A Stall in the Process? Or Growing Pains?

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When the Sixers finally sealed up their win on Christmas Day over the Knicks, I was relieved. Kristaps is nice, but the Knicks are hot garbage that is going nowhere near a title any time soon, and yet they sat ahead of the Sixers in the standings going into this game. Sure, the standings mean nothing at this point in the season, and won’t for another month or so, but the Knicks stink. Their fans never just lay down and accept the futility that is their franchise, so if the Sixers had lost, it would have been bad. Fortunately, they didn’t though, and it wasn’t all that close. A less than 100% Joel Embiid proved to anyone wondering that he’s the dominant big man in the division moving forward.

So here’s the thing though- the Sixers have been really, really rotten in December. They’re 10th in the conference right now, which is frankly terrible- it’s neither in the playoffs or high in the lottery. They’re 15-18, which is not good. Markelle Fultz has missed significant time hurt this season, which is something I thought we were done with in Philadelphia this season. Their sitting of Joel Embiid is at best frustrating, and at worst overly careful. There’s issues here. Many of them sit at the feet of Brett Brown. My chief three beefs with the team right now:

  1. The offense doesn’t utilize this team’s best strengths. Look, I get it, the three pointer is fun, and it works well in Golden State, but it is not this team’s best offense. Joel Embiid can get to the rim at will, even if he does have the ability to shoot from outside. Almost no one can stop Ben Simmons from getting to the rim, and he should always attack it, even if he’s kicking the ball out. Dario Saric has good shooting nights sometimes, but he is at his best around the basket. These guys are all big, they can all score at the rim, and they all should score at the rim. It’s not Brown’s fault that Redick and RoCo have been streaky, but it is his fault that he’s not using his talent their best way.
  2. I don’t like the rotations right now. I’d really like to see less of Amir Johnson, and more of Richaun Holmes. I think I’d like to see Bayless and McConnell fall further back in the rotation, though I think it’s a reality of life that they will play a lot until Fultz is back. As long as Fultz is getting his minutes after he returns, I’ll live with that one. I’m getting tired of both Johnson getting the bulk of the bench minutes as a big, and the fact that we’re not seeing more Richaun Holmes. Holmes is a legitimately nice talent, and I want to see him on the court more. In fact, I want to see any young guy with talent getting the bulk of the opportunities this season, because I had no expectation of the Sixers winning an NBA Championship in 2018. This team can play with anyone, but that doesn’t mean I expect them to win anything yet.
  3. I did expect this group to be better defensively than they are.

So yeah, I’m a bit peeved at Brown’s handling of this team in the earlier going, and want to see some changes, but I’m not really all that bent out of shape about it. Sure, I’m not all that psyched with this team losing games to Sacramento, Chicago, Phoenix, or the Lakers, all teams I expect them to beat, or getting blown off the court by Toronto, a team I expect them to compete with, but it’s December. Basketball season starts at Christmas, in reality. At the end of the day, I pegged them for a sixth or seventh seed type team in this conference, and they should still be able to get there. The season is young.

This team is really young too, and it’s worth noting that this season is largely a learning season. Their struggles closing out games may be ugly to watch, but they are a part of becoming a professional team. Many of these players are now reaching career highs in games played in a basketball season (yes, after 33 games). If Brown is playing his veterans more early in the season to pace out the young guys for the long haul, I’ll live with some losses. If Joel Embiid is sitting a bunch of December games because the goal is to get 60-65 games out of his this season, I don’t like it, but I’ll live with it. I want to see this team finishing the season with Embiid, Simmons, Fultz, and Saric all on the court playing starter minutes, taking the team to the playoffs. That’s what this season is really about, not how I feel in December. We should remember that this group’s core is all around 21 years of age, and in their first or second real NBA season. They’re not supposed to be a finished product, yet.

I’d like to see this trip out West get them back on track. They have some momentum out of the win over the Knicks, and now they get to play Portland, Denver, and Phoenix on the trip, three teams that are maybe not rotten, but all are beatable. A 2-1 trip would be quite nice heading into a much harder home-stand against the Spurs, Pistons, Celtics, and Raptors. This would be a very good time for this team to right the ship and bit and get on a little run.

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