Week 1 of the NBA season has already come and gone and the sixers, well, they look like the same old sixers. Despite hanging in there with two playoff teams from last year (Wizards and Celtics) they still sit at the bottom of the conference with a 0-3 record after one week of action. Obviously, I’m disappointed with how we’ve played to start the season, but I can’t say I’m too surprised either. This team is still a work in progress, there’s still a lot of processing to do before we see this team play up to their potential. At times we look like we can play with anyone in the East and at other times we look like a bunch of 20 somethings trying to find their role in the NBA, and at this point that’s what we are; a team full of kids just trying to figure out the NBA game. It sucks to admit it, because like you I want success and I want it now. We’ve waited long enough haven’t we? But at the end of the day, it’s a process and it’s going to take more than an 0-3 start for me to stop trusting it. Here are 5 observations I’ve made from the first week of Sixers action.
1.) Embiid was right, the minute restriction was, “Fuckin’ bullshit.”
The biggest storyline coming into the first game of the season against the Wizards was Embiid’s minute restriction. This isn’t anything new for Joel, ever since he’s started playing regular season games he’s been on a minute restriction. With him again coming off an injury and missing preseason time it was no surprise that the team would employ a similar strategy to start this season. What was surprising though was the number of minutes the sixers planned on playing him. It was revealed just days before the first game that Embiid wouldn’t see more than 20 minutes of playing time, more specifically he would only be allocated about 14-16 minutes. Embiid was not happy about this, and as he so often does, he let his opinion be known. When asked about his thoughts on the restriction, Joel answered in classic Joel fashion, “That’s fuckin’ bullshit,” well said Joel, well said. I think he spoke for all of us when he said that, and he was right, it was fuckin’ bullshit. Joel ended the first game against the wizards with 27 minutes, over 10 more than he was projected to play. He finished with 18 points on 7-15 from the field with 13 rebounds and 1 block giving him a double double. In game two against the Celtics Embiid again saw 28 minutes of action; His stat line wasn’t as impressive as his first game but he still managed a double double with 11 points and 14 rebounds. Embiid is a difference maker when he’s on the court, he’s a rare talent. He’s one of the few players in the league that changes the whole complexity of a game when he checks in. Not only does he put up numbers, but he instills confidence and a swagger into this young Sixers’ team. They are not the same team without him. If you look at the scores from each of the three games they’ve played so far, it wouldn’t be hard to point out the one Embiid didn’t play in. He sat out on Saturday against the Raptors and the sixers suffered their worst loss of the season (128-94). Moving forward, I would be surprised if the Sixers stick to their minutes restriction on Joel. It’s done nothing but hinder the team from developing chemistry. If Embiid wants to be respected as one of the best big men in basketball then he’s going to need to prove that he can last an entire season without injury. And if I was the Sixers I would want to find out if he’s capable of staying healthy sooner rather than later. He can either stay healthy or he can’t, and this minute restriction only delays us from inevitably finding that out. We also won’t win many games with him sitting on the bench and Brett Brown, like all of us fans, is tired of losing. He’s endured 4 seasons of incessant losing and if anyone deserves to win it’s this man. If the Sixers continue to find themselves in close games that come down to the wire like they did in Washington, look for Brett Brown to go for the win and keep Embiid on the court past his restriction.
2.) If anyone should be on a minute restriction, it should be Markelle Fultz
Let me get one thing straight off the bat – I am not advocating for Fultz to play on a minutes restriction, but if the Sixers are going to stick to their restriction on Embiid, shouldn’t Fultz get the same treatment? Fultz has only averaged 19.7 minutes per game, so a restriction would most likely entail shutting him down all together. He’s been suffering from a sore shoulder since the start of the season but Unlike Embiid; who’s play doesn’t seem hindered by his numerous injuries, Fultz’s shoulder soreness has clearly affected his game, especially on the offensive end. He’s only averaged 7.3 points and 1.3 assists through three games, not to mention that he has yet to attempt one 3-pointer. Fultz was a 41.3 percent three-point shooter in his lone year at The University of Washington and of his 439 shot attempts, 126 (28.7 percent) were shot from beyond the ark. The three-pointer was a pivotal aspect of Fultz’s versatile playing style at Washington and one of the many reasons the Sixers traded up to the number one spot to get him. This shoulder injury has taken away one of his strongest assets and it doesn’t seem fair if the Sixers continue to play him. The three-point game isn’t the only part of Fultz’s game that’s been hindered either, have you seen his Shaq-esque free throw attempts? He’s shooting a pedestrian 50 percent from the stripe through three games. The kid’s only 19 years old, he has an entire NBA career ahead of him, what does playing him through this injury prove to anyone? If anything it’s just stunting his development and taking shots at his confidence. He’s not a starter at this point so sitting him to get healthy wouldn’t affect the game plan and above all else it would be the smartest decision the Sixers could make regarding his development.
3.) Robert Covington for Most Improved Player through three games?
Covington has always been a favorite amongst fans, including myself. He’s only one of two players who’s been in Philly since the start of the process (TJ McConell being the second). He was brought in to lose essentially, but he has benefited from the amount of playing time he’s gotten and it’s starting to show this season. Through three games he’s averaged 15.3 points per game including a monster 29-point debut against the Wizards where he shot 60 percent from the field and 63.6 percent from three-point land on 11 attempts. His three-point shot look smooth and refined, he’s comfortable shooting from anywhere on the court it seems. Through three games his average from three-range is 55.6 percent which is about 20 percent higher than his average from a year ago. Now that Covington has earned a starting spot at the Small Forward position look for him to keep improving his game offensively to pair with his all-nba caliber defense. With a consistent three point shot he may be a dark horse to win the Most Improved Player of the Year award at the end of the year.
4.) Where has vegan Jah been?
Well if it isn’t my favorite underachieving 1st overall pick, Jahlil Okafor. It’s been awhile since any Sixers fan has thought about him, right? Besides talks of trading him, he’s really been an afterthought to most fans. What most fans don’t realize though, is that Jah is a pivotal piece to the process; and this is his last chance to prove it. With Embiid constantly being on a minute restriction and being deactivated for every back-to-back game, the Sixers are in desperate need of a backup big man. Coming into the season many believed Richaun Holmes would fill that role and provide solid play in Embiid’s absence. He finished his 2016 season averaging 9.8 points per game and 5.5 rebounds per game coming off the bench. Unfortunately for the Sixers, Holmes suffered a fractured wrist during the preseason and he’s expected to be out for at least a month or so. With Embiid playing restricted minutes and Holmes being out, this is the perfect opportunity to unleash the vegan Jah. He’s squandered almost every opportunity he’s had to make a name for himself in the NBA and this could be his last chance to finally prove everyone wrong. He started this offseason by committing to a completely vegan diet and he’s lost quite a bit of weight from it. He’s down 20 pounds from last year and he’s looks quicker on the court because of it. Despite this, Jah was deactivated in the first two games due to a “coach’s decision”. It’s not quite clear as to why he was benched but what is clear is that they need productive minutes from him coming off the bench. He’s the only true center the Sixers have at their disposal when Embiid and Holmes are out. They’ve tried going small with Amir Johnson and Dario Saric on the court, but it hasn’t worked out. Johnson turns the ball over every other time he touches it and Dario hasn’t quite gotten his rhythm back from last year. Not to mention our defense turns into a layup line with these two at center. Okafor was active for the first time against Toronto this past Saturday and finished a rebound shy of a double-double, posting 10 points on 7 shots along with 9 rebounds over 22 minutes. Those aren’t outstanding numbers by any means but if he can have that kind of production coming off the bench or when Embiid sits the Sixers will benefit immensely. As Holmes continues to recover from his fractured wrist, keep an eye on vegan Jah. He may not blow anyone away with his stats, but he could end up being a key role player for the Sixers down the line.
5.) Ben Simmons is NOT the next LeBron, but he’s still pretty damn good.
This happens every year with the best prospect entering the NBA draft; “Have you watched [insert prospect name here]’s film? He’s the next LeBron dude, no doubt.” I’ve always hated comparing college players to NBA players, it never truly depicts how good the college prospect is and most of the time the comparison is complete garbage. This is no different for Ben Simmons, who upon getting drafted to the NBA was given the not-so-exclusive label of “The Next LeBron.” Listen, there will never be another LeBron James, ever. The man’s been to seven straight finals, if Simmons ever gets us to even one I will be ecstatic. It’s just not fair to compare anyone to LeBron, and Simmons’ game isn’t very comparable to LeBron’s to begin with. Besides from the way he’s built, what exactly does he do that resembles LeBron’s game? He’s a great passer, yes, but he is nowhere near the scorer that LeBron is. Even when LeBron came into the league he averaged 28 points in his rookie campaign, meanwhile Simmons is still trying to develop a consistent jump shot. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying Simmons won’t be a great player one day, all I’m saying is that he’s not going be as good as LeBron James. Through his first three games Simmons has averaged a double-double with 15.7 points per game and 10.3 rebounds per game. Pretty solid numbers for a rookie, but I have yet to see a consistent scorer. He’s only attempted one jump shot through three games, that’s not a typo either he’s literally only taken one jump shot so far this season. With the way the NBA has evolved into putting more emphasis on jump shots and the three ball in particularly, it’s important that Simmons gets his jump shot down. There’s a lot to like about Simmons’ game, even though he’s only a rookie he still possesses some of the best court vision in the game. His defense is top notch and with his size and length he can guard any position on the court. It’s going to be exciting to watch Simmons along with the rest of this Sixers roster develop throughout this season.