Grading the Sixers

Grading the Sixers: Covington up, Saric down, Okafor invisible

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Grading the Sixers: Covington up, Saric down, Okafor invisible

Evaluating all of the key Sixers a week into the season. The grades below are relative to the player's skill set and expectations. For example, an A for Joel Embiid would require much more than A for T.J. McConnell.

Dario Saric
Sixers fans, especially younger Sixers fans, have a borderline irrational attachment to Dario Saric. Maybe it was the two-year wait. Maybe it's his way of being simultaneously awkward and fluid on the court. Maybe it's the broken English. It's probably all of the above.

In any event, five games in, Saric is still trying to find his footing on this Sixers team. He's come off the bench and played between 17 and 24 minutes in each game. He's spent time as a forward but also as a backup stretch-five. 

So far, Saric's time as a backup center has not been pretty. He's not athletic enough or big enough to make an impact on defense against most centers, and the "stretch" element of his game hasn't worked yet. He's 3 for 14 (21.4 percent) from three and some of his misses haven't been particularly close. He's also shot 33 percent in the area between the foul line and three-point line.

It will be interesting to see how the Sixers deploy Saric as the season progresses. When Richaun Holmes returns, Saric's minutes as a stretch-five likely will go away. And unless Saric quickly becomes a more consistent shooter, it's going to be tough to play him more than 20 or so minutes per game because of the spacing issues created when he shares the floor with Ben Simmons and/or T.J. McConnell.

Season averages: 5.6 points, 4.6 rebounds, 1.4 steals, 33 percent FG, 21 percent 3-PT, 3 for 5 FT

Grade so far: C- 

• • •

Ben Simmons
Man, has he been impressive through five games. You've heard roughly 40,000 times that if Simmons ever develops a jump shot, he'll be a star. Well, even if he doesn't, it looks like he'll be a star.

Simmons is averaging 16.4 points, 10.0 rebounds and 7.4 assists so far. He's had four double-doubles and came close to a second straight triple-double against the Rockets.

That's the good. The bad is that he's 0 for 3 from three and 16 for 28 (57 percent) from the line. 

Simmons is so savvy with the ball and so under control that his lack of a jumper isn't as pronounced when he actually has the ball in his hands. He can find room for a floater or lay-up. 

The issue is when he doesn't have the ball in his hands. Two plays late in the fourth quarter of Wednesday's heartbreaking loss exemplified this well. On consecutive possessions in the fourth quarter, Simmons hit Joel Embiid in the post. Simmons' defender instantly sagged far off of him and essentially double-teamed Embiid, knowing Simmons wouldn't be shooting even if Embiid kicked it back out to him. Both plays resulted in turnovers. 

That's a real issue the Sixers will have to work through. But aside from it, Simmons has exceeded incredibly high expectations so far.

Season averages: 16.4 points, 10.0 rebounds, 7.4 assists, 33 percent FG, 48 percent FG, 0 for 3 3-PT, 57 percent FT

Grade: A-

• • •

Robert Covington
Covington is a valuable NBA player and the rest of the country has begun to catch on. He plays with a ton of energy, never seems to take a play off defensively, and he's off to a hot start from long range.

Covington has made 17 threes already, fourth-most in the NBA. The top-five in threes made this season is Klay Thompson, Steph Curry, James Harden, Covington and Kevin Durant. That's a fun list.

If there's a flaw with Covington, it's that he takes sooooooo many contested threes. He's 6-foot-9 and his shot has a high arc, so he feels like he can get it off against most defenders in his face. Other teams know that dribbling and driving is his weakest skill so nobody ever gives him space, thus the contested threes.

His shot selection needs to improve, but there aren't too many small forwards more well-rounded than RoCo.

Season averages: 15.8 points, 4.6 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 1.4 steals, 1.0 block, 49 percent FG, 49 percent 3-PT, 86 percent FT

Grade: B+

• • •

Joel Embiid
It's a small sample size, but so far, Embiid has increased his averages of rebounds and assists, he's committing one fewer foul per game, he's shooting five percent better from the field despite the misses from three, and he's 18 for 20 from the line.

What has stuck out the most with Embiid through the first four games of his second season is the automatic nature of his mid-range jumper — he's made 56 percent of them, and right now it's his most confident shot.

Embiid will probably always be a high-turnover big man because of how often he touches the ball, both at the top of the key and in the post. He has 17 turnovers in four games after averaging 3.8 last season. If the Sixers can get that average closer to 3.0 than 4.0, they'll be pretty happy.

Season averages: 20.0 points, 10.5 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.0 steals, 1.3 blocks, 51 percent FG, 15 percent 3-PT, 90 percent FT

Grade: A-

• • •

JJ Redick
So far, Redick has done exactly what he was brought to Philly to do: make threes and create space by endlessly moving without the ball.

He's had three good games and two bad games, but the good has outweighed the bad more than that. He brings the added element of transition threes, and there are few players in the league more confident when wide open in the corner.

His long-distance shooting will create momentum for the Sixers in plenty of games this season, and even with the high price tag, this is already looking like a smart move, despite the Sixers' 1-4 start.

Season averages: 13.2 points, 3.2 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 39 percent 3-PT, 5-5 FT

Grade: B

• • •

Jerryd Bayless
Bayless has 1½ NBA skills: shooting and slightly-above-average ballhandling.

He serves his purpose on this team as a floor-spacer capable of making three threes per game. But his inability to finish strong at the rim makes him susceptible to blocked shots and near-misses. 

His passing vision isn't nearly as good as Simmons' or T.J. McConnell's, which creates an interesting predicament late in games. We saw it against the Rockets. Do you play McConnell with Simmons late for optimal ball-handling and passing? Or do you play Bayless with Simmons for optimal shooting?

Season averages: 12.4 points, 2.4 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 13-26 3-PT, 5-6 FT

Grade: B-

• • •

Jahlil Okafor
What does it say about Okafor that even with Richaun Holmes (wrist) injured, Amir Johnson struggling and Embiid getting into foul trouble the last two games that Okafor *still* can't get any tick?

This is a bad situation that just keeps getting worse. There's no trade market right now for Okafor, and why would one develop if his own team considers him its fifth-best center?

As our managing editor Andy Schwartz said this week, you'd have a pretty good player if you combined the skills of Okafor and Johnson. You'd get Okafor's post game and ability to finish with Johnson's hustle and physicality. Something to keep in mind if cloning ever becomes a real thing.

Season averages: He had 10 points, 9 rebounds and 2 blocks in the one game he played

Grade: Incomplete

• • •

T.J. McConnell
Barring a devastating injury, McConnell is going to have a long NBA career as a backup point guard. He just always gives you quality minutes as a floor general, even if it doesn't show up in the stat sheet.

Embiid said Wednesday night — and accurately so — that McConnell was "the best player on the floor" against the Rockets. McConnell had six points, five rebounds, nine assists and six steals in 28 minutes. He gained the Sixers more than just those six extra possessions, too, with deflections and taps to other players on the offensive glass.

It's just a shame T.J. didn't get 8 to 10 more minutes against the Rockets to try to cap off what would have been the most unlikely and glorious quadruple-double in NBA history.

Season averages: 3.8 points, 4.0 assists, 1.8 steals, 38 percent FG

Grade: B