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Player-By-Player Analysis, 5 Games In

Taking the temperature of the roster one-by-one.

NBA: Philadelphia 76ers at Detroit Pistons Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Folks, we’re already 6.1% of the way through the 2018-2019 NBA season. It’s flying right by. For the Sixers, thus far it’s been rather uneven at best. Following home wins vs. Chicago and Orlando and road losses to Boston, Detroit and Milwaukee, it feels like high time to assess how the roster has performed in this brief snapshot. Let’s take a look.

Amir Johnson

So far, Amir looks pretty similar to the player he was last year. He has some pretty lengthy stretches where it looks like his feet might actually be glued to the hardwood. This year, however, the vet has unleashed some surprising bounce in the early going, dunking on both the Boston Celtics and Ringer staffer Kevin O’Connor.

Ben Simmons

Offensively, Simmons looks much like his ROY-self from the ‘17-’18 season. His passes are clean and crisp and he’s a terror in the open floor. Disappointingly, he still will not shoot jumpers with any regularity. At the charity stripe, Ben’s form looks more fluid and replicable than last years,’ yet it hasn’t yielded positive results just yet, as he currently shoots 52.6% from the line. If he’s not going to be a markedly improved and more willing jump shooter this year, a more attainable and realistic way to improve would surely be to sink his free throws with more consistency. Sans jumper and consistent free throw shooting, the point guard is still compiling a gaudy 12.5/10/8.5 statline.

Defensively, however, in just over 3 games Ben Simmons has been a monster. He seems to have upped his game from his impressive rookie year on that end. Moreover, Simmons seems to be taking his defensive matchups personally, as evidenced by his recent output covering the Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo:

Dario Saric

Dario is enduring his annual early-season shooting swoon, averaging just 37% from the field and 26% from 3 on nearly 7 attempts per contest. The thinking here is that per usual, his shot will find its rhythm before long, and that the forward is feeling the effects of readjusting to NBA range after yet another busy offseason of international basketball. What seems unlikely to stabilize, unfortunately, is Dario’s defensive prospects. His lateral movement doesn’t seem to have taken any strides since last season, so at this stage of his career Saric should exclusively guard 4s as often as possible. Just not Blake Griffin.

Furkan Korkmaz

Not much to report for Furkan, other than when he was unceremoniously bulldozed by Giannis on Wednesday night. Hopefully, with some upcoming games against Charlotte, Atlanta and Brooklyn, we’ll get some low-leverage, garbage-time Kork popping.

JJ Redick

Redick has been excellent early on for the Sixers since a flat performance in Boston to start the season. In the four games since, the 15-year vet has shot 46% from deep, highlighted by his rousing back-to-back 30 point games vs. Orlando and Detroit. He’s hit a number of shots from difficult angles in clutch situations with hardly any room to breathe, and transitioned seamlessly to his new role off the bench (however long that may last). As was recently discussed on The Stepover Pod, it’s hard to imagine a consistently functioning Sixers offense without Redick around. Given how paramount JJ’s dynamic shooting is to the success of the team, it’s hard to imagine the guard being separated from Joel and Ben in the starting unit for much longer. (Note: is it just me or does JJ always look like he’s yelling at someone? Good or bad, often at himself, but lots of yelling. Very fiery.)

Joel Embiid

To no one’s surprise, JoJo has taken the quantum leap that we all anticipated through 5 games, given that he came into this season on the heels of his first ever healthy NBA offseason. Embiid has been feasting on opposing defenses, averaging nearly 30 points, 12 rebounds, 4 assists and 2.5 blocks per game, while shooting 80% from the free throw line on 10 attempts a game. He’s truly flashing the MVP/DPOY season on which he set his sights over the summer. What does come as a surprise to many, however, has been twofold: the number of minutes per game he’s been able to play (currently 35.6) and the number of turnovers he’s been giving up (only 2!). Obviously it’s early days here, but it seems like Joel has not only improved on his few deficiencies from last year, but has also sharpened his sword when it comes to the facets of his game at which he already excelled.

Jonah Bolden

I got nothin’. Hope he’s doing well.

Landry Shamet

Shamet has seemed green thus far in his first NBA action, which is to be expected from the late first round rookie guard out of Wichita State. His most impressive showing to date was vs. the Bulls at home, wherein Shamet went 4-7 from 3 en route to his 12 points in 29 minutes. Overall, he’s shooting on 29% from the field and 33% from three, while displaying a good motor in some albeit inconsistent defensive showings. As Wilson Chandler gets healthy (crossing my fingers that’s he’s ready for Tuesday’s game vs. Toronto), Brett Brown should then be able to bring along the rookie at a more gradual pace.

Markelle Fultz

Through 5 games it’s been a fairly rough adjustment period for Markelle’s return to NBA action in the starting lineup. On one hand, the second year combo guard has hit 3 of 6 attempted threes. On the other, he’s only shooting 39% from the field in 25 minutes per game. The combination of Fultz and Simmons has cramped the spacing on the court, and the starting lineup has a negative net rating to show for it. It seems clear that Brett Brown is hellbent on finding out what they have in Fultz, and throwing him in the deep end to do so. Personally, I have no problem with that. The best version of this team as presently constructed has a confident Markelle Fultz shooting jumpers and switching defensively down the stretch. We need to fail down here so we don’t fail up there. Unfortunately, he’s also been getting killed on defense. While his athletic profile projects him as a versatile and rangy defender in the league, so far his on ball and off ball possessions have often led to points or fouls more often than not. In my mind, if the Sixers would like to continue with the Fultz-as-a-starter experiment, they should inject JJ Redick into the starting lineup as well, in favor of Dario. This way you add a knockdown shooter to run around screens and help open up the post, while hopefully Dario can get his footing as the 6th man with the second unit.

Mike Muscala

After missing the first three games of the season with an ankle injury, Muscala returned to action vs. the Pistons on Tuesday night. Since his return, he’s hit 2 of his 6 attempted threes and blocked two shots. Moose adds the dimension of a floor-stretching big to a team that could use as many shooters as it can get. To my eye test, the big man has also looked more spry and mobile than I’d remembered him being in Atlanta. Were it up to me, Muscala would see the lion’s share of backup 5 minutes. Please, no one show this to Amir.

Robert Covington

Inexplicably the most polarizing player on the Sixers amongst the fanbase, by and large, Cov has been his 2017 self so far, save for a couple of uncharacteristically poor defensive games sandwiched by very good ones. In his 5 games, he’s connected on 40% of his threes and averaged 2.6 steals + blocks in 35 mpg. Covington continues to be the metronome this team needs, providing invaluable shooting and defensive versatility. (Note: his eyebrows are always raised. Be on the lookout for that.)

TJ McConnell

TJ has so far served as the safety blanket for Brett Brown for when he wants to ease up on the minutes allotted to Markelle- most famously in the Sixers’ overtime loss to Detroit when ‘Kelle had put up a 6-9 shooting performance. Averaging 18 minutes per game, TJ hasn’t been particularly effective on either end. But for now, with Fultz in flux, it’s not surprising to see the coach go with the more tenured player in high pressure situations.

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