The Sixers went 1-3 on their first west coast road trip. Magnificent win versus Portland, but then 3 tough losses against the Suns, Jazz, and Nuggets. Frustrating and concerning, but it is going to be OK. I am going to try to examine some positives and put a positive spin on the negative the best I can.
I’m going to start with my two biggest concerns. Joel Embiid’s fitness level and Ben Simmon’s overall game.
First off Joel’s fitness. There is a narrative that Joel once again came into the season out of shape. I don’t remember thinking this at all against Boston in the first game. Looked in good shape to me. But then he had the ankle injury. Missed the Pistons game and then comes back drops 38 against the Hawks and 23 in 20 minutes against the T-wolves and gets suspended. That’s twice in a short period of time Joel has taken 5 or more days off in a row. A major point of emphasis from Joel this off season was how taking too many days off is worse for him than good. Less minutes more games played, was supposed to be the recipe for success for Joel this season and due to circumstances, that hasn’t happened. Not to mention his first 2 games back after suspension were both played in cities that were 4000 feet above sea level. Going forward I don’t see Embiid being suspended and missing games like he has so far. Less minutes more frequently playing in games and we should see him round into mid-season form soon.
Ben’s game is my most concerning. It appears as if he has regressed. Not finishing as well at the rim, free throw percentage seemingly the same or worse, and not shooting. And from an outside perspective, one that only see’s Ben summer from social media, it seems as if this summer he worked harder than last. Again, this is speculation after following him social media. What I prefer to take out of this take, is he worked hard this off season. And Jay Williams on Get Up, confirmed that to me when he said he spoke with Ben’s trainer and both were shocked that Ben isn’t shooting. To me, that means his trainer and Jay know Ben has put in a ton of work this summer.
Why is this a good thing, especially because the eye test tells you he regressed? For me, I don’t believe a player with his skill and ability can put in so much work over a summer or two and not get better. He is too good of a basketball player to work on parts of his game and not have them apply to his overall game. It’s pretty clear we can see Ben has improved tremendously on defense, so the thought that he can’t improve doesn’t work for me. Williams, on Get Up, showed some clips of Ben when he should shoot and doesn’t. Jay makes a good point about Ben’s instincts. Ben’s first instinct is to put the ball on the floor and attack. It is what he has done his entire life, and when the games matter, he seemed to revert back to that instinct. It’s a habit, but habits can be broken. A lot of us out there are walking proof of that, but the first step is acknowledgement that something needs to change. Ben has done that this year, which is unlike any other year. Step 2 is to do it, make the change. 7 games into the season he hasn’t shown it yet, but I remain faithful he will. Obviously, people around him have got to him and they know to take the next step what he has to do. He just needs to take the plunge and do it. I do believe this will come.
Outside of these two factors, I am not too overly concerned yet. According to teamrankings.com Sixers were second for strength of schedule to start the season, and fifth in power rankings for the last 5 games, of which they went 2-3.
There has been a whirlwind of things that maybe have all combined together that made this start a little harder than it should have been. Combine that with the over excitement of going 5-0, and a three-game losing streak can be tough to handle. But they will rebound from it, and I honestly believe that at the end of the season they are going to be significant title contenders.
To keep up with the positive outlook on this team, I looked at some stats where they are top 10 or top 5 in the league. I understand there are stats that are not that good, but that’s not what this article is about.
- Tied for 1st in steals with 10.6 a game
- 7th in defensive rating at 101.9. For comparison sake the Clippers are 105.6 and the Lakers lead the league at 96.5
- 6th in blocks at 6 per game. Lakers lead the league with 8 but no other team is higher than 6.8
- Leads the league in opponents second chance points at 8.5 next closest is the Clippers at 9.8
- 8th in plus minus at 4.4 which is tied with the Clippers
- 1st in opponents 3-point attempts at 26.6 per game and 5th in opponents 3 pointers made at 10.1. Which surprised me, but apparently, they are defending the 3 well.
- 4th in opponents fg% limiting teams to 45.9% shooting
- and Korkmaz. He is like a really cool Christmas gift you didn’t know you wanted or was coming. Fingers crossed he can maintain being playable.
8 games in, sitting at 5-3 after a tough road trip in which one of their best 2 players missed the game or majority of the game. 3 frustrating losses, especially against the Nuggets after being up 21. But it’s not all that bad, and it’s not all cupcakes and rainbows either. But it has been discussed that the Sixers were going to have offensive struggles to begin with, that to me should get better in time. But the defense has been as advertised, even though it is tough to tell sometimes. I am a big believer that we start to find out the most about teams about 25 games into the season. I have been very bullish on this team being special, and I still believe that, but that comes from my fandom. This team will struggle at times, and then look unbeatable at times.
Main key going forward is I would love to see a good chunk of games where the starting 5 isn’t hurt or suspended. Get guys used to each other and get them into mid-season form. The talent on this team is undeniable, and if they put it together, they are going to be a problem. I believe they will.