7 for 6: The Strangest Things

| The Sixers just can’t escape the weirdness of their team, even as the wins start to pile up |

Zhaire Smith’s Season in Doubt

It’s been a while since we’ve spun the random Sixers injury wheel. This time round, it lands on Zhaire Smith. In a story on The Ringer, John Gonzalez detailed how Smith had a sever allergic reaction to sesame, of which he and the team had no knowledge.

“It wasn’t until November 9, a month and a half after first mentioning Smith’s allergic reaction, that a team spokesperson and Brand unexpectedly briefed the media and issued a carefully crafted press release. It explained that Smith had received “additional medical treatment for complications derived from the allergic reaction that initially required a thoracoscopy” and there was “no timetable for his return to play.”… On background, team sources told reporters that they were aware of Smith’s peanut allergy and prepared his food individually, but the team and the player were unaware that he also had a sesame allergy, and he may have eaten something from the facility with sesame in it that triggered a reaction.”

John Gonzalez via The Ringer

The Sixers sorely lack perimeter defenders off their bench, and Smith would have been very useful for that role and perhaps more this year. It’s one of the strangest injuries (if you can even call it that) in the past few years for the Sixers. Brett Brown also indicated recently that Smith will spend time with the D-League Affiliate Delaware Blue Coats for rehab and games, if activated.

More Fultz Issues Surface

To say that Markelle Fultz has had a rough start to his career would be an all time understatement. The former #1 pick still shies away from jumpshots, and isn’t the dynamic player that the Sixers were expecting. Brett Brown finally relented and benched Fultz for TJ McConnell against Phoenix, and his spark helped the team win. The next game, McConnell once again acted as the backup point guard.

Apparently Fultz did not take kindly to his demotion. He surprised many last week when his agent abruptly told the team that his client would not be playing until he saw a specialist for his shoulder on Nov. 26th. This procedure will reportedly last into next week.

It’s yet another frustrating moment in the saga of Fultz, and public perception seems to be changing against him. His teammates may be very supportive of him, but it’s hard to imagine that they’re happy when he isn’t available because of something that the front office hasn’t been able to 100% confirm as a physical issue. It was one thing when Fultz was playing and hesitant to shoot; it’s another thing entirely when he is holding himself out when the team just traded their two best role players.

There isn’t a timeline for Fultz to return, so the Sixers have to shift their direct focus to the team that’s playing. Without Fultz the Sixers have one less guard in their rotation, which is already thin (although the Sixers may statistically be better with Fultz off the floor). TJ McConnell is now their backup, and the team has reportedly stopped listening to trade offers for him, even though some believe that he could fetch a first round draft pick.

Highs and Lows

Aside from all of the surrounding drama, the Sixers do in fact play competitive basketball, and results have been good lately. Philly has won five of seven since trading for Jimmy Butler and he’s personally responsible for two wins in late game situations.  They’ve beaten the lesser teams that they should beat (Phoenix, Utah, Brooklyn, New York) and even wrestled a win from MVP candidate Anthony Davis and the Pelicans (who missed the potential game tying free throw in the dying seconds).

One hiccup came against Cleveland on the day after Thanksgiving. The Cavaliers gave the Sixers their first loss at home of the season.

“We didn’t play defense in front of our home fans…there wasn’t as much resistance on the ball as we needed. They just did not feel us sometimes,” Brett Brown said after the game. “Other times they felt us, and [Rodney] Hood made some tough shots. There’s no denying that this is a disappointing loss.”

Brown was right. The Cavs made some absurd shots, going 11 of 22 from deep. On some nights you just have to tip your cap to a team that makes their shots. But there are lessons to be learned. The Sixers give up the seventh most points to guards in the NBA, over 61 per game. Missing perimeter defenders like Fultz and Smith obviously makes that problem worse, but they’ll need to tighten up their defensive scheme moving forward.

Jimmy Buckets

As for what’s going well with the Sixers, Jimmy Butler has lived up to the hype. He scored 18 points in a 4th quarter comeback against the Nets, and capped it off with .4 seconds left.

“They told me to put the game away, so I got to my spot, my favorite move, and it went in again,” Butler said after the game.

Butler has been everything that the Sixers needed; a pure scorer in the clutch who is decisive and confident. His 7.8 points per game in fourth quarter are third best in the league, and he’s having a tangible impact on the Sixers overall numbers in that quarter as well. They’re 12th in the league in fourth quarter scoring since acquiring Butler, which ranks 13 spots higher than what they did before.

Overall Butler has transitioned in into the offense quite well. They’re scoring 114 points per 100 possessions which is fourth best in the league since the Sixers added Butler. It’s fair to assume that he will only get more comfortable playing with his new team.

It’s impressive that, considering how competitive Butler can be, he is fine deferring most of the scoring to Embiid. Butler himself is only averaging 17 per game, but he is always a threat to do more. So far, the character concerns that came with Butler have yet to surface. In fact, he’s doing everything he can to fight that perception.

Embiid and Simmons Growing Comfortable

Butler has been a major addition to the team in his own right. One positive that he brings is the challenge to other players to raise their own level of play. He’s already rubbed off on Simmons defensively.

Statistically, Embiid and Simmons are both working with Butler quite well. In the nine games with Butler, here’s what they’re doing;

Embiid: 26.3 points, 13.3 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 1.8 blocks in 32.4 minutes

Simmons: 16.1 points, 7.3 rebounds, 8.3 assists, 1.2 steals in 33.2 minutes.

One Less Trade Target

The Sixers were recently linked to trade talks with Cleveland for Kyle Korver, but on Wednesday night they were beat to the punch. The Utah Jazz traded for the sharpshooter, removing a possible addition from the Sixers’ grasp. It’s almost certain that they’ll look to make another trade or sign a player that is bought out.

There are rumors that Wesley Matthews of the Dallas Mavericks could be bought out, but owner Marc Cuban denied that. He would certainly be a nice source of scoring, but after tearing his achillies in 2015 he wouldn’t provide much defense. JR Smith on Cleveland could be a buyout candidate, but he apparently wouldn’t accept that. The Sixers will undoubtedly be linked to any rumor of a guard that becomes available.

*All stats are up to date as of Dec. 1st.

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