On the season Embiid is averaging 18.2 points, 7.6 rebounds, and 2.5 blocks per game, all of which rank first among rookies. His 18 points rank almost 9 per game higher than the next closest rookie, his rebounds 3 higher, and no other rookie is even averaging 1 block per game. And that talk about him shooting three’s? It’s come to fruittion; Embiid has even been knocking down three pointers to the clip of 44%. Embiid has lived up to the billing and then some this year. Now the question turns to whether he can stay healthy for an entire year and play without a restriction on his minutes. We may not this year see the full extent of what Embiid can do just yet, but if he continues this pace he will run away with Rookie of the Year (unless Ben Simmons has something to say about that).
2: Dishes From the Homie
Not to be completely outdone, Dario Saric has started to really find a rhythm as a player. His shooting touch has translated from the steady improvement he saw in Europe. He’s converting 39% of his threes and isn’t afraid to shoot either.
I’ve also noticed Saric’s passing, although it isn’t at the facilitating level that I’ve expected from him. Let’s look at one example from a game against Denver.
So what stands out here is obviously the flashly behind the back pass from Saric. It’s subtle mis-direction. Flashy enough to draw Jameer Nelson’s attention but quick enough that McConnell has time to pass it right back to Saric for a wide open look. This is the kind of high IQ, well executed pass that at times make Dario Saric stand out. I say at times because moments like this have been rare for Saric so far this year. Call it adjusting to the new league, a lack of talent around him, or whatever. The fact is, Saric is averaging just 1.8 assists this year. I think the Sixers would be seeing more success is Saric is able to play with a facilitating mentality. Or his teammates need to get open for him.
3: Elton Brand
Elton Brand’s playing career in Philadelphia left the fans wanting more. Off the heels of multiple 20 point, 10 rebound seasons, Brand signed with the Sixers in 2008 and spent five seasons in two separate stints with the team. He never reached those same statistical plateaus again but managed to be a key veteran that experienced the brief success the team experienced in the aftermath of trading Allen Iverson.
Brand made such an impact on the organization last year and the years prior, in fact, that last week he was named a Player Development Consultant.
“Elton’s leadership and character displayed throughout his playing career as a player align perfectly with our vision, direction and culture of this basketball team, coaching staff and management group,” Bryan Colangelo said in a release.
Brand is a well respected veteran around the league and his presence should only help the Sixers’ young players develop into successful players and people. In recent years the (mostly under the reign of Sam Hinkie) team was the object of criticism because of their reluctance to bring in veterans to aid in the development of rookies and younger players. Brand is yet another example of a shift away from that mindset and though he isn’t a player anymore like Gerald Henderson or Ersan Ilyasova, he can still make an impact through mentoring and offering insight from a long playing career.
4: Richaun Holmes
Because of the lingering ailments of Jahilil Okafor, Nerlens Noel, and Joel Embiid, we’ve seen a lot of Richaun Holmes at center this year. And he’s been surprisingly good. Everyone is aware of how good an athlete he is, but he’s expanded his game this year. The most notable improvement on offense has been his outside shot (35% from three). For someone his size, Holmes has displayed a very nice shooting touch and he’s not shy about letting them fly. He’s shooting threes and solidified his defensive game. In just 16 minutes per game this year, Holmes is getting 7 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 1 block and on 50% shooting. His per 36 numbers are even more impressive (15 points, 9.8 rebounds, 2 blocks and 1 steal).
Holmes’ future is uncertain in Philadelphia, like most of the centers not named Joel Embiid. But his value is such that it makes sense for the Sixers to keep him rather than Nerlens Noel or Jahlil Okafor because those players would likely fetch a greater return. For the moment, the team appears comfortable letting him grow towards the end of the bench. More importantly, they seem to trust him should he be thrust into a larger role.
5: Road Woe’s No More?
In my last column I wrote about how the Sixers might have generated a home court advantage, as slight as it may be. The simple basis of that theory was that their only wins to date had come at home. But of late the Sixers have had some success on the road. Their first win away from Wells Fargo Center came last Thursday in New Orleans. Three days later they won their second straight on the road, this time in Detroit.
Which is good news. Winning on the road is pretty important in any sport. And with 41 games on the road, it’s hugely important in basketball. Of course they should play with energy at home, and that’s an equally good sign. But other teams also play well at home and knowing how to counteract that energy while on the road is hugely important for a successful team. Look no further than last year’s NBA Finals. The Warriors had Game 7 at home, but it was the Cavaliers who stole Game 7 in Oakland. The point is; good teams win on the road. And part of the reason for the Sixers record is their play on the road.
And make no mistake, the Sixers have been bad on the road to this point. The team’s average scoring margin is already second worst in the entire league (-7.6%, which is negative because, well the Sixers lose a lot) but on the road it balloons up (or down?) to -10.9% which is only fourth worst, but still means one thing; The Sixers get blown out on the road. Including the following
Nov. 14th @ Houston: L 115-88
Nov. 17th @ Minnesota: L 110-86
Nov. 28th @ Toronto: L 122-95
Yeah, those games were not close.
So what better way to face your demons? The Sixers had three straight on the road this past week, and came away with two wins. Their loss to Memphis on Dec. 6th was also close throughout. More than anything these games showed another side to the Sixers that could lead to more wins. While the Sixers couldn’t score 100, Detroit and New Orleans each failed to score 90 and Memphis was shy of 100. With Nerlens Noel’s (now eventual) return, we could see defense as the driving force behind more wins on the road.
6: The Kings Game That Wasn’t
One of the stranger events of the season happened two weeks ago. The Sixers were scheduled to play against the Sacramento Kings, but hours before tip-off the court was covered in a fine layer of condensation from the ice surface below. It was very humid in Philadelphia on that day, and that resulted in a condition so poor for the court that the game was postponed. It could also have been the Flyers beginning their hot streak. No one really knows. The teams will play a makeup game on Jan. 30th.
The entire situation is a bit embarrassing for Philadelphia as an organization. It was unique circumstances of course, being unseasonably warm and humid for November, but a lack of foresight and any possible remedy to the problem doesn’t help. But the team absolutely made the right call in postponing the game. There is no way a competitive game could have been safely played on that surface. It was a move that reflected a genuine concern for player safety above financial gains. Sixers CEO Scott O’Neil even offered fans in attendance a free ticket to an additional game for the inconvenience.
It was a frustrating development, but at least someone managed to have some fun with it
It hasn’t been a smotth rookie season for Timothe Luwawu-Cabbarot. The 24th pick this past year’s draft has a lot of growth to do before he becomes a regular player in the rotation (he’s only averaging 6 minutes per game this year). As a result he’s been sent back and forth between the Sixers and their D-League Affiliate multiple times this year.
Personally I don’t see a big problem with the back and forth assignments this season. Luwawu is able to practice and play in games on days when he would be inactive for the Sixers. Philadelphia essentially wants to maximize the amount of time that Luwawu works on his game. It’s certainly not an indictment on his ability. It’s quite the opposite actually. The Sixers like his game but know that he won’t get much playing time this year behind Nik Stauskas and Gerald Henderson. So this year is basically a redshirt season for the young guard from France. It’s somewhat disappointing but you can see flashes of what Luwawu can do, and it’s in the Sixers’ itnerest to maximize his potential as much as they can.