Dec 19 2014

Hornets Crush Sixers, Losing Streak Extends To Five

Charlotte Hornets 109 Final
Recap | Box Score
91 Philadelphia 76ers
Robert Covington, SF 27 MIN | 6-10 FG | 1-2 FT | 2 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 2 BLK | 4 TO | 19 PTS | -7It’s hard to give anyone an ‘A’ these days because the really good games are few and far between. But Covington was lights out from beyond the arc. He canned six of eight 3-pointers and was again the bright spot for the Sixers.

Michael Carter-Williams, PG 30 MIN | 6-17 FG | 2-2 FT | 5 REB | 10 AST | 1 STL | 1 BLK | 4 TO | 14 PTS | -9Another packed stat line for MCW, but he didn’t play much in the second half after the second unit sparked a run to cut the lead to 13. Fourteen points on 17 shots isn’t what you want to see.

JaKarr Sampson, PF 20 MIN | 2-2 FG | 4-4 FT | 5 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 3 TO | 8 PTS | -13He did some good things on offense, capitalizing on mismatches and filling lanes in transition. His activity was what stood out most tonight, and you can see him making strides, even if they aren’t all that long.

K.J. McDaniels, SG 27 MIN | 2-4 FG | 2-2 FT | 2 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 2 BLK | 4 TO | 6 PTS | -10It’s hard to give McDaniels a low grade with so many instances of him flaunting his ridiculous athleticism: that insane block on the break and then his outback dunk that was called offensive interference (questionable call at best). Having said that, there are obvious defensive lapses and forced offensive possessions.

Tony Wroten, SG 24 MIN | 5-10 FG | 5-6 FT | 1 REB | 3 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 3 TO | 19 PTS | -9Wroten was efficient from beyond the arc, which is always good for him because it opens up some other aspects of his game. He delivered a few nifty passes, as expected, and was the general cog of the offense. A solid showing.

By the Numbers: 24. As in 24 turnovers, compared to Charlotte’s 14. Turning the ball over that many times will generally offset any positive strides you make on defense, such as blocking 12 shots.

Tweet of the game: They did it.

Parting Shots: The Sixers obviously have a lot of growing to do on defense. The length and athleticism is there (12 blocks!), but they need to do a better job of stopping the bleeding. The offense was sloppy for most of the night and the turnovers certainly didn’t make things any better. There were a few positives though, such as JaKarr Sampson showing signs of life and Covington raining in 3-pointers. Take those and run with them, I guess?

Dec 19 2014

5-on-5: Happy Furkan Holidays

1. What’s the value of the Sixers’ 2016 first-round pick? Should they be shopping it?

 

Goldwein: Unclear, and sure. Everything should be “shopped.” This is a particularly interesting asset because the Sixers are sort of in control of its value. Sign a free agent or two, and it plummets. Stay the course, and who knows. I, the expert that I am, have them making the postseason next year regardless (because, Eastern Conference). If some team out there thinks the Sixers are forever doomed, and is willing to give up an asset or two (an undervalued prospect, a slightly overpriced or injured star, a draft pick), I’d be open to discussion. Sell high, right?

Share: It remains to be seen. With the team’s 2015 summer plans up in the air, it could be of interest to try to get value for it before trying to sign a good, young free agent or two over the summer.

Toporek: They shouldn’t try to sell it for 60 cents on the dollar, but it shouldn’t be off-limits, either. Frankly, no asset aside from Embiid should be considered off-limits in trade discussions. It all depends on the context of the proposals they’re receiving.

Dimoff: I don’t think they should be shopping it just yet unless the right offer comes along. Even with the current core and the addition Embiid/next year’s picks, Philadelphia should still be pretty crummy next season. This pick could pretty easily still be in the top 10 in 2016.

MacMullan: At this point it seems too risky to shop the pick. There are far too many variables–Embiid’s 2015-16 minutes restrictions, Noel and MCW’s continued development, Saric’s status, teams with high quality RFA’s willingness to match max offers–to have a clear idea of how much improvement the 2015-16 76ers can make. If some form of lottery reform passes prior to the 2016 draft even moderate improvement in the standings might not keep the 76ers from being a top contender for the 1st pick.

2. Will the team hold on to Kirilenko for the foreseeable future?

Goldwein: I think so. Ronald Roberts is about as good a D-League prospect as they come, and he’s gone. So unless there’s some unforeseen arrival — which shouldn’t be ruled out — I see him sticking around.

Share: If he could hold any sort of value at the deadline, there’s no reason to let him go for no reason at this point. If they think he’s uselessly taking up a roster spot they could use for a D-Leaguer though, I’m sure they wouldn’t hesitate to eat his money and cut him.

Toporek: If there’s legitimate behind-the-scenes interest in him, there’s no way Hinkie will let him walk without trying to snag another second-round pick for him. Doubt he ever plays a minute in a Sixers uniform — or even makes it to Philly, for that matter — but there’s no sense in eating his contract without gauging his market value first.

Dimoff: Probably not, but hopefully they can convince him to stick around this year. He was delightful to watch during his prime in Utah, and while he’s surely lost a step since then, I’d love to see him work in Philadelphia’s up-and-down system. Plus, think about all the #veteran-ness he could add!

MacMullan: If the foreseeable future can be defined as “until we close in on the trade deadline”, yes. There isn’t much of a benefit to buying him out or releasing him for nothing now. However, if the personal issue keeping Kirilenko off the court is resolved there’s always the possibility that a contender that suffers an injury would be willing to send a future 2nd at the deadline.

3. What kind of impact do moves like the Davies trade have on morale?

Goldwein: Not positive. He’s a hardworking player, by all accounts. His coaches and teammates liked him. But Holding onto Davies because he’s a nice guy would set a troublesome precedent. There’s tradeoff here between “morale” and value. While one 2020 second-round pick won’t make a difference, seven might. Though maybe Davies would too.

Share: They certainly don’t boost it. To see a guy who seemingly was a very hard-worker and well-liked is frustrating, I’m sure. Brett Brown didn’t seem too happy about the move, either. Is dumping a well-liked guy for a 293rd second-round pick really worth it, especially in the thick of all the losing? I’m not sure it is, and it probably just adds insult to injury. But perhaps that’s why I’m not a general manager.

Toporek: I’d be surprised if it made a major splash. Though the guy was seemingly well-liked, I don’t think any player on the roster aside from Embiid, Nerlens or MCW should feel entirely confident about their long-term future with this team. That, more than any minor incidental trade, is what could erode locker room morale.

Dimoff: I usually try not to get into the heads of players, but I imagine that this probably irked a few guys. Let’s be clear: Davies sucked, but he was also by all accounts a great guy and one of the team’s hardest workers. And while Coach Brown’s comments on the matter aren’t exactly cause for panic, pissing off the coach doesn’t seem quite worth it for just one second-rounder.

MacMullan: In the short term, it is probably discouraging for some of the more established members of the team to see a good locker room guy get moved. But I have to imagine that some of the unproven members of the 76ers see it as a “next man up” opportunity to pick up some minutes and put together a stretch of games that helps them stick in the NBA past this season.

4. What role will Aldemir play this season?

Goldwein: Rebounder and steady presence. I’ve spent as much time writing this response as he has on an NBA court. But on this team, he’ll be a veteran. LRMAM, but bigger and stronger.

Share: How much he’ll play is unclear, but it seems like he’ll be utilized for his physicality and do a lot of the dirty work. Setting screens (which he’s already better than all of his teammates at), working the glass, etc., whether it be for short or long stretches of time.

Toporek: He’ll be a poor man’s Reggie Evans. A guy who hits the boards hard, plays physical defense, and rarely, if ever, touches the ball on offense.

Dimoff: The answer here may be entirely reliant on the play of Henry Sims this season. Sims has mostly been a dumpster fire defensively and one of the league’s most inconsistent players on offense, and you gotta think that he’s the odd man out with Furkan’s four-year deal being added to an already-crowded frontcourt. I think his role will ultimately be limited this season if Sims can up his game, but I also wouldn’t be surprised if Brett Brown is already looking towards the future.

MacMullan: Aldemir should get every opportunity to demonstrate he can stick in the NBA this season, but he should do so coming off the bench mainly spelling Noel. Noel’s development is obviously more important than Aldemir’s and I don’t see how the two would gel offensively since neither has any range. I’d like to see the 76ers go small-ball with Aldemir and Covington for short stretches, and he could also be effective next to Sims.

5. Fast forward to 2018. Is Brett Brown still the head coach of the Sixers?

Goldwein: Yes. Continuity is important, and assuming Hinkie/Harris are still around (not the safest of assumptions), I think Brown will be there too.

Share: I’d sure hope so. To have this lump of length, immaturity and almost no on-ball defensive ability playing defense at a league average rate? He deserves a Nobel prize.

Toporek: Zero question in my mind. All the rumblings about “Hey, be careful, the Sixers will dump you when they get good” is ignoring the context of the team. I don’t think it’s lost on Hinkie and Josh Harris how difficult this job is, and the development the young guys have shown already is extremely promising. They’ll give him every chance to see this thing through to the finish line.

Dimoff: I would imagine so. It’s pretty difficult to evaluate him at this point because he’s been given essentially nothing to work with, but he’s also shown no signs that he’s a terrible coach and something certainly needs to be said about the fact that he has these Sixers playing defense at a top-15 rate. Also, if this team wants to be the next Spurs (just like everybody else), we all know that it starts with organizational consistency.

MacMullan: I truly hope so and he certainly deserves to have his patience rewarded. But obviously the NBA isn’t always fair (See: Malone, Mike) so I’ll try to rest my argument on more than “hope so” and “deserves”. He spent 11 years as an assistant for arguably the greatest franchise in professional sports. He’s managed to squeeze some solid performances out of a roster that is probably something less than fully NBA quality. The probable building blocks of the future have genuine respect and affection for him. He’ll be here when they’re good and he’ll be a major reason why it happened.

Dec 19 2014

The Beautiful Struggle Of Nerlens Noel’s Offensive Game

Nerlens Noel was always going to be a project. His athleticism and shot blocking made him an NBA-ready defender, but his offense was — and remains —  a giant question mark. In 24 games at Kentucky, he was relegated to alley-oops and easy dunks, attempting (literally) zero jumpers, something Noel noticed himself. He was efficient, sure (10.5 points on 59 percent shooting). But to become a two-sided force in the NBA, his offense would need a makeover.

Anyone that attended a Sixers game during the 2013-14 season would see Noel in warm-ups shooting one-handed jumpers alongside coach Brett Brown. That pregame routine hasn’t led to any immediate transformation. Twenty-one games in, he’s averaging 8.1 points on 46.2 percent from the floor (49 percent from the line). Per SportsVU, he is 10-of-51 on jump shots, 3-of-14 on hook shots, and 6-of-6 on jump hook shots. His mechanics remain awkward, and his shot lacks fluidity. On a playoff team, he might be prohibited from shooting outside the key. However, he hasn’t shied away from his jumper, which is evident by his 51 attempts.

I mean, you try shooting with these massive hands. (Photo by Regina/acrphoto / Flickr)

I mean, you try shooting with these massive hands. (Photo by Regina/acrphoto / Flickr)

Though Noel’s jumper might not be helping the team right now, process is king in the Sixers organization. This season isn’t about maximizing efficiency; it’s about player development. He can’t just fire away in practice; the reps have to come in real game action. Via Grantland’s Zach Lowe: “Brown and the coaching staff understand that the players are still learning, and they’ve given most Sixers permission to stretch themselves. There is no better way to learn whether Sims might be able to shoot 3-pointers during games than to let him shoot 3-pointers during games.”

Noel isn’t launching 3-pointers, but he has extended far beyond his comfort zone, taking eight percent of his shots from 16+ feet from the hoop, (and, small sample size warning, making a pitiful 15 percent of them). That’s a leap for a player that couldn’t tell you what a jump shot looked like in college. Like most rookies, he has had flashes of brilliance and times when he looks like he doesn’t realize he’s on an NBA court. On Monday against Boston, he scored 19 points on 9-of-12 shooting, dropping baby hooks, step-back jumpers, and vicious dunks. The prior two games, he went a combined 1-of-12, including an 0-8 performance against Brooklyn. He’s all over the place.

But the hope is that he can be more Serge Ibaka, and less DeAndre Jordan. The two have varying skill sets and natural abilities; but they’ve also been shaped by their coaches and environments. In Ibaka’s rookie season, only 17 percent of his shots came from 10-16 feet. Now he’s a 3-point threat, hitting 33 of them this season. For Noel, any semblance of a jumper could be vital to his and the team’s success down the line. He won’d develop it overnight.

Nerlens has the advantage of playing for an organization that preaches patience and development. He’ll continue getting minutes win or lose, since the franchise is more invested in him than the outcome of the 2014-15 season. The offense will remain a work in progress, but the saving grace is that Noel, 20, is already making an immediate impact as a rim protector. It may take a season or two, or four, but he’s got plenty of time to improve his offensive game. And if that jumper never pans out, well, having an elite one-dimensional defender wouldn’t be so bad.


Dec 18 2014

538: Bad Teams Stay Bad, Therefore Tanking Doesn’t Work

Here we go again.

Today over at FiveThirtyEight, Nate Silver examined each team’s chances of winning an NBA championship over the next five years. The study is based on three factors: “How good is the team now? How old is the team? How good is its best player?” The Sixers ranked dead last, with a two percent chance.

This shouldn’t be surprising. The next two seasons are a total lost cause, even in a best case scenario. And as Silver notes, the study doesn’t account for future draft picks, salary cap situation, front office, injuries, and other less quantifiable information — factors that would be favorable to the Sixers.

The strength of this study is that it’s simple. Sam Hinkie might be a genius. He also could be in way over his head. Dario Saric might be Boris Diaw 2.0. He might be Darko Milicic. Silver’s system doesn’t care, and as a whole, it’s probably better off for it. Five years from now, we might look back at these projections just as we have with his election maps. Math works.

The problem with this study, though, is its analysis on the bottom-tier teams. The Knicks and Lakers are in bad shape, but not as bad as the Sixers, according to the projections. Why? Statistics!

If your eyes are on the long-term, wouldn’t you rather be in a tanking rebuilding situation like Philly than in the predicament of the Knicks or Lakers? Maybe, but the history of teams who have been as laughably bad as this year’s Sixers is not good. Since the ABA merger, 51 teams have finished with fewer than 20 wins in a 82-game season or the equivalent amount in a shortened season. How many of them won a championship in the next five years? Only one — the aforementioned 2007-08 Heat, whose situation was more analogous to that of the Lakers or Knicks than that faced by the 76ers.

The thing about starting from a 15-win baseline is that you can add a 20-win megawatt superstar from the draft, and sign a 10-win free agent, and have another guy develop into a five-win talent … and still be a 50-win team, a No. 5 or 6 seed. It’s not clear there’s anyone on the Sixers’ roster who is a good bet to develop into a better-than-average NBA player. A team like the Detroit Pistons, who at least have Andre Drummond, is about twice as likely to develop into a championship contender, according to the model. The Pistons also face extremely long odds, but you’d rather have Drummond and a slightly inferior lottery position than the other way around. Tanking doesn’t pay, kids!”

We’ve been down this road before. The numbers are fairly conclusive in that terrible NBA teams have historically remained terrible. Of the 51 teams that had sub-20 win seasons, only the Heat have won a championship within the next five years. David Berri’s 2013 study had similar findings; of all the sub-25 win teams since 1984-85, only about 10 percent became contenders in the next five years. In that study, Berri concludes that losing is not a winning strategy, and Silver — “Tanking doesn’t pay, kids!” — does the same thing here, linking to a Berri-sourced TrueHoop article.

Both, however, equate causation with correlation. Shitty teams on average don’t become elite. We don’t exactly know why but to the anti-tankers, the answer is clear — even if they have no clear definition of the term “tanking.”

That said, forecasting NBA teams isn’t an exact science, and Silver’s study is both simple and sound, even acknowledging its limitations. Joel Embiid, Dario Saric, and the Sixers’ $100 million in cap space are all dismissed, perhaps rightfully so. One in a uniform is worth two in a suit.

But while the findings are interesting, the analysis is off. On the Sixers, Silver listens to the noise that supports his findings, while ignoring the noise that goes against them. Does tanking pay? Well, we still don’t know. And we won’t find out with this 538 study.

Dec 18 2014

Stephen Colbert And The NBA

Colbert IguodalaThree years ago, a labor dispute nearly robbed us of the NBA season.

The selfless owners had been providing jobs for young black men and bringing communities together (at facilities they helped the government pay for!). But servicing the public came at a cost: $300 million, according to Dear Leader and then-Shooty Hoops Commissioner David Stern.

And so, with Donald Sterling and the other 29 philanthropists struggling to put food on their golden plates, they called on the millionaire giants — with their chains, posses, and hippity hop music — to make a small sacrifice by taking 50 percent of the revenue, instead of 57. It was a pay cut, sure. But it was still 50 percent higher than what their first employers offered. Those selfish hoopsters. SMDH.

***

Tonight is the series finale of The Colbert Report, and while this has nothing to do with the Sixers, Stephen Colbert did occasionally offer his scorching hot takes on sports and the NBA. During the 2011-12 lockout, the political satirist took the side of the owners, and his argument went something like mine above. He even made multiple Super PAC ads to support their cause.

In one of them, embiided below, Colbert references Andre Iguodala, and how he took an internship at Merrill Lynch to prepare for life without the NBA; that’s the only Sixers mention that I could find.

Watch that segment in full (6:34), and then watch his other NBA Super Pac ad with Mark Cuban, and then watch his interview with Bill Simmons, and then watch his NBA on NBC parody, and then watch him one last time 11:30 tonight on Comedy Central.

We’ll miss you, Stephen Colbert. It’s been a great nine years.

Dec 16 2014

Fighting Losing Habits With A Winning Culture

Tanking — depending on how it’s defined — has been both a cause of, and solution to several NBA team’s problems. For the 2002-03 Cleveland Cavaliers, it was the ticket to the greatest player of our generation. For the 2011-12 Charlotte Bobcats, it was the ticket to Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.

And for the Philadelphia 76ers? Well, GM Sam Hinkie is gambling that tanking — disregarding regular season wins — can work. That is, assuming the oft-maligned strategy is executed in a winning environment.

This morning, Grantland’s Zach Lowe took a deep dive into Philly’s “tanking binge.” The Sixers (2-22) remain on track for a historically bad season, and that’s not not a problem. Last night, they were blown out by the Boston Celtics. Kelly Olynyk dropped 30 points.

“The “losing habits” concern isn’t just a buzzword; it’s a real thing,” Lowe wrote.

But there has been plenty of good to take away from this miserable season. The Sixers are playing better lately, and have been consistently competitive since the 53-point loss to Dallas. While the offense remains abysmal, the defense has been average. That’s a big deal. K.J. McDaniels and Nerlens Noel are looking like potential gems, and Robert Covington has provided some unexpected 3-point expertise. Michael Carter-Williams is a jumper away from being a solid NBA point guard. This has been a borderline respectable team with MCW in the lineup.

The more promising signs may be off the court. The Sixers are in tremendous cap shape. They’re stacked with draft picks, and have prospects all over the globe. Their coach, Brett Brown, has a winning pedigree. They’re investing in analytics and sports science, tracking everything from sleeping habits to water intake. They have athletic and talented players, and signs are that they’re buying into the system. (My favorite tidbit from Lowe’s piece: Brown, a former Spurs assistant, said he had Joel Embiid talk with Tim Duncan for an hour before one of the games). Seemingly, there is a winning infrastructure in place.

Of course, the “plan” might fail. Embiid could be the next Greg Oden. Noel may forever remain a one-dimensional (and undersized) big man. McDaniels could sign elsewhere. MCW’s jumper might be unfixable. The constant losing could wear on the players and coaching staff. Josh Harris could pull the plug on this experiment tomorrow.

From my angle, though, it looks like the Sixers are headed in the right direction. More losses are on the way, but they’ll continue adding assets, and building their collection of ping-pong balls. Can they do this without absorbing all the losing habits? One can hope.

“The Sixers think they have the culture to fight it, and the early signs are good,” Lowe wrote. “But the jury’s still out.”

Now go read the whole thing.

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