For a Sixers team that’s had a knack for making every game close, this was an unusual week — four straight blowouts.
After wins over Cleveland, New York and Toronto and a loss to San Antonio, the Sixers sit at 22-12, third in the Eastern Conference, as they gear up for a difficult five-game road trip (see story).
Here are a few observations from the past week:
• It’s easy to chalk the Spurs game up as a schedule loss. The Sixers were playing the second game of a road back-to-back and they looked slow and lethargic. At first glance, there’s no reason to be concerned about their performance Monday night in a big picture sense.
If you look closer, though, there is one troubling takeaway from that game: The Sixers can’t afford for multiple stars to have off nights on the same night. The team just has far too thin a bench to win a game in which Joel Embiid shoots 6 for 17 and Jimmy Butler goes 3 for 13.
• Ben Simmons was the one Sixers’ star who didn’t have a terrible shooting game in San Antonio — he went 9 for 15. In fact, Simmons hasn’t had a bad shooting game for a long time. He’s only shot worse than 40 percent from the floor twice this season.
This week, Simmons had two triple-doubles, scored a season-high 26 points Saturday night vs. Toronto, and averaged 19.3 points on 66.7 percent shooting, 10.3 rebounds and 9.5 assists. He even shot 76.5 percent from the foul line. He’s making a strong push for his first All-Star Game.
• Brett Brown said Wednesday he’d prefer to fill the Sixers’ open roster spot with a “perimeter defensive player".
That seems like a fair assessment of his team’s largest need, though there are, of course, several — you could also make solid arguments for backup center, power forward and perimeter shot creator.
General manager Elton Brand told reporters Saturday night that the Delaware Blue Coats, the Sixers' G-League affiliate, could be a resource the team uses to improve their roster, mentioning wing Haywood Highsmith and center Norvel Pelle (see story). Both players are intriguing options, though it would be a surprising turn of events if either had a significant impact on the Sixers this year.
Highsmith, a product of Division II Wheeling Jesuit, looks the part of an NBA player, with good size (6-foot-7, 220 pounds) and a smooth shooting stroke.
The 6-foot-11 Pelle’s major calling cards are his athleticism and rim protection— he’s averaging 2.5 blocks in 21.6 minutes per game for the Blue Coats.
It’s also worth noting that rookie Jonah Bolden, who has been yo-yoing between Delaware and Philadelphia, had by far the best game of his NBA career Saturday night — after Brand spoke to the media. One game isn’t nearly enough to prove Bolden deserves major minutes as the Sixers’ backup big man, but it's clear he's a more viable option than Pelle.
You can see why Brand would be interested in Highsmith and Pelle, but you wouldn’t expect the Sixers to rely on a 22-year-old D-II product with a still-developing game or a 25-year-old with no NBA experience for key minutes this season.
That said, much stranger things have happened with the Sixers.
• While we’re on the topics of the Sixers’ roster and the G League: There are two more reasons you're going to want to keep a closer eye on the Blue Coats in 2019. Big man Justin Patton and rookie Zhaire Smith are both inching closer to returning to the court — Brand said the Sixers expect Smith back this season, and Patton told NBC Sports Philadelphia he “definitely” plans to return in 2018-19 — and both will likely start out in the G League.
As Brown noted Wednesday, Smith could help alleviate some of the Sixers’ woes with perimeter defense, while it’s not so crazy to think Patton, a first-round pick in 2017, could fill part of the void at backup center.
Again, you wouldn’t think the Sixers would bank on two young, somewhat raw players still rehabbing from serious injuries. But if everything goes well with the final stages of rehab and in Delaware, Patton and Smith could change the complexion of the Sixers.
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