By Dylan MacKinnon- Producer at 97.5 The Fanatic
The Sixers start to this season has been, in a word, disappointing. Ben hasn’t shown improvement, Embiid has at times still been out of shape, the turnovers are still a huge problem, and they haven’t played well on the road. On top of that, as fans, we have seen two other teams with lofty expectations fail to live up to them, so we are primed for more disappointment.
But it is important to take a step back, and consider whether these issues are legit concerns, or if they may just be some early season rust. After all, this is a team with two new key additions to their starting five, as well as a couple of new pieces of the bench. There are only six players who were on the playoff roster last year, that are on this roster. Embiid, Simmons, Harris, Scott, Ennis, and Korkmaz. Every other player is new to this team, so a little bit of a slow start is not all that surprising.
So which is it? Is this team worse than we thought, or is this just a team taking its time to find it’s chemistry? Should We panic about these various issues, or do we just need to have patience? Let’s go issue by issue.
Did you know Ben hasn’t been shooting yet this year. Because the only way you could not know that is if you haven’t turned on the radio and haven’t been on Twitter since the season started. Lots of people are talking about it, and a lot of them are very angry, and they are not completely wrong either.
I don’t think I can really tell someone to be patient with this one. I still support Ben, but he needs to take those jumpers. He does not need to shoot 3’s yet, but when he is driving, and the opposing defender backs off, he needs to take that shot.
Is he a great player without it? Yes. His defense, his play-making, his rebounding, all still make him a great player. But defenders will keep playing off him if he doesn’t shoot, and the more they do that, the less effective he will be even at the things he is really good at.
He is already having a harder time getting to the rim at times. His points are down this year. He is drawing less fouls, which even though he isn’t a great FT shooter, there is still value to getting to the line a lot. His rebounds are down a bit too, though that is more likely because having Horford out there means there are fewer rebounds to go around.
Should we panic that he still doesn’t seem willing to do that? Maybe not. But even my patience is being tested, and I have been a consistent defender of him. It is still too soon to truly freak out and lose all hope, but it is a problem, and it needs to be fixed.
Embiid Getting Tired
We need to accept Embiid will never be the guy who can play tons of minutes, in every game, and still have energy. There will be times where he gets tired. The question is, how big of an issue is that, and is there any way to work around it.
Well if you believe the Sixers, they do have a solution? It’s a word that makes many people cringe, but one that does have a history of working. Load Management. Before you get upset, and say that he is an athlete and shouldn’t need load management. Before you start pretending that you working 8 hours a day is the exact same as what they do and he shouldn’t need rest, lets look at some facts.
Last year, the Raptors won the Finals, thanks in large part to Kawhi Leonard being unreal during the playoffs. Sixers fans know how good he was all too well. As Tyrone Johnson has pointed out on and off air many times, Leonard did not play a single back to back last year. Zero. In fact he played only 60 games total last year, less than the 64 Embiid played. And do you know who else loves to use load management? The Warriors. The team that won the Western Conference five straight times, and won the Finals three of those times.
So for me, if Embiid take a little while to really get going this season, and if he misses every back to back, I am okay with that. But that comes with an expectation. He has to be ready to go in the playoffs. He can’t be tired when they are playing the Bucks or Celtics in a playoff series. They need him to be at his absolute best then. If that is the case, the load management and the regular season games where he isn’t at 100%, are fine. If he isn’t in game shape during the playoffs though, that would be unacceptable.
Last year the Sixers were 20-21 on the road, and 3-3 in the playoffs. This year, they are 4-5. There is a concern that this team plays poorly on the road, and their record does nothing to quell those fears. Last year, it was a fact. They didn’t play as well on the road and lost 3 road games to the Raptors in the second round.
But what about this year? Is 9 games too small a sample size to be concerned about? I would say probably. Not to say we should write the problem off entirely, but we should not panic, not yet.
For one, four of those road games were west coast teams, with three of the four being part on a long west coast road trip. Which is tough this early in the season for a team that hasn’t quite learned how to gel yet. Also, they were against some tough teams. The Five teams they lost to are 35-28, thanks to the Nuggets, Jazz, and Suns mostly.
Is this a problem if it continues? Well, yea, its potentially a big problem. You don’t win the Finals if you struggle to win on the road. You know who was the last team to win the Finals despite having a losing record on the road? The Washington Bullets, in 1978. They had a 15-26 record on the road, and still won the finals. Back then there were only 22 teams by the way. All together, only 12 teams have won with a losing record on the road. And almost all of them, were in the 50’s, when almost every team that won had a losing record on the road.
So if you want to win the Finals, you have to be able to win on the road. Its non negotiable. Are they a bad road team? It is too soon too tell. But we cannot deny that they need to improve there. But the good news is they have a good stretch of home games coming up.
Go onto Twitter during a Sixers game, and you will be bombarded with Sixers fans and Sixers media talking about the latest bad turnover. And even Brett brown can see it. He had this to say to the media after losing to the Hornets and having 20 turnovers.
“Until we can fix this, this is a house built on sand. It is fool’s gold. And we have to find a discipline and a better way to control that. Because the turnovers in the first half, some of them were live ball, a lot of them were just getting things batted out of our hands… This is a problem. And we need to own it. I’m the head coach, I’ve gotta find a way to fix it. There needs to be a level of accountability with the players. And that’s that. “
With 16.8 turnovers per game, the Sixers are the 6th worst team at turning it over. Last year they ranked in the same spot, and averaged 14.5. The year before, they were 30th, and turned it over 15.9 times per game. There seems to be a pattern here.
And it is not just the amount of turnovers, but the way it is getting turned over. Whether it is Ben Simmons doing an ill advised back court pass after failing to drive into the paint, or Embiid again turning it over after making a bad pass out of a double team. You see those things enough times, it becomes predictable.
I don’t see any reason to think this gets fixed. The only hope is that it is an issue they can overcome with good defense, and increased efficiency on offense. If they can take advantage of the possessions they do not turn it over, and continue to get a lot of takeaways of their own, they can overcome their turnover problems. But it is not an issue that will just go away.
A lot of these issues aren’t going away. The road record could get better, but Ben’s shooting, Embiid getting tired, and the turnovers, are issues that might not go away. And while they can overcome Embiid with a good load management plan, and can be great despite the turnovers, they need Ben to at least take open shots. Not 3’s, but medium range jumpers. They will not win it all if teams are putting up a wall in the paint to guard him. Of these major issues, that is the only one I have a hard time preaching patience for, and while I wouldn’t panic, it is reasonable to be a bit concerned.
But don’t give up on the Sixers season yet. They aren’t the first “Super Team” to get out of the gate slow. The heat had a slow start with Lebron, Wade, and Bosh. But then again, the Heat didn’t have these types of reoccurring issues. So while for now I will preach patience, there are things we need to continue to monitor.