The Sixers went in to Los Angeles for two games against the Clippers and Lakers. The first one was supposed to be tough and give Joel Embiid a test going against DeAndre Jordan. The second one was to showcase the best rookie in the league in years against Ben Simmons (according to everyone outside of Philly). What happened next was pure joy for Philly fans and a shot to the life of LA basketball.
Joel Embiid just keeps getting better. Having not practiced until October of this year, after another surgery this past March, Embiid is getting in to playing shape and keeps getting better with each game. In Los Angeles, Embiid is averaging 39 points, 15.5 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game. Against the Clippers he put up 32 points and 16 rebounds against Jordan and some guy that Embiid doesn’t know and it seemed to show that he was getting better playing down low in the post. Against the Lakers it became a joke. Embiid had 46 points and 15 rebounds. It wasn’t even close in this one for Embiid as he did whatever he wanted, when he wanted to. Shooting 70% from the floor and 85% from the free throw line, Embiid was unstoppable. Put that with 7 assists and 7 blocks and Embiid put together a stat line that hasn’t been done in NBA history. The crazy part is that Embiid is just getting started.
Rookie of the year:
Ben Simmons has been equally as impressive as Embiid. He’s averaging 20 points, 10.5 rebounds and 7 assists in the two games out in LA. Simmons is doing it all for the Sixers and showing the league that he belongs and could be the premiere player in the league for years to come. He makes the right play, the right pass, and lets the game come to him. He’s not forcing anything and using penetration to get his points. His lack of a good outside shot hasn’t hurt him at all this season. He could be averaging more points because teams tend to back off him when he’s out of his range and with a better outside shot, he’d be able to make them pay for that decision, but for right now, he’s still killing them. As with Embiid, Simmons is just getting started. For a first-year player, he seems to have an amazing grasp of the game, how to control the tempo and where to put the ball for his teammates to get the open shot. The tandem of Simmons and Embiid could be problematic for the whole league if they can both stay healthy and continue to grow.
Robert Covington was out of sorts against the Lakers. He still managed 12 points and 6 rebounds but that’s a big drop from the 31 points he put on the Clippers on Monday night. In 30 minutes of play he only took 9 shots. He still shot well, but it seems he wasn’t his normal self on Wednesday. It’s probably because Embiid played such a dominating game or he could have been a little hesitant as his monster contract is being finalized. Maybe I spoke to soon as I write this and it’s not that he was out of sorts, but just that he, along with everyone else, seemed invisible with Simmons and Embiid dominating the Lakers. Covington has become a vital player for the Sixers and his contract is a result of that. He’s still averaging 16.5 points and 5.7 rebounds for the team this year and that puts him as the #3 guy on the team. Ahead of Dario Saric and JJ Reddick as far as importance to the team. Hopefully, once the contract is finalized, Covington will continue to grow and give the team an even more deadly core.
Speaking of Saric, he’s shooting 4 of 18 the past two games and was pretty much a nonfactor against the Lakers. Saric has seen his season go through some peaks and valleys quickly in the early parts of the season. I’m standing by my original statement that Saric is tired. He’s played basketball nonstop for the past three years and he must get some rest. Without an injury, they’re not going to shut him down, but maybe with Rashaun Holmes back and healthy, the Sixers should limit his minutes to give him some rest and make sure that he’s healthy and active when playoff time gets closer. If the team can figure out how to rest Saric and get him and Fultz operating at their best as the playoffs get closer. Having him healthy and rested later in the season is more important than having him get 30 minutes per game right now.
Is JJ Reddick worth the $23 Million he’s being paid?
Is his veteran leadership what’s important to the team? He’s supposed to be the marksman on this team and that’s been taken over by Covington so far, this year. But, Reddick is shooting just 35% from the beyond the arc this season and he’s only a 41% shooter from outside for his career. Is that the percentage of a dedicated marksmen? When Reddick finds a groove, he can be a real problem for teams defending him as he doesn’t hesitate to shoot from anywhere on the floor. The issue I have is that he’s, often, a liability on the offensive end of the floor. Teams can worry less about him and focus on Covington and others. Reddick needs to do something to prove his value to the team and hopefully that comes sooner rather than later, because as games like the Lakers one where they’re very close at the end, Reddick missing all eight of his three point attempts could have cost the team the game.
What is going on with Sixers bench?
Is Amir Johnson and his $11 million-dollar salary worth what he’s being paid? Is Rashaun Holmes just being worked back in to the mix as he returns from injury? They Sixers need to decide on who’s the backup to Embiid and it seems that is should be Holmes, who proved himself worthy last season and shouldn’t lose that as he recovers from injury, but why in the world would they bring in Johnson? (See: Poor decisions by Brian Colangelo) It could be that Embiid has just been so good of late, but they’re going to need these guys to play a part as the season goes on. Justin Anderson seems to provide good defense and his athletic ability isn’t a question, but where is he fitting in on the team? He’s a viable back up, but he needs to be a bit more assertive when he’s on the floor. He can penetrate and score which would be a bonus for the second team, but they need to get him involved. TImothe Luwawu-Cabarrot is averaging 7 points a game in just around 16 minutes per game, which isn’t bad as a deep reserve, but he needs to give them more. If he’s not the guy, then maybe the team should look to giving Furkan Korkmaz some actual minutes instead of relegating him to DNP on most nights. Korkmaz was billed as a very good shooter and he did well in the preseason, trying to convince the team of his value, but he’s not been given the chance in the regular season and with the poor shooting of some of the other players on the team, why not give the guy some minutes and let’s see what he can contribute as it’s still early in the season. They can’t afford to have to throw him in to the mix late in the season if there’s an injury, when he’s been sitting on the bench for 60 games. Finally, there’s TJ McConnell, the peoples champ in Philly. In 23 minutes a game he’s averaging 6 points and 6 assists per game. Those are Lonzo Ball type numbers, for an undrafted point guard. McConnell doesn’t seem to do a lot wrong, but he’s sticking with what he can do and providing energy and defense when he’s on the floor. He has good vision and hopefully will continue to improve as the team gets better.
I have yet to see a Lavar Ball quote regarding the Lakers/Sixers game from last night. Usually, if Lonzo had played well or even really played, you see the elder Ball spouting off how his son is the next NBA great and how no one else can compare on the court. Yet, here we are, 12 hours later and I’ve seen nothing. Is he sitting around somewhere wondering why he started shit with Embiid? I would like to think that his type of hype and obnoxious rants wouldn’t influence professional players, but you must remember that most of these guys are young kids. I would also like to believe that Embiid didn’t forget when Lavar was talking shit about him and the team over the summer.
Simmons doesn’t really seem to let anything get to him and he just plays his game, letting that be a statement. But, Embiid is the face of this team and he’s outspoken and outlandish and he bring a lot of energy to the team and the league, but he probably filed Balls comments somewhere in the back of his head and circled the date so that he wouldn’t forget to dominate the Lakers.
It’s sad to watch Lonzo look lost like he does in only his 15th career game, but something must be getting to him. He’s been sat in the fourth quarter in each of the past two games. Right now, he’s not even the best rookie on his team. (See: Kuzma, Kyle) Last night he missed an open three and then made a great defensive play, picking off a pass and heading up the court. As he approached the three-point line again, he noticed Joel Embiid under the net and stopped. Instead of holding on for the team or continuing his momentum and driving to the hoop, Ball stopped, looked around and tossed up another poor shot which he missed. Luke Walton better get his coaching hat on and work with Ball to get his confidence up.
The Sixers gar a chance at revenge against the defending champion, Golden State Warriors this Saturday at home. Hopefully, we can see Embiid and Simmons take over the game as they have the past few, but we really need our role players to step up and contribute. It will be a tough matchup for both teams as they’ve both had a chance to see each other recently and can adjust for this upcoming game. The Sixers are coming off two big wins against the Los Angeles teams and can use that momentum in the battle with the Warriors, but the Warriors are the defending champs and there’s a reason they’re the best team in the league over the past three years. It will be a good one and hopefully the Sixers can pull out a win at home.
Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports