7 for 6: Okafor Traded, Embiid and Simmons Awarded

| The long awaited Okafor trade has finally arrived, Embiid beefs with Andre Drummond, and Simmons collects (the first of many) accolades|

Okafor Traded to Brooklyn

Well, it finally happened. The Sixers traded Jahlil Okafor on Thursday evening to the Brooklyn Nets. They also sent Nik Stauskas and a 2nd round pick with Okafor in exhchange for Trevor Booker.

“Jahlil and Nik are both quality young men with talent that should keep them productive in this league a long time,” Sixers President Bryan Colangelo said Thursday evening. “We hope they find more opportunity in Brooklyn this season, and thank them for their contributions over the past few years.”

Okafor will finally get a chance to show what he can do. The Sixers have kept him off the floor basically all season and didn’t intend to keep him beyond this year. Okafor never spoke out in a confrontational way to his coaches or the front office. He certainly deserves credit for how he handled himself.

But the Sixers are lucky that the situation never became toxic. It’s rare for a team to be so transparent about their desire to trade a player. And after numerous incidents where the team was reportedly close to striking a deal (including the team telling Okafor to stay home during a road trip), it would have been easy, or at least understandable, for Jah to lash out. If the team ever finds itself in a positional log-jam like this again, they’d be wise to resolve it sooner than later.

Looking forward, this trade doesn’t do much from a salary cap or roster perspective. Booker will certainly play, but it’s not clear how much. The Sixers already have a frontcourt rotation that they like, and they’re still phasing in Richaun Holmes. Still, Booker is a solid piece that should provide a good veteran presence. If it doesn’t work out, his contract expires at the end of this season.

Simmons vs LeBron

Last week we finally got to see Ben Simmons on the court versus LeBron James, a player with whom Simmons shares a lot of similarities. Both are towering, physical specimens who display skill and a natural affinity for passing beyond their years. LeBron has praised Simmons as a player, so it was naturally exciting to see the two go head to head.

Still, in the presence of possibly the greatest player ever, Simmons remained humble.

Unfortunately, the red-hot Cavaliers came away victorious for their eigth straight victory. James got the better of the two in this first matchup; he posted 30 points, 14 rebounds, and 6 assists compared to just 10/8/2 for Simmons. The game was competitive, but the Sixers couldn’t hit a three pointer to save their lives.  They were just 3/28 on the night. Strategically, the Cavs did a good job of drawing Embiid out to the perimeter to guard shooters, vacating the paint in the process. They made 21 of 37 shots in the paint.

The next matchup between these two will be tomorrow in Cleveland.

Hack-a-Simmons

If there’s one area of Simmons’ game you could be critical of, it would be his free throw shooting. He’s only shooting 55% from the line this year. Some people are convinced that he’s using the wrong hand to shoot and his percentage isn’t where you’d like it to be. The Wizards are the first team to try and exploit that weakness. In their game on Nov. 29th, the Wizards intentionally fouled Simmons on numerous possessions to try and come back. Luckily, Simmons was effective enough (15/29) to overcome the strategy and help the Sixers win.

Ironically, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver was in attendance and stopped by the Sixers’ broadcast booth. During his conversation with Marc Zumoff and Alaa Abdelnaby, he mentiuoned that the league had “dealt with Hack-A-Shaq” (the conversations begins around 10:00 minutes).  Apparently, it was not completetly dealt with, Mr. Silver.

Regardless of how you feel about this strategy, it’s something that the Sixers might have to deal with in the future. In general, Simmons needs to shoot better from the line because his game is predicated on driving to the basket and finishing. He’s not the most efficient version of himself if he can’t shoot free throws. But strategically, he has to improve to a point where this isn’t a viable strategy for other teams to use. There was footage of him shooting free throws right handed before a game last week, so there’s a chance that he could change his shooting hand or form entirely. It’s something that we should keep an eye on going forward.

Embiid vs Drummond

The latest target of trash talk in Joel Embiid’s crosshairs is Detroit’s Andre Drummond. Embiid said back in October that Drummond “doesn’t play defense.” Drummond was ready for their re-match on Dec. 2nd. He put up 14 points, 11 rebounds, 6 assists, 5 steals, and 1 block. He also fouled out.

Embiid scored 25 points and 10 rebounds. The Sixers came away victorious, and the two big men were able to laugh about it after the game.

Part of why I like Embiid is because his shenanigans never feel malicious or negative. This incident with Drummond was clearly in good spirits and it’s the kind of thing that makes the NBA enjoyable and accessible. Hopefully this is a rivalry for years to come.

Awards

Two Sixers were recognized with awards this week. Not surprisingly, it was their two best players. Ben Simmons was named the NBA’s Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month for November. In 12 games, he averaged 18.9 points, 9.8 rebounds, 6.9 assists, 2.5 steals and 1.1 blocks per contest.

Simmons’ teammate, Joel Embiid, also received some national recognition. Sports Illustrated named Embiid their Rising Star, given to young athletes who appear on their way to dominance and prominence.

“Over the past two seasons, it’s become obvious he was worth every gamble,” SI’s Andrew Sharp wrote. “He’s worth all the anxiety and any precaution it takes to keep him on the court. At seven feet with power that was supposed to be obsolete in today’s NBA, along with footwork, speed and shooting that’s allowed him to adapt seamlessly to the small-ball era, Embiid’s one of the most gifted players to ever enter the league.”

I have a feeling that these two will collect more hardward over the course of their careers.

Saric Hot Streak

Dario has improved his three point shooting this year, and it’s been another big part of why the team is doing well.  He hit a late shot against Detroit that helped seal a victory. What’s especially encouraging is that Saric has been part of one of the team’s most efficient lineups, alongside Simmons, Embiid, Covington, and Redick. Among lineups that have appeared in at least 15 games, they have the sixth best offensive rating in the league (112.2).

Unfortunately Saric missed Thursday’s game against the Lakers with an eye laceration suffered in practice. There isn’t a timetable for his return, but it’s not assumed to be a serious injury.

Missing TJ McConnell

On Nov. 29th against the Wizards, TJ McConnell landed on his shoulder and reportedly sprained his left AC Joint. The MRI revelaed no structural damagte, but McConnell was forced to sit for three games. It’s given the team a chance to see how valuable McConnell is. They lost two of three games with out him. McConnell’s impact on the team, especially it’s bench, is a large one. When he sits, the ball movement stagnates and the defense suffers. Obviously since McConnell has only missed a few games, the sample size to study his on/off numbers isn’t very large. It’s more about the intangibles that McConnell brings to the floor.

“You miss a ‘bite,’” said Brett Brown. “There’s a bite he gives us. There’s a sting to everything. There’s a pace to everything. He’s a point guard that can get us organized and has had that role for a while now.”

*All Stats are up to date as of December 8th*

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