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Grading the Sixers

By Bill Gorman, Sports Talk Philly Staff Writer

The 76ers entered the All-Star break in fifth place in the NBA Eastern Conference at 34-21, 12 ½ games behind Milwaukee for the top spot in the East and six games behind Toronto for the second seed. This is significantly behind what was expected, as many fans and media saw the offseason additions of Josh Richardson and Al Horford, and the retention of Tobias Harris as key elements to move into the NBA’s upper echelon and potentially earn a trip to the NBA Finals.

It’s difficult to pinpoint what has gone wrong and what has gone right. As poorly as things seemingly have gone this season, the 76ers are still on pace to win 50+ games, and have the league’s third-easiest remaining post-All-Star schedule. The sky, it seems, remains unfallen. With all of that said, let’s grade the players in their positional groups to see what improvements can be made.

(note – all statistics from basketball-reference.com unless otherwise specified)

(note 2 – Players no longer with the team were removed, so no grades for Trey Burke, James Ennis III or Jonah Bolden)

Ball Handlers

Ben Simmons 

Grade – A-

The good - A stat line of 19.5/8.9/8.3 over the last 28 games, attempting 2.5 more shots and 2.4 more free throws a night, plus 71% from the foul line over the last 12 games. He has clearly found an aggressiveness that eluded him early in the season. All-Defense level performance on the defensive end, leading the league in steals and being an all-around menace to ball-handlers and potential drivers alike. A second All-Star appearance. Not one, but TWO three-pointers made.

The maybe not-so-good – A stat line of 14.1/6.8/8.4 to start the year combined with 56% from the free throw line. His early season desire to concede shots and usage to Harris, Richardson and Horford may have cost the team a win or two along the way.

Raul Neto 

Grade – C-

The good – 19 points in one half against Golden State. And this was not a garbage-time performance either – this was “Ben Simmons isn’t coming back in for a few minutes because Neto is on fire.” Neto has been a calming presence on the offense, patiently working the team into its sets and providing spacing around the non-shooters.

The maybe not-so-good – Those 19 points accounts for 11% of Neto’s entire point output for this season. He’s committed 35 turnovers against just 64 assists, and while part of that can be chalked up to playing late-game minutes with lesser players, much has been attributable to difficulty adjusting to pressure. He also has not been the defensive pest the team envisioned when they signed him as a nominal TJ McConnell replacement.

Wings

Tobias Harris

Grade – B

The good – A fantastic stretch from mid-November through the new year where he averaged 20.6 points per game and shot nearly 40% from three. He has even made some strides defensively, putting in a ton of work to be able to stand up to bigger wings and traditional power forwards.

The maybe not-so-good – The first 11 games of the year, when he averaged 20% from deep (despite opening 6-11 in the first two games) and putting up just 12.3 points per night. Harris has also struggled to find his place with the ascendance of Simmons, passing up wide-open threes in favor of more contested mid-range two-point attempts.

Josh Richardson

Grade – B-

The good – Richardson has been an outstanding defender, helping Simmons lock down opposing guards and wings to great effect. He has been a competent ball handler, which has allowed Brown to push Neto to the bench and Burke to the street. And he has established a very solid mid-range game, shooting 57.5% from 16 feet out, despite shooting just 33.9% from three.

The maybe not-so-good – He has struggled to stay on the floor thanks to a nagging hamstring injury. He has been below-average from the three-point line (33.9%) and has turned the ball over more than he ever has in his career (13.4% turnover rate).

Mike Scott

Grade – F+

The good – It has been few and far between from Scott this year. He did put up 15 in the 76ers’ lone road win over a +.500 team this season (at Boston in December), so, you know, he’s got that going for him.

The absolutely not good – He has been poor defensively. He is shooting below the league average from 3 (34%) despite his range being the one skill that was supposed to keep him on the floor. Pretty much his entire season has been bad.

Matisse Thybulle

Grade – B

The good – Thybulle has been better than advertised on the defensive end of the floor, sitting at 21st in the league in steals per game despite playing just 20.9 minutes a night. He’s also among the league leaders in deflections and is third among all rookies in blocked shots. He has also been a viable floor spacer, shooting 37.3% from deep on 2.7 attempts a night.

The maybe not-so-good – He has struggled from time to time with foul trouble, which is expected for a rookie who’s aggressive on the defensive end. He has also disappeared on the offensive end for long stretches of games, which means if he’s not making a radical defensive impact…and players are starting to adjust to his defensive skill…he’s not much use on the floor.

Furkan Korkmaz

Grade – B-

The good – Back to back 30-point performances have highlighted Korkmaz’s breakout season, in which he has career highs in minutes (21.3), scoring (9.6) and three-point % (39.2). He has parlayed a solid World Cup performance into a regular role off the bench, attacking 2nd units from deep and showing some decent moves in the lane as well. Also, he HAS improved defensively.

The maybe not-so-good – He has been atrocious on the road (40% from the field, 33% from deep). His defense, which before this year was best described as “the chair in the Darko Milicic workout video” has gone up to “you might be better but we’re still coming after you on every possession.”

Shake Milton

Grade – C

The good – Milton has shown some flashes but is currently lost in the shuffle on the perimeter. Had a good game against the Lakers and was a standout in the loss to Atlanta five days later.

The maybe not-so-good – He has improved on the defensive end (there appears to be a pattern here), but he still has too many lapses in concentration on that end.

Zhaire Smith

Grade – Incomplete

Mariol Shayok

Grade – Incomplete

The glut of perimeter players in Philadelphia has left Shayok and Smith spending most of their time in Delaware this season.

Bigs

Joel Embiid

Grade – B+

The good – When Embiid is on, he is nearly impossible to stop. He has had his share of games where he was entirely unstoppable. For the most part, when he’s on the floor, the 76ers are a top five team in the league, both offensively and defensively.

The maybe not-so-good –Like with Simmons, Richardson and Harris before…he has struggled with decreased attention and trying to figure out just what his role is, which has led to a decrease in field goal and free throw attempts. As much as I hate to ask it because it’s an annoying topic…is Joel Embiid too injury-prone to be the #1 piece on a title team?

Al Horford

Grade – C-

The good – Horford has been a defensive stalwart despite some very difficult matchups. He has maintained a positive attitude throughout a difficult season and accepted his move out of the starting lineup with professionalism.

The maybe not-so-good – The fit alongside Embiid and Simmons has not been great. It’s been hard to watch from time to time. And like every other starter he struggled to find his role as well. Hopefully his move to the bench as more of a backup to Embiid will unlock something in both Horford and the Sixers’ offense

Norvel Pelle

Grade – B

The good – I just tried to shoot a piece of paper into my trash can…Pelle came out of nowhere and blocked it. I didn’t even know he was here. But in all seriousness – he has been a big energy guy who blocks shots coming from the weakside AND against opposing bigs. You will see one or the other in this league, but not often both in the current climate. He parlayed his performance into a conversion of his original two-way contract to a full NBA deal after the trade deadline.

The maybe not-so-good – There has been little to complain about with Pelle – he does what he is good at (blocking shots, tip dunks and alley-oops) and doesn’t do what he is bad at (shooting, ball handling). A backup big who really understands his role and plays to his strengths is hard to find.

Kyle O’Quinn

Grade – C

The good – O’Quinn has been a solid veteran presence in the locker room and a fan favorite when he has had the opportunity to play…

The maybe not-so-good – …the problem is that he has not had many opportunities to play this season, thanks to Horford’s presence as a nominal backup center and Pelle’s emergence as a major defensive talent. There have been rumblings that O’Quinn would like to be released or bought out prior to March 1st so he can explore signing with a contender.

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