The Sixers still have 11 games remaining in this roller coaster of a season. Firmly back in tanking territory, the 76ers oppose the Bulls in Chicago tonight (8:00 PM EST, CSN Philly). Here are three things to watch for tonight:
Richaun Holmes - Dominant Offensive Player
Disliking the Nerlens Noel trade, and everything that led up to and surrounded it, does not mean you can’t also be excited that it has opened up more playing time for Richaun Holmes.
Since the trade deadline, Richaun has averaged 13.3 points/game on nearly 66% effective shooting. While his defense leaves something to be desired - the Sixers are four points worse defensively with Holmes than without on the season, though that takes into account his replacements potentially being dominant defensive centers like Joel Embiid and Nerlens Noel - he’s grabbing over six boards and blocking more than one shot per game in only 24 minutes. He’s the efficient offensive backup center the Sixers thought they had in a certain lottery pick.
Holmes has also steadily improved his defensive rebounding, a clear individual weakness in limited action during 2015-16.
Even though the focus has been on his three point shooting range, Holmes’ greatest asset is stretching the floor vertically with his great hands and finishing ability in pick and roll situations. He’s shooting 73% (!) at the rim this season, per Basketball-Reference.
The Sixers have lost twice this season, decisively, to Chicago. That being said, and with all the injury gut-punches Sixers fans have taken this season, it still beats being a Chicago Bulls fan. The Sixers have organizational direction, young talent with upside playing well with greater exposure, and a competent coach. The Bulls have none of that.
Chicago is in the “playoff hunt” primarily as a result of Jimmy Butler and his individual brilliance. Butler shines despite organizational leadership’s lack of commitment to him, averaging 23-6-5 with solid efficiency numbers and his normal strong defense. Robin Lopez is a fine center, too, and when Dwyane Wade was healthy he had a solid year, as well.
As it stands, Wade is out for the season with a fractured elbow, Lopez is returning from a one-game suspension due to a momentary urge to fight Serge Ibaka (defensible, as the Sixers and Nerlens Noel would attest to), and Butler is being crapped on by Chicago management for not being quite good enough for their liking. The team has four point guards, none of whom can shoot, one being third-alpha Rajon Rondo and another being ex-Sixer Michael Carter-Williams. Its power forward mess combines a lack of confidence (Nikola Mirotic, who can’t shoot anymore) and overconfidence (Bobby Portis, who has never passed up a shot). And really, if he’s shooting 27% on threes, why is Isaiah Canaan still in the NBA?
I don’t want to watch this team play and am actively upset that I drew game coverage for this one, is what I’m saying. The Bulls are recreating the late 2000s Sixers, and like those teams, they’re within one game of a playoff spot because they need their fans to suffer through a few extra contests.
The Bulls could use a win if they wish to stay in the playoff race - a loss to a bottom feeder would put them back 2 games in the loss column to current eight seed Miami, which got trucked by Toronto on Thursday night. The Sixers could tie Orlando in the loss column if they lose. The incentives are clear. But given Chicago’s inconsistency (especially against bad teams) and the Sixers’ general friskiness since the all-star break, the game will probably be more competitive than either fan base would like.
In other relevant action, Orlando plays Detroit in a mirror image of the Sixers game tonight. Detroit is tied with Chicago in the loss column behind Miami for the 8-seed. The Suns’ tank supernova continues with an expected obliteration at the hands of Boston, which is gunning for the Eastern Conference’s 1-seed. The LA Lakers host Minnesota, and Sacramento gets the honor of being plastered by Golden State. Expect lots of losing by fringe teams tonight.