The Sixers have played five games, and it has not all been pretty. It is clear this team has talent, but the overall team play right now is sloppy. Because of this, way too many people seem to think the sky is falling. Here is a hint, never read too much into the first month or so of the NBA season. I remember seeing people say the Cavaliers were a mess after the first month last year, and they still won the East. This is a young, inexperienced team. Sloppy play should be expected. I am willing to bet the same people screaming right now about how bad the Sixers look, were the same people saying they would be a top-four seed before the season. Too many people who try to talk about sports are just flavor of the week style analysts. They have blinders on. They just look at what is happening right now and react solely based on that. When the team wins, they are the greatest team ever, when they lose, the coach needs to be fired, and these players need to be traded. Incapable of looking back, or projecting forward. A person who watched the Sixers- Rockets game with an analytical mind would come away saying there are serious issues this team needs to address, but recognize the potential this team showed in the game. With the talent on this team, they can compete with the best teams. But there are many rough edges on this team right now. We need to stop the sky is falling mentality, and also need to stop the blind praise mentality when teams play well. There is a ton of gray area, and the constant overreaction to every cold streak and hot streak is awful. Here are some of the things about the Sixers that are good, and also the things that right now, look bad.
Simmons has been outstanding for a rookie. He had a triple-double in only his fourth game, and posted a double-double in his first four games, before missing it by only one assist, and three rebounds. He has scored double-digit points in all five games, double-digit rebounds in all except one game, at least five assists in every game, and six steals over the five games. This is unheard of production from a rookie
-Ben Simmons needs to shoot the ball
On the other hand, there is one obvious flaw in his game. He doesn’t shoot. That is not to say he can’t shoot, he just doesn’t. The few times he dropped a shot, it worked, but he is so tentative to go to it for some reason. Adding a jump shot to his game will make him a superstar. I understand he has been working on it in the offseason, but if he is too afraid to try it, we will never know if it improved. Not having that shot, severely limits his offensive capabilities. At the end of the Rockets game, where he could not find room to drive to the basket, he was pretty useless, causing him to hold onto the ball for too long, and causing passes leading to forced shots from his teammates, or in one case, a 24-second violation. Side note, he needs to be better at the FT line.
What the hell is going on here? If he is so injured that it is affecting his shot, why has he been playing? We all knew there was something wrong with his shot in preseason. Many people figured it was an injury, but he kept playing. Now, they finally shut him down, but it just seems like player, coaching staff, agent, and front office are all on different pages. The Sixers brought him in to be a shooter. They need to fix this problem with his shot. If it means sitting him for a month or two, then so be it.
Embiid picked up right where he left off. He is still young and makes the occasional mistake, but it is clear he is a special player, a once in a generation type player. The numbers he is putting up in limited time, continue to astound. In only 27 minutes per game, he is averaging 20 points per game and 10 rebounds per game. Imagine what he will do when he is playing full games. You can’t even foul him, because he is money from the FT line, shooting 90%. He needs to take fewer threes, and not force things inside because he has done that a couple times leading to turnovers, but these are the types of problems you see in young players that you coach out.
Sometimes, turnovers will happen. But with the Sixers, they have bad turnovers all too often. Throwing the ball out of bounds, the 24-second violation at the end of the Rockets game, losing the ball on the dribble. These sloppy mistakes are things you will see with a young team, but they are still serious issues that the Sixers need to work on.
-Not Boxing Out
Boxing out while on defense is basketball 101. Even in high school, they know that when there is a shot, you box out, to avoid the offensive rebound. Now, sometimes the ball will bounce the wrong way, or the offense will make a play, and they will still get the rebound. But when you just stand there, and watch the ball bounce off the rim, and let the opposing player go up and get it untested, that is a problem. There is no excuse for not boxing out, but the Sixers have forgotten to do so a couple times. That, to me, is on the coach. Even a team this young should understand basic Basketball fundamentals.
Roco is averaging almost 20 points per game, do in no small part from him shooting .486 from beyond the arc. Robert Covington has been perfect in his role so far. He is not the first, second, or even third option on this team. Simmons, Embiid, Reddick, and eventually Fultz, will all get the ball before him. But he is efficient when he does get a chance, and plays great defense on the other end. Covington is the perfect fifth man for a team like this.
-Fouling beyond the arc
Never foul a three-point shooter. There is no need for it. It makes no sense. The three-point shot, even from the best shooters, is a low probability conversion. Even the worst free throw shooters, convert an FT more often than they do a three-point shot, especially when it comes to the players that tend to shoot threes. When defending a three, do not jump toward the player. Do not go for the big block. That almost never happens, and if it does, it doesn’t lead to a turnover. Simply putting your hands up, and contesting the three, forcing them to shoot over you, is often enough. You are handing free points to the other team when you foul them beyond the arc, and the Sixers are doing it way too much. They fouled Eric Gordon twice in that Rockets game beyond the arc. This cannot happen. Again, this is something head coach Brett Brown needs to deal with, now.
+Defense (at times)-
Now they do not play at the high level for all 48 minutes, but you can see the potential out of this defense, especially in the starting lineup. Embiid and Covington are All-Nba type defensive players. Ben Simmons has the size, and athleticism, to be an elite defender as well. And off the bench, I want to give credit to TJ McConnell. McConnell gets joked about a lot, but he is a spark plug off the bench. Words like scrappy, or high effort, can be buzzwords that get used in ways where they mean nothing, but scrappy is the only way to define TJ. He is high press almost all the time, constantly making the extra effort, and it shows. Now some fans will overreact to his play and say he deserves to start, but let’s not kid ourselves, he is not an NBA Starter. But as a bench player, he is great.This entire defense can be great, once they get more experience.
-Can’t close out games
The end of that Rockets game was ugly. You could see none of the young players were prepared for what to do in a close game in the final minutes. They focused so much on running time off the clock, that they had to settle for bad shots, and overextended on defense, letting the Rockets get quick chances to score. They should eventually figure it out, but they will not be a great team until they do. They have to play smarter basketball, and the pressure clearly got to them.