Nobody ever expected the Sixers to compete this year, but the hope was they would at least show some progression. Through the first 30 games of the season, it's been the complete opposite. Philadelphia has gotten worse in nearly every department, and winning just one game at this point in the season is something none of us ever would have predicted back in October.
So in this week's one question roundtable, we ask the participating Liberty Ballers writers (and alumni)...
"Why was your Sixers win prediction so off for this season?"
Jake Fischer: We all knew Jahlil Okafor was far from a defensive stalwart, but nobody could have predicted that the team's overall defensive efficiency was going to plummet from 12th last season to 26th this year. Scoring has always been a challenge during this rebuild, but Brett Brown getting a crop of young, raw athletes to buy in defensively and protect their own basket cohesively was an incredible achievement. It was the Sixers' saving grace a year ago, it kept them in ball games and allowed for a sputtering offense to be enjoyable at least from a workshop standpoint, rather than a putrid annoyance like we're experiencing right now. After January 1, the Sixers' net rating was -7.3, still fourth-worst in the league, but they were not consistently having their doors blown off. At this juncture, the Sixers' net rating is at -13.4 and I honestly can't remember a game they had a legitimate chance of winning in the fourth quarter. Hinkie only really added Okafor, Kendall Marshall, Richaun Holmes and T.J. McConnell over the off season. The problem could simply be Nerlens Noel's health. I don't know how much could be attributed to Noel and Okafor's incohesive fit â Nerlens' defensive efficiency is 10 points per 100 possessions better when Okafor is on the bench rather than alongside him in the paint. Hell, maybe Furkan Aldemir was the glue that truly held this team together.
Sean O'Connor: My predictions were wrong in many, many ways, so I'll point out one where I'm very clearly wrong and yet I'm not sure will be an answer anyone else cites. I thought wing shooting would be a relative strength for this team, with Canaan, Thompson, Covington, and Stauskas playing minutes with Okafor and providing adequate enough spacing and hitting enough shots to resemble a real offense. Part of the problem may be Okafor's court recognition and speed of the game, and part of it is lacking distributors, but that can't be the whole reason the Sixers are shooting 32% on threes. Stauskas needs an exorcism, Covington's been inconsistent even after the injuries, and Thompson doesn't shoot enough to draw attention. Only the still-maligned Isaiah Canaan has held up his part of the shooting bargain.
Kyle Neubeck: We could start with me saying on Sixers Beat that I thought they'd get to 24 wins? The thought in my head was that part of the struggle the last two seasons has been due to roster instability, and that the identity they settled into down the stretch last season would at least *somewhat* carry over this year. With the boost I expected Okafor to give them on the offensive end -- his defensive limitations aside -- I thought they'd start to find a semblance of balance in year three of the grand experiment. There's a lot to extrapolate from what's taken place so far. Has Okafor's presence (and Noel's subsequent shift) really cratered the defense this badly? Was the "nobody's safe" mentality actually a positive agent? I have so many questions and very few answers, and I think that's what bothers me the most. I'll never be ashamed of being wrong, but I'd like to at least feel secure in knowing what the cause of it all might be.
Michael Baumann: I said the Sixers would win on opening night, then 28 other times this season, and the wrongness of that prediction is a spiritual millstone. I think the collapse has its roots in Okafor. Before, the Sixers were long and quick and played well in transition, but swapping Okafor in--and Derek wrote about this the other day--slowed them down in transition, muddied their defense and made them into a half-court team, which is fine, but Okafor isn't creative in the post. So often it looks like he plans out his move and doesn't deviate from it no matter what. They lived and died by their athleticism in years past, and they got much less athletic this year by adding not only Okafor, but McConnell, Stauskas and Marshall. And so much of the offense revolves around Canaan, who's quick but small and doesn't have a good handle, and Covington, who's not a great athlete either. And they haven't added enough skill and certainly not enough creativity to get around that.That's not a knock on Okafor personally or professionally--he is the player he is--but an insistence on BPA regardless of fit can backfire when the question of who the best player is doesn't have a clear answer, and the fit is this bad. It's not only stalled the progress we saw last year, but backed it up.
Derek Bodner: I thought effort and defense would get them to 20+ wins. I was wrong and both accounts.
I had a worry that they were damaging their defense to try to build a "really bad, but not historically awful" offense. Which at the time I was okay with because wins and losses were less important than putting shooters around Okafor to hopefully make it easier to evaluate him.
The additions of Kendall, Stauskas, and Okafor were lot to overcome defensively. But man, I didn't think the defense would take *this* much of a hit. I thought Noel and Grant would cover up for more than they have. I think Nerlens clearly hasn't been the same, but I think even Nerlens at maximum impact wasn't fixing this mess. They have absolutely nothing to hang their hat on, nothing to keep them in games and remain competitive.
Add to that an effort level that just seems to not be there as much as it was in the previous two years, and you have a disaster.
You watch the offense on a day to day basis, and it's frustrating. But if you would have told me before the season that McConnell and Canaan would be running the offense for a third of the season, I think they might actually be outperforming what I expected on the offensive side of the ball, which is sad/scary. But man, adding Okafor in to the worst perimeter defense in the league has been tough to watch.
Matt Carey: I think the biggest surprise to me is how little progress some of the role players have made. I think I expected more of them to make a leap from either year 1 to year 2 or year 2 to year 3. I expected Hollis and Stauskas to be at least borderline competent NBA players, and I expected Canaan to show a little bit more beyond his shot, and all of those things have been massive failures. I think Nerlens' inconsistency has been a big problem as well, although I don't know how much of that is on him and how much of that is learning to play with Okafor.
Sean's right when he talked about the perimeter shooting being worse than expected, and I think one of the things that makes this team so unwatchable is that they just miss so many shots (29th in the NBA in FG%, 28th in in 3P%). Combine that with their poor rebounding and bad transition defense and it leads to the landslide that so many Sixers games become.
Roy Burton: I think there were three miscalculations:
The Nerlens Noel/Jahlil Okafor is clearly the most glaring issue with this team. Growing pains were to be expected, but in two short months, we've already gone from "they'll figure it out" to "I don't know if this is ever going to work" to "let's see what we can get for Okafor in the Trade Machine."
Secondly, we definitely overvalued the potential impact of Nik Stauskas. He's spending most of the games with his warmups on because of his defense, but his shooting has been absolutely dreadful. If Stauskas was merely a league average shooter, then maybe you could excuse his shortcomings on the other end of the court.
And finally, I think we (reasonably) expected most of the holdovers from last year's team to show at least an incremental level of improvement. Quite frankly, I'm seeing more regression than anything else. I'm not sure what that's attributable to exactly, but perhaps it improves once Marshall/Wroten get their legs under them. Were we a tad optimistic? Probably. But I don't know if anyone could have predicted all three of these things going south in the first third of the season.