By: Kwame Fisher-Jones
2016 first overall selection Ben Simmons has the talent to bring a title to an NBA franchise, the question is will the Philadelphia 76ers aid that talent or obstruct it.
The Sixers have used smoke and mirrors, also known as "the Process", to hide the wretchedness of their draft selections, excluding Simmons of course, in previous years. And lost in that fog was the ineffectiveness of Nerlens Noel and the lack of playing time from the oft-injured Joel Embiid. After years of bumbling and inexcusable misses the organization selected what may arguably be their most talented player since Wilt Chamberlain.
Accompanying that talent is an unfathomable amount of obligation, which only an esoteric amount of fans fully comprehend. To quote the great philosopher Uncle Ben “with much power comes much responsibility”. How young Simmons’ career is defined and essentially the city’s basketball future hinges on Philly’s next move.
It is not standard practice for an organization to be held to a higher level of accountability then the players they select. Just as it is not standard practice for a fan base to celebrate incompetent drafting and abysmal player evaluation. But, Philadelphia and its fan base have long been deemed uncommon. Nevertheless, whether the former LSU Tiger becomes a beast who rules the hardwood for years to come or just another failed lefty who never delivered on his ability rest squarely on Philadelphia’s shoulders.
The franchise has an obligation to feed such a prominent basketball aptitude with equally impressive players. This has not been the case in seasons’ past, but needs to become common place if Simmons is ever to deliver on those championship goals.
There is little doubt the Australia native has the ability to be a franchise altering player. From a pure numbers perspective few are in the realm of the forward. The former Tiger put up some staggering individual stats as a freshman, with the emphasis being on the phrase “as a freshman”. In the last 40 years the only No. 1 overall selections to post numbers on par with Simmons (19.2 buckets per and 11.8 boards per) as freshman were UNLV’s Larry Johnson (20.6/11.4), Virginia’s Ralph Sampson (14.9/11.2), LSU’s Shaquille O’Neal (13.9/12.0) and Michigan’s Chris Webber (15.5/10.0).
What makes those comparisons so compelling is none of the aforementioned picks added 4.8 assists a night to their already stout repertoire. Such production is why the question should not focus on Simmons’ talent, but rather if Philadelphia will properly capitalize on just how special a basketball player he is. Furthermore, can a franchise that has so passionately embraced losing suddenly find the right blend of uncommon players to aid the most uncommon of abilities?
When your skill set evokes the name of LeBron James, fair or unfair there is an infinite amount of scrutiny to follow. The truth is any team expectations should be removed from the forward and placed at the doorstep of the Sixers’ front office. It is incumbent upon that group to show they are committed to building a team capable of maximizing such a unique blend of scoring, rebounding and facilitating. There is a necessary purge that needs to commence and winning now should be the front office’s cross to bear, not Simmons’.
It took a trip to Miami for the Cleveland Cavaliers to build a team capable of capitalizing on the Chosen One’s talent. Sadly too many players are held hostage by organizations who have drafted the wish, without fully constructing the plan. This brings us back to the uniqueness of last year’s first overall selection. The onus of unbridled success belongs to General Manager Bryan Colangelo and owner Josh Harris, because this is why you lost all those games.
The city has acquired the requisite ability to now compete therefore delayed player movement and missed opportunities cannot be tolerated. The responsiblilty of winning does not fall on the talent this time, instead it resides with the organization that claimed to be “wasting” for this moment. Failure to do so will have the gravest consequences.
Awaken from the fairy tale ending that is LeBron for a moment, and be cognizant of the cautionary tale that is former 1990 No. 1 pick Derrick Coleman. Before there was Simmons and James there was the 6’10 Coleman. The Detroit native was equipped with a similar blend of individual basketball supremacy from the forward position.
The big man was downright gifted and in some respect a victim of circumstance. As a senior at Syracuse Coleman routinely posted double-doubles in rebounds and points, along with often founding ways to accentuate his passing wizardry. There were the seven assists to go along with his 19 rebounds in a 78 – 76 win at Duke. There was the near triple-double (19/10/9) in a 63 – 61 win in the NCAA tournament, against Virginia for example.
The former Orangeman played in an era when 6’10 players were restricted/required to play in the post and were not afforded the offensive freedom of today’s ballers. Coleman also played for a head coach in Jim Boeheim who preached ball movement and taking what the opposing defense gives you rather than “making a play”. The NBA offered an offensive freedom that the former All-American failed to take advantage of. But be clear Derrick’s all-around gifts were parallel to Simmons, and should also serve as a reminder of just how difficult it is to build around such basketball dexterity.
As a freshman Coleman led Syracuse to a national title loss to the Indiana Hoosiers 74 – 73. The forward grabbed 19 rebounds, but only took seven shots on his way to eight points. That was the first and last time a Coleman led team played for a title. The former New Jersey Net once referred to himself as an underachiever which would be consistent with how many viewed his 14 years in the league (yours truly among them.) The uniqueness that Derrick possessed on the court never even broached a championship level, mainly because the Nets failed to build a championship team around him.
When Cleveland began taking James services for granted, the forward bolted to Miami. Three championships and a return to Cleveland later LeBron is viewed as one of the games greatest ever. Conversely the man known as D.C. was not blessed to play in an era of “freedom” agency and wasted his most productive years on the poorly run Nets and Philadelphia 76ers. At age 31 the forward finally tasted free agency, by that point he was well past his prime.
It is easy to be facile when comparing the three to each other. Simmons does not have the back-to-the-basket game of Coleman, and James was a much better defender early on. While there are stark contrasts to particular facets of their games, it is the blend of all facets that made/make each so arduous to build around. Furthermore, all three share more than a fluid expertise of the game, they also shared the daunting task of walking into the direst of circumstances.
The 76ers’ front office is on the clock, and although history can be abstract regarding player accomplishments, it will be abruptly clear who failed whom in the Simmons era. The success of this franchise begins with the front office accepting the responsibility normally bestowed upon the best player. If the organization can claim the burden and build a team capable of winning, the ability of Simmons will go the way of James and not the waste of Coleman.
By: Kwame Fisher-Jones
The phrase “The 76ers need a shooter” has overtaken “Trust the Process” as the most flawed and asinine rhetoric in Philadelphia. It is illogical for a team comprised of so many holes to waste a top five pick, a top 10 pick or any type of a first round pick on a player who is incapable of creating their own shot.
Shooting is a skill which can be developed and refined over an NBA career. From Derrick Rose to Paul George, if committed, that facet of the game can be added to one’s repertoire. However, the ability to create your own shot and get buckets is a talent that cannot be taught. At this point in the process the 76ers need a talented player not a skilled one.
When a team is routinely drafting in the top five it is often littered with issues. In the case of the Sixers those issues range from the problematic to the insurmountable. This is largely in part due to a reluctance to embrace the obvious, and a penchant to unsuccessfully “outthink” the room (see one Sam Hinkie).
The 76ers truly have no inclination as to what type of NBA player former first overall pick Ben Simmons well become. Placing that aside, there is the whole Joel Embiid and the big man’s shall we say “questionable” injury history. At the center’s current playing rate it will be eight years before Embiid plays the equivalent of a full NBA season. So why would anyone even consider passing on a playmaker (De’Aaron Fox) for a shooter, (Malik Monk) who struggles to create their own shot is beyond comprehension.
Has the local basketball world forgotten the travel miles of Eric Gordon, the brief career of Jonny Flynn, and the virtual irrelevance of Danilio Gallinari and Wesley Johnson just to name a few. Are we still acting as if the Los Angeles Lakers would not trade D’Angelo Russell for Devin Booker on site? People we ALL know how the first round shooter movie ends.
Or has the denial stemming from the precision that the Golden State Warriors have displayed, led the Philly hoops community to forget just how necessary a playmaker is? Are the city’s championship dreams being driven by a cat who was drafted seventh overall, took four years and ran through 40 plus teammates before becoming an All-Star?
Teams that are building a formidable championship foundation do not draft the Malik Monks of the world. Just as teams with downtown parade aspirations do not pursue the J.J. Redicks of the world. Shooters are the rims on a classic car, the heels on a pretty woman or the garnish on a $100 steak dinner. In layman terms, they are the last thing you notice on a finished project.
The NBA has been and always will be about players who can create their own shot. Show me a championship team and there is certain to be at least one great isolation player. The list of NBA Finals M.V.Ps is ripe with players deemed “poor college shooters”. Just as teams that frequent the lottery are ripe with the selection of players who are unable or incapable of ending their lottery frequency.
O.J. Mayo was a much better shooter then a frail defensive stopper coming out of UCLA named Russell Westbrook. No way could an up and coming Milwaukee Bucks or Sacramento Kings squad afford to pass on the sweet stroke of Jimmer Fredette. Especially for a small forward who shoots 25 percent from three and is more athlete then polished shooter. Six seasons later Fredette can be found at a local Wal-Mart and Kawhi is shooting 46 percent from 10 – 16 feet and 38 percent from three. By the way that 25 percent Leonard shot while at San Diego State is exactly what Kentucky guard De’Aaron Fox shot last season, just saying.
The selective memories pushing the shooter agenda are completely dismissing that most if not every NBA player is capable of developing a jumper once they are in the league. But more importantly the league has always been unkind to the lone jump shooter. The attempt to justify such a move with “it will create space” for an oft-injured center and a “hasn’t taken the floor yet” franchise player will in time prove to be a fireable offense.
Remember when Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal was ranked higher than Portland Trailblazers guard Damian Lillard coming into the 2012 NBA draft, based solely on Beal’s shooting ability. Yes Beal has been a good pro, but how much better would the Wizards be with Lillard and John Wall in the backcourt. Or perhaps Otto Porter for a gazelle disguised as Giannis Antetokounmpo for that matter.
The bigger point is athletes and scorers can morph into shooters. If those examples don’t do it for you we can move forward, because it gets better for those bad college shooters. Demar DeRozan shoot 16 percent from three while attending USC and John Wall shot a blistering 46 percent while in a Kentucky Wildcats uniform. Meanwhile, space creators like Nik Stauskas and Trey Burke are struggling for their NBA lives.
If Philadelphia had any idea what type of professional last year’s first overall selection Ben Simmons was going to be, it would……………………no, no no it wouldn’t. This is not the time to be impartial, indifferent or hopeful as a fan. This is the time to DEMAND our team get it right! The 76ers’ front office CANNOT waste a top 10 pick or even a first round pick on a shooter! As much as one wishes the absolute best for Malik Monk and any other highly touted shooter, that hope should not be confused as a wish for an acquisition of said players.
Pause and revisit the wretchedness of Kobe Bryant and LeBron James’ jump shot their rookie year. In the process (pun intended) do not forget about Kemba Walker or everyone’s favorite 76er Allen Iverson. Does anyone recall Walker’s 27 percent from three after his freshman year or Iverson’s 23 percent after his? Yet, somehow each player managed to curve out a pretty dominant offensive game.
The difference being every player named had a playmaking ability that could not be coached, only cultivated. That is what Philadelphia needs and that is what Fox brings. This is not to say Fox or any other player who may struggle from outside 10 feet will be great. It simply should put an end to the ridiculous notion that a player who does not shoot well in college will not shoot well in the pros.
Special always finds a way, and those players named managed to be special without being refined. The 76ers have to focus on special and not shooting, or the clubs front row lottery seat will remain in bullseye view.
By: Kwame Fisher-Jones
It was yet another season of ritual darkness, briefly interrupted by moments of blindly light for the 2016/2017 Philadelphia 76ers. For a brief moment a plant sprouted from the seeds of planned futility. This year offered a Twitter All-Star push for oft-injured center Joel Embiid, an unforeseen expeditious decline of forward Jahlil Okafor and the authoritative announcement of arrival for forward Dario Saric. All occurring in what amounted to yet another losing season.
Folks can argue the significance of the “moral victories” they choose to applaud and the “emotional growth” they have chosen to relish in. But the bottom line is Philadelphia will end another season, making that 7 out of their last 10, under .500.
When will it end?
Nevertheless with any team there are players whose effort, even in losing, is worthy of note. Even if the team they play for is worthy of execution at times. As the season comes to a merciful end, questions are sure to mount regarding the direction of the franchise. Who should stay and who should seek employment elsewhere? Will this be Ben Simmons’ team or Joel Embiid’s team? Most of all when will wins return to Philly basketball?
However, for the moment those questions will be brushed aside to celebrate the “untriumphant” effort of the individuals on the current roster.
Teammate of the Year: Richaun Holmes
As a second round pick Richaun Holmes has slightly exceeded expectations, but as a teammate the forward has shattered those expectations. Early in the season Holmes, whose contract is only partially guaranteed for next season, was essentially punished for being a second round pick. The forward was benched (13 DNP-CD) and his minutes were surrendered to center Nerlens Noel and Dario Saric. However, the Bowling Green State University product never publicly complained, rather he patiently waited for his number to be called.
Once that number was called the center/forward performed. From 18 points against the Los Angeles Clippers and specifically two-time All-Defense center DeAndre Jordan to 25 points against the Atlanta Hawks and former Defensive Player of the Year winner Dwight Howard, Holmes stepped up when given the time. The young man earned the minutes that were taken away from him early on, but decided to put the growth of the team ahead of his personal desires.
That is what being a great teammate all about.
Rookie of the Year: Dario Saric
Is there really any other choice here? The season opened up with Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid, Dario Saric and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot as possible options but ended with Saric either being the last man standing or having a bigger statistical impact.
Saric’s best ability has been availability, and on a roster where turned ankles morph into season-ending surgeries Dario was a welcomed nightly sight. When the season commenced it was Simmons and Embiid who were being counted on to bring the Sixers back to relevancy, but both of their seasons were destroyed by injuries. Fellow rookie Luwawu-Cabarrot has played well recently, but it is clear Saric has been the better player from start to finish.
The former EuroLeague star’s points per game have risen almost nine points (10.8 to 18.5) since the All-Star break. Equally as impressive is the forward’s rise through the ranks. Earlier in the year players complained about a lack of minutes, while other players offered their opinion on who should be playing and when. Yet, the Croatian never joined the fray and instead just kept swimming. The rookie decided to simply remain focused on the things he could control, and in “the process” outlasted all chirping parties.
Saric’s confidence and feel for the game has gotten better as the year goes on, and has provided reason for optimism.
Most Improved Player: T.J. McConnell
There are surprises and then there are what T.J. McConnell accomplished this season. The Arizona product went from fringe NBA player to desired asset, such a climb is a testament to McConnell’s desire, character and hard work. The guard started 17 of 81 games last season, yet through sheer determination tripled that 17 game total and started a whopping 51 games this season. At the beginning of the year such an accession seemed extremely unlikely.
With Sergio Rodriguez and Jerryd Bayless joining the roster via free agency and Ben Simmons playing the role as “Messiah” McConnell’s days in Philly seemed numbered. However, injuries and the sheer ability of availability paved the way for an unlikely prosperous season for T.J. No one would confuse the Sixers season as a success, but the little point guard who couldn’t……….spent the entire season proving he could.
The undrafted floor general has given life to an improbable NBA career, and with so many setbacks taking place this season it was enjoyable to which McConnell take a step forward.
Defensive Player of the Year: Robert Covington
There is no more subjective award in the NBA than the Defensive Player of the Year. For seasons upon seasons Cleveland Cavaliers’ forward LeBron James was the best defensive player in the league, but was often overlooked for whatever the reason may be. That said the awarding of Covington does not fall into this realm.
The Tennessee State alum is more effort than accomplishment, but such is the case with most of the 76ers roster. What makes Covington the winner here is not where the forward lies in the more celebrated defensive accomplishments (blocks, deflections, steals, and defensive rebounding), instead it is his traditional on-the-ball defense. Opponents shoot about 46 percent on 2-point field goals when defended by Covington.
To put that number in perspective Golden State Warriors’ forward Draymond Green allows 44 percent and San Antonio Spurs’ forward Kawhi Leonard allows 48 percent, both are considered top defenders at the small forward position. Conversely, noted two way small forwards Paul George of the Indiana Pacers (53 percent) and Jimmy Butler of the Chicago Bulls (50 percent) have not experienced similar success on the defensive end.
This output, combined with being first in deflections per (4.2), fourth in steals per (1.9) and 11th in totals steals (127) is why Robert is the winner here.
Most Valuable Player: Joel Embiid
Yes Dario Saric could be the winner here, but it is difficult to say anyone who played in 82 games and yielded a record of 28 – 54 is truly valuable. Furthermore, the year quickly went from who “was” on the floor to who “was not” on the floor. Saric’s durability and availability should be commended but Joel Embiid was the story of the season from start to finish.
Embiid’s presence and then abrupt departure turned a year of promise into yet another year of pain, and that in a nutshell is what an MVP does. There was the All-Star push which galvanized not just Philly, but also the basketball world. The Cameroonian was the topic du jour whether he was playing or not.
The center also indirectly put an end to the “Trust the Process” era that had overtaken Philadelphia. The patience that many displayed before Embiid’s third season ending injury is now either plausible deniability or reluctant sensibility. Regardless the hope now is in moving forward. The end of the #trusttheprocess movement and acceptance of its failure by most if not all is worthy alone of the award.
The former Kansas JayHawk was worth the wait and the numbers he put up were dazzling to watch. The center scored 20 or more points in 19 of 31 games, blocked two or more shots in 26 of 31 games all while making at least one three pointer in 21 of 31 games. Yes sir the 7-footer is special……when healthy.
The fact remains he has not been and more than likely never will be. Embiid showed the Philadelphia basketball world that there are no gimmicks in talent evaluation and the process evolves "who" your franchise selects not "where" they select. Fans now understand if your chief talent evaluator cannot identify talent it doesn’t matter where your pick falls, and for that Joel is the real M.V.P.
BY: KWAME FISHER-JONES
Previously written on July 30, 2015
Philadelphia 76ers’ General Manager Sam Hinkie and 76ers’ fans need 2014 first round selection Dario Saric to be an impact player. Unfortunately, history and the play of the Croatian forward do not appear to be cooperating with those needs.
To be clear there is a gargantuan difference between an impact player and a special player. It is virtually impossible to uncover a special player.
This should not surprise anyone, as the list of European players that were supposed to be “special” is significantly shorter than the list of European players that were “special”.
Now Philly basketball fans would LOVE if the Euro enigma could morph into a fundamental piece to a legitimate championship puzzle. An impact reminiscent of champions like current Chicago Bulls’ center/forward Pau Gasol and Dallas Mavericks’ legend Dirk Nowitzki.
That bar may be too high. However, is it too much to ask for the 2010 and 2011 FIBA Young Player of the Year to be an instrumental cog to a perennial championship contender? Perhaps a career on par with former Portland Trail Blazer center Arvydas Sabonis or San Antonio Spurs’ guards Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili.
Nowitizki and Gasol (some might argue Parker as well) would classify as that special player NBA general managers salivate over. Players who have fulfilled the potential foreseen in their early age. It is unjust and downright irresponsible to believe Dario will have that type of NBA career.
But if you are the 76ers’ General Manager, it might take that type of career to justify making such a selection.
One of the litany of issues surrounding Saric, who has been playing professional basketball since 2009, will be the pedigree that European players have established in the NBA. A pedigree that is significantly heightened based on where they are selected in the draft.
The success of the aforementioned players has created this careen to find the next great overseas sensation. In that pursuit there has been an abundance of atrocities selected.
From 1999 (the year after Nowitzki was selected) to 2013 there have been 68 international players selected in the first round of the NBA draft. Of that 68, four have played in an All-Star game.
Now a player does not have to be an All-Star to have an impact on their perspective club.
Unless, they were selected 12th overall, mentioned in the same accord as a Hall-of-Famer and were sold as an intricate part of a rebuilding effort.
Under those circumstances, the impact of say Mehmet Okur, Detlef Schrempf and Hedo Turkolglu will not suffice. In fact, the impact of irreplaceable cog such as Boris Diaw and Toni Kukoc would not be ideal.
Yes, each of those players were/are contributing members of their clubs. Yet, none impacted their clubs enough to warrant being selected 12th overall.
For example, the Dallas Mavericks selected Schrempf eighth overall in the 1985 draft. The 6’9 German forward started a whopping 22 games in slightly over three seasons with the Mavs, before being shipped to Indiana.
This brings us back to the 76ers and their Euro phenom. Just what type of impact can Sixer fans expect from the player Hinkie described to sports writer Mark Sielski in 2014 as “a warrior and a champion at all the junior levels of competition,"
Based on where Saric was selected and the morbid state of the franchise, the Sixers must receive a return on their investment.
Simply put the higher the pick the higher the expectation.
These expectations are tapered because it is difficult to assess just where the forward is in his development. European basketball is completely different than American ball.
In Europe, ball movement is king and rarely does a player break away from the offense to go “dolo” or for theirs. Therefore, gauging Dario’s offensive output most be put in context. Also, the NBA game is as much about the immeasurable, such as heart and toughness, as it is about talent and skill.
Nevertheless Saric’s numbers are less then overwhelming playing against inferior talent.
In the Turkish Basketball League (TBL) Dario’s Anadolu Efes club went 28 – 13 losing to Pinar Karsiyaka in the TBL Finals 4 games to 1. The forward posted 10.9 ppg on 47 percent shooting with 6.7 rpg, 2.6 apg to go with 2.0 tpg for the season.
The Croatian’s numbers were similar in the Turkish Airlines Euroleague, 9.9 ppg on 43 percent shooting with 6.4 rpg, 2.3 apg to go with 1.9 tpg. However, the team finished 13 – 15.
Again, it is virtually impossible to assess what type of impact the 12th overall selection will have in the NBA solely based on statistics. The European game is drastically different from the NBA game. So the lack of eye popping statistics should not be discouraging.
What should be taken into significant consideration is how the forward performed when facing NBA level talent (no matter how fringe the talent). More importantly if Dario’s skill set will be one of consequence in the league.
The EuroLeague appears to have the tougher of competition and also is where Saric’s squad seemed to struggle going 13 – 15. NBA veterans like MarShon Brooks and Andrew Goudelock were stars in that league. Yet, Rudy Fernandez and Andres Nocioni were able to stifle Saric in the playoffs and secure the championship for Real Madrid.
This was far from the talent level Saric would see in the NBA on a nightly basis, and the results vary depending on where you sit on the Hinkie train.
Some will flip the numbers to portray the forward in a good light while others can use them to justify the disdain for the selection. Regardless, there is not one thing that suggests the Croatian forward will have an impact of any consequence in the league.
A hope that Dario will be different than most of his predecessors.
A hope that the forward will buck the norm and bask in the exception.
There are times in life where hope is abruptly interrupted by reality, and at this moment 76ers’ fans need not pardon this interruption.
The hope was Michael Carter-Williams, Nerlens Noel, Joel Embiid, and Dario Saric would be the nucleus that could return the Sixers to their days of prominence.
That hope has been dashed by an MCW trade, Nerlens’ “delicate” offensive game, and the news of Embiid’s incessant foot issues.
All that is left from four picks in two years, none lower than 12th is Dario Saric.
Yes, the most recent selection of former Duke forward/center Jahlil Okafor seems set to pay off immediately. In the form of on the floor production. It is the fourth and final first round selection from year two of the process that may be too much to overlook.
One of those four picks should have yielded at least one perennial all-star.
Four picks in the top 12 should have given the Philly faithful at least one player that flashes dominance and energizes a fan base.
Identifying assets and value is pure analytics and can be taught to anyone who loves basketball.
Identifying talent is a blessing and can never be taught.
Championship basketball has never been rooted numbers, but rather invested in talent. What does it matter if a team has seven first round picks if those picks do not translate to on the court production?
NBA drafts have a way of exposing General Managers, and while circumstances can drastically effect the career of a selection. It seems RC Buford, Sam Presti, Ernie Grunfeld, Jerry West and to a lesser extent Larry Bird and Jerry Krause rarely get exposed.
Conversely, other G.Ms seem to always find themselves talking numbers and not production. This routinely puts their franchises in the position of having to overcome those self-inflicted circumstances.
By: Kwame Fisher-Jones
In a draft full of potential NBA stars the Kentucky Wildcats' De’Aaron Fox is shining the brightest. And hopefully the 76ers' brass is taking notice.
It is virtually impossible to fully assess a player’s NBA future from one game’s performance, however their competitive grit can be judged in one game or a singular moment. Meaning a player’s mental toughness and heart are much more difficult to assess then their basketball skill set. In short, there aint no math equation that tells you if a cat has heart or not.
There are, however, those defining moments that resonate with special talents, and in most cases (not all) provide perspective into the capability of elevating their game. The NCAA Tournament is not the be-all and end-all in determining what beats in a player’s chest, but when a freshman without hesitation nails the biggest shot in the history of their university or a highly touted guard misses two of the most critical free throws in their university’s history those moments cannot be ignored.
The "Leader of Lexington" had his moment and by thriving in said moment showed why he is best suited to lead the Philadelphia 76ers.
The date was March 24th, but the Kentucky guard’s mind were still on a December 3rd loss. The Wildcats were defeated 97 – 92 that night by the very UCLA Bruins team they were moments away from facing this very night. Fox was determined to not just win the current contest, but in some weird chemically unbalanced athlete way of thinking the guard was also going to win the game in December as well. That is the mindset the 76ers NEED to have in order to escape NBA purgatory.
This line of thinking is what winning basketball players have, even if at times it is not what their team wants. A heart that prompted the Texas native to seize the opportunity of playing UCLA a second time, yet with much more on the line. The electrifying guard scored a blistering 39 points, a season high, but it was how the 6’4 guard scored those buckets that left such a lasting impression. In the first contest the Fox shot 8-for-20 with nine assists for 20 points, in the second go round 13-for-20 with four assists.
It was as if the slender slasher had been impatiently waiting for this chance, and when it arrived he reverted to what he does best, attack opposing teams. The difference from the first UCLA vs. Kentucky game to the second game was not an aberration. The most recent Bruins game was a mere microcosm of how the guard has taken his game to another level.
The post season has seen the Wildcat raise every facet of his scoring, from points per (15.5 vs. 23.0) to field goal percentage (46 percent vs. 58 percent) to free throw attempts (5.3 vs. 9.2) and finally field goal attempts (12.1 vs. 13.6). Conversely his assist per (5.0 vs. 2.6) and rebounds per (4.1 vs. 2.8) have dropped, thus hammering home the premise that putting the ball in the hole is instinctive and embedded in Fox. Let us not forget the young man was the leading scorer in the Conference title game, a contest they won 82 – 65.
This ladies and gentlemen is a courage and fearlessness that has been absent in Philly for far too long. A will to be whom and what you are in the most stringent of circumstances is not something a player develops over time, no that is something a player is born with.
The Sixers have been blessed with top picks, but not top selections. The current group is missing that certain maladjusted personality that is necessary for winning. It is a personality trait that finds avenging a loss far sweeter than the actual victory. For a franchise in flux adding a player like De’Aaron who has a winning pedigree is so necessary. More importantly a player who walks in the gym with a scorer’s mentality and an uncompromising competitive fire to pair along Ben Simmons would be a significant step forward in the process (pun intended).
The league is full of great players, but that group shrinks when the discussion changes to great players who elevate their games. The NBA game will always be won by teams that move the ball, yet having a lead guard capable of elevating their play at critical moments is equally as important. From Walt Frazier to Isiah Thomas to Kobe Bryant ball dominate guards who demonstrate that ability are necessary to win championships. The recent post season play of Fox should leave little doubt that the Kentucky standout has this gene in his DNA.
The guile to not just be a part of something great, but to be the reason why that something is great cannot also be missed here. When asked about his teammates performance star shooter Malik Monk stated “He’s motivated just to win because they beat us the first time, outfought us the first time”.
This intangible is why we are here and why this declaration is being made. Great players lose more in defeat then they gain in victory. When asked about their greatest moments there is a pause and reflection, asked about their greatest disappointment there is meticulous list.
There is still some major issues for the Wildcat to work through, most notably his lack of a shooting touch. In time and in an empty gym a jump shot can be developed. But the toughness and scoring mentality that the lanky guard has displayed thus far cannot be developed. The 76ers need a player, not just another wing and not just another shooter, and that is what or better who the Wildcat is.
Oddly enough it is the Texas native’s faults that make him so special. Other players scoring numbers are enhanced by the three point shot, while Fox’s are hurt by it. To be blunt, the Kentucky leader thrives in spite of his poor shooting, while others are perceived to be better because of it. Yes the three point shot is a big part of today’s game but it is not the only part.
There are situations that can birth greatness and while it is too early to proclaim that greatness is in the future for De’Aaron it is not too early to recognize it is attainable. In Philadelphia, there lies another situation that only a certain type of player can flourish. That player must possess an unquantifiable set of basketball traits that may not be perfect for today’s game but are nevertheless perfect for Philadelphia.
By: Kwame Fisher-Jones
Markelle Fultz may be the next face of the NBA, but under no circumstances can the guard be the next Philadelphia 76er! Look it is easy to excuse losing, and it has become commonplace in Philadelphia to accept losing. But when an organization selects a player who led his college team to their worst record in 23 years, excuses and accepting turn into expecting.
Now it is not mutually exclusive to hope the young man has a HEALTHY and TREMENDOUS career, while at the very same time praying to the stars the guard is not selected by the 76ers. Again this is not to wish any ill will on Fultz, the “ceiling truly is the roof” for the Maryland native, however Philly needs more than talent to change the culture that has infested 76er basketball.
9 – 22 (9 – 16 if you only consider the games the former Washington Husky played in) does not just happen. It is one thing to underachieve as a club but it is a completely different animal to be among the worst in your league. The numbers are startling, 11 losses by 10 or more points (in the games Markelle played in), a nine game losing streak and two victories against teams with a winning record.
Such results are not usually found in a perceived franchise player.
No the guard’s club does not have to finish 30 – 2, but 9 – 22 is downright deplorable. Has the basketball community become that oblivious to on the floor results? Has analytics and YouTube really eliminated the instantaneous effect a great player has on his team?
When fans and followers of Huskies basketball are asked why the team finished so poorly, the company line is Marquese Criss and Dejounte Murray left the University earlier than anticipated. Their departures left Fultz with a squad incapable of playing competitive basketball, allegedly. This is an interesting viewpoint, and one that would have merit if Allen Iverson had not made it to the Elite Eight with Victor Page as his second leading scorer.
Let us not “misremember” Willie Warren riding shotgun to Blake Griffin’s Oklahoma Sooners Elite Eight appearance, and who can forget how great Dwyane Wade’s Marquette squad was? How Wade managed to only make it to the Final Four will remain a mystery? Last but certainly not least, Steph Curry’s freshman year with the Davidson Wildcats and how the guard barely managed to lead a loaded roster to its first winning season in………. who really cares.
Point being, it is disrespectful to other great players, and number one overall picks, to excuse Fultz’s team performance. It is insulting to the litany of ballers who have elevated players not worthy of sharing the same hardwood, but such a mind state has become a staple of this generation.
In sports a team with a sub .500 record can be comprised of talented players, but a plus .500 team is never filled with bad players. Talent will remain the defining line for good and bad teams, yet that line becomes blurred when one goes from good to great.
The former Husky guard has talent, but much like the Minnesota Timberwolves are discovering with Andrew Wiggins, intangibles and the immeasurable are what makes a franchise player. If they don’t bite as puppies they won’t bite as full grown dogs. Meaning the will to win and lead a team are obvious even in the early stages of a career.
While there are isolated situations how often do you hear the phrase “soft-spoken” followed by “leader of men”, “will to win” or Finals MVP? Now circumstances can dictate context, and in the perfect circumstance the future NBA guard’s talent may match his team’s production.
But that circumstance ain’t in Philly! Yes anything is possible, but that does not mean every possibility is worth exploring.
As much as Philadelphia needs a playmaker and a finisher, they also need a personality willing and built to overcome injuries, poor draft picks and a roster in extreme flux. All the while being the foundation in which a glorious franchise can return to prominence.
With all due respect a guard who missed six of his team’s final eight games because of a sore knee (that would be right up the Sixers alley) is not the pillar you want supporting your franchise’s rebuild. Fultz scored 25 or more points in 12 of the 25 games he played in, and as tempting as that scoring prowess may be Philly has to pass.
Joel Embiid missed the tournament because of injury, Dario Saric did not play in the tournament because he was already a professional overseas, and Ben Simmons did not participate in the madness because his team was not good enough. Therefore the Sixers already have the market cornered on core players who have missed the NCAA Tournament. In fact, the one player (Jahlil Okafor) who had success in the Tournament has struggled mightily of late.
Adding another player who, regardless of the reason, did not play in what amateur basketball recognizes as the highest level of competition would yield the same results as the previous players mentioned. Despite the hope that seems to always accompany the assumption of the best case scenario, the reality is those players will not alter the losing of a franchise.
Yes it is true a player’s tournament or college team success does not always translate to the pros. However, in the league’s history no player has been selected first overall after a losing college season. There have been players selected after mediocre seasons, and then there is Ray Felix’s 1953 selection by the Baltimore Bullets after not even playing college basketball due to a point shaving scandal. Yet, those exceptions should not give credence to the misguided belief that success is around the corner if the front office follows this road.
Taking that one step further, since 1982 no player has won an NBA Finals MVP without playing in an NCAA Tournament game (excluding players who came directly from high school or from foreign leagues).
This is not to suggest Fultz cannot be the first, but the 76ers would be doing themselves a disservice by attempting to find out. The time has come for Sixers brass to stop trying to be innovators and figure out a way to win within the confines of the system in place.
The laws of sports are not complicated even if they are complicatedly executed. It is a foregone conclusion that great players make other players better, the better the player normally the better the team. That may not always result in championships or even championship contention, but it almost never results in 9 – 22.
Markelle seems to have the physical capabilities to be a top five pick in the NBA draft, but it takes more than that to overcome the obstacles that come with that selection. Philadelphia needs a player who will make all the losses worth it. A player who will be obstinate in accepting defeat and insolent, when required, in their pursuit of greatness.
BY: KWAME FISHER-JONES
Time has separated reality from perception within 76er Nation, and every Philadelphia basketball fan should rejoice because of it. For the first time in what feels like centuries the Sixers can focus on building a team and not accumulating assets.
In 2013 the Philly brass began an epic journey of strife and misery disguised as innovation and genius, four seasons later Philadelphia is no closer to its championship aspirations. The premise that number crunching and other analytical approaches could somehow supersede pure instinctive talent evaluation has now been rebuked.
Fans can spend days debating the reasons why Michael Carter-Williams, Jahlil Okafor and Nerlens Noel simply weren’t good enough to be instrumental cogs in the franchises turnaround. The ticket buying public can bestow infinite hashtags in an effort to distract themselves from the very fact that they are still waiting for Joel Embiid to be and remain healthy. The praise and affection for Dario Saric, T.J. McConnell and Robert Covington is more about the low expectations they have exceeded, and less to do with any impactful future in a Philadelphia uniform.
On May 14, 2013 Sam Hinkie was entrusted with rebuilding this franchise, despite the numbers guru never being part of a front office that has ever drafted an All-Star player. Nevertheless, it was Hinkie who they felt their wagon should be hitched to. Three years, nine months and 19 days later Philly still has yet to even break ground on a winning team.
From injuries to log jams with missed opportunities sprinkled in, time has reaffirmed talent evaluation as the centerpiece to championship success. All the while rebuking any notion that numbers can be in the forefront of any rebuild.
Now as fans sit mired in the misery of their consequence from being so easily led by deception, there is finally hope. The cupboard, while bare, has provided the front office with a plethora options. The current frustration with existing shot caller, Bryan Colangelo, notwithstanding the 76ers finally have an opportunity to build something special.
This has nothing to do with multiple draft picks or a groundbreaking trade on the horizon. It is more predicated on the removal of the smoke and mirrors that have weighed this franchise down. The trade of Noel, gives hope that this front office realizes that he along with Embiid, Okafor and Saric are/were not franchise building blocks. This means there will be no more waiting for ____________you fill in the blank, instead the fierce urgency of now has taken over.
Colangelo has made the smart moves thus far, not the popular ones. The frustration centered on what the 76ers received in return for Noel is hilarious, considering Nerlens was supposed to be the first block in the rebuild. Both players from Hinkie’s inaugural draft are no longer on the team, for whatever the reason, and that should not be so easily dismissed. The rise of Saric has given many “Processers” reason to pound their chest, but lost in their celebration is what Dario claims aided him in his development. The Croatian stated that Ersan Ilyasova served as a mentor to him.
That dreaded veteran Hinkie avoided like the plague helped a young player adjust and transition to the NBA game. The acquisition of Ilyasova was unpopular at the time, but served its purpose tenfold. Just as the acquisition of Gerald Henderson has kept Jahlil Okafor from making any more TMZ appearances.
The former Toronto Raptors executive is not without his faults, but fans can expect him to always have the best basketball intentions when making moves for this team and not be infatuated with what is the best asset. His willingness to face those who are not happy with his decisions should also not be disregarded.
There is a stench that grows when fans embrace losing as a way to compensate the pain from never winning. Since its implementation “tanking” for draft picks as a way to accumulate the best talent had its skeptics and its supporters. Yet, who or whom those draft picks are used on or for was always the deciding factor in determining if the system in place was a successful. After all, despite the cries for patience it does not take a whole day to recognize sunshine.
The lack of on the floor talent can no longer be excused regardless of the excuse.
The end of Embiid’s season, and possible Sixer’s career, marks the beginning of a new day for Sixer fans. No longer will this once proud basketball fan base have to accept players with more injuries than production. No longer will drafts be approached with a “B.O.G.O” mentality focused on what a player may be worth years later. Instead what player is available and capable of improving this squad immediately is all that will be considered.
The obvious selection of Ben Simmons and with 24th overall pick Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot gaining valuable experience it appeared as if the play now philosophy was already implemented. However, then there was the selection of Furkan Korkmaz and reason to doubt crept in. Colangelo’s moves during the season illustrate a man who is intent on building now and developing players through game minutes.
Even the quirky way Embiid and his fragility were handled gives reason for optimism. The organization did everything in its power, short of asking the other team not to show up, to keep the center healthy. Nevertheless nature will always find a way and the oft-injured center will miss the remainder of his rookie season because he landed wrong.
Such an outcome will hopefully make trading Embiid number one on Colagelo’s to do list, followed by a demand to play hard or not play at all issued to Okafor. There should be joy and optimism around this club, because for the first time since Gene Shue and Pat Williams the halls will be roamed by men with basketball intentions.
Philadelphia has a talent evaluator who has made solid if not spectacular selections outside of the top five. The likes of All-Stars Michael Finley (21st overall), Steve Nash (15th overall), Amar’e Stoudemire (9th overall), and DeMar DeRozan (9th overall) were selected outside of the top five by Colangelo. Considering Hinkie could not find a quality starter when picking in the top three that should warrant Colangelo some sort of leeway.
The Sixers will also be joined by what was universally regarded as the best talent coming into the professional ranks since LeBron James. So while the cupboard is bare in regards to on the court talent it is overflowing in regards to options. Simmons will be joined on the floor by players the organization is excited to build around, rather than players who wanted desperately to play elsewhere.
Next season’s progress will not be interrupted by players taking workload management breaks and 76 power forwards and centers. No sir, Hinkie’s failures in not just properly evaluating players but also in effectively developing talent has afforded the new boss with a blank slate. And the shot caller has the necessary tools to create one hell of a masterpiece.
The man who drafted Andrea Bargnani will not be beyond reproach or absent from mistakes. But if he can also turn the likes of Gary Forbes into Kyle Lowry there is reason for joy. When the former Suns GM can trade franchise main stays like Dan Majerle without hesitation there is reason to believe this team will no longer be held hostage to a player selected third overall, but has only managed to play 31 games in three seasons.
The Sixers tried to reinvent the wheel during the Hinkie regime, now they have given way to a mind less interested in reinvention and more preoccupied with ensuring the wheel runs smoothly. After three years of a process revolving around numbers, 76er fans can finally take solace in knowing that the only process being considered now revolves around basketball.
BY: KWAME FISHER-JONES
From Nerlens Noel to head coach Brett Brown there is finally a sense of clarity surrounding the Philadelphia 76ers, except when it pertains to the oft-injured Joel Embiid. The center who has held this franchise hostage for the past three seasons continues to be a painful reminder of promise over production.
This summer Embiid will seek a maximum extension from the only NBA franchise he has known, and Philadelphia must say no. Furthermore, with the current NBA trade deadline quickly approaching the organization must seriously consider moving the player that has rejuvenated the franchise and fan base.
The missed games to date are staggering (183 of a possible 212 games missed). Despite such a lack of actual game participation, the championship delusion centered on the big man remains present and accounted for. Meanwhile, the Sixers actual on the court progression cannot be halted by such unsubstantiated wishful thinking.
The center was believed to be the steal of the 2014 NBA draft, and when he plays it is easy to see why. The caveat being “when he plays”, which frankly has not been much. Two full seasons have passed and “The Process” is still struggling to play more than two games a week. 730 plus days between organized basketball games and the big man still is closely monitored, for fear he might be hurt yet again playing the game he dominates.
“Trust”, “Hope” and “Process” are mainstays in any conversation involving Joel, even now with almost a full three years elapsing since the former Kansas JayHawk was selected. With talented and perceived disenchanted center Jahlil Okafor all but traded, Philly cannot allow the ascension of the franchise to hinge on a player who rarely plays.
The 76er center has experienced back, foot and most recently knee injuries. What makes the knee injury so troubling is the team has done everything imaginable, short of engulfing his seven foot frame in bubble wrap, to avoid it. No back-to-back games, minute restrictions and a strict diet have all been put in place to keep this talent on the court. Only for nature to inevitably strike.
While it is easy to fall in love with such a talented and hardworking player, one need only to remember love is an emotion and championship teams are rarely established on emotion.
Rings are gained through sweat and production, and yes it is a process (pun intended) in building a championship contender. That process must be rooted in growth and consistency. This season has shown us all that the only consistency the current Sixer big man offers is the inconsistency of his presence in the team’s lineup. That lack of game after game participation cannot and should not be ignored by Philadelphia’s top brass.
General Manager Bryan Colangelo has been diligent and prudent in regards to player movement during his first year in Philly. This is a stark contrast to the 25 or so personnel moves former General Manager Sam Hinkie made during his first calendar year.
Colangelo has drafted or traded for future NBA Hall-of-Famer (Steve Nash) and All-Stars (Shawn Marion, DeMar DeRozan, Joe Johnson, Amar’e Stoudemire, Stephon Marbury, and Michael Finley), therefore his ability to assess talent should not be questioned.
Yet, like most organization care takers, the NBA lifer has made some blunders (Shawn Respert and Joe Kleine immediately come to mind). The goal here, regardless of how painful it is to accept, is to not duplicate those mistakes. Signing the Cameroonian to an extension would register as such a mistake.
It is difficult to surmise such a move with the team resting at 20 – 34 and the universal belief that Joel is a franchise altering player. In addition to possibly being that transcendent player, the center also represents justification for the organization’s investment in losing. He is the prize, therefore a lack of long term commitment would be an admittance that their plan was an epic failure.
The 76ers would be openly admitting the best the process yielded was a possible Sixth Man of the Year candidate. Nevertheless, availability is in fact an ability and should be judged as such. So this alternative to signing him long term should not be viewed so skeptically.
Injuries are as much a staple of Joel’s game as the ferocious dunk. His lack of on court reliability should remove any belief Philadelphia has in him of being a long term solution. The Sixer will be entering the final year of his rookie contract and if he can make it through the first half of the All-Star break reasonably healthy (50 plus games played), then there is the option of trading him to the highest bidder.
Imagine what the big man would command in return. Especially, if the league believes Philadelphia would consider playing the role of fool and parting with the money Joel will be seeking.
Yet, in all likelihood “the Process” will continue to miss a huge chunk of games due to injury. And in the instances that the big is available to suit up, there will always be restrictions placed upon the coach in hopes of avoiding something that seems unavoidable.
Choosing to not re-sign the third overall selection will undoubtedly drastically impact the 76ers for years to come. Some could argue the team is not strapped for cash and re-upping Embiid would not limit them financially going forward. The impact of such a robust personality could have a negative impact on a more talented squad. Also, such a cloud of uncertainty around an impressionable hungry group of young guns sets a bad precedent. Keep in mind this current group of overachievers are playing for their collective NBA lives and they struggle to duplicate the same energy and production from when Joel plays versus when he does not play.
Why would you want to create an obstacle for a developing nucleus hell bent on etching their own mark on the league?
With such a documented injury history and Philly already having Ben Simmons in tow, the former JayHawk should be viewed more as a luxury than cornerstone at this point. The “play one game sit the next two philosophy” that has been prominent thus far would be a detriment to the necessary growth of a new foundation.
Through accident or fruition this team has a fresh start coming its way in the form of Simmons. As much as Okafor would benefit from playing with a disciplined talent such as Ben, the 2015 NCAA champion has earned a new start in another NBA city. Noel will receive an offer that Philly is unlikely to match, leaving Joel as the only thing remaining from the three franchise picks that couldn’t.
When Hinkie drafted the former JayHawk, hope was given to every 76er fan. Three years later that hope has been replaced with reality. A reality that the center is more Ralph Sampson than Hakeem Olajuwon. And just because that reality is colder than a January wind, it does not make it any less real.
Certainty, continuity and availability could once again be the staples of Philadelphia basketball, but only if this group can avoid the missteps of placing their faith in magic beans. Only if this group will simply believe in what they have seen rather than what they hope to see.
BY: KWAME FISHER-JONES
The Philadelphia 76ers have galvanized their doormat fan base with an array of uniquely talented players. With the key word being unique, it is difficult to surmise if certain players have maxed out their talent or still have some room to grow. This is a key factor not just for expectations going forward, but how a player’s performance thus far should be viewed.
A 15 – 26 team should never incite the masses or be viewed as an accomplishment..…….unless.
Unless that team has won 10 games, 18 games and 19 games in the previous three seasons. Then, well then, it’s a celebration. Festivities aside it is essential to any growing process to take a judgmental rearview look and evaluate just how far one has grown.
Or in this case just how well or how poor a player’s first half performance was.
Nik Stauskas: C
The former Sacramento King has not been awful, but he also hasn’t been great. “Sauce” has given glimpses of production. However, they are so infrequent you often forget he is on the floor. At some point the 76ers would like to see more “shooting” out of the team’s “shooting” guard. The Canadian has played in 39 games (14 starts) and has notched 10 or more field goals in only three of those contests.
In the guard’s defense his modest production is not due to a lack of effort, it has more to do with Stauskas purely maximizing his talents.
Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot: B
The expectations for the 6’6 rookie should have been low. Considering Luwawu-Cabarrot was still a developing player in the Adriatic League when he was selected 24th overall. Based on those expectations, he has played well. Now the circumstances play a significant role in the evaluation process of TLC.
Specifically when you take into account the language and cultural barriers, the young wing has progressed nicely. Playing 10 or more minutes in 10 of the club’s last 11 games, the Frenchmen has done everything asked of him. Timothe’s shooting is still a work in progress, but in the last five games Luwawu-Cabarrot (46 EFG% and 43 percent from the three) has shown improvement.
There is reason for optimism with TLC, who has displayed a mental toughness and an ability to not be deterred.
Nerlens Noel: D
Nerlens has played in 16 of Philadelphia’s 42 contests which simply is not good enough. The forward/center has managed four or more rebounds in only six of those games, this is not good enough. Three made field goals a game with not reaching the 20 point plateau once, is not good enough.
This should have been a breakout year for Noel, instead it has been more of the same. The sixth overall selection in the 2013 NBA draft is often matched up against the opposing team’s backup center or backup forward and still struggles offensively. Nerlens’ 57 percent field goal percentage is solid, but the number also masks his scoring issues.
On jump shots he is shooting 9 for 21, more importantly, the athletic big is shooting 11 for 25 on anything outside of five feet. His defenders, which includes yours truly, will point to the lack of minutes as the reason for the strife. That should be considered, however his offensive and defensive production has been in line with has transpired in previous seasons. This explains how and why his minutes have dwindled.
In this case the player or players to take those minutes have been Dario Saric (23.9 per), a rookie mind you, and Ersan Ilyasova (27.9 per).
So it is not the log jam at the center position that has robbed Nerlens of his perceived offensive prowess, it has been the influx of better performers. At Kentucky Noel was thought of as an athletic shot-blocker, who could have minimal offensive success in the pick-n-roll. Three years later he is still an athletic shot-blocker, who could have minimal offensive success in the pick-n-roll.
That’s not good enough for the sixth overall selection.
Robert Covington: A
It is tough to be critical of Covington, who much like Stauskas, leaves it all on the floor night after night. The swing man is asked to defend the opposing team’s most prolific scorer going into the game, and once the contest begins that assignment may change to the opposing team’s hot hand.
“RoCo” has been durable, starting 39 of 42 games this season and epitomizes the Sam Hinkie Sixers.
A player that costs the team very little financially (one million), and far exceeds that value in production on the floor. In this case the forward has done just that, and in the process (pun intended) became one of the fans’ most celebrated players.
This season Covington has experienced extreme highs (see game winner against Portland and Minnesota) and extreme lows (0 for 11 against Utah & 1 for 12 against Minnesota).
Nevertheless, the HBCU alum’s heart and competitiveness is always on fleek.
Ersan Ilyasova: A
76ers’ General Manager Bryan Colangelo may never get the credit he earned in trading for Ersan, but rest assured it was one of the best trades in the NBA. The Turkish forward is having a career year in points (15.5), minutes (27.9), field goals made (5.7 per), and three point field goals made (2.3 per). The most impressive feat has been Ilyasova’s ability to essentially take the minutes allocated for Nerlens Noel, Jahlil Okafor and Dario Saric.
The forward’s ability to provide reliable outside shooting (46 percent) and effective three point shooting has created space for Joel Embiid to operate. Ersan has been a pleasant surprise and provided stability to the 76ers’ lineup.
Joel Embiid: A
When the Cameroonian plays he is a force both offensively and defensively. Unfortunately, Embiid has missed 16 games to date and is on pace to play 60 games this season.
That is the negative, now for the positive. Embiid’s growth from game one to game 30 has been remarkable and the maturation of Joel, the team leader, has been expeditious. The center has scored 20 or more points in 18 of 30 contests. What makes that statistic so staggering is Embiid NEVER broke the 20 point mark while attending Kansas. In fact, the big man began his college career on the bench.
Embiid has shown the prerequisite work ethic and commitment and seems poised to be the face of this downtrodden franchise. Numbers aside, the center’s reckless and undisciplined abandon to start the season captivated the NBA nation. Now at the midway point the big man is rarely reckless or undisciplined, rather driven and rhythmic in his play.
As the season continues all eyes will be on this pillar of hope for so many 76er fans who have endured the process filled days.
Sergio Rodriquez: B
Sergio had a spark when he first started, but recently has lost some of that glow. Much of this can be attributed to the play of T.J. McConnell and Rodriquez’s bout with an ankle injury. Either way “El Chacho” has filled the gaping hole of point guard admirably.
The guard has been a steady hand (10th in the league in assist percentage) and a confident ball handler (2.3 turnovers per) for Philadelphia. It has become apparent when he is on the floor his goal is to get the ball to Embiid either directly or hockey assist style.
With a career high in assists (5.7 per) it is very little to complain about with Rodriquez. Yes he could be better defensively, and could be a better shooter. However, the lead guard’s role on this team is to distribute and not turn the rock over. To this point he has succeeded in that role and the Sixers have been a better team for it.
Gerald Henderson: B
Henderson was another solid pick up by Colangelo and has been a true professional for the Sixers. At times the former Duke Blue Devil can be a black hole on offense, but that is to be expected from a player who is on his third NBA team in eight seasons.
The forward has made the most of his opportunity when his number is called, and the 76ers have benefited mightily from the consistency at which he plays. As TLC and Saric continue to develop it will be interesting to see where and when Gerald plays. Regardless, the former Duke Blue Devil has been a pleasant and reliable addition to a young group.
Dario Saric: B
The Homie has struggled offensively a lot, 27 games of 40 percent shooting or worse only begins to tell the tale. But on the flip side he has played well, 19 games of 10 or more points and 26 games with five or more rebounds. Dario’s struggles have been exclusively offensively, conversely defensively he has remained a solid on the ball defender and physical rebounder.
As a rookie the speed and quickness of the players have made Saric look befuddled during games. While defensively the forward’s energy and effort have been his light through those dark highlight reel plays. Unlike Jahlil Okafor and Nerlens Noel who are fighting for minutes, Saric is getting the time necessary to produce at a high rate and simply hasn’t. His numbers for the season are adequate 9.4 points per and 5.9 rebounds per, but the Croatian is logging 23.9 minutes per.
Saric’s toughness and availability, played in all 42 games this season, should be appreciated by fans. The forward continues to log major minutes and has yet to not bring those two factors to each contest.
As a rookie, especially an international rook, the forward has exceeded expectations. There is no reason to believe Dario will not get better as the season progresses.
T.J. McConnell: A
Statistics do not do the miniature guard justice, and do not capture just how well he has competed. There are rare occasions when McConnell is not overmatched by the opposing teams point guard, and somehow he manages to come out on top. Damian Lillard, Reggie Jackson, Kemba Walker, and John Wall just to name a few have all tasted defeat at the hands of McConnell.
The major coup one can argue in favor of the guard is his ability to avoid the huge mistake, while making plays for his team to win. The Pennsylvania native has made the transition of power, and the subsequent replacing of him very difficult with his play.
Jahlil Okafor: C
It is crazy to think the 76ers two best scorers cannot play together, yet after watching one game it is apparent they cannot. As good as Okafor is offensively, third on the team in total points with 147, he has been equally as bad if not worse on defense. The 6’11 center is late on his rotations and is caught too many times with his hand down.
With Okafor it feels like there is a disassociation with the organization and players. Jahlil seems to lack or no longer has the same joy he once displayed while attending Duke University in route to a championship.
It is impossible to process what led former General Manager Sam Hinkie to select and keep Big Jah. Did a deal fall through? Did Hinkie believe Embiid would never be or never stay healthy? Regardless of what led to where we are today, it is a painful reminder that no process is without scars.
BY: KWAME FISHER-JONES
The campaign to make Joel Embiid the first Sixers’ All-Star since Andre Iguodala in 2012 (replacement players don’t count) has been admirable, yet such strong efforts do beg the question would such a push be necessary if he was truly worthy of such an accolade.
The voting structure does not favor the traditional line-up any longer, and has eliminated the title of center completely from ballots. However, for the purpose of “fair and balanced” analysis true judgment of the newest NBA phenomenon will come only against those slated at the center position.
Oddly enough the center spot, while voided of a transcendent dominant force, is ripe with quality competition at the position. Each player impacts their respected club in different ways, and fulfill different roles predicated on the talent level of each player.
For example, Joel is required/asked to do significantly more on both ends of the court, than say Chicago Bulls center Robin Lopez (9.1 pts/7.1 rebs/1.7 blks), New York Knicks’ big man Joakim Noah (5.7 pts/8.8 rebs/blks), Washingtion Wizards center Marcin Gortat (11.5 pts/ 11.8 rebs/1.0 blks), Charlotte Hornet Frank Kaminsky (10.2 pts/4.5 rebs/0.4 blks), Cleveland Cavalier Tristan Thompson (7.3 pts/9.8 rebs/1.1 blks).
This group of bigs are not the collective athlete, defender or scorer of Embiid and are not capable or asked to carry such a load, hence a comparison is not warranted.
Players like the Toronto Raptors’ Jonas Valaciunas (12.2 pts/9.8 rebs/0.8 blks), Milwaukee Buck Greg Monroe (10.8 pts/7.1 rebs/0.5 blks), and Orlando Magic Nikola Vucevic (13.2 pts/10.3 rebs/1.1 blks) are a completely different case.
Valaciunas has been effective as the Raptors third wheel at times (14 double-doubles in 36 games), and invisible at other times (10 or fewer points in 13 of 36 games). This is not the case with the 76ers’ center, who at times will force the issue. This offensive aggression with Embiid’s shot-blocking and ability to finish threw contact (14 and-1s compared to six in 11 fewer games) and he easily edges out the Raptors big.
In fact, offensive ability is what distances the Philly center from this second tier entirely. The young pup has more 20 point games (13) then Vucevic (six) and Monroe (zero) combined. A feat the former JayHawk accomplished IN 11 FEWER GAMES and significantly less minutes per contest. Both big men are better rebounders, maybe even significantly better, and but provide adequate offensive numbers.
It is difficult to overlook the gargantuan difference in offensive production, while still managing to anchor a severely inept Philadelphia squad.
The Sixer’s chances become murky when he is measured against the likes of Boston Celtic Al Horford (15.2 pts/6.8 rebs/1.9 blks), Brooklyn Nets center Brook Lopez (20.1 pts/5.0 rebs/1.6 blks), and Atlanta Hawk Dwight Howard (13.9 pts/13.2 rebs/1.3 blks). Offensively Howard and Horford are not the first option on their respective clubs and are unlikely to dominate a game scoring the ball. With the Hawks’ Howard it is rebounding, defense, and shot-blocking that create a problem for the 76ers’ hopeful. The three time Defensive Player of the Year began the season well, tapered off some, but appears to be back to form. Dwight’s 25 doubles-doubles, which are four times more than the six Joel offers, is also be tough to overlook.
Boston’s Horford brings defense and a winning record to the debate. The Celtic center’s blocks (7th in the NBA) come on the ball rather than from the weak-side. While not as flashy, they are a testament to him being a better defender and one of the main reasons Boston has a winning record.
The Nets’ Lopez, posts impressive offensive numbers (three games of 30 or more points), but simply does not have the impact in the wins, rebounding or defense.
It is unlikely any of these three get a nod over the still developing young big, but both Howard and Horford could receive significant consideration from the coaches and media.
Things turn from murky to downright bleak when Indiana Pacers’ big Myles Turner (15.6 pts/7.6 rebs/2.4 blks), the Detroit Pistons’ Andre Drummond (14.5 pts/13.5 rebs/1.2 blks), and Miami Heat center Hassan Whiteside (17.6 pts/14.3 rebs/2.2 blks) enter the fray.
Abysmal record aside Whiteside has performed better and played more than Embiid, and should get the All-Star nod over him. The Heat center has 26 double-doubles, 18 games with 15 or more rebounds, and 16 games of 20 or more points. All more than “the Process”.
The Heat big man is first, among centers, in 2-point field goals made (7.2). Drummond is second (6.2), the Hawks’ Howard is third (5.5), with Joel (5.3) and The Pacers’ Turner (5.2) rounding out the top five. What makes that statistic so intriguing is only one of those four is shooting less than 50 percent from that range.
Yup, it be the 76er. This plays into the infatuation the Philly center has with the three ball and his lack of post play to date.
39 percent of Embiid’s field goals come inside the paint compared to 79 percent of Andre Drummond field goals, 74 percent of Whiteside’s, and 41 percent for Turner. To put that in perspective the seven footer averages 13.8 shots a game, and 5.8 are with five feet of the rim, only Turner (4.3) has a lower output.
At some point your seven footer has to play like……….well a seven footer
The production does not favor the Cameroonian, but there is one factor that will likely eliminate him completely.
That pesky thing known as availability.
As much as fans and supporters would like to ignore this, availability is in fact an ability and should be judged as such. All three of the aforementioned players have played in 35 or more games. More importantly, all three have all played with zero days rest, and put in work while doing so. Drummond (14.3 pts & 14.3 rebs in eight games), Turner (17.3 pts & 7.0 rebs in six games) and Whiteside (13.1 pts & 13.3 rebs in seven games) have provided their clubs with a dimension Philadelphia fans are still waiting on from their Twitter celeb.
Yes, Whiteside plays in Miami and doesn’t panhandle for votes. But his production is video game-esque and should not be disregarded.
Yes, Myles Turner’s Pacers have underachieved, but there is nothing that Joel has done to overtake him for an All-Star appearance.
Yes, Drummond is boring and receives little to no fanfare, but his production is certainly All-Star worthy.
All-Star games are part popularity contests, part lifetime achievement awards (Joe Dumars 1997 & Tim Hardaway 1998 selected over Allen Iverson), and part worthy participant.
It has been an eon since Philly has a player who fit in at least two of those three categories. As it stands now Embiid is more the first than the latter. Hopefully there will be a time when his worthy of both, however now is not that time.