1. What’s the deal with Isaiah Canaan?
Eric Goldwein: Not an NBA point guard. His assist numbers (1.8 per game) don’t lie; as a distributor — as Derek Bodner pointed out — he doesn’t make his teammates better. That said, in the right role, he could still be a productive guard coming off the bench. He can shoot as well as anyone, and has range approaching 30 feet out. Playing a 6-footer at shooting guard isn’t ideal, but in the right situation he could be a decent option.
Xylon Dimoff: I’ll do ya one better, Eric: he’s barely an NBA player at the moment. His height automatically shoehorns him into being an NBA point guard, and his career will crumble in a hurry if he can’t ditch his shoot-first propensity. Very few defensive matchups allow him to play off-ball at shooting guard — maybe it works against Phoenix’s dual-point guard lineup? — and Philly’s defense will crash and burn if we’re relying on Canaan to guard guys with a half-foot height advantage for 20-plus minutes a night.
Ben Smolen: This feels like the set-up for a very bad Jerry Seinfeld joke. But the deal with him is he isn’t a very good professional basketball player. He has one above average skill: shooting (two if you count the fact that Canaan Ball is a lot of fun to yell when he scores). Sadly, when you measure up the shooting against his inability to pass, play defense, or, for the most part, dribble, he comes up sorely lacking.
Drew Stone: He’s a novelty. He doesn’t have the skill set to be a point guard, nor the defensive capability to compete with modern shooting guards. Now that Stauskas is on the scene, the desperate thrill of shouting “Canaan ball!” has faded. He was worth the look for curiosity’s sake, but his days on the roster seem to be numbered.
2. T.J. McConnell is the next ____.
Goldwein: David Eckstein.
Dimoff: Well he’s already kinda this season’s Matthew Dellavedova, right? Not so much in terms of actual basketball skill, but more in the sense that he hustles, plays gritty, and is all those other cute buzzwords that NBA writers use to describe white players with little basketball ability. I’ll give him this though: he works his ass off on defense (because he has no other choice with his slight frame) and he’s great at probing the lane and finding open shooters — that is, until he’s sufficiently scouted for and NBA defenses play five feet off him while clogging all those precious passing lanes.
Smolen: Total wishful thinking, but I’ll go with Matthew Barnaby. I want him to be a pest! BECOME A PEST, T.J.!
Stone: Obviously we have a very small sample size to work with, but work with it I will. Based on what we’ve seen this series, McConnell could be the next Professor, a.k.a. Andre Miller. He’s very much a student of the game, and he’ll never be an offensive powerhouse, but surround him with enough talent and he has the ability to get the ball where it needs to be and keep the offense in motion. He looks like a legit game manager and I love his shot selection; McConnell only takes the shot himself when the percentages are high or it’s absolutely necessary. I may be more optimistic than most, but I think he’s the real deal. Plus, this story is awesome: https://www.reddit.com/r/sixers/comments/3rnrvi/love_for_tj_was_told_to_post_this_story_from_rnba/
3. What’s your biggest takeaway after five games of the the Okafor experience?
Goldwein: He can shoot free throws! That was a major concern of mine a few months ago; he shot barely over 50 percent in college. But his 79% — even if it’s a tiny sample — is worth getting excited about. His freshman year efficiency for a big was already unprecedented. Give him average FT shooting, and maybe even a jumper, and we could be in for something special. At least on the offensive end.
Dimoff: I’m loving it, begrudgingly; I’d be remiss to ignore that he’s dominating opposing bigs with a bevy of moves early on, and that his overall game is significantly more NBA-ready than his worrisome preseason performance alluded to. Until we have more games to ensure that his early success hasn’t been an aberration however, I’ll stick by my assertion that a Kristaps Porzingis or Mario Hezonja would still be a better fit next to Nerlens Noel.
Smolen: I wrestled with the Okafor pick for a long time. In my head, I thought him to be the best remaining prospect, so, on that hand, I thought it was the right pick. In my heart, however, my tempestuous, almost-surely cholesterol-filled heart, I was disappointed. It lacked flash. Didn’t seem to fit. Four games in though, I’m thrilled. He’s an offensive savant and has brought some unexpected positives too: some surprising mobility and a free throw percentage well north of the Deandre Line. If he can keep developing, I’ll be thrilled.
Stone: That him and Noel are actually working together so far. I know that numbers say the team is scoring less when both share the floor, but given the lengthy transition period we thought we were entering, the fact that neither of their games are suffering because of the other’s presence is instant relief. Also, I heard rumors that Jah can score the ball, but… damn, Jah can score the ball.
4. How many games is this team going to win?
Goldwein: I’m sticking with 24. While there’s been some good individual performances, as a basketball team the Sixers have been horrible — worse than their -14 point margin suggests. The Covington injury makes things that much harder on a team so short on established NBA players. Yes, Covington is that important to this team.
BUT … things project to get better. They already have. Having a rotation-level PG — which McConnell looks like he could potentially be — will do wonders for a team whose offense ranks last in efficiency. Stauskas looks like he’ll not only outproduce Thompson, but maybe even complement him, and the other borderline replacement-level swingmen in the lineup. The Noel-Okafor frontcourt will need some time to figure out how to play together — and Brown will need some to figure out how to best use them — but if/when these things happen, we could be looking at a team that eventually plays at a 30-40 win level.
Dimoff: I’ll bump my previous total up to 24 Ws, due to a few early surprises: the Lakers and Nets are undeniably the league’s current worst teams, and barring those teams’ relegation to the D-League some time before April, the Sixers should certainly avoid notching the NBA’s worst record for a third consecutive season. I’ll also admit I’m maybe unreasonably bullish on the prospects of a Marshall-Stauskas-Covington-Noel-Okafor starting unit, but the overall makeup of Philly’s depth is still atrocious early on.
Smolen: 22. They are a better team than last year. The East is miserable. Noel and Okafor should continue to get grow together. But they are still so remarkably shallow. Here’s my real prediction: The Sixers’ first unit proceeds to play a lot of teams tight, and the Sixers’ abysmal bench gets blown out. Wash and repeat. After the great draft influx of 2016, though, that should begin to change.
Stone: I said 24 and since I said the first win wouldn’t come til mid-November, I’ve got no reason to change it. There’s been meaningful progress the last two games and there’s a lot of bad teams in the NBA this year. But seriously, what’s this blog’s obsession with 24? Do we share some kind of Kiefer Sutherland fetish? I mean, uh… do you guys have a Kiefer Sutherland fetish?
5. Given the top-3 protection on their pick, what’s the optimal number of Lakers wins?
Goldwein: 22, and/or one more than Sacramento. But I wouldn’t count on that. The Lakers (0-4) have a bad coach, a potentially historically bad defense, and I’m not sure they’ll ever figure out a way to score with any efficiency so long as Nick Young and Kobe Bryant are in the lineup, not passing to each other.
The Lakers will be horrible this year, likely horrible next year, and potentially bad the year after that. But as time goes on, the chances that they rethink their organizational approach/land an elite free agent only grows. I’d take the guarantee of a slightly worse pick (6th) this summer over waiting until 2017, when it’s unprotected.
Dimoff: Oof, maybe 26? But I have bigger worries right now: it’s certainly plausible that the Lakers don’t sniff that number this season, and unless considerable adjustments are looming, it could finish as an offensively bad basketball team through April. Being quarterbacked by the lethal combination of possibly the NBA’s worst head coach and “star” player, the Lakers are, coupled with Brooklyn, unexpectedly in its own disastrous tier at the moment — I was nearly certain before the season that Portland and Charlotte would join them as the NBA’s dregs, but a combined six wins from the Hornets and Blazers early on may prove otherwise. I don’t foresee another season where the NBA features three sub-20 win teams again, and unless a couple squads in the league’s lower ranks suffer “devastating” injury luck — a la last season’s Knicks and Timberwolves — the Lakers may cruise to the top of the NBA Lottery come May 17th.
Smolen: Ideal? 33. I want them to be bad, but safely out of the protection zone. I’d rather them finish with the sixth worst record in the league and feel pretty confident that we’d get the pick than really flirt with the protection kicking in. I’m greedy and I’m impatient. I want everything now. That said, the Lakers almost certainly will be dreadful all year long and will finish with fewer than 25 wins.
Stone: I mean, like, 30, but that’s not going to happen. Have you watched them play? Don’t watch the Lakers play.