A return of a healtyh Fultz and Bayless along with the development and growth of Embiid, Saric, and Simmons, gives the team a great young core that can move on to be elite in the not so distant future.
Ball or fall?
With all the hype surrounding Lonzo Ball coming in to the season, you would have thought he was the son of Michael Jordan, Oscar Robertson, Magic Johnson, and John Stockton all mixed together and created in a lab to be the best player to ever wear an NBA uniform. People made jokes and comments about his shooting as well as his form and they were right. Ball is averaging 8.8 points, 6.3 rebounds and 6.8 assists on the season, but only shooting 29.5% from the floor. Is he trying to do too much? Is he not surrounded with enough talent to let him show his true ability? Or, and this is a big one, is Lonzo Ball just not as great as his father hyped him up to be and the NBA bought in to?
If you watch him, the desire and talent seems to be there with the guy, he’s just not doing it. He’s admitted that his shooting has been “in his head” at the start of this season, but where are the people that are supposed to work with the savior of the Lakers? I do think that he’ll be a very good player in the league but I doubt that he’s going to be the star that everyone had made so much hype about. On top of that all, he’s still getting more face time around the league than Ben Simmons who’s pretty much blowing Ball away in every statistical category, including the most important one which is wins. While it’s still early in the season, Simmons has to be the front runner for Rookie of the Year and the Sixers look to be a much more complete team than the Lakers are. Here’s hoping that the NBA starts to recognize what’s going on in Philly and stop focusing on a guy who’s not really doing much out west.
The phantom trade:
While I’m hesitant to bring up Jahlil Okafor, I wouldn’t feel right if I didn’t. When you have a player that seems to have the potential of Okafor and you’re not playing him, then you’re not showing him off for suitors throughout the league. While I understand the rationale that the Sixers are using as he’s not in their plans and they seems to be growing as a group with each game, what can you do to increase his value? One way would be to extend his rookie option so that a team that decided to trade for him would have another year to evaluate him as a player and see if he’s worth what they’re going to have to give up for him. Now, the Sixers are going to trade him because they can’t just let the former #3 pick in the draft walk away without something, they can’t expect to get much for him which is more than pathetic on the part of Bryan Colangelo.
By declining the option on Okafor the Sixers pretty much guaranteed themselves of getting nothing more than a 2nd round pick for him. He’s not going to be a defensive stud but his scoring is enough that teams will like to have him on their roster and given his lofty draft status and the fact that he committed himself to becoming a better all -around player this past offseason, the Sixers could have easily pulled a first round pick from a team looking to acquire Okafor. This is another in Colangelo misstep and there’s no reason that someone running an NBA franchise should be doing.
While the JJ Reddick signing seems to be working out, the Amir Johnson experiment is a bust and he’s on the books for $11 million. It’s a shame that Sam Hinkie wasn’t given the chance to ride out what he started a few years back because you could be certain that he would have robbed another team while unloading Okafor. At this point, Okafor is being wasted and he’s a wasted asset and that’s something Hinkie wanted no parts of. Get him out of town, not because he’s bad, but because it’s the only thing left to do and they need to do it soon as his value is decreasing by the day. The only hope the Sixers have is to hold out for an injury on another team where they’ll be able to get more for him, but they’d probably have better luck buying a powerball ticket.
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