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.