Category Archives: Sixers

Hey! The Sixers are on a Roll!

I loved the big Sixer win over the TWoles the other day. They were in the groove. But it was not clear at that time whether the team could repeat that kind of performance. It might have been a one off.

And that is why yesterday’s game against the Pacers was so important. The Pacers are a better team than the TWolves, were one game ahead of the Sixers in the Eastern Conference standings, and they were playing on their home court. This promised to be a tough game. BTW, just one of many, many tough games that the Sixers will face on this part of their schedule

And it was a close game in the first half. Neither team shot well. But both teams were up for the game. It was fast paced. Then came the third quarter The quarter where the Sixers often fade. Not this time. The Sixers started hitting three’s, smoked the Pacers in the third, and built on that lead in the fourth quarter. They won by more than 20. WTF!!!

Not only that, they got the win even though JoJo was playing with a sore lower back. You could tell in the first half – he did not have good lateral movement. But he hung in there, and his back loosened up in the second half. As important, the team hung in there. Jimmy Buckets had a solid game – and is demonstrating that bringing him to Philly was a very good idea.

Jimmy also was right when he said that the Sixers had a problem with their “killer instinct”. They have had a tendency to get comfortable with teams instead of putting them away. Not last night. They played with grit. And that was great to see.

Also great to see – the Sixer bench played well especially Bolden, Shamet and Muscala. That is a major reversal and very good to see.

Onward to Saturday to face the Thunder. It will be fun to see Nerlens Noel who is just coming back after suffering a concussion against the TWolves. The Thunder lost that game.

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A Peek at Sixer Potential

The Sixers hae serious talent and they can be fun to watch. Their starting five is as potent as any in the league (though i could be even better if they upgraded at the 4). But throughout the season so far,  one got the sense that they were not playing to their full potential. They had ups and then out of nowhere came the downs.

Last night the game against the Wolves was different. The Sixers blasted the Woles – scoring 83 points in the first half! You got the feeling that you were finally seeing what the team could do. Of course, the reason they looked so good was that they could not miss form outside. Everyone — except Ben who didn’t need to — was knocking them down. The Wolves could not keep up.

The Sixers also signed a 10 day contract with Corey Brewer, a vet swing man.

Elton Brand is starting to put together better bench combo’s — and that is a very welcome turn of events.  Will the Sixers pick up a back up 5? They may opt for that, or go for more wing defenders.

It will be fun to watch! Meanwhile, the Sixers hi a  tough schedule patch with the Pacers, Thunder, Rockets, Spurs, Nuggets, Lakers and then the Warriors!   Fasten your seat belts! This will be a wild ride!

The Sixers Without JJ Redick

The Sixers kicked butt in Philadelphia two nights ago against the Wizards, and one had the sense that this was the natural order of things. The Sixers showed that they are simply a better team. Then the day after, the Wizards kicked Sixer butt in Washington. Hello?

What happened?  The difference was obvious. In Philadelphia, the Sixers were confident that they could get buckets when they needed them. Even when the Wizards started to come back in the third quarter, the Sixers got buckets at the right time. In Washington, the Sixers could not buy a bucket from the outside.

The key moment came late in the game. The Sixers had cut a 26 point deficit to 12. They had the ball, and the pass went to a wide open Shammet in the corner. Making that shot — a shot that should be made — would have cut the Wizards’ lead to 9. The shot was missed, and the Wizards scored on their  next possession The lead went back to 15.  The Sixer rally fizzled.

The thing is that the Sixers still live and die from 3 point range. Ben and Joel are better than they were last year inside, but they cannot operate there unless the team spreads the defense. In the old days, the Sixers had JJ, RoCo and Dario. And there were nights when all three went cold. Now we just have JJ and Jimmy Buckets in the starting  five. So better inside play, and less firepower from the 3.

So is there a way to get more consistent`? You might argue that they answer is “no”. In the modern NBA game, every team has this problem. If they miss from the outside, they tend to lose. The better teams tend to have more than one threat. For examples, the Warriors have Curry, Thompson and Durant — all deadly from 3 point range. The Sixers rely heavily on JJ (who was out last night).  And Jimmy Buckets is the only Sixer in the starting unit who can create his own outside shot.  BTW, last year NO Sixer in the starting unit could do this. So that is actually an upgrade. But at the same time, there is less fire power from 3.

looking on the bright side, Jonah Bolden has an outside shot, though h e is not ready to use it regularly. Ben may start popping from the outside. And Markelle may rediscover his shot. Meanwhile, we will get nights like last night in Washington especially when JJ is ou. Uggh!

Brett Brown Proves his Value in the Jimmy Butler Kefluffle

Jimmy Butler is a great basketball player. And he is a pain in the butt. There is no denying either of these statements.

The Sixers knew that they were getting both when they traded for him And in a perfect world, they might not have pulled the trigger because Butler is a pain in the butt. But the fact of the matter is that at present, the Sixers need Butler in order to have a chance at winning. So the Sixers brought Butler into the fold. And Butler has delivered on the court.

But … is was inevitable that Butler would become a pain in the butt. Sooner or later, he would get ins someone’s face the way he did in Chicago and Minneapolis. And that just happened. Butler had a tiff with head coach Brett Brown because he wants Brown to call more pick and rolls where Butler can score.

Before getting to the tiff part of it, you have to admit that Butler is right. Especially if Ben Simmons is not shooting from the outside, it makes total sense for Ben to set screens for Butler. The Sixers have not been doing that, and  they should.

Having said that, Jimmy has a way to speaking that can make asking for seconds at dinner sound like a national emergency. And apparently, he presented his case to Brown with his hair on fire. Ooops.

That brings me to Brown’s reaction. Brown knows hat the team needs Jimmy. And he knows that Jimmy is going to do shit like this from time to time. Brown also knows that Jimmy knows that this is his weak point. Jimmy needs to make things work in Philly, or he gets labeled a trouble maker, and will not be as valuable on the NBA trade market. That will hit him where it really hurts. In his reputation and in his bank account.

So Brett Brown came out and said that Jimmy didn’t cross the line. That everything is cool, and reporting to the contrary is unfair. In other words, Brett protected Jimmy from unflattering coverage in the media.

Bravo Brett! I think this will go a long way to making Jimmy a part of the team. When the chips were down, Brett had his back. And now Jimmy cannot complain that management is a problem. He will get his pick and rolls sooner or later. In the meantime, Brett Brown has demonstrated some leadership. If Jimmy is smart — a point that I am not yet persuaded of — he would say thanks. Perhaps a bottle of wine?

This is a great demonstration of a saying that I use — being right is not as important as being part of he conversation. Butler was right. But he needs o be part of the conversation for that to matter. Brett is giving him that chance.

I love it!

Hold the Presses! Ben Simmons is Shooting Jumpers!

If you are a Sixers fan — and I am one — you will have followed the story about Ben Simmons. He is a great, and I mean really great player. A 6-10 point guard who can murder you in transition. He won rookie of the year last year barely breaking a sweat. But he also has a big problem. He has no jumper.

Not only does Ben Simmons not know how to shoot a jumper, he has trouble even shooting free throws. By and large, this was tolerated in his rookie year because he is so good at doing other stuff. After all, against most teams, he was still a walking triple double. But against really good defensive teams the lack of a jumper is bad news.

The Celtics demonstrated last year in the playoffs that you don’t need to guard Ben when he is outside the paint. just sag in and double team Embiid, and single cover the other dudes. The Celtics did that and stole the series from a much more talented Sixers team.

This year, it looked like  more of the same. At the start of the season, Ben was not even taking, let alone making jumpers. He has not taken a single 3 all year! But then suddenly there was a glimmer of hope. Ben’s free throw form got a bit better He still needs more arc on the ball, but at least they are going in more frequently. He made 15 of 23 against the Suns the other night (those numbers might be off by one or two). And in that game — bingo — he took and made a jumper!

Against the Mavs last night, this trend continued. The first shot of the game was a en foot Ben Simmons turn around jumper and it went in!!!! He took 3 more, and made one of those 3.  Ok. He missed badly on one, but that is to be expected.

What happened? It appears that Ben has finally realized that if he can demonstrate a credible outside shot, teams have to defend the Sixers differently. That opens up the middle passing and driving lanes. Perhaps Ben has also realized that if he starts shooting and making shots from the outside, he could become an MP candidate. Bravo Ben! We love ya dude!

So what changes as a resolt? The Sixers starting 5 is starting to look awesome. Embiid is a potential MVP  at the 5. Bolden looks like he can develop into a decent stretch 4 who is agile and can rebound. He can shoot well enough. Butler at wing is a solid closer. At the 2, JJ wears out defenders off ball and is deadly with a fast release of screens. And finally Ben at point — an amazing stud who also can shoot from the outside. Keep in mind that 3 of the starting 5 are  6-10. or taller This is a very big line up,. but not a lumbering one. All 3 of those dudes – Ben, Joel and Jonah Bolden — can move their feet well. After that you have Butler at 6-8 who can defend well. Even JJ is 6-4, not tiny by any stretch of the imagination.

The question arises — as it did again against the Mavs last night — how the Sixers will improve their bench. The big hopes are that Markelle Fulz and Zhaire Smith will return and contribute. Shammet is shooting well but needs to improve his defense. Wilson Chandler and Mike Muscala might give credible minutes at the 4. Korky on the wing might blossom. But the Sixers desperately need a backup 5. That is a huge hole for the time being, as Amir has lost it.

So — in a battle of starting 5’s the Sixers will be able to play with anyone, especially if Ben makes progress on this jumper. If the bench comes around, they can win. But that is still a very big if. Markelle and Zhaire are not yet even in uniform. Neither is Wilson. Moose is very inconsistent. Shammet and Korkey are works in progress. And once again, the Sixers do not have a back up 5. When Embiid leaves the floor all hell breaks loose.

Elton Brand! We are counting on you dude to pull off some good deals for this team! Get to work man! Bring us a back up 5! Errr … a quality stretch 4 would be nice as well.

Go for it!

A quick Follow up – Ben’s new jumper is generating a fair amount of press. This quote sums up why

The addition of Jimmy Butler should help the Sixers challenge the Celtics and the rest of the East’s elite. With that said, the Sixers’ three stars are an imperfect fit. Simmons expanding his range could unlock the full potential of the trio. It also makes the Sixers scary on the offensive end with the number of ways they can beat you.

Amen brother! We want more of that secret sauce! Let the games continue!

Assessing the Sixers in the New Year

The NBA season is still not near its peak, but we have seen some seismic shifts in the relative power ratings between teams. In the East, the Bucks have surprised everyone. The new look Raptors look awesome — though they did just get pounded by the Spurs. The Celtics — who were supposed to be awesome — look a bit less so.

And the Sixers? The sad fact of the matter is that at present, the Sixers would probably lose to any of the above teams in a playoff series. They might even lose to the Pacers, who are also good, but not quite as good as the above big three.

What happened? Why are the Sixers not competing at the very top? The answer is simple. When the Sixers lost to the Celtics on opening day, it was already clear that the team did not have enough fire power. to compete.  Brett Brown hoped he could get that from Fultz,. Fultz disappointed, and then went out with his shoulder issue. So the Sixers gave up two rotation players to get Jimmy Buckets and a back up center (whose name no one remembers).

When you give up two rotation players, and your bench is already depleted by the loss of Belinelli and Ilyasova, you are asking for trouble. And that is what the Sixers got. They are very, very short handed. I mean come on! Starting Wilson Chandler at the 4?

So where are we now? Actually, the Sixers are not in such a bad place. Consider the following

  • Joel Embiid has leveled up. He is having a monster season and if he stays healthy, can anchor the team to the playoffs. That is IF Brett Brown can find a way not to give him too many minutes
  • Ben Simmons has not leveled up yet (except for his post up game), but he is showing signs that he wants to. His horrible free throw form is improving and he is taking at least one jumper per game. They are not going in, but they might start to if he figures out how to release the ball a bit earlier. There is hope!!!
  • Jimmy Buckets has given the Sixers what they wanted – a solid wing who can drive and shoot from the outside and defend. He has also upped the toughness quality of the team.
  • Wilson Chandler has been horrible, but he was not acquired to play so many minutes. He may be replaced by Jonah Bolden who is showing promise. Bolden is big, agile and can play offense and defense. Bolden may at least be a back up 4 in the rotation,and not ridiculous as a starting 4.
  • JJ Redick may have lost a step on defense, but his shooting is as good as ever. And he now has sharpshooting partners in Shammet and Korkmaz (korky). None of these dudes plays serious defense, but  one at a time can be hidden if everyone else does play defense – that means Simmons, Embiid, Butler, and perhaps Bolden.

The above shows that the Sixers starting unit looks pretty amazing on paper. And the stats bear this out. The Sixer starting five can play with just about anyone, even with Wilson Chandler at the 4. So far, so good.

The problem — and it is a big, big problem is with the bench. The Sixers bench sucks. There is a lack of talent and a lack of vision. This was different last year when the bench went small ball. Amir Johnson could still get up and down the court, and Belinelli and Ilyasova could pop from the outside. So what are the prospects for finding some comparable magic this year?

  • Markelle Fultz may be back, and if comes back with a repaired shoulder, he can be the focus point off the bench. That is a big if, but one can dream, right?
  • Zhaire Smith may be back, and he is a highly athletic wing. At least he can play defense. Will he be able to?
  • Let’s face it, Amir Johnson has lost too much, and we need to move on from him. The Sixers should acquire a new back up five — or perhaps Justin Patton will fill that role? Who is Justin Patton? He is the back up 5 that the Sixers got with Jimmy Buckets in the Timberwolves trade. This is a very long shot as Patton broke a bone in his foot. So we are likely to see the Sixers bring in a back up 5
  • TJ is a smart player. TJ McConnell  does not have the physical assets to turn the tide. He is a liability on defense. But TJ can provide energy and smarts in given situations.
  • Last, the Sixers may consider acquiring a young, agile 4. That person might be used to back up Bolden — or better yet, a more seasoned player who Bolden can back up.

So my revamped  bench looks like this — TJ as the anchor. Markelle playing significant minutes for defense if nothing else. Zhaire filling in when the wing looks weak. Spacing from Shammet and Korky. A new back up 5. A new back up 4. And Muscala and Chandler playing a few minutes to spell the bigs.

Meanwhile, there is some good news about the Sixers current status. Even with their weaknesses, they are not that bad. They nearly beat the Celtics on Christmas eve (losing in overtime) and just had a good game against the Suns (where Embiid embarrassed Ayton). And being short handed has is advantages. Brett can give Bolden, Korkey, Shammet, Muscala and Chandler lots of minutes. Those minutes offer those dudes a chance to level up in ways that they could not get if they just rode the bench

So there is hope here. The keys however are (1) Simmons continues to improve his outside game. If Simmons can hit an occasional 3, this will totally change the Sixers offensive profile  (2) Bolden proves he can play the 4. Bolden does not need to be a star, but if he can rebound and defend, that will be enough. He might also be able to play a few minutes at a small ball 5 (3) Markelle comes back. Not as a starter, but to provide defense and spark to the bench (4) the Sixers acquire a back up 5. and a starting 4. The Sixers need the 5 and could use the 4. If all of the above happen, AND there are no serious injuries, the playoffs look interesting.

Onward!

BTW, it is not likely, but the Sixers may decide to blow everything up and go for another lockbuster deal. They are positioned to do so,. Will they? My guess is “no”. Their core players are still too young to get a fix on their ceilings — individually and working together. Moreover, Butler is still a newbie. It might not be a bad idea to see how his addition affects the team before adding a major new personality.

Understanding the Sixer Slide

Last night the Sixers were blown out by the Spurs. Are the Spurs that much better?

No.

Keep in mind that the Sixers were playing the second half of a back to back AND that the team is very short handed.

The short handed issue is a matter of concern.

First, the Sixers must find a way to back up Joel Embiid. He is playing way too many minutes and you can see it in how he gets gassed so quickly. His legs get heavy, his shot goes off, and he turns the ball over. Last year, the team went small ball with Ilyasova or put in Amir. Sadly Ilyasova is gone and Amir has lost a step. The Moose? He is not good enough. The Sixers need a credible big man back up.

Second, the Sixers need a starting 4. Wilson Chandler is not the player he was a few years ago. He might be able to give a few quality minutes off the bench, but no way is he a starting 4 at this point in his career.  Giving up Dario made sense to get Jimmy Buckets. But Dario did some good things for the team as well.

Third, the Sixers need guards and wings who can guard the parameter.  JJ seems to have lost a step from last year (and he was not a quality defender then either). TJ, Landry, and Furkan are not up to thisJimmy Buckets does a good job, and Ben has his strengths, but the Sixers are regularly getting torched by flaming 3 balls. . Watching TJ try to guard DeRozan was painful last night. Getting Markelle back will help. Zhaire? Perhaps, though he is doubtful. Remember when the Sixers had high energy wings like Grant? Ah, the good old days!

So, yes. The team has issues. And they have resources to do trades.  to address them. But they have been trying to hold off thinking that the coming summer’s crop of free agents will be the real gold mine.

What would you do if you were GM Elton Brand? He has some thinking and wheeling and dealing to do. Meanwhile, expect some ugly games like the one against the Spurs.