What a difference three months can make: nobody could’ve predicted in October that the Sixers would surpass its 2015-16 win total by January, boast a legitimate all-star candidate, and willingly start TJ McConnell. So let’s revisit some preseason expectations and use our extremely nuanced private in-house analytics to grade each of the 17-28 Sixers through the midpoint:
Jerryd Bayless (11.0/4.0/4.3, 34.4/40.0/90.0, 3GP): Incomplete
Unfortunately those poor Sixers fans desperately awaiting Jerryd’s debut will be limited to just 71 minutes this season. This is mostly fine as Bayless was meant as a complimentary piece to the also street-clothed Ben Simmons, but his presence on the team now seems questionable with two years left on his contract, a point guard-loaded draft, and the rise of TJ McConnell. He still figures to slot nicely along Simmons and may well contribute to a playoff run next season, but at what cost?
Robert Covington (10.8/5.9/1.6, 37.2/30.2/80.9, 1.7SPG): A-
“Robert” Rock Covington nailed about 36 percent of his triples through his first three years (939 attempts), so worrying that his early-season shooting slump was the new norm was always silly. And would you look at that: he’s shooting the three at a 35 percent clip in 2017, and that includes a 1-9 clunker to start the year. He still launches on a ton of horrible looks (perhaps giving some credence to the “bad habits” argument that surrounded the more tumultuous years of the process), but hey, 35 percent is almost Hollis Thompson good.
And his defense has taken an almost unprecedented leap this season. He’s sitting pretty at second in defensive RPM among small forwards and 15th overall, he comfortably leads the league in deflections per game (4.2), and he’s routinely assigned to the opposition’s best player on that end. He may have locked up the W Wednesday night by forcing Giannis to commit a backcourt violation in the closing seconds. Don’t boo Robert Covington.
Joel Embiid (20.2/7.9/2.1, 46.6/36.7/78.3, 2.5 BPG): Gucci Mane exclaiming “I can’t even sleep I got so much to say”
But really, what else is there to say? Runaway Rookie of the Year seemed a given, but All-Star snub? League’s best rim protector? THIS? He’s easily a top-20 NBA player this year with top-20 all-time potential and he’s been playing basketball for like four weeks. Sam was right.
Gerald Henderson (9.8/2.6/1.8, 46.5/41.5/82.3, 0.9TOPG): B
I’ll be honest: I go multiple games without remembering that Gerald Henderson plays for this team. The broadcast welcomed him back into the lineup following a three-game break earlier this month and I was legitimately shocked that he was even gone in the first place.
This is precisely the role Hendo was signed to play. He rarely gets in the way, knocks down his shots (41 percent from 3!), doesn’t cough up the ball, and plays passable defense at the least important defensive position. Until a better option comes around or TLC grows into his role, I mean, why not?
Richaun Holmes (7.2/4.3/0.8, 53.4/36.4/66.7, 24GP): B
Here’s the thing: if you switched the draft positions of Holmes and Okafor in 2015, Richaun is easily the third big off the bench. Unfortunately a lack of name recognition seems to have haunted his career to the point that he’s far and away the league’s best fourth-string center, but he’s sure to find his place in the league eventually — whether it’s here following the clearing of the center logjam or somewhere else. He’s seemingly improved enough that he could plausibly be Embiid’s understudy one day, but until that time we’ll keep enjoying his immaculate bench celebrations.
Ersan Illyasova (15.1/6.0/1.8, 45.3/38.9/77.7, 12.3FGAPG): C-
Ersan Illyasova has helped the Sixers’ development: he pushes the ball in transition, spaces the floor, and most importantly has Embiid’s seal of approval. ESPN calculates that he’s added about four wins, which is almost half of what the team totaled last season. These are all good things.
Ersan Illyasova has also hurt the Sixers’ development — it is possible for both of these things to be true: he cuts into Dario Saric’s minutes, is an inconsolably bad defender, and takes two or three too many shots per game. He’s a terrific piece if he helps Embiid and Nerlens, but unfortunately nearly 50 percent of his minutes have come with both bigs on the bench, per nbawowy. He has zero future in this already-crowded frontcourt and should hopefully be dealt by the deadline so that Simmons’ return doesn’t further cut Dario’s minutes, and hopefully Brett and Colangelo agree.
Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot (3.4/1.3/0.6, 42.7/36.0/75.6, 1.4FPG): B+
I probably would’ve taken the under on 300 minutes for TLC this season, but what started as one or two flashes a game has ballooned into a legitimate backup wing presence. He still has a ways (and about 50 pounds) to go — I especially appreciate his honoring of Hollis by repeatedly leaving a 3-point shooter wide open in the corner — but the foundation is there for an NBA starter.
T.J. McConnell (5.4/2.8/5.9, 44.7/25.9/74.4, 0.63DRPM): A-
TJ was hardly an NBA player by November’s end, and then apparently he took an old pair of Michael Jordan’s sneakers out of the donation box and became the second coming of Calvin Cambridge. His defense has evolved from “good because he gets steals” to “actually good,” he takes care of the ball, and his buzzer-beating turnaround over Carmelo Anthony is probably the best Sixers shot since the stepover. Sure, his jumper looks like he’s launching from quicksand and he still gets to the line about as frequently as Frank Ocean releases albums, but the team has lost just four (four!) games since he took over the starting spot at 2016’s close. You can’t ask much more from this
white scrappy young kid out of Arizona.
Nerlens Noel (8.0/4.8/0.8, 60.2/0.0/73.7 17.2MPG): B+
After taking off on both ends along with the rest of the team last year, Nerlens returned to hit 55 percent of his catch-and-shoot jumpers and has acted as easily the best defensive bench player in the league. He can guard every position, and following a Sixers win on Tuesday night claimed he loved Philly to the tune of a standing ovation. Trading him would be lunacy — his stock is likely damaged at this juncture due to character concerns anyway. Pay him his damn money.
Jahlil Okafor (11.2/4.8/1.0, 52.7/0.0/60.9, -3.95RPM): D-
Marc dove into the numbers a bit the other day, but the gist of it is simply: the Sixers are bad when Okafor plays, and good when he doesn’t play. Many advocates just a few months back thought Jah might well revive the ground-ground, low post behemoth, and now it seems as he may be walking proof that this kind of player can’t anymore viably exist in the NBA. That’s fine: the majority of our country seemed certain in November that our current president would flourish in his position, and after just a week I’m hoping that we make it through February. Sometimes opinions don’t matter, sometimes people are just wrong. The key is always to be more critical of our own thought process through trial and error.
And hey, let’s not pretend like Okafor hasn’t shown redeemable flashes this season: his faceup game is one of the deadliest in the league; he’s at the very least in better defensive position this season rather than avoiding it altogether, even if he fouls like crazy when he’s at the basket — his foul rate is about identical to last season despite logging seven less minutes a night; and although his selection at the third spot in the draft was clearly a mistake and will likely be the last time we see a player of his archetype selected so high, he has handled his benching extraordinarily over the last few weeks.
But even then: his passing still remains far off from what was advertised in college, his adverseness to contact zaps the Sixers of the three most vital big man skills (rim protection, rebounding, and screening), he ranks dead-last among centers in RPM for the second year running by a healthy margin, and he sucks the air out of Philly’s offense every time he backs down and palms the rock. Okafor may be one of those flawed players who just takes until his prime seasons to figure it all out, but the question is whether he can last in the league long enough to get there.
Chasson Randle (5.3/0.7/0.3, 62.5/66.7/100, 24.7PER): A+
He has only played 24 minutes for the Sixers, but these numbers will surely hold up. Just trust me.
Sergio Rodriguez (8.5/2.7/5.7, 39.2/34.8/70.6, -2.66RPM): D+
His numbers look largely similar to McConnell’s on the surface level, and though even most analytics don’t do much to separate the two, Chacho is somehow decidedly the lesser of the pair. Forget the defensive disparity — although I’m pretty sure Sergio is still trying to make it around a screen that Nene set on Friday night — Rodriguez has a penchant for launching off-the-bounce long 2s, holding onto the ball for a second or two too long, and his numbers have taken a dive across the board in 2017. He’s certainly one of the team’s better shooters, but he *atrociously George Karl voice* doesn’t seem to play the “right” way. He’s a fine third or possibly second point guard, but there’s no chance he’s back here next season.
Dario Saric (9.8/5.8/1.6, 37.6/33.9/78.7, 1.9TOPG): C
Sorry Shamus. He hasn’t been bad, but he also hasn’t been good. He’s attacks the boards relentlessly, has one play every game that erupts the Center, and his consistent shooting numbers bode well for his long-term impact; he’s the quintessential Philadelphia athlete, but something’s missing.
And it may be through no fault of his own. Many predicted that he may act as a Ben Simmons Lite in the early going, but rarely does Dario play the role as a lead or even secondary ball handler. Some of that may be Embiid’s behemoth presence — Saric’s usage drops six percent anytime he and Jojo share the floor. But too often do we see him grab a defensive board, and rather than push the break as as he typically did overseas, he simply dumps it off to Sergio or TJ to initiate the half-court offense.
The Boris Diaw comparisons make sense. Both are the ultimate “extra pass” guys and can play the point forward in a pinch. And Brett has even experimented with Dario at the five in games where, against all odds, the Sixers didn’t have enough centers on hand. He doesn’t boast the skills to be the premier player by any stretch, but a glue guy who can competently play three positions is a steal in the late lottery.
Raise. The. Damn. Cat.
Nik Stauskas (8.5/2.5/2.0, 40.9/37.0/80.9, 45.9TS% in January): C
Does Nik really rock? The world may never know. His numbers have taken a nosedive following an incendiary November, but he’s playing confidently as ever on both ends and is worthy as a floor-spacer given the roster makeup. But time is running out on him proving himself as anything more than a fourth guard.
Brett Brown: A-
Make no mistake, whether Brett Brown is an NBA coach was a real discussion just two months ago. But we often forget that coaches develop just as players do, and Brett is still relatively young in his position. He’s still prone to questionable late-game lineup choices, but the Sixers are improving as both a team and individual players: the team moves the ball more than any team in the league, and each 2015-16 Sixer brought at least one tangible new skill with him into the new season. Nobody knows whether Brett is responsible for as much, but it’s certainly feasible given that he played a huge role in San Antonio’s developmental front. He has more than earned his right to see this through.