In possibly the most explosive game since the trade deadline last Thursday, the new look Philadelphia 76ers absolutely imposed their will upon the Lakers (boy does that feel good to say). Despite Kyle Kuzma’s 39 points, the Sixers won 143-120.
The Lakers, who are often touted as a strong defensive team, gave up 34 points in the 4th Quarter, and 33 minimum for each quarter.
Life with Tobias Harris has gone great thus far, he posted 22 points including 3 3-balls and on 9-14 from the field.
Embiid was the man of the night, with 37 points, 14 rebounds, and a steal. He posted his career high in points last season against the Lakers. The Lakers situation is dire at best, as Javale McGee still plays well within his limited minutes, and Tyson Chandler is lacking offensively when he takes over for McGee. As such, it’s not surprising that Embiid was able to beast on this Lakers squad.
One underrated aspect of this game was how well the Sixers shared and moved the ball. Butler had a good game with 15 points, as well as doing some great on ball defense on players like Brandon Ingram, who it seemed to be easy for Butler to force into errors or poor shot selection. Ingram had 19 points but was a -8 on BP/M.
JJ Redick had 15 points on only 3 3-point makes, which was that absolutely insane and-1 shot from nearly behind the backboard in the corner.
Ben Simmons struggled tonight, which isn’t all that surprising: he seemed a little bit passive and unsure immediately after the Butler trade, but found his rhythm again just before the Harris trade. However, Simmons was operating on no shortage of aggression this time. He took his very first pull up 3-pointer, which was an unlucky rattle away from going in. He also took many more shots from outside of the paint, and was intent on hitting turn-around jumpers out of the post. Nonetheless, it wouldn’t surprise me if Simmons looks a little uncertain in the near future, as this team clearly still has to figure out effective ways to share the ball with as many high-usage threats in their starting 5.
Simmons was a +6 on BP/M, despite having no double digits on the stat-line. He did, however, play some fantastic defense, including one impressive block down-low against LeBron James.
While wins over a strong Denver team and a LeBron led clown-fest feels good, the Sixers’ true test post-deadline comes Tuesday at home against Boston. They lost the first game of the season against Boston, and lost a close OT game against Boston Christmas Day, both of which were away. The Sixers are great at home, but Boston has historically been a bane for Philly. Although it’s important to note, this is not the same Philadelphia squad as was seen in either the first nor second meeting between the two. Boston is also in a shaky place culturally, after their crazy comeback lost to the Sixers-er, I mean the Clippers’ own Landry Shamet. Man, that will never stop hurting to say.
Yesterday had an unprecedented amount of noteworthy things occur, in a variety of ways. LeBron came back somewhat unexpectedly, the Sixers man-handled the Warriors on the low, and of course, the Knicks dealt the best player they’ve drafted in a generation for a low-tier point guard and cap space. Without any more introduction, here is each of those stories in more depth.
A King’s Return
LeBron James returned from the longest absence of his career in last night’s game against the Clippers, an overtime game in which James played 40 minutes for 24 points, 14 rebounds, and 9 assists. One question, though: How irresponsible can the Lakers be? LeBron is coming off the most significant injury of his long career, at a point in his life where he’s up against Father Time now more than ever. LeBron is 34, and there’s more reason for precaution now than there has been so far.
Look around. Dwyane Wade is on his final year, and is a shell of himself. Carmelo Anthony wasn’t even good enough for the Bulls to keep him. LeBron can’t be looking at the people around him from his own draft class and think that it’s no big deal. Nick Collison is having his jersey retired. Chris Paul, who was drafted two years later but is only a year younger, can barely stay on the court for more than a month at a time, and was injured for the most important game in his career. Sure, LeBron is superhuman, but he is human. For a team that has aspirations to trade for Anthony Davis, they can’t mess around like this.
What happens if they trade all of the young players for AD and LeBron pulls a hammy? All you’ve got left Rajon Rondo, Michael Beasley, Javale McGee, and Lance Stephenson. That’s your supporting cast for Anthony Davis.
Maybe LeBron was further along in his recovery than previously thought, but even so, if you have to lose one game against the Clippers to ease him back in, then so be it. While the Lakers won this game, they could have probably still done it if LeBron played just over 30. And even if they did lose, what’s the matter with that? The Clippers are a fine loss compared to some of the teams the Lakers lost to while LeBron was out. Maybe they needed to stop the bleeding, ASAP, but LeBron is going to need to be healthy for the playoffs, and 40 minutes a night on his first game back from the most severe injury he’s ever had, at age 34, is simply not worth it. This ended up pretty preachy, but who the hell cares. The Lakers are a very poorly run team at the moment and they need to wise up or risk being mediocre again with an injured LeBron, AD, and a gang of nobodies around them.
Mr. Brown’s Wild Ride
In the Sixers’ 113-104 win against the Golden State Warriors, Ben Simmons played what HC Brett Brown referred to as his best game in the NBA thus far. While he had a game that was undoubtedly fantastic, it was a pretty uncharacteristic stat line. We tend to imagine good Simmons games as 20+/10+/10+ since he’s so proficient at the various responsibilities he has, but Simmons had a fantastic scoring game, himself, while still initiating for others as he went for 26/8/6. Simmons and Embiid had 26 points each, and Curry and Durant combined for 66.
One extremely noticeable aspect of this game was Jimmy Butler’s struggle offensively. Nevertheless, he had a huge impact on the game down the stretch, making strong defensive plays and exploiting the gravity he creates on the court to dime up others.
Another very palpable facet of this game, as an individual observer and Sixers fan/writer, was how hard Brett Brown out-coached Steve Kerr. The lineups, as well as the elevated play of the whole bench, made life consistently difficult for nearly everyone on the court besides Steph Curry, and even he struggled in the 4th quarter.
Playing through your center is hard late in the game, and Brown’s recognition of the mismatches down low and playing Klay Thompson’s absence allowed Embiid plenty more room to work than he normally is allowed. He was fed the ball, allowed to take Cousins to work, and continued to get fouled which helped the Sixers keep the Warriors at arms length.
As I said, the role players really stepped up tonight, but Brett Brown’s ability to put out lineups that gave Embiid and Simmons rest (keeping them fresh in the final 5 minutes), without sacrificing defense or scoring, was an integral part of this win for the Sixers. Brown got to ring the bell after the game, as even the players recognized the impact his decisions had last night.
The Knicks Fucked Up
I really don’t have a clever title for this one. The Knicks fucked up, plain and simple. They gave up the best player they’ve had since Patrick Ewing who was still young and capable of improving for Dennis Smith Jr., a mid-tier point guard even within his own draft class, and salary matching contracts who they don’t even intend on keeping. All of this in hopes of establishing enough cap room to potentially sign two max free agents this summer. There’s only one problem, and that’s the fact that no free agents probably want to touch that shit-show of an organization with a 10-foot pole.
Sure, maybe the Knicks draft Zion, and sure Kyrie Irving could change his mind about staying in Boston, and sure if Golden State somehow doesn’t win the title this year KD might leave, but I’m saying right now: none of that is worth it. First of all, the Knicks might not get the no.1 overall pick. Second of all, Kyrie isn’t good attractive enough to attract other FAs to follow him if he goes. Third, GSW is most likely going to win the title, meaning KD is most likely staying the fuck in place.
Think about the kind of stuff that has to happen for the Knicks to have justified this trade. Golden State has to lose in the post-season (LOL), Kyrie has to decide he wants to leave a franchise that gave him so much free reign, AND the Knicks have to win the lottery. And even if KD does decide to leave (again, extremely unlikely if GSW wins) what makes NY think that KD would be interested in playing there? They’re such a mismanaged team it’s unbelievable. He wants to go somewhere he can keep contending for titles, and while the East is weaker, there is absolutely no reason to believe that Kyrie, KD, and a bunch of goons is any more prepared to win a title than Toronto, Milwaukee, Boston, or Philly.
Long story short, the Knicks need to get rid of that entire front office if this doesn’t work out. If your name isn’t Zion Williamson, David Fizdale, or whatever free agent ends up going there (if any) you should be on the chopping block. There is absolutely no reason for this team to keep the daydream of cap space alive just because they’re New York. Brooklyn is a team that can capitalize off of a big market. The Knicks are so shitty that being in New York basically doesn’t mean anything anymore. Just think about that.
Anyways, this became a longer, more rant-y piece than I originally intended. But hey, when a lot of stupid teams do stupid things while the Sixers are turning up, I guess I have a lot to talk about.
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.
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.