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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76ers Stats: A Foul Situation Brewing?

By Bill Gorman, Sports Talk Philly Staff Writer

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

2019-20 was supposed to bring a new brand of basketball to Philadelphia. With the additions of Al Horford and Josh Richardson, the team’s size would overwhelm opponents on both the defensive and offensive ends of the floor. The defense, for the most part, has held up its end of the bargain, allowing just 102.6 points per 100 possessions, good for third in the league.

Offensively, things have been a bit more disjointed. The 76ers are just 17th in the NBA in offensive rating, at 107.3 points per 100 possessions. They are 14th in 3-point percentage (with a slight decrease in attempts from last year) and seventh in overall field goal percentage. Where they really have lagged behind, both against the league this season and against their past performance, is at the free-throw line. They are 17th in the NBA at getting to the line (23.1 attempts per night) and 22nd in free-throw percentage (74.8%).

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76ers Stats: Living and Dying by the 3-Point Shot

All statistics from Basketball-Reference unless otherwise noted.

By Bill Gorman, Sports Talk Philly Staff Writer

In the 2018-19 season, the Philadelphia 76ers were 19th in the NBA in 3-point field goal attempts at 30.2 per game and were 18th in 3-point attempt rate (percentage of the team’s total shots that were from 3-point range) at 34.2%. They finished the season 8th in efficiency from behind the arc, hitting 35.8% of their long-distance attempts. What all of this means is they were pretty good at hitting threes but were behind the league average in taking them.

How did general manager Elton Brand react to this minor imbalance? By trading (or allowing to leave via free agency) four of the top five Sixers in terms of 3-point attempts (JJ Redick, Landry Shamet, Jimmy Butler and Mike Muscala). They then signed, drafted or traded for Al Horford, Josh Richardson and Matisse Thybulle. The team also brought back Furkan Korkmaz to have an expanded role as a shooter off the bench.

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The 76ers Offense is Struggling: Are More Post-Ups the Answer?

By Bill Gorman, Sports Talk Philly Staff Writer

Bully ball. It has been a popular refrain among local media, 76ers fans and even the organization since general manager Elton Brand signed 6-foot-10 Al Horford, traded for 6-foot-6 Josh Richardson and brought back 6-foot-9 Tobias Harris to form the largest starting lineup in the NBA along with the 6-foot-10 Ben Simmons and 7-foot Joel Embiid.

Heading into this season, fans and analysts alike had visions of five defenders all with enough quickness and length to switch on any and every pick and roll or screen action. With defensive-minded reserves like rookie first-round pick Matisse Thybulle (6-foot-5 with a 7-foot wingspan), James Ennis III (6-foot-7 with a 6-foot-11 wingspan) and Kyle O’Quinn (6-foot-10 with a 7-foot-5 wingspan), predictions that Philadelphia would shut every opponent down and keep opponents from clearing the 100-point mark on a regular basis ran rampant among fans. Through nine games so far this season, the team is sixth in the league in defensive rating (points per 100 possessions) at 102.4: Things are going as expected on that end of the floor.

The 76ers offense this season was always going to present the larger question. Losing players who had accounted for 48% of the team’s 3-point attempts in 2018-19 presented a challenge the team will be facing all season. Making the floor spacing work with a lineup consisting of Simmons (a non-shooter), Richardson (career 3-point percentage in the mid-30s), Harris (the lone "shooter" in the starting lineup) and the twin-towers of Embiid and Horford was always going to be an issue for head coach Brett Brown to figure out. The hope is that, as the season goes along, the starting lineup will gel together and as a result floor spacing will not be as much of an issue.

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Potential or Production: The Looming 76ers Draft Question

By Bill Gorman, Sports Talk Philly Staff Writer

Over the past two seasons, the Philadelphia 76ers have made it an organizational priority to add defensive specialists through the draft. Head coach Brett Brown highly values players who can play defense, and the organization has surely made strides in adding players over the last two offseasons, beginning in the 2018 NBA Draft, that fit his defensive philosophy. 

The team selected Villanova forward Mikal Bridges with the 10th pick of the 2018 NBA Draft. Bridges was thought to be a potential three-and-D player with lockdown potential and the ability to shoot 40% from beyond the arc, all while also possessing enough ball handling skill to run a team’s offense in short spurts. He had also played three years of college basketball, meaning he was seen as a ready-made NBA prospect.

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Sixerdelphia Roundtable: Five Questions for the Upcoming 76ers Season

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With only 21 days until the Philadelphia 76ers' regular season begins, Sixerdelphia managing editor Matt Gregan and staff writers Kevin McCormick, Scott Cashin and Bill Gorman take a stab at answering five questions regarding the upcoming season.

 

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Korkmaz's World Cup Performance May Inspire Breakthrough in 76ers' Rotation

By Bill Gorman, Sports Talk Philly Staff Writer

When the groups for the 2019 FIBA World Cup were announced, many assumed that the USA, placed in a group with Japan, the Czech Republic and Turkey, would dominate with little problem and move on to the round of 16.

No one mentioned this to Turkey when they played the USA team on September 3. Turkey used a stifling zone defense to shut down the Americans in the 2nd half, only to fall victim to poor free-throw shooting at the end of regulation to fall 93-92. Earlier, the Turkish team had handled the Japanese with a 86-67 win in their opener. Unfortunately for the Turks, they were eliminated from championship contention after dropping their group-stage finale to the Czech Republic 91-76.

Philadelphia 76ers guard/forward Furkan Korkmaz was a key piece in the near-upset against the US, scoring 16 points on 6-of-11 shooting (3-of-6 from 3-point range, which will be his calling card in Philadelphia). For the three group stage games, the 22-year old put up a slash line of 14.0/3.7/1.7 on 48.5% shooting (42.9% from three) while playing 26.6 minutes per night.

As one of the main bench pieces for Turkey, Korkmaz showed some of the playmaking and shooting skills he flashed that enticed the 76ers to draft him in the first round of the 2016 NBA draft. His ability to stretch the floor as someone who is both good at shooting off screens as well as being a catch-and-shoot threat could prove to be critical for a team that will need as many good shooters as it can get. If Korkmaz can build on his World Cup performance, it could be a springboard to push him past James Ennis III, Matisse Thybulle and Zhaire Smith in the competition for minutes on the wing off the bench.


76ers' Lack of Representation in 2019 FIBA World Cup Could Prove to be a Negative

Furkan Korkmaz, the Philadelphia 76ers' lone representative in the FIBA World Cup, seen here standing to the right of Turkish Youth and Sports Minister Mehmet Muharrem Kasapoglu.

By Bill Gorman, Sports Talk Philly Staff Writer

The 2019 FIBA World Cup will begin on August 31, and as I am sure you’ve heard, a ton of NBA players will be missing from the proceedings. In fact, the entire Philadelphia 76ers roster with the exception of the recently re-signed Furkan Korkmaz (likely to start for the Turkish National Team at shooting guard) will be staying away from China in September.

Let’s dip into the reasons why the 76ers will not be better represented in this year's World Cup, the first qualifying tournament for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. We will start with the American players.

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76ers Roundtable: Most Intriguing Games in 76ers' 2019-20 Schedule

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We asked three of our writers, including Sixerdelphia managing editor Matt Gregan, to name the three most intriguing or interesting games on the Philadelphia 76ers schedule for the upcoming 2019-20 season.

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76ers' Defense Should Improve to Become Top Defense in NBA

By Bill Gorman, Sports Talk Philly Writer

“Defense wins championships.”

From the time I was six years old watching football with my father, this mantra was drilled into my head. Well, that and “Ron Jaworski will be the best quarterback you’ll ever see,” so not everything he said was perfect.

The Philadelphia 76ers’ defense was not bad in 2018-19. The problem was it was not as good as it was in 2017-18, and that led to some late-game meltdowns in losses to teams like the Atlanta Hawks (three times) and the Chicago Bulls that may well have cost the team a chance to be the No. 2 seed in the playoffs. Which means that Kawhi Leonard’s shot would have had to go down in front of a Philadelphia crowd that stepped up big in Games 3 and 6 instead of his much-friendlier Toronto crowd. 

So Elton Brand undertook yet another team makeover, the third since he took over the general manger's job in September of 2018. He traded Jimmy Butler to the Miami Heat, receiving Josh Richardson in return. He signed Al Horford to a four-year contract. He brought back Tobias Harris on a five-year contract and re-signed Mike Scott and James Ennis III. Brand also used the NBA Draft as a conduit to add defensive maven (see below) Matisse Thybulle with the 20th pick in the first round. In addition, he allowed JJ Redick, TJ McConnell, Boban Marjanovic, Greg Monroe and Amir Johnson, all of whom could be described as weaker defenders, to leave via free agency.

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