Mar 17 2015

Hoop76, Tanking

It’s been radio silent around here the last few days, as some of you have pointed out. And apologies for that. We’ll get the recaps back up and running for a strong late-season run. In the meantime, here’s a quick summary of everything you might’ve missed.

Embiid isn’t broken!
Joel Embiid was back in a boot last week, which scared the shit out of every last Sixers fan. Well, great news: turned out the “minor setback” was in fact, a minor setback. Embiid had experienced soreness in the foot and so the team him put the boot on for precautionary reasons. He met with the doctor in what was reportedly an already scheduled appointment, and the doctor said that everything’s on track. (Ideally, that means he’ll be good to go in summer leagues).

This is far and away the most important (and volatile) part of the Sixers future. Everything else — from draft pick positioning to the development of Jerami Grant’s jumper — is trivial compared to the status of the 7-footer’s foot. Which is an uneasy feeling, since that’s something nobody has full control over. But the docs and team seemingly are doing what they can to maximize his chances of being healthy.

Embiid could be anything from Hakeem Olajuwon to Greg Oden. If we’re to believe the scouting reports, his status as a future all-star (and maybe superstar) is going to come down almost entirely to his health. Until he’s out there for a full couple seasons, there’s going to be a lot of panic surrounding the prized big man.

Sixers are still bad!
On Friday, the Sixers came back from down 18 points to beat the Sacramento Kings. They showed grit and toughness and perseverance all those things you talk about after a win like that. It was awesome!  But then the Wizards did the exact same thing on Saturday, making it not cool anymore. (DeMarcus Cousins is one of the most dysfunctional talented players there’s ever been. And the King are an all around disaster).

The Sixers dropped a close(r) game to the Nets on Saturday, and then got blown out by the Celtics last night. The Celtics by the way… yes, the 30-36 Celtics … have a shot at making the postseason and getting some #playoffexperience. Good luck to them.

Michael and K.J.
SAMPLE SIZE AND CONFOUNDING VARIABLE WARNING … but the Milwaukee Bucks have had the NBA’s worst offense since the trade deadline, per NBA.com/stats. Yes, worse than your Philadelphia 76ers. Mind you: the Bucks weren’t particularly good on offense before they acquired Michael Carter-Williams (ranking 14th) and their new point guard has missed a few games. (Update: Milwaukee’s offense has been even worse when MCW is on the bench, per Grantland’s Zach Lowe).

The Bucks have also had the fourth best defense since the break, which is in line with their pre-trade (ranked 2nd) performance. There’s lots going on here; the Bucks and MCW have had to make some major adjustments, and nine games doesn’t tell you much about MCW’s longterm fit. But all the evidence thus far suggests that at this point of his career, MCW is not yet a player who can run an offense efficiently.

K.J. McDaniels, meanwhile, has barely got off the bench in Houston. He’s played five games and nine total minutes, recording one field goal in his Rockets tenure. Free this man.

The Ish Smith/Isaiah Canaan show
The Sixers offense has been fine (relatively) since the trade. That’s in part because it couldn’t have got any worse, but it’s also because it added two point guards capable of draining 3-pointers and feeding the bigs. Canaan is attempting 7.8 3s a game (making 35.6%) while Smith is averaging 5.7 assists and 2.3 turnovers in 24 minutes. It’s too early to tell if this has led to any offensive improvement (post all-star break rating: 93.9, pre all-star: 91.5) but there certainly hasn’t been a drop off.

To be clear: Neither Smith nor Canaan have the looks of a future starting point guard. Their offensive skill sets are limited and their lack of size is somewhat problematic on defense. Both, however, have shown longterm potential as backups.

Thomas Robinson
OK, this is getting out of hand. The former 5th overall pick is averaging a ridiculous 8.6 boards in 17.3 minutes. He’s not doing much of anything else, but if can continue bringing energy and limiting his jump shot attempts, that should get him some attention as a free agent this summer. Maybe even from the Sixers.

FUTURE DRAFT PICKS
Bad news here. Let’s start with the top-18 Oklahoma City pick. I’m officially in panic mode. The Thunder — missing Kevin Durant and now Serge Ibaka — are fighting for their playoff lives, and at 37-30 are a half-game up on the Pelicans. More concerning though, is that the Washington Wizards woke up and are on a four-game winning streak, rising to 39-28. The Thunder need to make the playoffs and pass either Washington, Chicago (40-28), or Toronto (40-27). There’s some serious ground to make up, and not a lot of time time to do it. If it delays to 2016, this could turn into a mid-20s pick. Not a disaster, but not ideal.

Now, the top-10 protected Heat pick. There is half a game separating the 16th and 10th picks, with the 9th pick (Brooklyn) not far behind. Miami, Indiana, Boston and Utah are all tied at 30-36. Charlotte is 29-36, and Brooklyn is 27-38. For the Sixers to get this pick, Miami would have to stay ahead of two of these teams. Keep in mind that the Sixers and Heat play in the season finale. Between playoffs and ping pong balls, that could game could have all sorts of bizarre incentives.

I wouldn’t have much hope for the top-5 Lakers pick. The Lakers are 17-49 and playing some half-decent basketball, but continuing to lose games. They have the fourth-worst record; 2.5 up of Sixers and three up of Minnesota, while four in the win column behind Orlando (21-47). At this point I’d call them staying at fourth a victory. That’d give the Sixers a 17.2% shot at getting a pick, and would all but ensure that the Sixers are in the top 3.

Speaking of … the Sixers (15-52) are sitting at third, a half-game up on Minnesota (14-52) and 1.5 ahead of New York. The second spot seems like a realistic best case scenario, given how weak the upcoming schedule is, and how they’ve been playing at a 25-win pace for most of the season. The cakewalk schedule includes two games against the Knicks, two against the Lakers, one against Detroit, and one against Sacramento. And you never know who will be sitting who in those last few games when the playoff positions are set. This could get ugly, folks.

Mar 11 2015

Sixers Lose To Bulls, Win Ping Pong Balls

Nerlens Noel: A

Given how Pau Gasol started the game (on fire), the fact that he looked noticeably uncomfortable on the block by the end of the night is a huge testament to Noel’s defensive tenacity. Nerlens was everywhere: four steals, two blocks, 15 rebounds. His presence in the paint is essentially the only factor that kept the Sixers alive in their dismal third quarter.

Ish Smith: B+

Smith’s step-back 3-pointer late in the fourth quarter was maybe the play of the game. It pulled the Sixers within one point of the Bulls, and was on the heels of Noel manhandling Gasol for an impressive rebound. It looked like the pendulum had swung all the way to Philadelphia’s side. He was killer in the pick-and-roll and finished with 23 points.

Thomas Robinson: B-

He had trouble finishing around the rim, but it’s hard to dock Robinson because he feasted on the glass, once again. He finished with 15 rebounds in 18 minutes. The 3-10 from the field is an eye sore, but his effort produced a palpable impact on the game.

Isaiah Canaan: B

The Sixers looked like they might be dead in the water in the first quarter, but Canaan buried three consecutive 3-pointers to help close the gap. In a similar manner, when Philly seemed out of gas in the third quarter, Canaan’s mini-run to close the period helped counter a stretch of Chicago dominance.

Hollis Thompson: C

For someone who spent most of his minutes not doing much of anything on either end of the floor, he hit some pretty big shots. Thompson scored the final five points of the Sixers’ 15-0 run that put them ahead in the fourth quarter. He connected on a 3-pointer and finished a chaotic stretch of falling and flailing bodies with a lay-up.

By the numbers: 48% (12-25). That was Philadelphia’s free-throw percentage on the night. Considering this game went to overtime, it’s fair to claim that the Sixers lost this game at the charity stripe.

Tweet of the Game:

Parting Shots: The Sixers probably should have won this game. Aaron Brooks had that game he has once every two months, in which he somehow puts in ridiculous shot after ridiculous shot. His game-tying three with about 30 seconds left in this one was particularly ridiculous, and the fact that he scored 31 points is equally so. Still, it’s hard not to walk away from this game impressed by the effort. It’s no surprise at this point that Noel is a defensive lightening rod. He’s 10th in the league in steals at the moment. No listed center has finished a season in the top-10 of that category in the 2000s, per ESPN’s stats page.

Mar 11 2015

Sixers’ Culture Battle Centered Around Loyalty, Not Losing

It’s easy to draw parallels between the Philadelphia 76ers and Philadelphia Eagles.

Both have executives running the show who aren’t afraid of making controversial decisions. Both have cast aside multiple face-of-the-franchise players during their relatively short time at the helm, be it Jrue Holiday and Michael Carter-Williams, or DeSean Jackson, LeSean McCoy and Nick Foles. Assuming the reports about Chip Kelly’s interest in Marcus Mariota prove correct, both are trying to build long-term contenders through top-tier draft picks at critical positions.

Perhaps most importantly, though, both are confronting the issue of loyalty and culture head-on, to decidedly mixed results.

Following Kelly’s decision to ship McCoy to Buffalo, an Eagles player reportedly direct messaged Bleacher Report’s Mike Freeman on Twitter, saying the team’s entire locker room was “shellshocked.” Moving McCoy, who just set the franchise’s all-time rushing record this past season, caused this player to ask Freeman “Who’s next to go?” (As it turned out, the answer was Foles.)

During his introductory press conference Tuesday, McCoy seemingly took a few digs at the Eagles management, via NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport and Pro Football Talk:

As ESPN.com’s Phil Sheridan wrote, that perceived lack of loyalty might have influenced wide receiver Jeremy Maclin to sign with the Kansas City Chiefs in free agency instead of re-upping in Philly long-term, too:

The departure of Maclin is different because he was the first of these key players to choose to leave. That didn’t happen in a vacuum.

For Maclin, seeing Jackson and McCoy go must have made an impression. His agent was negotiating with the Eagles on a five- or six-year contract. What were the chances he would still be here for the third year? The fourth?

(Just as likely, Maclin’s departure simply could have come down to money. ESPN.com’s Andrew Brandt reported the Eagles “were hovering just below” $10 million per year in contract negotiations, while the Chiefs ultimately moved into the $11-million-a-year range.)

Although the Sixers have a much clearer division of power — Sam Hinkie and Brett Brown aren’t playing a dual coach/GM role like Kelly is with the Eagles — they must likewise confront the culture of front office-led fear that could percolate over the coming years.

Though one can logically justify moving on from Holiday, Carter-Williams and K.J. McDaniels — the returns for all three ultimately outweighed the rewards of keeping them — seeing players treated as fungible assets could generate a feeling of insecurity in the locker room. Nerlens Noel admitted as much at the end of February, per Calkins Media’s Tom Moore:

Moving big-name players — say, a former All-Star or a reigning Rookie of the Year — sends a message to the other Sixers that no one’s spot on the long-term roster is truly safe. If Hinkie thinks he can obtain a higher-upside asset in a trade, he’s proven time and again that he won’t hesitate to pull the trigger. Though the Sixers’ first-round picks are temporarily powerless in this dynamic — they’re contractually stuck with the team for as many as four years if the team so desires, like it or not — that mentality could prove detrimental when it’s time to sign those players to contract extensions.

Beyond his clear affinity for player development, that’s where Brown will be most crucial over the coming years. As the man on the front lines of this ambitious rebuilding experiment, he’s the one who has to keep player morale afloat as the losses pile up and as Hinkie trades away key contributors. If he’s unable to get the remaining players to buy into the long-term vision — particularly Nerlens Noel and Joel Embiid — these past two years could ultimately be for naught. They could decide to flee for greener pastures when their rookie contracts expire, declining the extra money the Sixers could offer for more perceived security in their long-term future with a particular franchise.

Likewise, if free agents don’t feel as though the Sixers are loyal to their players — and are willing to flip anyone at a moment’s notice — it could hinder the team’s efforts to add complementary pieces around its young draft picks. And unlike football, where 53 players will populate each team’s roster every season, NBA teams can only carry a maximum of 15 guys at one time. Even if Noel, Embiid, Dario Saric and their other upcoming first-round picks all pan out, being unable to attract top-tier free agents — or being forced to overpay them to assuage any concerns about the team’s long-term loyalty — could cap the ceiling on the Sixers’ rebuilding effort.

The on-court product of basketball may be beautiful, but the behind-the-scenes business of running a professional sports franchise has long been ugly. Loyalty to a player only goes so far, and vice versa. Even for guys like Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan, both of whom have remained with one team throughout their illustrious careers, there came a point in which both nearly departed from their respective franchise. Duncan almost signed with Doc Rivers and the Orlando Magic in 2000, per ESPN.com’s Marc Stein, while Bryant publicly requested a trade in 2007. Though each ultimately stayed put, it’s a harsh reminder of how quickly a team’s championship fortunes can turn. It starts with having ownership, the front office, and the coach all on the same page, but requires marquee talent to willingly invest their future in a team, too.

Thus, fighting a “losing culture” isn’t the Sixers’ biggest concern over the coming years. Instead, it’s the fight against the commodification of players that figures to make or break this rebuilding effort. Come 2017, when they’re theoretically winning games and willing to invest in their players, this could very well be an afterthought. But creating the perception that anyone is expendable, whether or not that’s the reality, is playing with fire. Down the line, they could get burned.

Mar 10 2015

Joel Embiid Back In A Boot

Update: Per Tom Moore, Joel Embiid started wearing the boot after experiencing soreness in the surgically repaired foot last weekend. Brown said the checkup in Los Angeles was already scheduled before the soreness. So this could be a normal part of the recovery — soreness is normal. Or it could be something else. Here’s to it being the former.

 

Joel Embiid was wearing a boot on his injured foot over the weekend after going without it for several weeks. This could be anything from meaningless to a disaster.

The Intelligencer’s Tom Moore was first told that it was for protective reasons and that there wasn’t any real setback, but reported later that there was indeed a minor setback.

In very possibly related news, Embiid is scheduled to be in Los Angeles today to check in with his doctor, CSNPhilly.com’s Dei Lynam reported. She did not confirm whether this was scheduled before or after the setback reported by Moore. Her source confirmed that Embiid was in a walking boot, but was unaware of any setback, according to Lynam.

In other possibly related but possibly nothing news, Embiid tweeted “What’s all this? Go away” at midnight, then deleted it minutes later. What that means — and what wearing a boot nearly nine months after surgery to fix a navicular bone structure days after doing between the leg dunks in warmups — I do not know. I’m neither a mind reader nor a doctor. But maybe you are, so go ahead and speculate in the comments. Because that’s what the internet is for.

Mar 08 2015

Sixers Rebound Against Undermanned Hawks

If the Philadelphia 76ers beat the Eastern Conference’s best team and I wasn’t there to see all of it (thanks, shitty League Pass … and Duke-UNC), did the Sixers beat the Eastern Conference’s best team?

Well, sorta.

Last night the Sixers upset the Hawks, 92-84, snapping a four-game losing streak and showing once again that they are indeed an NBA team capable of doing NBA things. Granted, Atlanta was resting three starters in Paul Millsap, Kyle Korver, and DeMarre Carroll, but any win — whether it’s against a second unit or the Wizards — is a good sign for this group.

Nerlens Noel was the statistical star, recording 17 rebounds and five steals to go along with an unimpressive 11 points on 12 field goal attempts. Just as important was Hollis Thompson. In the absence of Jason Richardson and Jerami Grant (played just five mins due to back spasms), Thompson scored 19 points on 10 shots, along with nine boards and four assists off the bench. (By the way, he’s been red hot from long distance after his slow start. Arbitrary sample caveat, but he’s 31 of 59 since February.)

But the Sixers didn’t win this game with stellar shooting. They were 13 of 37 from 3-point land and 9 of 17 from the line. Meanwhile the Hawks — without the best 3-point shooter in the universe — went 11-25 from 3 and 13-16 from the charity stripe. It was rebounding that gave the Sixers the edge. Noel used his long arms to record a career-high in rebounds that included seven on the offensive end. Furkan Aldemir had eight boards — four offensive — in 18 minutes, while JaKarr Sampson had three offensive boards and Thompson had two. That 17-5 offensive rebounding edge led to a significant discrepancy of 95 to 77 in field goal attempts.

Is this something that continue? Or was it just a blip against a Millsap-less Hawks team? I lean towards the latter — rebounding statistics are random and volatile. But there has been significant improvement in Noel’s numbers after (and perhaps as a result of) the Michael Carter-Williams trade, as he’s averaging 10 boards since then. (MCW’s plus rebounding might’ve taken some away from Noel).

Then again, there’s also been a redistribution of playing time in the frontcourt. Henry Sims has been in and out of the rotation and getting minimal minutes while Thomas Robinson and his minutes have gone to the recently acquired Thomas Robinson and Aldemir — both pure rebounders. So, verdict: maybe a trend. It’ll be interesting to see what this frontcourt is capable of next season when you stick Joel Embiid in the rotation.

This was a fun win, in the sense that the Hawks, even without three starters, are still a decent NBA team. And by that, I mean they aren’t the Knicks. But the result shouldn’t surprise those who’ve been paying attention. The Sixers, since their 0-17 start, have been an ordinary bad basketball team, no worse than the Knicks, Nuggets, Timberwolves, Lakers, Magic, and Kings. While they lose a lot of games by a lot of points, they play hard, play defense (less now than before) and shoot a lot of 3-pointers. That’s not quite a winning recipe right now; they simply don’t have the ingredients. But don’t be surprised if it gets them to 20 victories this season.

Mar 06 2015

The Jazz Scored 89 Points, The Sixers Scored Less Than 89 Points

Utah Jazz 89 Final
Recap | Box Score
83 Philadelphia 76ers
Nerlens Noel, C 37 MIN | 5-12 FG | 0-0 FT | 11 REB | 1 AST | 6 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 10 PTS | -9 +/-Not a great offensive outing for Noel, but that can be expected when facing the Favors-Gobert frontline. The high-top fade filled the numbers elsewhere however, snatching up six errant Utah passes while registering his fourth double-double over his last five games.

Jason Richardson, SG 27 MIN | 0-10 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | -19 +/-Ouch. As delightfully adequate as J-Rich has been since the return from his two-year hiatus, this was the first night where he really showed his age. He was never able to find his shooting touch and looked visibly frustrated throughout the entire game, however his presence on the floor still provided a nice amount of space for the Sixers to work with inside.

Thomas Robinson, PF 15 MIN | 5-8 FG | 1-2 FT | 12 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 11 PTS | 0 +/-A super-efficient performance by T-Rob in just a 15-minute run. Some may argue that Coach Brown should be handing him more minutes on nights like tonight, but this may be the best-suited role for Robinson while he crafts his game.

Ish Smith, PG 23 MIN | 6-13 FG | 2-2 FT | 1 REB | 7 AST | 1 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 14 PTS | +3 +/-This is basketball in the year 2015. Ish came out the gates scorching, hitting his first four shots, and looked surprisingly competent operating in the pick-and-roll. He probably won’t be on this team in four months time, but he’s the closest thing we’ve got to Tony Wroten right now so let’s enjoy him while we can.

Henry Sims, C DNP COACH’S DECISION MIN | FG | FT | REB | AST | STL | BLK | TO | PTS | +/-This was the second DNP-CD Sims has registered over the last four games. The Jazz trot out several smallball lineups that make the Sims-Noel pairing an awkward matchup, but when Furkan Aldemir is clocking 11 minutes while Sims can’t get off the pine, that’s not a great look for our buddy Hank.

By the Numbers

- The Sixers were seven-point underdogs going into tonight’s game, and didn’t look as if they were going to cover until a last second full-court heave by Isaiah Canaan shrunk Utah’s victory to just six points. This is why you don’t gamble on sports, kids.

Tweet of the Game

Reminder: the 2015-16 NBA season starts in just under eight months from now.


Parting Shots

  •  Rudy Gobert may be the league’s very best rim protector this season, but that didn’t stop Isaiah Canaan and Ish Smith — practically midgets in comparison — from each netting some crafty shots at the rim against the Stifle Tower.
  • This was a battle between the league’s two youngest teams tonight, and boy, did it sure look like it. Neither team shot above 38 percent from the field, while combining for 33 turnovers and shooting 66.1 percent from the charity stripe. Rebuilding can be painful sometimes.
  • Speaking of painful: Jerami Grant left the game in the second half due to back spasms, possibly related to the back contusion he suffered in Orlando a couple weeks back. Hopefully he’ll be ready in time to suit up for tomorrow’s game against Atlanta.
  • Speaking of Atlanta: if you opted to watch this game over a potential Eastern Conference Finals preview in Cleveland-Atlanta tonight, you must really enjoy watching crappy basketball.
  • Speaking of crappy basketball: I really miss Tony Wroten. There, I said it.

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