Jerryd Bayless

Shouts to Jerryd Bayless and Amir Johnson

Shouts to Jerryd Bayless and Amir Johnson

It's getting increasingly hard to calibrate the Philadelphia 76ers' Moral Win-Loss record. The way the Sixers got up 25-8 in the game's opening minutes, only to slowly let the lead bleed away and ultimately fall behind by eight in the third quarter was so infuriating I wondered if I'd leave the game fuming even if we came back to win. But come back to win the Sixers did — largely thanks to the brilliance of Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, who combined (almost evenly) for a staggering 40 points, 25 rebounds, 15 assists, 5 steals and 3 blocks — and the fourth-quarter was impressive enough you still had to leave the 119-109 victory with at least a half-smile. 

But while our twin pillars were the primary reason the Sixers are currently sitting at .500 (with a record besides 0-0) for the first time since 2013, I wanna give credit to two of our much-maligned (by myself in particular) bench guys as well. As far south as things went in the middle of this one, they could've gone downright Key West if not for Amir Johnson and Jerryd Bayless. 

After a slow-in-all-ways start to the season for Amir, he's really starting to show his value now as a rebounder, as a pick-and-roll partner, even as a low-post finisher. One game after posting his first double-double as a Sixer, he managed 12 and 8 in just 17 minutes last night, crucial in helping the Sixers get back to sea level when they were floundering in the third. And Bayless, coming off the bench for the first time all season with J.J. Redick's return to the starting five, was huge with his 14 points, three dimes and no turnovers. Not only did he hit one of the biggest shots of the game — a triple to put the Sixers up seven with five to go, which got them breathing room they never gave back — but he also made a couple crucial defensive plays, blocking a fourth-quarter drive by Isaiah Taylor and forcing (and winning) a late jump ball against Luke Babbitt. 

I've been pretty hard on both of our pricey vets so far this season, because I've mostly found them exceedingly frustrating to watch — Bayless' decision-making has been largely woeful, and Johnson's low-post athleticism and finesse has left much to be desired. But Johnson appears to have steadied, averaging 10 and 8 on 67% shooting over his last three and looking at least mildly mobile on defense, and it's a lot easier to like Jerryd Bayless coming off the bench than it is to like him starting and playing 40 minutes (!!!) like he did in Houston on Wednesday. Maybe they're Sixers after all. 

And boy, did we need 'em in this one, since everyone else was Breaking Benjamin-cold midway through the game. The previously scorching Robert Covington was temporarily sidelined with knee troubles, J.J. Redick couldn't get one to drop, Dario Saric's inability to convert from any range was reaching comedic proportions, and even Joel Embiid was looking too sluggish to be relied upon. Without Johnson and Bayless, this one maybe slips away altogether, leading to our worst loss of the early season — rather than just one we're annoyed to have to pay attention to for all four quarters. 

So, 4-4 now, with a very reasonable chance to go over .500 at home on Friday against the Indiana Pacers. With Redick missing time, Markelle Fultz a sidelined mess and Dario going through Lonzo Ball-like shooting struggles, it's pretty remarkable that that things have evened out as quickly as they have. And with Embiid actually playing over 30 minutes against Atlanta last night — for the first time in the NBA — clearly anything is possible for Philly this season.

Give and Go: Biggest takeaway from Sixers season so far

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Give and Go: Biggest takeaway from Sixers season so far

Each week, our resident basketball analysts will discuss some of the hottest topics involving the Sixers.

Running the Give and Go are NBC Sports Philadelphia anchor/reporter Marshall Harris, NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com producer/reporter Paul Hudrick and NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com producer/reporter Matt Haughton.

In this edition, we'll take look at the biggest takeaways from the Sixers’ first five games of the season.

Harris
Through five games, it’s clear that the Sixers are a young team with plenty of talent, plenty of work to do and plenty of room to grow. 

My biggest takeaway is that Dario Saric is going to have to get back to at least last year’s level of performance if the Sixers are going to maximize their potential in terms of wins and losses.
 
Saric is clearly still finding his way through five games. He has shot a paltry 33.3 percent from the floor (41.1 last season) and 21.4 percent from three (31.1 last season) so far. He has also posted a true shooting percentage of 39.8 (50.8 percent last season).
 
Saric has to get going, and it’s on Brett Brown to figure out how to get it done. The 23-year-old has yet to hit double figures in a game in points despite two contests in which he’s taken double-digit shots. Against Houston on Wednesday, he took a single shot (a three-pointer) and went scoreless. Saric wasn’t held scoreless a single time in 81 games last season. 

The second unit needs his scoring, rebounding and playmaking. Don’t expect this Sixers team to make a playoff push without way more offensive output from last year’s Rookie of the Year runner-up. It’s simply not going to happen.

Hudrick
There were — and still are — many questions surrounding the Sixers. One of the biggest: can Ben Simmons play point guard at the NBA level?

So far, the answer is a resounding yes. Just five games into his rookie season, Simmons is averaging 16.4 points, 10.0 rebounds and 7.4 assists. The only players to average those numbers through their first five games are Hall of Famers Oscar Robertson and Connie Hawkins. Pretty solid company.

Another aspect of Simmons' game that has been a pleasant surprise is his defense. There were times against Houston when he was matched up against superstar guard James Harden and held his own. Simmons is an obvious nightmare matchup offensively with his ability to handle and create at 6-foot-10. Defensively, he's just as nightmarish, flashing the ability to guard one through five and using his length to disrupt passing lanes.

There are still plenty of things for Simmons to work on. He has to able to shoot from 12 feet from the basket. He has to finish around the rim. He has to make free throws. He's still just 21. Robertson and Hawkins weren't even in the league until 22.

It's a long season, but the early returns on Ben Simmons as a point guard look extremely promising.

Haughton
Everyone say it with me now: relax.

It’s not even officially Halloween yet and a certain segment of fans are ready to run players — and even the coach — out of town?

You’ve certainly heard some of the criticism. Perhaps it’s even been uttered by you.

Markelle Fultz is a bust. The Sixers should have drafted Jayson Tatum. 

Really? Are you giving up on Fultz after four NBA games? It’s obvious he was playing hurt and trying to tough it out with a shoulder injury, which comes to find out, doesn’t lend itself well to shooting a basketball. What we have also seen is a 19-year-old with a strong ability to get to the basket and a willingness to do whatever is asked of him for the team. 

As for the Tatum chatter, it was pretty well known that he was coming into the league as a more finished product than Fultz but that the guard holds more upside. Still, none of that would even matter on this team with the current construction. Marshall pointed out above how Saric is struggling to find a role with Simmons running the show, so what do you think would be different with Tatum?

Hmmm, what other critiques have we heard? Oh, that Jerryd Bayless needs to go.

This one baffles me the most. The Sixers have had exactly one player in the past five seasons shoot above 40.0 percent from three-point range (Hollis Thompson shot 40.1 percent in 2013-14 and 2014-15). Yet, Bayless is off to 50.0 percent clip from beyond the arc and 46.8 percent from the field, but people want him out.

And we all know about the Amir Johnson opinions. He’s old. He’s slow. Why is he playing over Jahlil Okafor?

Brown made Okafor’s situation quite clear Friday (see story). And when Richaun Holmes returns from his injury, we’ll see Johnson in even smaller doses on the court.

Early performances and games certainly matter just as much as any other time during the season. However, it’s a long season. Let it play out a little bit more before making judgments.

Sixers Mailbag: Jahlil Okafor situation; jumpers of Ben Simmons, Markelle Fultz

Sixers Mailbag: Jahlil Okafor situation; jumpers of Ben Simmons, Markelle Fultz

It's time for another Sixers Mailbag and wow, between Markelle Fultz's shoulder and Jahlil Okafor's playing time, did you have a lot of questions. So let's get right to it. (And thanks to all those who replied with #SixersMailbag.)

There were too many questions about Okafor to fit each one in here. This situation is not going how many people (including myself) expected.

Brett Brown said on Friday Okafor is “not in the rotation,” (see story). So there you have it. Amir Johnson beat him out for playing time and Brown has been going with Dario Saric after that. 

Heading into the season, it was obvious Okafor (still) didn't have a clearly-defined role on the team. Was he going to be the backup? Was he going to start when Joel Embiid didn't play? Whatever the case, he was going to have some kind of playing time, right?

After all, Okafor had gone mostly vegan and shed 20 pounds over the past year. He was moving better, wasn't hampered by inflammation in his knee, still could score, and seemed on the verge of boosting his trade value. In order to do that, he would have to play, too.

Perhaps an early-season move, like the Sixers made for Jerami Grant last October, would happen if other teams saw this slimmed-down, improved version of Okafor. (That's how I thought this would play out). Maybe the logjam could get cleared up in a matter of weeks and it wouldn't be an ongoing situation? 

It hasn't happened yet.

Okafor has played a mere 22 minutes this season. He did it as a reserve behind Johnson when Embiid didn't play against the Pistons because of back-to-back games. The Sixers don't have another pair of consecutive games until Nov. 29-30. By then, Richaun Holmes (wrist) should be back. There's no guarantee Okafor will get on the court then. 

The Sixers are in a phase where they are trying to build consistency with their rotations. Gone are the days of a new starting five every game. They want to narrow down their lineups and form chemistry among the groups to build upon for the season. 

Okafor, clearly, is not part of that vision for them. Now it's a question of, will he be part of another team's plan?

Shooting has been the criticism against Ben Simmons since he entered the draft. The crazy thing is, he's averaging 16.4 points per game without a jumper.

Simmons is playing alongside teammates who take the pressure off of hitting outside shots. While others on the Sixers can spread the floor, Simmons is attacking the basket at an effective rate. He has taken 39 of his 69 field goal attempts from within five feet of the rim and made 59 percent of them. In contrast, he has hit just 3 of 12 shots from greater than 10 feet from the basket, according to NBA.com.

The jumper could come with time. Simmons put in hours with the Sixers' shooting coach this summer to improve it. At this point, though, he is doing a lot — a lot — of other things really well right now. Over five games, he is averaging a double-double in scoring and rebounding as well as dishing 7.4 assists per game. I say hone his strengths, continue to be a threat as an oversized point guard driving the basket, and then focus on the jumper when it will enhance his game, not substitute these strong parts of it.

The look of Fultz's shot is highly anticipated like a big reveal on a before-and-after show. You know, the ones where a curtain would drop when he walks to the free throw line and a split screen appears on the court.

At this point, it remains to be seen. Brown plans to work on Fultz while he is taking games off to help get the No. 1 pick back to an effective form. It could reflect his days at Washington, it could be new, or it could end up a hybrid of past and present.

I've said since the offseason I like Saric in a sixth man role off the bench and that hasn't changed. This question has a lot more layers than just Jerryd Bayless versus Saric, though.

If the Sixers want Saric to be a key reserve player, he's going to have to see more minutes in that capacity. Bumping him back into the starting lineup would only be a temporary fix. If he's not going to be in there all season, he should get acclimated to the role he will have.

Starting Saric at the four would shift Robert Covington. The Sixers have been happy with how the change from small forward to power forward has impacted Covington this season. The shift has helped him boost his three-point shooting (48.6 percent) as he has the advantage on the perimeter matching up against fours.

Lastly, I'm in favor of keeping Bayless in the starting lineup. The Sixers have a 21-year-old point guard with five games of NBA experience running the floor. Bayless, who has played the point, gives Simmons an in-game veteran presence in the early stages of his career.