7 for 6: A Shaky Start

| A year of new new beginnings is off to a 2-4 start. Not ideal but also not without some positive signs. |

Fultz’s Shooting Woes

It’s not necessarily surprising that Markelle Fultz is struggling. Rookies have it tough in the NBA, especially point guards. What is surprising is the struggles he’s had from the line and total reluctance to take outside shots.

His form from the line is…not good at all. I really hope the team isn’t encouraging him to emulate Shaq from the charity stripe. A free throw should be two things; 1) a fluid motion, and 2) released at or above the head. Fultz’s form does neither. There’s a hitch at the top of his motion, and he’s holding it out in front of himself and pushing the ball rather than releasing up high.

The free throws are concerning enough, but Fultz has passed up every open jumpshot that’s come his way. Simmons has taken over the role as a slashing ball handler, so Fultz being able to hit open shots on the perimeter is hugely important. For him to suddenly be so averse to that is a real head-scratcher.

So what is going on here? Fultz wasn’t an ace from the line in college, but his form didn’t look this broken. It’s like the result of a shoulder injury. On Tuesday a report surfaced that “had fluid drained from his right shoulder earlier this month and is planning to visit a specialist soon.” Fultz’s agent later contradicted that same report (of which he was the source) and said that Fultz had received a cortisone shot. Finally, the team announced on Wednesday that the rookie guard would miss three games and be re-evaluated on Tuesday.

If there is a silver lining in this mess it’s that Fultz’s struggles can merely be attributed to an injury, which is at least correctable. But it’s simply horrendous optics for a team that has struggled with injuries and transparency for the last three years. Bryan Colangelo offered an explanation, but it felt a little too PR-ish and tone deaf to the concerns of many. At this point, all you can do his hope that this situation hasn’t permanently damaged the relationship between Fultz and the team too severely.

Minutes Restriction? 

Before the season began, Brett Brown said that he expects Embiid’s minutes per game to be in the teens.

So much for that. Embiid is averaging 27 minutes per night. And he’s looked damn good.

Embiid himself has said that he is still working himself into proper game shape. I wouldn’t expect him to play more than 30 minutes per game once he’s in shape, but it’s fun to think about how much more effective he can be if he’s not getting tired as quickly.

Turnovers

I pointed out in my season preview that turnovers would be an area of focus for the Sixers this year. Understandably, after a slow start turnovers are still an issue that stood out form the very first game. The team is averaging over 17 per game, 4th worst in the league. And worse, they are coming in hugely important situations. Against the Wizards in the opener, the Sixers had two late chances to tie the game. The result of those two possessions? Two turnovers.

A week later, they had another chance to close out a game, this time with the lead against the Rockets. With three minutes left, they held a 104-96 lead. Here’s how their final six possessions went

Block, Turnover, Turnover, Missed 3 pointer, Missed 3 pointer, Shot clock violation.

Houston hit free throws to close the gap and Eric Gordon hit a three at the buzzer for the win. All the Sixers needed was one made basket or even just a free throw and they couldn’t get it. The Sixers made serious strides last year in learning how to win close games. But they are still such a young team that losses like this are an unfortunate part of growing as a team.

Simmons is the real deal

Ben Simmons has been as good as advertised in his debut season. He leads all rookies with 17 points per game.  He’s also putting up 9.5 rebounds, 7.5 assists, and 1.7 steals.

Overall I’ve been most impressed with his scoring ability. The knock on Simmons coming out of college was his lack of a consistent jump shot. It’s fair to wonder his ceiling if he’s only able to shoot near the basket. But he’s so good at scoring at scoring in other ways. He’s quick enough to drive past big men and strong enough to back down guards. In particular, I’ve noticed that he loves to back his defender into the middle of the lane and use as hook shot. He’s big enough to get it over most players and has the touch that makes those shots easier.

I’ve also been impressed with his defense. He certainly has the physical tools to handle NBA defense, and it’s encouraging to see him put in the effort. We know about his passing and rebounding skills, but it’s good to see those skills translate so early in his career. All of this underscores how complete of a player Simmons has been so far. He notched a triple double in his fourth career game. I’m sure there are many more in his future.

Okafor and Stauskas are MIA

The Sixers are a deeper team than in year’s past, but it’s somewhat surprising to see Nik Stauskas and Jahlil Okafor not get any minutes at all.

Okafor is understandable. He’s not a good defender, and just because he showed up to camp in better shape doesn’t mean he’s fixed enough on that end to warrant big minutes. I thought that he’d see more playing time, at least while Richaun Holmes recovers from a wrist injury, but I guess I was wrong there. A report surfaced on Friday that Okafor is out of the rotation entirely and the team is working on trading the third year big man. But it doesn’t look like any suitors are standing out.

Stauskas is a little more surprising. He’s logged just 14 minutes in 2 games. He’s also coming off a career year in terms of scoring volume and efficiency. Perhaps he isn’t the defender that Timothe Luwawu-Cabbarot is, but his catch and shoot ability is a theoretical fit next to Ben Simmons, at least for stretches. He’s valuable insurance in the event of an injury, but apparently that’s all for the moment.

Saric Struggling Big Time

Dario isn’t thriving in his new role off the bench. He’s putting up just 6 points, 4 rebounds, and 1.7 assists (!) per night. A far cry from what we saw from him as a rookie.

The team has used him a lot at center in the absence of Richaun Holmes. I don’t think he’s a great fit as a small ball center. Maybe his struggles could purely be fatigue after playing a lot internationally this summer. But if that’s the case, he won’t have much down time in an 82 game NBA schedule. Dario is clearly a prideful person and loves to play basketball whenever he can, especially for his own country, but he might have to put it on hold or get in better shape if he doesn’t want that to affect his play in the NBA.

A Chance to Gain Ground

The first four losses for Philly have been against legitimate playoff teams; Boston, Houston, Toronto and Washington. In their next six games, they Houston, Atlanta, Indiana, Utah, Sacramento and Golden State. The Rockets and Warriors will be tough, but the rest of those games are winnable. And let’s face it, if this team has it’s eyes on the playoffs, they need to win games against the best teams.

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