After the Philadelphia 76ers’ dominant 149-197 win against the Minnesota Timberwolves, Joel Embiid did something we haven’t seen in a while: he took to Twitter.
For reasons unknown, Embiid has been relatively quiet on social media this season, compared to last season where he would post pictures of him dunking on Russell Westbrook even after a loss. If I had to guess, Embiid wanted to let his play speak for itself as he embarked on an MVP campaign. But regardless of the ‘why,’ here is Embiid’s tweet about the game last night:
For context, the Minnesota Timberwolves was the team Jimmy Butler demanded a trade from in order to end up on the Sixers, and Embiid is specifically referring to an event which took place at a Timberwolves’ practice.
Butler came to the practice, even though he was not really supposed to because of the trade request, hopped into the scrimmage with the 3rd string lineup, and proceeded to beat the starters, including Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins. Reportedly, Butler talked a lot of mess to the starters, as well as making a scene in front of the front office. Butler later claimed (on a podcast with teammate JJ Redick) that he only took a single shot in the scrimmage.
Butler’s primary grievance with the two young Timberwolves was their lack of urgency to win, and Embiid’s tweet shows that not only is he about that hustle, but he’s trying to prove a point in doing so, as Butler did in the scrimmage earlier this year.
For one thing, I hope Embiid will start to feel himself a little bit again. He seems to have doubted himself at times this year despite his unprecedented performance, and with a long, hard stretch of games coming up, the team could use the confidence.
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.
Well, Thanksgiving is officially behind us, so that means its Christmas season, right? Well whether or not you’re feeling the holiday spirit yet, Courtside is going to bring to you a three-part Christmas-themed (kinda) article: The Ghosts of Process Past, Present, and Future. It should be pretty self-explanatory, but the point of these articles is to highlight the biggest mistakes the Sixers have made and how they are affecting the team now and how they will affect it in the coming years.
The Process has gone far different than how we thought it would ever go. I mean if it went the way we all wanted it, we’d still be waiting on Andrew Wiggins and D’Angelo Russell’s breakout seasons. So, if you’re still holding on to Thanksgiving, you have Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons to be thankful for. That being said, the Sixer’s front office has made many avoidable mistakes over the last five or so years, and no I am not talking about drafting Michael-Carter Williams over Giannis Antetokounmpo. What I mean is the Sixer’s made controversial moves throughout the Process and took a lot of risks, and many of these questionable decisions never panned out or made any sense in the first place. So, without further ado, here are The Top 5 Ghosts of Process Past.
Trading Nerlens Noel for Essentially Nothing
In 2016, Joel Embiid was proving he was worth every cent of stock the Sixers put into him. Meanwhile, the other two bigs, Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor, that the Sixers bought into on draft night were quickly falling out of favor with the organization. Trading at least one of them was imminent, and it was no secret that everyone wanted Okafor gone. However, in February of 2017, news broke that Nerlens Noel was traded to the Dallas Mavericks for Andrew Bogut, Justin Anderson, a protected 2017 First Round Pick, and a 2020 second round pick. In other words, we gave the Mavericks great rim protector for a packet of saltine crackers. Andrew Bogut never put on a Sixer’s jersey. We got 62 games of garbage time minutes from Justin Anderson. The first-round pick, well that was protected for the first 18 picks by a team who had no chance at the playoffs; the pick ended up being differed to the second round in 2017 and was eventually traded to the Los Angeles Clippers. We have yet to see what the 2020 second rounder produces, but it’s hard to imagine it churning out anything significant. Meanwhile, Nerlens Noel fell out of the rotation in Dallas, but has since found his footing backing up Steven Adams in OKC, and the Sixers’ have struggled to find a serviceable rim protector to back up Joel Embiid ever since.
Drafting Anzejs Pasecniks over Kyle Kuzma and Josh Hart
This one stings, a lot. Not only has Anzejs not played an NBA game, not only did we trade up to get him, and not only was he absolutely terrible in last year’s summer league, but Kuzma and Hart are putting up more than serviceable minutes for one of the Sixers’ biggest rivals: the Los Angeles Lakers. Kuzma specifically already looks like a legitimate NBA starter. Especially for a Sixers team struggling to find serviceable frontcourt minutes outside of Joel Embiid, Kuzma would have seamlessly fit into our current rotation and our rotation last season. And now with Covington and Dario gone, the Sixers really need wing shooting off the bench, and Josh Hart would have been the perfect answer.
Drafting Jahlil Okafor
In the Sixers’ defense, there was legitimate concerns about Joel Embiid’s health at the time. There was speculation that Embiid might not ever be able to play and effectively become Andrew Bynum II. So, the logic behind picking Okafor as an insurance policy for Embiid was sound, until you look at who was picked immediately after Okafor.
Sure, Kristaps Porzingas is currently recovering from a major knee injury, but when he’s healthy Porzingas is a top 25 player in the NBA. A combination of length and defensive instincts, plus a smooth shooting stroke, gives Porzingas a unique ability to create offense and anchor defenses, which something really only paralleled by Anthony Davis and Embiid himself. Pairing guys like Embiid and Porzingas together would have been a frontcourt dream for the Sixers and a nightmare for opposing offenses and defenses. Even if Embiid never panned out, Porzingas is more than capable of playing either frontcourt position – imagine a Kyle Kuzma and Kristaps Porzingas duo.
On top of that, Porzingas is an incredibly Hinkie-esque type of player – think a better defending Dario Saric without having to stash him for two years. Hinkie wanted Porzingas, and ownership forced his hand to avoid him. Pairing Embiid with the Zinger was an incredibly real possibility that we can only dream of at this point.
The only other concerning aspect of picking Okafor was we could have easily traded down in a draft that featured Devin Booker, Myles Turner, Terry Rozier, and Josh Richardson among others.
Trading the rights to the King’s First Round Pick to Move Up Two Spots
Well that’s a hefty headline, but it’s necessary. As most NBA fans know by now, the Sixers moved up two spots in the 2017 NBA draft to select Markelle Fultz with the first overall selection. Now at the time, picking Fultz first overall was the right decision. He was the unanimous first overall pick for the entire season and really will go down as one of the best college freshman scorers of all time. Of course in retrospect, we should not have picked Fultz, but that is not the issue at hand. The price we paid to get him, however, is an issue.
The Kings ended up keeping their pick in 2018, selecting Marvin Bagley with the second overall pick. However, the Celtics, aka the Sixers’ biggest rivals, have the Kings’ 2019 pick completely unprotected. The Kings might be off to a hot start, but knowing the Kings it is hard to believe they will keep it up. Even if they don’t land a top 3 pick, it’s not outrageous to believe they will end up a lottery team and convey a top 15 pick to the Celtics. So, was the trade worth it? Definitely not. Was it worth it at the time? Still, definitely not. Danny Ainge came out and said right after the trade that they were going to pick Jayson Tatum with the first overall pick anyway. With Lonzo destined to be a Laker from the start, there is a very real chance that Markelle Fultz would become a Sixer anyway, and it wouldn’t have cost another potential lottery draft pick.
Pushing out Sam Hinkie
The biggest mistake of the process should come to no Sixer fan’s surprise. Not only was it a glaring mistake at the time, it led to a lot of other blunders that could have been completely avoided if Hinkie was around (see trading up for Markelle Fultz, drafting Anzejs Pasecniks, and trading Nerlens Noel).
In April of 2016, the Sixer’s “hired” Jerry Colangelo as President of Basketball Operations. It is no secret that it was a move orchestrated and forced onto Sixer’s ownership by Adam (Dave) Silver and the NBA to cede power from Hinkie. The Sixers started the season 1-21 and the league was tired of losing revenue to one of the biggest basketball markets in the league, so they essentially forced the Colangelo family onto the organization. Less than a month later, Hinkie uncoincidentally stepped down as the team’s general manager. Colangelo then hired his son Bryan as the team’s general manager before ultimately stepping down himself, giving Bryan complete control over the team’s roster. From there, Bryan continued to make bad trades (as mentioned before) and questionable decisions. His wife even created chaos this past offseason with multiple burner accounts that criticized the team’s players and former management.
It’s impossible to entirely blame the Sixer’s ownership for this move, as it was essentially forced upon them by the league. But even looking at it from an outside perspective, it’s hard to say that Josh Harris and the ownership group could not have supported Hinkie more to keep him around until The Process was completed.
Sure, Hinkie might not have been the guy to put the finishing touches around a championship quality roster but pushing out Hinkie at that time completely derailed The Process. He needed at least one more offseason to make the picks and trades that would have really put the Sixers over the top for the (assumable) upcoming championship runs. On top of that, Bryan was hardly the guy we needed to land the plane that Hinkie was steering. Even at the time, Bryan Colangelo was a questionable hire with his track record of drafting Andrea Bargnani over LaMarcus Aldridge with the first pick of the 2006 NBA draft.
With all this being said, the Sixers still sit comfortably towards the top of the Eastern Conference. They were even a year ahead of schedule with last season’s playoff run. Especially with the addition of Jimmy Butler, the Sixer’s looked poised to compete for a championship as early as this year. Of course, all of these mistakes are in retrospect, but it is difficult to not think about what could have been if these avoidable blunders were never made in the first place.
Be sure to stay tuned for the next edition of this series: The Ghosts of Process Present.
The Sixers have had trouble maintaining the leads that they so often build towards the end of the first half and early second half, especially in times when there’s secondary rotations being run before crunch time. For a team with aspirations for to appear Eastern Conference Finals, you need to hold on to every lead you can build. With defensive powerhouses like Boston and Toronto, or high-volume fast-paced scorers like Milwaukee in their way, you never know when you might stumble upon a 3rd quarter scoring drought. So what can the Sixers do to establish more consistency in their scoring down the stretch, and with bench guys rotating in more frequently.
The Sixers are 26th out of 30 teams in 4th quarter scoring, despite having multiple players in the Top 25 average PPG in the league (Embiid at number 3 notably, behind only Steph Curry and Lebron James). While the second player in that ranking is a new addition, the raw scoring potential is there for the Sixers. As I mentioned in my Jimmy Butler debut blog, Butler is among the highest in the league for 4th quarter scoring, at number 3 averaging 8.1 points, tying with number 2 Lou Williams and a measly .1 behind number 1, Lebron James. In theory, Butler should be a nice shot in the arm for the Sixers, adding a new primary playmaker in lineups that don’t include Ben Simmons as the game drags on. How might that happen though?
Butler in theory will fill a similar role in theory as Robert Covington, as an elite perimeter defender and option 1B on offense in the starting 5. However, Butler has a unique ability to create off the dribble, handle the ball, and initiate offense in a way that Covington wasn’t able to. Now, adding a new playmaker in place of a catch and shoot 2-guard adds some complexity to this lineup. I see the addition of Butler as an opportunity for Simmons to learn to play off-ball a little bit more, since Butler is a bigger threat in a half-court offense despite Simmons proficiency in playmaking and engaging others in the plays. Or better yet, add some raw scoring potential and playmaking in lineups when Simmons is out. Both of these scenarios add a lot of flexibility to lineups as players like Muscala, Korkmaz, and Fultz come in and reduce the pure creation and defensive ability of the lineup deep into the games.
To me, Brett Brown needs to take into account that Jimmy Butler is now on this team, and he needs to lean into that. Early as it was, the rotations in the debut were heavy on Simmons and Butler together on the court. Maybe, in a sort of Harden/Paul-esque way, they stagger minutes a little bit more and spread out the depth a bit, rather than riding super high highs and trying to survive super low lows. Maybe, Simmons plays some minutes as a small-ball 5 with Jimmy taking the ball from the top of the key, since Simmons is less of a threat from the arc, and is capable of cutting and taking lobs, or receiving a pass in the corner and driving and kicking to players like Shamet, Kormaz, or a wide open Muscala.
This team has a ton to figure out, especially as they consider some trades to add shooting depth before the deadline. But most importantly, the need to spread the scoring consistency through 4 quarters, 3-point threats or not.