Likes And Dislikes From Sixers First Five Games
On Joel, Ben and Tobias.
Adam Aaronson, whose legal name is Sixers Adam (@SixersAdam on Twitter), covers the Sixers for The Rights To Ricky Sanchez. He has been legally banned from covering the team in person, and when that ban was set to be lifted, Covid-19 struck. He believes cantaloupe is the best food in existence, and is brought to you by the Official Realtor of The Process, Adam Ksebe.
After a rapid and chaotic offseason, I can finally write about actual basketball again. So let’s not waste time -- the Sixers look very impressive, winning four of their first five games. There are some causes for concern, but many more reasons for optimism. Let’s run through some of them.
Like: Joel Embiid’s offense
Who would have seen this coming -- after Al Horford and Josh Richardson were replaced by Danny Green and Seth Curry, Embiid has made significant strides operating out of the post. His turnovers are at an all-time low, and while he is not at a career-high in assists, he certainly has had many more hockey assists than ever before.
With Embiid surrounded by excellent shooting, opposing defenses are forced into a catch-22: either let the best post scorer in the league go one-on-one against your center, or send a double-team and allow Embiid to kick it out to a wide open and very capable shooter like Curry, Green or Shake Milton.
Causing this kind of dilemma for opposing teams is much harder than it sounds -- it requires significant offensive spacing, willing shooters and a big with both extreme scoring gravity and the ability to make quick reads and accurate passes.
For the first time in Embiid’s career, he and the Sixers have made it happen -- and defenses have no idea how to handle it yet.
Like: Tobias Harris, everywhere
Before getting to the more noteworthy offensive improvements, Harris deserves acknowledgement on defense, where he has more than held his own and made a few key plays. Harris is locked in right now, and there’s no better sign of that than the way he is playing on offense.
For much of his Sixers tenure, Harris has been a ball-stopper more than anything else. He disrupted ball movement and plagued the offense with his indecisiveness. As Doc Rivers and every member of Sixers Twitter pointed out, the best thing Harris could do is stop thinking -- instead of catching a pass and dribbling without knowing where he’s going, Harris needs to make snap decisions -- typically whether to rise up for three or drive hard to the basket. And guess what? For three games now, he has done that.
This doesn’t mean Harris is an All-Star, and it doesn’t justify his contract. But for someone who has too often been unreliable to actually help the team’s offensive output, Harris has been damn good of late. If he can continue to improve as a decision-maker and processor, his offense can be a major help to a team still lacking high-level perimeter creation.
Dislike: Ben Simmons at the rim
The good news here is that I will not be discussing Ben’s three-point shooting in this article. But there are other issues offensively that need to be noted.
Whether it’s out of fear of shooting free throws or not (I suspect it is), Ben’s outright refusal on many occasions to absorb contact at the rim is costing the Sixers plenty of points. A 6-foot-10 big-man with the athleticism of a guard, Simmons should be a player who can get to the line at will.
Ben’s striking lack of physicality as a driver is frustrating. He consistently attempts finesse-based finishes when he would be much better off going towards the rim and drawing a foul.
And here’s the thing: even while acknowledging that Ben is a poor free throw shooter, it is still without question a positive-value outcome for the Sixers if he gets fouled and goes to the line for two shots.
Let’s say Simmons shoots 59 percent from the stripe, his career percentage. If Simmons gets fouled, the expected value of his two free throws is 1.188 points per possession. That is almost as good as it gets for Ben, or any other poor free throw shooter. So even if it causes the occasional set of groans from fans, Simmons shooting more free throws would actually benefit the offense in a significant manner.
Bonus like: Simmons on defense
To be fair to Ben, despite some offensive struggles, he has actually improved as a defender, which was hard to see coming. Ben had a monster year on that end last year -- the Defensive Player of the Year hype was far too strong for my liking, but his placement on the All-Defense First Team was, without question, a deserved honor.
Part of the reason I did not buy every ounce of the hype last year was because of Simmons’ off-ball lapses. While his versatility is nearly unmatched in the NBA and his on-ball defense is often indubitable, he would frequently have lapses in attention and get beaten before his man had the ball.
Through five games this season, there have been no such lapses. Simmons has been entirely locked in at all times, defending guards like Russell Westbrook, wings like RJ Barrett and bigs like Pascal Siakam. His defensive acumen has reached a flat-out ridiculous level of flexibility, to the degree that Rivers’ job becomes plenty easier when putting the team’s defense into place.