76ers

Sixers' loss falls on Brown? No, his stars went missing

Sixers' loss falls on Brown? No, his stars went missing

BOX SCORE

For a team that almost won its eighth game in nine tries Monday night, the flaws on this Sixers squad are obvious.

They blow big leads.

They turn the ball over too much.

They don’t have a dependable perimeter scorer late in the game.

And they’re reliant on their stars to cover up those problems. While Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot’s season-high 20 points (see highlights) and Dario Saric’s 22 almost saved the team Monday, Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid have to show up if the Sixers want to win night in and night out, and they didn’t in an ugly 105-101 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies (see observations).

“Our stars weren’t stars tonight, and our wings were below average," Brett Brown told reporters. "I think [Luwawu-Cabarrot] played well. I think in general the story should be the turnovers. You can’t win any NBA game that matters, and you certainly can’t even consider the playoffs, if this ends up just part of who we are.”

The Sixers, who led the NBA with 18.1 turnovers per game entering Monday’s contest, had 24 turnovers compared to just 12 for the Grizzlies. Ten of those turnovers came in the fourth quarter.

Twenty-four turnovers, and 39 points off those turnovers, are obviously unacceptable statistics. But Brown knows a young team that plays fast like the Sixers will have plenty of games with turnover totals in the high-teens. The Sixers can win those games, but only if their stars play like stars.

Simmons had only eight field goal attempts against the Grizzlies, and didn’t take a free throw for the second straight game. He had just six points along with seven assists and four turnovers.

Embiid scored 15 points, going 5 for 13 from the field and 5 for 9 from the line. While the reigning Eastern Conference Player of the Week pulled down 14 rebounds, he wasn’t himself.

“This wasn’t one of Jo’s games,” Brown said. “For whatever reason, from the start to the end, this just wasn’t one of his games. It was clear there wasn’t much going on tonight. When you see him miss the type of free throws that he missed, you know something’s going on. He’s had a great season, he’s a Player of the Week, and sometimes those games happen.”

Like Brown, Simmons was frustrated with the loss, and he agreed with his coach’s sentiment that “the stars weren’t stars.”

“Yeah, we weren’t,” Simmons said. “We sucked. We didn’t make big plays down the stretch, didn’t take care of the ball. Defensively, we weren’t too bad, but yeah, he’s right.”

Coaching this Sixers team is not an easy job. It may look easy when Embiid is playing like the second coming of Hakeem Olajuwon and Simmons is making freakish play after freakish play, but Brown must feel helpless as he watches his young team gift the opposition free points while its big lead vanishes. When the Sixers win, it’s been pretty, but many of the losses have followed the same ugly pattern.

Brown can stress how important it is to take care of the ball, call timeouts to try to stop the opponent’s momentum and draw up plays to get his stars the ball in crunch time. He did all of those things Monday, and it wasn’t enough, because Embiid and Simmons had off nights on the same night. Many Sixers fans will want Brown to do more and will think this team should be beyond these sort of collapses. While that's a fair perspective, you can also understand Brown's exasperation.

“I thought that we had not much leadership,” Brown said. “I thought our poise was poor. I thought it was an immature loss. I think it’s a game where you look at the mistakes that were made and the opportunities that we blew, those types of words come to mind. It’s not something that we leave Memphis dusting off, thinking that there are 82 games and stuff like this happens — that’s not good enough. This is a game we should have won, we were in a position to win and we didn’t have the maturity to close it out.”

Sixers 2017-18 player evaluation: Richaun Holmes

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Sixers 2017-18 player evaluation: Richaun Holmes

Richaun Holmes

Position: Forward/center

Status for 2018-19: Club option that must be exercised by June 29 at $1,600,520

Holmes in 2017-18
The Sixers made it quite clear from the beginning of the season that they were going to opt for substance over flash at the backup center position. That meant Amir Johnson would receive the bulk of the playing time behind Joel Embiid instead of Holmes.

Sure, Holmes can be the prototypical spark off the bench that comes in throwing down monster dunks, grabbing boards and blocking shots. The 24-year-old can also miss reads on offense and lose his man for easy baskets on the defensive end.

Johnson is nowhere near the level of athlete as Holmes, but the veteran provided a steady approach to the game that Brett Brown favored for the Sixers.

So Holmes, who missed the first eight games of the season with a broken bone in his left wrist, was limited to a career-low 48 contests and saw his minutes dip from 20.9 a night one season ago to 15.5.

Not an ideal situation for a player with a club option on his contract for next season.

Signature game
Holmes had a string of games in mid-December when he put up big numbers, scoring in double figures six times in an eight-game stretch. However, those numbers proved pretty hollow as seven of those eight games resulted in losses.

Let’s go with Dec. 30 instead, a 107-102 road comeback over the Denver Nuggets. With Embiid sidelined, Holmes came off the bench to record 14 points, three rebounds, three assists and a block in 19 minutes before fouling out.

Looking ahead to 2018-19
Unlike T.J. McConnell, Holmes didn’t get verbal confirmation that his option would be picked up from team president Bryan Colangelo at end-of-season press conferences.

While it seems unlikely the Sixers will bring back Johnson at a similar salary to what he made last season, the organization will likely see what else is available on the backup big man market.

Still, at 24 years old and with an extremely manageable salary of $1.6 million, Holmes should expect to be back with the Sixers next season. Anything after that will hinge on the amount of growth he shows in what could be his last chance with the team.

On Holmes
“It’s always a competition. Coach always lets it be known that we’re going to compete for spots, going to compete for playing time. Just have to come in next year ready to compete and ready to compete harder.”

- Holmes on whether he expects to be the backup center next season

Sixers 2017-18 player evaluation: Markelle Fultz

Sixers 2017-18 player evaluation: Markelle Fultz

Markelle Fultz

Position: Guard

Status for 2018-19: Second year of rookie contract for $8,339,880

Fultz in 2017-18
It’s not hyperbole to say Fultz had one of the most bizarre rookie seasons in NBA history. Let’s quickly run through the entire saga.

First, there was the mysteriously broken shot, the scapular imbalance in his right shoulder, the speculation about whether the injury led to the new shooting form or vice versa, and of course all the eyes on the brief videos of Fultz at practice, meticulously analyzing his jumper.

Then there was the surprise return on Mar. 26 against the Nuggets after missing the past 68 games, flashes of the handles and athleticism during the final 10 games of the regular season that compelled the Sixers to pick him No. 1, a chance to be part of the playoff rotation, and finally a return to the bench after three playoff games.

Got all that?

By the way, Fultz averaged 7.1 points, 3.8 assists and 3.1 rebounds in 14 regular-season games and posted 1.7 points, 1.7 assists and 1.0 rebound per game in his three postseason contests. Those stats obviously don’t tell his story.

Plenty of NBA players have had their rookie seasons derailed by injury, demonstrated flawed shooting mechanics, faced constant scrutiny from fans and media, and given glimpses of their potential. Until Fultz, nobody had combined all those ingredients into a single, surreal season.

Signature game
Fultz made history in the season finale on Apr. 12, a 130-95 win over the Bucks. With 13 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists, he became, at 19 years and 317 days old, the youngest player in the NBA to ever record a triple-double.

After securing the accomplishment late with his 10th rebound, Fultz was immediately mobbed by his teammates and then doused with a unique cocktail of strawberry milk, chocolate milk and water afterwards in the locker room celebration.

That night, you saw Fultz’s immense potential. You also felt the human side of his odyssey and saw how much joy his teammates took from his achievement.

Looking ahead to 2018-19
Until Fultz looks comfortable with his jumper, there’s going to be plenty of scrutiny on his shot. He shot 19 for 75 (25.3 percent) from three feet and out and made only 2 of 8 attempts from further than 15 feet.

Fultz and the team haven’t decided yet whether he’ll play in summer league, but that’s a possibility. It could be a good chance for Fultz to get some more time on the court and continue regaining his confidence, and his jumper as well.

While Fultz’s name will probably be tossed around by outsiders as a possible trade piece, it doesn’t seem like potential trade partners would place a very high value on a player with 14 games of NBA experience and a suspect shot. It also would be a huge surprise to see the Sixers give up on their No. 1 pick and a player with Fultz's natural ability after one season. They'll almost certainly give him ample opportunity to show why they took him No. 1. 

On Fultz
“I’ve been going through stuff like this my whole life really, going against the odds and a whole bunch of outside noise. I don’t really look to it. I’m with my team, I’m with family, and that’s all I really care about. All the other stuff doesn’t really matter to me on what other people think or what other people have to say. I’m just worried about how my team’s doing, how my coaches and teammates look at me, and how I look at myself.”

- Fultz on dealing with outside noise at his end-of-season press conference on May 10