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.