The Philadelphia 76ers roster hasn't had an abundance of talent over the past few years, but it can be easy to take what they have for granted. On Monday night against the Bulls, fans got a taste of what life without both Nerlens Noel and Robert Covington was like, and it tasted like hell.
Philadelphia looked flat for most of the game, but a stagnant Chicago offense let them hang around. Once the Bulls found their groove from the floor, they blew the Sixers out by a final of 111-88. Some observations from the evening:
- The first half was really rough for Jahlil Okafor, especially on the offensive end. The 19-year-old was able to create some open looks for himself around the rim, but struggled finishing. Pau Gasol was tasked with guarding Okafor, and with a couple of blocks (he finished with six), was able to limit him to 2-12 shooting from the floor. Okafor looked a lot better in the second half, showing off a little shooting range from the outside. But with the lack of shooters around him, Okafor spent a lot of the game trying to force shots up to get the team going. He finished with 21 points on 9-25 shooting in 21 minutes.
- Tonight was also a good measuring stick to see how Okafor would handle himself defensively and on the boards without Noel in the mix. Six of Okafor's 15 rebounds came in the first quarter, but most of them were easy ones that fell into his lap. As the game went on Okafor made more of a conscious effort to try and rebound, but he was thoroughly outmatched. He did look comfortable competing for offensive rebounds, and his box out and put back over Pau Gasol was one of his better plays. He continues to struggle on defense, but I don't think things are as hopeless as they look. Defending one-on-one in the post, Okafor seems capable of holding his own. It's when he's out in space being forced to chase the ball where he struggles the most. Things should get better, but they'll take a while.
- T.J. McConnell continues to keep the Sixers offense running as smoothly as possible. In 29 minutes, he finished with 6 points, 8 assists, and 5 rebounds. His incredible court vision and ability to create passing lanes is a gift that wasn't really notable in the preseason. McConnell's also growing a little confidence shooting the ball, which would be helpful because he's left pretty open most of the time.
- Because the Sixers were shorthanded tonight, we got our best glimpse of Richaun Holmes and Christian Wood thus far, and both managed to hold their own. They combined for 20 points 8-19 shooting, 11 rebounds, and 2 blocks. Holmes outside shooting touch hasn't come yet, but he makes up for it with incredible effort on every play. He also has a pretty refined finishing touch around the rim. Wood's game isn't necessarily easy on the eyes, but he matches Holmes on effort. He fights for every single rebound, and beginning to find his way offensively. It would be hard to expect Wood to contribute like this on a frequent basis, but it's nice to know he can be relied on when called upon.
- Nik Stauskas couldn't hit the broad sign of a barn tonight. He was just 2-13 from the field, including 1-7 from beyond the arc. Open looks aren't the issues for Stauskas, because he's getting plenty of them. By the end of the game, he was just forcing up shots from anywhere on the floor to get himself going. It's He's now shooting just 26.1% from three-point range over the past five games, and just 31.0% on the season. If he can turn things around, Philadelphia's offense would find the three-point threat it has lacked all season.