To start the season, we’d been doing a stock watch for Markelle Fultz to see how the second-year guard was progressing.
With his situation … well … we decided to switch it up and do a general Sixers stock watch after was likely their best week of the young season.
After the first two games of the Jimmy Butler era, there was some concern with Simmons. He averaged just 9.5 points in those contests. More worrisome, he took just 14 field goal attempts combined in those games and didn’t look comfortable offensively.
In the eight outings since, Simmons is averaging 18.1 points and shooting 62 percent from the field. More important than the stats, Simmons has looked so much better. He’s been more assertive offensively. Too often this season, Simmons has gone to the basket without a plan, which has led to turnovers. Recently he’s been looking for his own shot. This was most evident in the win over the Grizzlies (see story).
His defense with his “headband brother” Butler is also reaching an elite level.
Sixers’ team defense
The Sixers’ poor defense, especially against the pick-and-roll, was a huge storyline early on this season. Part of it had to do with Lloyd Pierce — who oversaw the team’s defense — becoming the head coach in Atlanta and assistant Billy Lange implementing a new system.
The Sixers have held their last three opponents under 100 points. They’d held only three opponents below 100 in the previous 22 games. The last time it happened before blowing out the Knicks last Wednesday, was Nov. 7 against the Pacers.
Butler’s presence is a factor to be sure, but there’s more to it. The Sixers seem to be getting more comfortable in their new, switch-heavy scheme. Their help defense has gotten significantly better over the last week. If they can keep playing D at this level, the sky is the limit.
It appears Johnson’s playing time will only be the result of an emergency or cleanup duty. Johnson looks a step slower this season. He’s never been the greatest rebounder or rim protector but last season he gave the Sixers good on-the-ball defense. The Sixers have been using Mike Muscala as their backup five and may be in the market for a bench center in a trade or a buyout candidate.
With all that said, give Johnson credit for being a pro’s pro. The Sixers needed him to come off the bench and give them good minutes against Marc Gasol with Wilson Chandler out. Johnson did just that. Gasol had pretty much no impact on the game, even when Joel Embiid was on the bench. Against teams like Memphis that have multiple true centers, Johnson can still play a role, but he’ll struggle against teams that play small.
Fultz winds up here because he’s missing out on valuable playing time he could be getting. T.J. McConnell played 31 minutes Sunday night. There would’ve been plenty of minutes for Fultz in blowouts against the Knicks and Wizards.
If he’s hurt, then the timing is just a shame. If it’s someone giving him bad advice, then shame on them.
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