Another game, another blowout loss for the 76ers. The Sixers have now lost 26 out of their first 27 games this year. Their win percentage is at less than 4%. Their point differential is -13.0. And, in what is probably the most damning part of this season so far, they haven't been any fun to watch.
The Sixers have already lost a whopping 10 games by more than 15 points. If it weren't for several half-spirited comebacks against bench mobs in the 4th quarter, it could easily have been 15 games. The games have not only been blowouts, but they've been blowouts from the very first whistle, and it's made watching this team feel like a chore.
Look. I'm not about to call for a sudden change of strategy when the rebuild is about to speed up in 6 months anyway. But this isn't fun.
Sam Hinkie has talked many times about the fact that rebuilds aren't linear. We can't expect the team to constantly be building on its previous win total, because that's not how rebuilds work. Life gets in the way. There's a talent jam at some roster spots while others remain wildly understocked; the team's best defensive player can get a spate of fluke injuries; one or two draft picks may not pan out. But so far this season has looked like a large step back from last year, even considering that the team started 0-17 and lost by 53 in Dallas.
Just looking at wins and losses, this start has been tougher than last year's. 1-26 is unequivocally terrible, even when compared to 4-23. But it's the nature of the losses and the play of the team that has really been wearing on me. Last year's team had a true identity - they were outgunned, outmanned (although definitely not outnumbered and probably not outplanned), but they never played like it. Last season's team was one that never said die, that played hard defense, and that hoped it could scrape out enough O to stay in the games it was favored to lose.
There was something to admire in that. They knew they didn't stand much of a chance, but they understood their best path to competing was through sheer effort, which is often the largest part of defensive ability. It was easier to forgive the stale offensive sets, the constant turnovers, and Jerami and JaKarr sprinting into walls of defenders because we could see the effort they were putting in to remain in the game.
Last night, the Hawks shot 61.5% from the field. SIXTY-ONE POINT FIVE PERCENT. Not only was Atlanta more likely to score than not whenever they shot the ball, but they were FAR more likely to score. Some of that wad due to live-ball turnovers leading to run-outs, as the Hawks scored 30 points off of Sixers turnovers, but teams don't shoot that well unless your half-court D is a problem, and that's a large frustration with this season so far.
Some of the D's regression is due to the loss of Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, who was atrocious on O but did everything that was asked of him on D. But a large part is also the play of Jahlil Okafor, who was atrocious (again) last night on the defensive side of the ball. Jim Lynam crushed Okafor on the post-game show for his ineptitude on D, and it really can't be said enough just how awful he has been. We're only 27 games into Okafor's NBA career, and there's plenty that can still change, but boy, if I could see him play convincing defense for two halves in a row, that would sure make me feel better about the thought of him as this team's centerpiece.
This rebuild is supposed to place large emphasis on growth and development. If you squint really hard, you can see it in the play of Jerami Grant, or the occasional positive game from Isaiah Canaan (like last night!), but man, for the most part it's hard to see the progress. Hollis looks like he doesn't deserve to be in the league. He provides nothing outside of his shooting stroke, and this is his third season in which he's been given the opportunity to show some semblance of a slashing game and failed to do so. JaKarr has been bad, although he was actually good last night, even by the low standards he set for himself last year. Nobody seems to have made much inroad as a shooter at the free throw line or behind the arc, with the exception of Okafor whose improvement can't really be attributed to this coaching staff yet.
And in perhaps the most frustrating move for me personally, Christian Wood somehow STILL can't get on the floor even though the team is bringing 26 point deficits into the 4th quarter. It's almost become a joke how much I want Wood to succeed here, but if he's one of the highest-ceiling players on this team, how is he supposed to grow without ever playing? It would be one thing if he were a train wreck every time he stepped on the court, but he hasn't been. He's still averaging 16 points and 10 rebounds per 36 minutes while blocking greater than 3% of all shot attempts and sporting a 52.3% true shooting percentage. How was he not able to get more than 2 minutes in last night's appalling blowout?
None of this has even touched on Nerlens, who has had what essentially amounts to a lost season so far. He still couldn't play last night due to the eye bruise he got in the Raptors game. I've got plenty of thoughts on him that don't deserve to be added as an aside in a game recap, but it's been really painful to see him marginalized the way he has been this season.
None of this is a condemnation of the rebuild. If Embiid comes back healthy, or the Sixers grab Simmons, or Hinkie trades for a star, it will have been successful. But man, has it ever been awful to follow this team this year. The bright spots have faded from last year and all that's left is a sad, angering morass of inadequacy.
Odds and Ends:
- Okafor's 20 point game streak ended last night as he scored 19 points. Meanwhile, his "Games without giving a crap on defense" streak was extended to 27. Only another 25 to go before he's challenging Enes Kanter's record of 54!
- Kendall Marshall and Tony Wroten were both still on minutes restrictions, only playing 15 and 16 minutes, respectively. Both are still struggling to find game sharpness. They combined for 8 turnovers and only 4 assists while shooting 7-16 from the field.
- Isaiah Canaan has been fun since being unleashed in his natural "Don't Worry About Others, Just Get Your Own Shot!" role. The halftime deficit was 11, but it would have been a lot worse had he not unleashed a barrage of 3's over a three minute stretch to end the half.
- Stauskas looks really, really bad. In 13 minutes of play last night, the only stats he collected were a solitary defensive rebound and a turnover. It's starting to look like he's completely unsalvageable.
- The Hawks got their shooting touch back last night, shooting 10-21 from behind the arc.
- I'm sad. I just want to have fun watching this team, and I haven't been able to do that since the Lakers' win.