In a late game surge that involved two 4-point plays, multiple defensive stops, and clutch time management, the Sixers slid in a W against San Antonio tonight.
Embiid posted a 33 point and 19 rebound double-double, and Simmons put up 21 with 10 rebounds and 15 assists for the triple-double. Notable was the team’s strong shooting tonight, making a collective 17 3-point shots from 7 different players, including 10-day player Corey Brewer, who started for Butler who sat tonight. Simmons made a couple cute turnaround jumpers and hooks, which helped him tack points on from further out.
The team as a whole, but specifically Embiid and Simmons, came up strong defensively late in the game against one of the most efficient shooting teams in the league, and kept turnovers to an absolute minimum for the night.
The Sixers are now 3-1 in their hell stretch against teams with winning records, now winning 2 in a row at home before they take on a 4-game West Coast swing.
Coming out with a win tonight was huge, as the Spurs are one of the most well-coached teams in the league, and they play a very unique type of basketball in the current NBA. For all of their flaws on defense, one of the Sixers’ strengths in that regard is their ability to force their opponents into taking mid-range shots. The only problem is, the Spurs make those shots. Up and down the entire roster are players who not only survive but thrive in the mid-range, specifically Aldridge and DeRozan, with some deadeye 3-point shooters like Bryn Forbes, to boot.
Additionally, leaving with a win despite not having star forward Jimmy Butler in the rotations was big for the team. Not only were they short a man, as they almost always are, but they were simultaneously working Corey Brewer into the lineup and into a starting spot during a 10-day contract. Thankfully, Brewer and the rest of the bench have stepped up so far, which has made the occasional night off or bad day for the Big 3 easier to work through.
University of Pittsburgh hosted #2 Duke today (1/22/19) at the Petersen Events Center. So many students bought tickets that nearly 700 (!) did not get a student section ticket to the game. Here’s the vlog with highlights of CourtSide editors CoolGuy and the VP heading to the Oakland Zoo for the game, including topics such as Zion et al‘s Draft stock, NBA fit, Pitt HC Jeff Capel hosting the Master, and of course, our gambling picks for the game!
The final score was 79-64 Duke. Prior to this game, Zion Williamson is averaging almost 22 points per game on 66% field goal shooting, and 26% from 3-point range. Duke as a whole averages north of 89 points per game, contrasting to Pitt averaging 76 points per game. Duke is 15-2 (4-1 ACC), and Pitt is 12-6 (2-3 ACC) in the first meeting between these two schools since former Duke assistant coach and recruiting specialist Jeff Capel left to pursue a Head Coach position at Pitt. Whether or not Capel has any special intel on Coach K or the team, we cannot know, but watch the vlog to hear our takes on it!
While Paul George’s near-MVP candidate level of play has hoisted the Oklahoma City Thunder to a solid record of 25-14 (3rd in the Western Conference) there has been another major player in their recent success. And unsurprisingly, it’s not the slumping former-MVP Russell Westbrook. Steven Adams, the 7’0, 265 lb big man from New Zealand (and Pitt product!), has been rock-solid for this Thunder crew. The 5th year man with a burly build and an intimidating gaze flies under the radar for a number of reasons, even though many often recognize the impact he has for this team.
Before I begin, I would like to clarify what I mean by “most valuable.” I don’t mean “most valuable” in the same sense that the MVP award does, as in “this team won games because this player and this player alone did what they did,” although in a certain regard that may be true for Adams. What I mean by “most valuable” is that if you were to take any other center, even ones with comparable stats, and switch them with Adams, the Thunder would suffer for it. Adams is the only guy who can do what this team asks of him, both as a big body and as a personality. His fit for the needs this current Thunder team has at the center position is unlike any other supporting player in the league. Without any more semantics, let’s get into what makes Steven Adams such a necessity for OKC:
He Gets Buckets: Despite the somewhat limited offensive role he plays for the Thunder, Adams averages a respectable 15.2 PPG on the year, and in relatively low minutes for a starting center. Additionally, despite his somewhat limited range, Adams sports a near 60% field goal rating, and from 5 feet or less he’s almost up to 65%. For a player who receives the ball infrequently outside of the post, that’s a level of consistency that is pretty hard to match. For comparison, Joel Embiid (with admittedly a much larger offensive burden for his team) has shot 49% on field goals on the year. So, for Steven Adams to deliver on the few shots he gets goes a long way for the Thunder front court offense.
He’s a Monster on Offensive Glass: Adams is top 3 in the league in offensive rebounds per game. Despite the new 14-second renewed shot clock, those second chances add up, especially when you have two offensive weapons like Paul George and Russell Westbrook. Adams is a master of the put back himself, no less. While Adams is somewhat lower on the defensive rebounding chart, Westbrook and George are both elite in that department, alleviating that issue a bit.
He’s Improved Every Year of his Career: In Adams relatively short NBA career, he’s gone from coming off of the bench to starting in almost 80 games each year, including every one of 38 thus far in 2018-2019. More importantly, his average PPG has seen a significant improvement every single year of his career, even in comparable amounts of games and minutes played. In addition to becoming a more potent offensive player, he’s improved as both an offensive and defensive rebounder as his career goes on. Adams is only 25, and he still has plenty of room to grow as a player as he continues to work, and I have no doubts that he will continue to step it up in the near future.
He’s Selfless and Plays Hard: One of the things Adams is so well-known for is the extreme physicality of his play. He sets some rock-hard screens, plays aggressive defense in the paint, and fights hard for rebounds. He takes a lot of contact, but he’s a sturdy body in the way of driving opponents. Many of the most famous plays Adams makes are his brick-wall picks for Russ or PG, so not only is he taking contact, but he’s doing so in order to help create for his teammates.
With the hard screens he delivers on players like those in the clip above, you’d almost think it was an open field tackle he was laying into these guys, but his clean picks are just that immovable.
He Puts Up with Westbrook’s BS: One of the defining features of Adams fit in OKC is how little he asks of the team. He’s not there to pad stats, he’s not there to fuel his ego, and he’s not there to drive an MVP storyline into the ground. Steven Adams comes to work. Not only does he ball out and ask little in return, he’s a fantastic teammate. I can’t even count on my fingers how many times (just off of the top of my head) that Russ has talked his way into a confrontation that Adams inevitably helps break up. There was one particular instance in which Adams got a technical for breaking up a fight that Westbrook instigated with Willie Cauley-Stein. Adams remained cool in collected even as Cauley-Stein pushed him away by the throat. His temperament, level-headedness, and patience is truly remarkable. If I was playing peacemaker, and WCS grabbed me by the neck and pushed me away, I’d sure as hell go earn myself a technical. Plenty of players act a fool in the NBA, one not the least of which is his star teammate, and Adams is unmoved in their presence.
Conclusion: There’s no doubt: Steven Adams is not only an impressive basketball talent and smart player, but his personality makes him more than an ideal fit for this team and its personnel. In terms of the “intangibles,” he hits it out of the park.
You may remember that about a month ago I wrote a piece titled The Ghosts of Process Past that highlighted the biggest mistakes throughout the history of the Sixers’ Process. Now, you may also remember that I mentioned it was the first article of a three part mini-series, and while it has taken much longer than I wished for me to get around to it, I present to you part two: The Ghosts of Process Present.
Now much like Ghosts of Process Past, I am going to avoid talking in retrospect as much as possible. What I mean by this is I am not going to be talking about why the Sixers can’t win a championship this year. With the way the league is currently constructed, it is incredibly difficult for really the 28 other teams outside of the Warriors and the new look Raptors to contend for a title this year when they are healthy. Will the journey to the Championship series be exciting? Probably, just as we saw last year’s Western and Eastern Conference Championship series each go to 7 games. But really, the Warriors and Cavaliers were both chalked up to compete in their fourth straight title series since before the season even started.
Rather, my desire is to discuss the biggest issues with how the Sixers are currently built, why these problems are taking away from them truly reaching their potential, and how it may affect them in the years to come. So, without further ado, here are my top 5 Ghosts of Process Present:
5. The Markelle Fultz Mystery
It should come to no basketball fan’s surprise that Markelle Fultz found his way onto this list. What may be a bit surprising is why I have it so low, so hear me out. Markelle Fultz’ rookie year was incredibly disappointing, and it makes it even more so because Bryan Colangelo traded up to select him with the first overall pick. With uncertainty surrounding him and the team concerning whether it was an injury or a mental issue, there have been questions circling whether or not Fultz will ever be the same since the first time he suited up for a preseason game. But the fact is the Sixers were a 52 win team without him. Sure, the Washington Markelle Fultz could have easily been the piece that turned a good team into a great team, but with the new addition of Jimmy Butler, Fultz does not need to be the guy to fill that role anymore. With all of this in mind, its fair to consider the Fultz issue as more of a “non-positive” rather than a negative.
However, there was a lot of anticipation that Fultz could have very well been ready to return in full form this year after working all summer with shot doctor Drew Hanlen. But as we all saw, Fultz clearly was not at 100% and his improved shot and mentality quickly deteriorated as the season went on. With Fultz currently out rehabbing what was officially declared as thoracic outlet syndrome, there is hope again that Fultz can come back ready to play like he did as a collegiate athlete, but it was also recently reported that Fultz may not be able to return this year at all.
Even if he never becomes the player he was supposed to be, he could very well play an important role off the bench as the team’s future sixth man if he is able to find any sort of footing in the NBA. With all of this to consider, it puts the Sixers in a very difficult situation: should they trade him or keep him? The benifits of trading him is freeing up $10 million in cap space they can use to strengthen their depth next offseason. But if they trade him for a pile of second rounders and an aging vet (which, lets be honest, is all they can get for him right now) and Fultz turns around his career, it could haunt the Sixers for upwards of a decade. It remains to be seen how the situation will turn out, but it will be incredibly interesting to see what happens.
It has been about a month and a half since the Sixers traded Dario Saric, Robert Covington, and some change in return for All-Star Jimmy Butler. Since then, the Sixers are 13-4 in games Butler has played since making his debut in a Sixer’s uniform (0-2 when he sits). So there is no doubt that the trade has made the Sixers a much better basketball team. However, as much as Butler helps the Sixers, there has been one noticeable drawback from the trade: three point shooting.
Now, when you look at the team stats from three point range, there is not a glaring difference from before and after the trade. The Sixers struggled collectively from three early this season but last year they shot 29.8 3PA on 36.9% per game (29.8 3PA on 37.9% per game after the start of the New Year when the Sixers really started rolling). Since the trade, the team has been shooting 30.4 threes per game at 36.9%. While the team’s three point production has not exactly changed, it is hard to ignore trading away two of the team’s three best three point shooters for a guy who makes a living in the mid-range like Butler. Butler is currently shooting a career high 38.8% from three, but it remains to be seen if he can keep this pace up as he has only played 27 games this year. With Embiid not exactly a prolific three point shooter and Ben Simmons yet to attempt a legitamate three in his career, the Sixers lack of premier perimeter shooting could very well be exposed futher down the road like in last year’s playoff series against the Celtics.
3. The Phantom of the Process
While yes, this heading is an ode to Embiid’s self imposed nickname from last year’s playoff run, I do not mean this in a good way. Just like a phantom, or a ghost, can disappear into thin air, so can Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons against the better teams in the league. What do I mean by this? Well, let’s take a look at the Sixer’s performance against the Celtics and the Raptors, the Sixers’ two biggest obstacles in the Eastern Conference, over the last two seasons. In the regular season alone, the Sixers are a combined 3-9 against these two teams (1-4 against Boston and 2-5 against Toronto). The Sixers might have won big the other night against Toronto, but the Raptors were without three of their best players in Kawhi Leonard, Serge Ibaka, and Jonas Valencuinas. And then of course we all remember losing to the Celtics in 5 games in last years playoffs: a series in which the Celtics were without their two best players and a game where Ben Simmons could only manage one singular point.
On top of all that, with the Sixers recent win against a depleted Raptors team, they improved to a mere 4-7 against teams with a winning record this year and face 16 more teams with a +.500 winning percentage through February 12th. It will undoubtedly be the biggest challenge of the season for the team, and will show us truly what this team is all about.
Nevertheless, the Sixers are still a young team learning to grow with eachother, and I have faith they will get this issue sorted out, especially with the talent they have at the top of their roster.
2. Brett Brown Being Just… Ok
While the “Fire Brett Brown” crowd has not been as loud this year, they still exist, and they have a tad bit of a valid argument. Before I get into it, I just want to preface this by saying Brett Brown is not a bad coach, by any means. But that being said, he is not a great coach either. Now, I love Brett Brown. He has been here since the beginning of the Process and deserves every chance in the world to be able to win a title with this team. He is an excellent X’s and O’s guy, as he’s been able to develop very effective offensive and defensive systems. The Sixers were even one of the best defensive teams in the league in the middle of the Process Era led by a rookie Nerlens Noel. On top of that, the organization loves him and his players believe in him.
However, in the heat of the game, Brown is prone to some questionable rotations and even more questionable time management. Time in and time out, he fails to stop the clock, give his guys a rest, and draw up a play to get the team rolling when they are on the wrong end of long scoring runs. I would not place him in my top 10 coaches in the league and I’m not convinced he is in the top half either. With a young, inexperienced team, it is incredibly important for the team to have a coach that can guide them through close games and the playoff grind, and judging by the collapse against the Celtics in last years playoffs and their inexplicable habit of losing 20 point leads in the 4th quarter, I am not convinced Brown is that guy.
My stance? The Sixers should not fire Brett Brown, yet. While the Sixers could do a whole lot worse at the Head Coach position, I don’t think they could do a whole lot better at the moment, as there are not exactly any desireable coaches available on the market. Brett Brown is still figuring things out just like his players, so only time will tell if good ole BB can coach his guys to a long playoff run.
1. The Bench
Any Sixers fan who’s watched their fair share of games this year knows that the Sixers’ depth, or lack there of, has been a major issue. This also ties in with Markelle Fultz’ disappearing jumpshot, as his ability to create shots off the dribble is exactly what the Sixers need off the pine. Currently, the Sixers rotation includes TJ McConnell, Furkan Korkmaz, Mike Muscala, Landry Shamet, and more recently Jonah Bolden. Shake Melton, Demetrius Jackson, and Amir Johnson round out the reserves. While most of these players are solid rotational guys and could very well earn minutes on a majority of teams around the league, there are two glaring holes in the rotation: shot creating and rim protection.
As far as the guards go, Shamet and McConnell are the first two guys off the bench. Shake Melton and Demetrius Jackson have been getting more looks as of late, but their youth and inexperience show when they find themselves on the hardwood. Shamet has been one of the most surprising rookies in the league, going head to head with Luka Doncic for the rookie leader in three pointers made. McConnell has been a fan favorite for years with his gritty defense and incredible moments over the years, like his game winner against the Knicks two seasons ago.
But both of them come with significant draw backs. McConnell is not exactly an offensive force. He is a game manager that is great in his role, but he cannot be called upon to come off the bench and give the team a bucket. Additionally, after posting a career high in three point efficiency last season, he has taken a significant step back in that department. Shamet on the other hand is used as essentially JJ Redick lite, which is perfect on the offensive side of the ball. However, much like JJ, Shamet struggles on the defensive side, especially against more athletic players.
Furkan Korkmaz is currently the only wing coming off the bench for the Sixers, and he poses the same advantages and disadvantages as Shamet. However, he has proven that he could earn an important role off the bench come playoff time, as he has been playing more than Shamet lately.
Perhaps the biggest issue is the backups to All-Star Center Joel Embiid. Jonah Bolden, Mike Muscala, and Amir Johnson arenot bad players, but none of them can effectively guard the rack. Bolden has shown some defensive upside, but much like Amir, he just does not have the athleticism to keep the other team outside of the paint. While Muscala plays an excellent stretch role at the five and four, he is a giant hole on the defensive end.
The season is far from over, and the Sixers’ roster is far from complete. I expect them to address this issue with a trade and free agency after the Buy Out Deadline, but as of now the Sixers’ bench greatly hinders the team from reaching their fullest.
Well, there you have it: The Ghosts of Process Present. I wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Keep an eye out for the final edition of this three part docu-series: The Ghosts of Process Future.