The Sixers are on pace to reach their highest win total since 2010-11 and still could easily wind up having their best season since '02-03. We should probably just be grateful the days of tanking multiple consecutive seasons are over.
Yet it feels as though the Sixers should be better than their 14-16 record. And because they have been seemingly unable to maximize their potential, especially during the ongoing span of seven losses in eight games, they’ve been downright infuriating to watch.
I have a lot of problems with these people, and with Festivus right around the corner, it’s time for an old-fashioned airing of the grievances. And thanks, but I’ll take a pass on the feats of strength when we’re done here.
1. Ben Simmons actually attempted and made some jump shots during a 101-95 loss Tuesday to the Kings, which was a good sign. The rookie point guard nailed all three of his attempts from 14-15 feet, which was almost as surprising as the fact that he took them at all. But the fact of the matter is Simmons needs to shoot more. His entire game at the offensive end is predicated on driving to the hoop, and 30 games into his career, opponents are growing wise. Defenders are sagging, and oftentimes the result is Simmons dribbling into a wall of defenders, trying to take a contested layup or pass into traffic. There’s a reason he’s averaging nearly four turnovers per game and managed to rack up seven giveaways twice in the last six games. Until he learns to shoot — not even make baskets, just take the open shots — he’s going to stagnate the Sixers’ offense almost as much as he creates it.
2. And can anybody explain why Simmons is so bad at the foul line? The dude is shooting 54.8 percent from the stripe. Only Amir Johnson has been worse among regulars. The thing is, Simmons doesn’t really have an excuse. Some players simply aren’t very good at it, and maybe he’s never going to be in the 80s or 90s. But Simmons also missed all of last season with a foot injury where pretty much the only thing he could do on a basketball court was stand in place and shoot free throws. So if he wants to be the NBA’s next legendary superstar, a la LeBron James, why wasn’t Simmons relentlessly perfecting that aspect of his game during his downtime? Judging from his form, I find it hard to believe he worked on it all that much, and the result is moments like hack-a-Simmons against Washington last month. Doubt we’ve seen the last of that strategy, by the way.
3. Well, Joel Embiid, you wanted to play without minutes restrictions? How’s that working out for the Sixers now? Embiid has missed two games already with back stiffness, an injury he clearly aggravated by playing 49 minutes of a triple-overtime classic against the Thunder, and, according to reports, he’s set to miss at least two more. The 49 against OKC came three days after he set a career high with 39 against the Timberwolves — right off of missing both halves of a back-to-back. I’m sort of overhearing Embiid complain about the restrictions at this point. The Sixers need to find a balance between winning basketball games, which requires having their best player every night, and getting him through the season. Until Embiid proves he can be available, or it’s the playoffs, he shouldn’t cause a stink about having his minutes managed.
4. Not to add insult to injury after JJ Redick exited Wednesday’s game with a hamstring injury, but what exactly is up with the Sixers’ prized offseason acquisition? In many aspects, the 11th-year veteran is in the midst of his worst season since 2012-13 — specifically three-point percentage (38.7) and turnovers (1.6). The three-point shooting isn’t that bad in the grand scheme, but it’s good for only fourth on the team. Redick hasn’t exactly been the sharpshooter his reputation would suggest, while the giveaways are just a nice little bonus. He is 33, and at 33.7 minutes per game, he's on pace to shatter his career high for playing time. Maybe Redick is playing too much at this stage of his career and would benefit from dropping back to the 27-28 range.
5. Say what you want about his recent criticisms of the organization, but Jahlil Okafor essentially blaming his conditioning on the Sixers’ staff is a joke. Okafor has appeared in only one game since he was traded to the Nets because he’s not in game shape — which he suggested was the Sixers’ fault. Hey, I’m carrying a little extra weight right now. Can I blame NBC? Sure, not getting into any NBA games for weeks at a time is tough. But even if the Sixers weren’t great at managing their athletes’ physical condition, at the end of the day, eating right and exercise are conscious decisions for individuals. Okafor was not in great shape when he came from Duke, and only heading into this season did he decide to slim down, hit the weights and transform his body. That’s on him. And in case you need any evidence that this isn’t a Sixers problem, just look at Embiid when he came from Kansas, and compare that to what he looks like now. Get out of here with that nonsense.
6. I just can’t get on board with Amir Johnson. He rebounds the ball well and is an active defender, but I’m not sure those qualities make up for his other deficiencies. He’s a worse shooter and turns the ball over more than Richaun Holmes or Trevor Booker, both of whom are also averaging more minutes now. If Embiid is going to continue to miss time, I suppose the Sixers need to rely on some contribution from Johnson. Otherwise, I’m not sure how he advances any of the team’s goals of winning games or building an identity, unless that identity is a sloppy and confused-looking offense. Hey, wait a second ...
7. The Sixers are glad to have Robert Covington back in the lineup, but he is killing them with his shooting right now. In three games since returning from a back injury, Covington has made seven of 32 three-point attempts. That’s 21.9 percent. He was particularly awful on Wednesday against Sacramento (2 for 13) and Friday against Oklahoma City (3 for 15). Covington will get this corrected, but in the meantime, maybe don’t jack-up double digits from downtown? Dip inside the line and try a 20-footer instead? It’s not all the injury, either. Covington has been struggling from long range for the past month, connecting on just 30.6 percent since November 20. The Sixers are 6-9 during that span.
8. To the contrary, can we get more threes from T.J. McConnell, please? I’m well aware shooting has not been McConnell’s forte in the past. In 2016-17, he shot 20.0 percent from downtown. But McConnell has been white-hot from distance this season, knocking down 55.6 percent of his attempts. That improvement does not appear to be entirely coincidental, either. McConnell’s form looks a lot better, and his shot isn’t coming out as flat. I’m OK with him taking a few more looks, especially the way the rest of the team is shooting. After McConnell, Covington is the team’s leader in three-point percentage.
9. Not directed at anybody in particular, but what is it with Sixers rookies and injuries? Embiid missed his first two seasons. Simmons missed one. Markelle Fultz has been out since the fourth game with a shoulder issue. Furkan Korkmaz comes over, and two months into his career in the United States, he’s on the shelf indefinitely with a Lisfranc injury. It’s bordering on the unbelievable, and really seems like the organization is cursed in this regard.
10. I like Brett Brown. I want him to succeed. I don’t buy a lot of the criticisms about his methods. But I also feel strongly that what he does with this team over the final 52 games of the season will tell us a lot about his future with the franchise. Obviously, it’s not going to come together overnight when the two biggest stars in the organization played 33 games combined entering this season, and the first overall draft pick is injured. At the same time, it seems like there’s too much talent for this team to be below .500. Embiid is a monster, and Simmons is a walking triple-double. It’s hard to fathom how they could lose to the Suns, or the Bulls — I don’t care if Chicago's won six straight — or get swept by Sacramento. Some of that is youth and inexperience. Some that is injuries. Some of that is players not performing up to their full capabilities. But at some point, the blame falls on the coach, too. By no means do I think Brown should be on the hot seat right this moment, but depending where this team goes from here, that feeling could change.