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Mid-Season Report Card: Grading the Sixers at the Break

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Philadelphia 76ers v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

One of the funniest quips I’ve heard emerge from this fanbase over the past 5 years has been Process Trusters referring to the members of this team as “their kids”. It’s an objectively weird thing to say for the outside observer. But the outside observer didn’t watch their favorite team go 10-72 while fervently insisting to friends and family that, “yes, TJ McConnell really is an NBA player... no I’m not kidding.. seriously stop laughing... *mumbles something under breath about national announcers and stupid fans*.” We’re a weird fan base which is dope because I like to believe that we’re also the best fanbase, and we’re pretty great parents. We’ve supported our “kids” through some pretty tough seasons, and subsequently some pretty bad report cards, but this year is different. The Sixers sit 5 games above .500 in the wake of what was arguably the most difficult first half schedule in the entire league, and there’s a lot to feel good about. Without further adieu, I give you your 2018 All-Star break Sixers report card.

Joel Embiid- A+: The only Sixer who will earn the highest of marks on this report card, Embiid has been an utter force throughout the first half of the season. He’s posting a hefty line of 23.7PPG/11.1RPG/3.1APG/1.8BPG. It’s safe to say no one else in the league has matched that statline, but more impressively there’s only one other player in the entire league averaging 23 points and 11 boards a night (boogie cousins, may god bless his achilles). All this is not to say that there isn’t room for improvement (Embiid’s 3pt% has dipped and the turnovers are still an issue) but that only supplements his case. He has been the best big man in the entire league thus far, and he still has substantial room for improvement. He earns our top grade this semester.

Ben Simmons- A: I will admit full disclosure that I had this grade as an A- until right before I hit publish. I’m genuinely concerned about Simmons’ jump shot, and I think some of us have downplayed its absence a bit too much recently because we’re so glad to have a player like him, but that’s really the point isn’t it? He’s been so incredibly good without a real legitimate outside threat, that I’d be moving the goalposts to dock him a grade for a missing aspect of his game. The reality is that Simmons is doing things no rookie has done in over 30 years, and truly operating like Magic Johnson reincarnate. His statline is unique, he has 6 triple-doubles and he did this to the Atlanta Hawks

but it’s been his defense that’s been so impressive and earns him an A rating. For all the talk of “he’s a 1 on offense and a 4 on defense”, he’s respectfully whatever position he wants to be on defense. He’s guarded Russell Westbrook and gone toe to toe with Draymond Green and Kevin Durant. Each time he’s held his own and infuriated his opposition both on the perimeter and in the paint, he’s holding opponents to just 0.76 points per possession as spot up shooters (best in the league among qualifying players according to Synergy Sports) and 0.87 points per possession at the rim also putting him towards the top of the league according to Synergy. Rookies aren’t supposed to be as good as Simmons on offense, and they’re virtually never as good as him on defense. He gets an A.

Dario Saric- B+: I want to give him a grade in the “A” range so badly, and if this report card were strictly for games played since January 1st that’s exactly what he would get. Unfortunately, it’s not and the homie did start off the season a little slow, but man his dramatic improvement has been the highlight of the year for the franchise. Shameless plug, I detailed the homie’s meteoric rise here, but long story short: his 3PT% has jumped from 31.1% to 38.7% over the course of one year and its made him a legitimate third option on a winning team and the perfect complement to the Simmons/Embiid dynamo. If his recent play continues, he’ll get an “A” in my end of the season review.

T.J. McConnell- B: Look he’s an A+ for me on a personal level. I’ve never been so personally invested in a player’s career - I’ve caped hard for McConnell since his first summer league game. Admittedly, I genuinely believe that the GOAT is a starting-caliber NBA point guard and I can’t believe he’s our backup, but he is. However, I think we need to be a bit more realistic in evaluating his performance thus far. He’s been great defensively, and has provided his trademark tenacity and “grit” on the way to becoming the Sixers 6th man. The makings of the best bench point guard in the league are there with McConnell, he continues to post a remarkably stellar assist/turnover ratio and he’s shooting a blistering 51/51/83 line, but here’s where the issue arises. T.J. needs to shoot more. He’s clearly worked hard and developed a better shooting stroke, and his handle has always been underrated. For a bench that has consistently gone through devastating in-game scoring droughts throughout the season, they need their most efficient shooter to be more aggressive pulling up off the dribble. All that said, I bet you’d never imagined that 3 years into his career we’d be begging McConnell to shoot more, but here we are. He’s been really solid- B.

Robert Covington- C+: I’m frustrated. Pre-contract Cov would’ve received an “A”, post-contract Cov would get a D. Post-contract Cov has been more of the season so we’ll more or less split the difference towards the latter and give him a C+. He’s been his usual tenacious, switchy self on defense providing high level support both on the perimeter and inside, but there have been signs of him struggling with quicker guards off the bounce. Offensively, we gotta talk guys. He’s been brutal since signing that deal. His shot has fallen off since signing that new deal, and he has shown very little improvement in his handle from last season. He’s been a bit more aggressive going to the rim lately which is a great sign because the Sixers would love to see him shooting more free throws. But with that weak handle his options off the dribble are limited. This is why there’s so much hanging on his outside jumper, because virtually his entire offensive value rests upon this. If Cov is hitting shots he’s one of the best 3-D wings in the association. When he’s not, he becomes more of a situational player and that really hurts the team’s flexibility. He’s a disappointing C+ right now.

Amir Johnson-C:* Looks around* *See’s angry mob forming because I didn’t give Amir a D or lower* Look it’s never a great way to start out praising a player by saying “he hasn’t been as bad as you think”, but... he hasn’t been as bad as you think! In fact, he’s been pretty solid as a backup 5, and he’s done pretty much everything you would’ve asked of him coming into the season. He’s banged down low, given you a brief 15 physical minutes per night while grabbing 4.4 boards and supplementing 4.6 points per contest. His real value has been defensively where he’s actually held his own and helped anchor a young second unit. Reports are that he’s been a great influence in the locker room, and he gives the team a bit of veteran tenacity that they really feed off of. He is also brutally awful to watch play the game of basketball, deploying just a really unappealing, eye sore of a style that holds virtually no entertainment value. He’s been solid though and giving him lower than a C feels like I’m lying because I’d rather watch Richaun Holmes. Hey, speaking of....

Richaun Holmes: C-: This grade was the toughest for me to come up with. On one hand, the numbers and the eye test show that Richaun has been pretty ridiculously efficient on the offensive end. He’s dunking everything per usual, setting hard screens and bringing an energy that the team’s seemed to been lacking every time he comes out onto the floor. A prime example of this was his performance against the Lakers early in the year.

Defensively, he still struggles with rotations and positioning and it’s primarily what has kept him largely outside of Coach Brett Brown’s rotations. The optimism surrounding his 3 point shot from last season has dissipated, but that could be due to a lack of rhythm and playing time. For much of this year I have been amongst the chorus of fans saying “look he’s not good on defense right now so he shouldn’t be playing.” But I’m strongly trending back towards the opinion that I think he should get minutes over Booker and Johnson at times. Holmes will certainly be a fascinating player to watch over the second half of the year, but for now his inability to find a role in the rotation has been disappointing and he receives a C-.

Trevor Booker: C-: Frankly, I don’t like the way Trevor Booker fits on this team. His complete lack of a jumpshot makes no sense when considering he plays most of his minutes next to Amir Johnson, and his best traits seem redundant next to Amir. He’s physical, and his energy and attitude have been a plus for the young roster. But his lack of skill makes him a weird fit next to guards like McConnell and Simmons especially given that he plays below the rim. If Booker was a threat beyond the arc this would be an entirely different review, but that one glaring hole has a significant impact on his productivity. It will be interesting to see how Brett Brown opts to utilize him down the stretch, but for now he appears to have a spot in the rotation.

JJ Redick- B+: I’m incredibly high on Redick right now. I think its fair to say that expectations for him were lofty coming into this season, but he’s filled the role I anticipated for him and been better than expected. Redick is averaging a career high in points per game (16.9) on shooting marks of 44/40/94. He’s the second leading scorer on the team while filling its most glaring offensive need. He was signed to shoot, and he’s done exactly that at the highest volume of his career while maintaining a high efficiency mark. His play alone has garnered a solid “B”, but its his leadership that has earned him the + mark. JJ has emerged as the team’s distinct veteran leader and voice, and has taken it upon himself to constantly talk to Joel, Ben and Dario on the floor helping them emerge as budding stars in the league. Additionally, we’ve recently learned of Redick taking the locker next to embattled rookie Markelle Fultz. He’s taken it upon himself to mentor the struggling #1 pick, and very publicly came to his defense last week in regards to media members filming Markelle’s jumpers after practice. While I don’t fault the media at all for this, that’s not the point. The point is Redick made a very public example that he has his struggling rookie’s back, and that’s something I love to see from a leader.

Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot- D: Luwawu had a very nice stretch when JJ Redick went out with a broken bone in his leg. It was a small realization of the potential that many process trusters have believed exists with TLC, and gave fans optimism that he was on the cusp of shoring up the lack of wing depth off the bench. He hasn’t. In those 7 games as a starter, Luwawu averaged 10.6ppg on shooting marks of 39/42/100 which is pretty great, but Luwawu isn’t going to be a starter any time soon and he needs to contribute off the bench. Here is where he has struggled, averaging 5.5ppg on a shooting slash of 36.4/30.4/75.5. Luwawu has a lot of upside defensively with his only drawback on that end being his slight frame and tendency to commit silly fouls, but offensively he has a weak handle and his potential and value rest on that 3 point shot. Shooting 30.4% from deep in the role the team counts on you is abysmal, and it tanks his value to a D. P.S I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, WHERE HAS THIS BEEN IN THE NBA?!

Justin Anderson- C: Hey, bright spot alert! Anderson missed 17 games with shin splints, and then hurt his ankle right before the break. The injuries have been so disappointing because Anderson has actually played pretty well when he’s been healthy, providing much needed wing depth on the bench. His defense has been staunch as he’s eliminated much of the attention issues that plagued him in Dallas and has begun to realize his potential on that end of the floor. Offensively, his value coming into the year was viewed as largely centered around his athleticism and energy, but he’s quietly added an average 3 point shot to his arsenal. He’s shooting 34.9% from beyond the arc, and that number makes him not only playable but fairly valuable. If he keeps that up, he’ll be playing important minutes down the stretch. Injuries and lack of availability dock him to a C, but I like what I’ve seen from him.

Jerryd Bayless- D+: He’s just missed so many open 3’s and committed so many dumb turnovers. Just off the eye test I trend toward giving him a D or lower, but the reality is he hasn’t been that bad. He’s shooting 37% from 3, but giving you little else on a nightly basis. It now appears that he’s fallen out of Brett Brown’s rotations and that’s probably for the best. He’s just not a good fit at the 2 next to McConnell and Simmons, but he’s been a good locker room vet and he’s not totally useless. He’ll have some moments in the latter half of the year.

Markelle Fultz- I: It’s sad. I hope he gets the shot back. I think he will. I love him. Haven’t seen enough to give him a grade. He did have a sick helpside block and spin-move jumper against the wizards opening night though, the potential is there.

Furkan Korkmaz- I: My absolute favorite young prospect aside from our big names. I love Korkmaz’ game and I think he has enormous potential centered around his quick release and deceptive athleticism. I was devastated when he went down with a broken foot, and I’m incredibly salty he missed out on getting minutes when Reddick missed games. Check him out getting G League buckets in all sorts of ways

Marco Belinelli- I: It would be pretty funny to give him an A, that debut performance against the Heat was dope. I love the signing and the addition of his shooting to the bench, lets see how he plays out the rest of the year.

So there it is. I think our guys did pretty well the first 55 games, but there’s plenty of room for improvement. Teachers comments: bench needs to step it up, outside shooting needs to remain strong, Dario Saric wow, Embiid and Simmons very good at basketball, and TJ MCCONNELL IS LEGIT.