The Philadelphia 76ers began their season with a close loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Opening Night before getting blown out by the Atlanta Hawks on Saturday in what was too familiar of a site for any Sixers fan that has watched the team during the past three seasons. As much as it may be hard to admit for some, this is another building year to see what pieces fit for the future. That is exciting for some and getting old for others, but with Joel Embiid showing signs of stardom through two NBA games, one can believe that the Sixers are growing towards something better in the coming years.
Here are six observations from the Sixers first two games last week:
Joel Embiid is the real deal - After two years of waiting, we finally got to see Joel Embiid make his regular season debut for the Sixers and he did not disappoint. His only knock thus far is holding the ball too long, but beyond that he's shown the ability to hang in the post with a guy like Dwight Howard and also displaying the skills to drive to the basket from the three-point line. The 7-foot-2 center can hit a 10-foot jumper, score on a nifty post move or even drain a three from time to time. Embiid's rim presence is also a big piece of his game and he is already in the top 10 when it comes to blocks in the NBA through two games. It's tough having to deal with Ben Simmons out for three plus months, but Embiid gives us a reason to watch until then. Through two games, the third overall pick of the 2014 draft is averaging 17 points, 4.0 rebounds and 2.0 blocks per game.
Dario Saric looks fatigued, but will be okay - Like Embiid, we've waited two years to see Saric make his Sixers debut and he showed plenty of good signs during the preseason, but has struggled out of the gates through the first two regular season games. Thus far, the Croatian forward is shooting 19 percent (4-for-21) from the floor and is 1-for-7 on three-point attempts. Despite his shortcomings on the shooting end, he has been able to contribute on the defense end while also finding his teammates with some nice passes. It is way too early to worry about Dario, considering that he's pretty much played basketball non-stop for the past year between his final season in Turkey, the Olympics right into Sixers training camp. He played well defensively on Paul Millsap during the Sixers loss on Saturday.
Nik Stauskas is adding elements to his game - When the Sixers acquired Stauskas and he began playing, most viewed him as a three-point specialist, but he never quite lived up to his draft potential. He had a horrendous preseason, but has been one of the Sixers best players through two games. Nik isn't relying solely on the three point game and has become more aggressive overall, driving to the basket to get a bucket inside while also being active on the rebounding side of things. In Philadelphia's first two games, Stauskas is averaging 9.5 points and 4.5 rebounds while shooting 53.8 percent from the floor.
Richaun Holmes is a better option than Nerlens Noel - Center logjam aside, I think that it is safe to say Richaun Holmes has more to offer than Nerlens Noel at this point. In addition to the energy he brings on the floor, Holmes is a stingy defender and can run the pick-and-roll offense to perfection. While Noel's specialty is rim presence and defense, Holmes has those skills plus offensive upside that makes him a more valuable asset. Every time Holmes enters the game, there's a certain energy surge felt and that in itself makes him a very intriguing player moving forward. With Embiid and Okafor's minutes restrictions, Holmes has played 15.5 minutes on average through the first two contests, averaging 8.0 points, 4.5 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game. In 31 total minutes, Holmes has shot 7-for-10 while also tallying three blocks.
Sergio Rodriguez was a great low-risk, low-cost option - He isn't the starting point guard of this team for the future, or perhaps even beyond this year, but Sergio Rodriguez has taken the starting point guard job and ran with it. In his first NBA game in a number of years last Wednesday against the Thunder, Rodriguez showed he can still play with some of the best, scoring 14 points on 7-for-13 shooting while also tallying five assists, four rebounds and a steal. His second game came just short of a double-double with 12 points and nine assists. It will be interesting to see what Brett Brown does upon the return of Jerryd Bayless if Rodriguez continues to play well. We could see Sergio be the back-up and T.J. McConnell as the third option.
Robert Covington needs to be better - For a team with already limited scoring options, Robert Covington needs to be better than he is through the first two games. Have we come to expect too much from him? Maybe, but that doesn't really shed the fact that he's only make three out of 11 shots thus far while playing an average of 27.5 minutes during the first two games. He's 2-for-9 from long range as well. I don't expect RoCo to continue to struggle this badly, but it may be past the point where he can be counted on to make long-range shots somewhat consistently. The focal point of this offense is clearly Joel Embiid right now, but Covington needs to be a better complimentary player. It might be good for Covington to take a page out of Nik Stauskas' book and try to rely on something more than long-range shooting.
The Sixers (0-2) are back in action on Tuesday night to finish up a three-game homestand against the Orlando Magic (0-3).