As we collectively bask in the glow of the Southern California smackdown the Sixers administered to the Clippers and the Lakers to close out their road trip at 3-2, let’s take a little inventory of just what they’ve accomplished overall this season.
Through 14 games, they are 8-6. That’s two wins shy of their total amount of victories just two seasons ago, and we’re still in November. The times they have a changed in Sixer-land.
The team has not one, but two transcendent stars who are capable of taking over games.
Joel Embiid’s last two performances have been pure dominance. 78 points, 31 rebounds, eight blocks and nine assists, while shooting 25 of 40 from the floor and averaging 35 minutes. He’s made whomever is guarding him look foolish, including one of the better defenders in the game, DeAndre Jordan.
From Game 1, Ben Simmons has looked like a 10-year veteran. His poise belies his years. Simmons is a double-double machine and a triple-double threat every night. He’s posting gaudy early numbers of 17.8 points per game, 9.2 rebounds and 7.7 assists. Despite not being a threat beyond 12 feet, Simmons' ability to get to the rack and finish with either hand more than compensates for his outside shortcomings. That duo has been awesome.
Not to be overlooked is Robert Covington. The 26-year-old, who transformed himself into a top-10 defender in the league, is putting up monster offensive stats after an inconsistent season from the floor last year. Covington is scoring 16.5 points, while shooting 50.0 percent from the field and nearly 50 percent from three-point land (49.5). Couple that offensive production with his defensive prowess and the Sixers got a pretty good bargain for a reported four years, $62 million.
But what’s even more remarkable when considering the Sixers' good start is who they are doing it without. First overall draft pick Markelle Fultz has played in just four games this season as he continues to battle a shoulder issue. Compare that to the contribution the NBA’s best team thus far, the Celtics, have gotten from third overall pick, Jayson Tatum. The 19-year-old is scoring 13.9 points per game and pulling down 5.6 rebounds, while shooting 49.7 percent from the field and 48.9 percent from three. He’s been an integral piece in their 14-game winning streak. The Sixers have not had that luxury.
Beyond Fultz, Dario Saric has not been able to find a rhythm all season. Saric averaged 15.8 points per game over the final three months of last season. He hasn’t rebounded or shot it as well this season either. No doubt there were going to be adjustments and growing pains as the Sixers incorporated Simmons and with more availability from Embiid, but as the season progresses they will need more from the Saric.
The other crazy thing about the wins over the Clippers and Lakers was the manner in which JJ Redick struggled. He shot 7 of 25 from the floor and 1 for 15 from three-point land. He did make some late buckets inside against the Lakers, but he’s here to knock down shots.
I believe Brett Brown will figure out a way to get more out of Saric. The Croatian works way too hard and cares far too much to not get going. With Redick, shooters can be streaky. It happens. And even when he is not making shots, he provides a lot in terms of leadership and example. How Fultz will fit in and what his shooting form will look like is anybody’s guess, but they didn’t give up a lot to move up two spots for nothing. He wasn’t the consensus first overall pick by accident. My sense is in addition to the shoulder issue, he is struggling mightily with his confidence. So it could be a process with him when he’s ready to return.
To be winning without much of a contribution from these players speaks volumes about how good the Sixers' big three (Embiid, Simmons and Covington) have been. And it’s been noticed nationally. The win over the Lakers was a coming out party of sorts for those on the fringes. They are coming to the realization that we’ve known in this city for some time now.
This team is a playoff contender now. The question is how much better will they be at full compliment?