Takeaways From an Uneven Weekend for the Sixers
It was an uneven weekend for the Sixers, who return to the Wells Fargo Center Tuesday at 2-1.
On Saturday night, they took care of business by blowing out a bad Knicks team at Madison Square Garden. They followed that up with a dud against the Cavaliers on Sunday that was reminiscent of the team’s road woes under Brett Brown.
Here are a few takeaways from the two-game road trip.
The importance of Embiid
On Saturday, the starters still struggled to move the basketball early and found themselves in a tight game with the Knicks. Embiid put up 20 points in the first half, which allowed the Sixers to lead by five at halftime after a sluggish start.
Embiid’s dominance early bailed out the rest of the team, which woke up in the third quarter and turned the game into a laugher. It just shows you how critical it is that the Sixers have a player like Embiid that they can dump the ball down to when they’re struggling.
That wasn’t the case on Sunday as Embiid missed his first game of the season with back tightness. The plan was for the All-Star center to play, but Doc Rivers said the big man sat as a precaution.
What transpired was one of the worst basketball games the Sixers have played in recent memory. The Cavs got whatever they wanted in the paint and the Sixers were a turnover-prone mess on offense.
Say whatever you want about Embiid, this weekend illustrated how invaluable he is. It’s tough for fans to see him miss games, but it would be a whole lot tougher to see him tweak his back even more and miss extended time.
The real Simmons needs to stand up
No one player’s performance exemplified the uneven weekend more than Simmons’.
Against the Knicks, he was decisive and aggressive offensively, and an absolute terror defensively. While he had his moments defensively Sunday, Cleveland’s guards had little trouble scoring. Offensively, Simmons and the rest of the team looked like they never participated in a fast break before.
Simmons may not improve much from a scoring standpoint. He’s averaging 15.3 points and will always be a pass-first player – which is fine since Rivers is using him as a true point guard. There are two numbers on his stat line I don’t love right now: 5.7 assists and 57.1 percent from the line.
The first stat is clearly not all his fault. Guys need to make shots for Simmons to get assists. Still, Simmons’ decision-making has been up-and-down, with the Cavs game obviously being on the down side. It’s easy to chalk this up to playing for a new coach and having new teammates. It’s only three games, so we’ll see how it progresses.
As for the free throws, it looked like Simmons had turned a corner last season. Before he suffered his back injury, he had the best free-throw shooting stretch of his career, making 73.9 percent from the line on 8.4 attempts over an 11-game stretch. I can live with him not taking threes -- and I certainly don’t want him settling for midrange twos – but the free throws have to be better.
That could also be the way he pushes his points per game closer to 18, which would be a huge boost for the Sixers, especially when Embiid inevitably has to sit.
One playmaker short?
It’s only three games, so let’s not completely overreact, but this team still appears to be a true playmaker/shot creator short.
When Embiid isn’t dominating, the starting five has struggled to find offense. The combination of Tobias Harris and Danny Green has been a little troublesome. Both players look hesitant and the offense tends to come to a halt when they have ball. Perhaps splitting them up should be under consideration.
Off the bench, Shake Milton has promise despite struggling a bit over the weekend. As does Tyrese Maxey, but he’s still a 20-year-old rookie. Rivers seems to be sold on the idea of Furkan Korkmaz as a secondary playmaker – I’m not.
Barring a blockbuster trade for James Harden, Daryl Morey may have to look for a player that can create off the dribble. The Sixers have tradeable contracts, but a deal may not be possible until teams get a clearer idea of where they are in the playoff picture. How many teams are truly rebuilding as we sit here on Dec. 28? A handful?
It’s a word nobody likes – especially Philadelphia sports fans – but patience is needed. You need to try to let the starting five works out their kinks. You need to see if Milton and Maxey can grow into larger roles. You need to see if a shot creator with an expiring contract finds himself on a team outside of the playoff picture.
But, again, we’re three games in here. Take a breath, have a drink, eat some Christmas cookies. We’ve got 69 of these to go.