Turns out playing the Atlanta Hawks is the panacea for your ailments.
That was the story Monday night, and we’ll see if the Sixers can carry that momentum into Toronto tonight, which is the real measuring stick for a team that now has goals and expectations that extend well beyond beating down cupcake squads at home.
Still, nice win for the Sixers, who wrapped it up with only one starter going above 30 minutes, which was Robert Covington. Joel Embiid only played 30 minutes and Ben Simmons 27, so that’s what you’re looking for heading into Ontario for a late October test against the Eastern Conference’s best team.
Let’s start with Markelle Fultz, since his development is going to be the key storyline through the first 10 to 15 games, and maybe even into December.
He scored a career-high 16 points on 7 of 16 shooting while going 1-5 from three and 1-2 from the foul line.
The problem I think is that he still looks a little lost off the ball, and even if you did see more movement and activity from him last night, doesn’t it seem like teammates are hesitant to give him the rock? Knowing that, Lloyd Pierce simply had Kent Bazemore throw constant double teams at Embiid while leaving Fultz wide open on multiple sequences through the first half.
Embiid is doubled twice and initially kicks it out for a contested three.
Then, after the offensive rebound, Covington ignores a wide-open Fultz in the corner and instead front-rims a long two-pointer.
That’s the concern here, and that’s why the narrative around Markelle trends negative from the media, because the endgame here is to make him a productive member of the starting unit. It’s not about developing a second unit point guard, it’s about making him the third star, and right now that’s not what he is, because in half-court and off-ball scenarios, he just isn’t effective right now.
Here’s Brett Brown on the double-teaming, executed by former assistant Lloyd Pierce, who was responsible for the Sixers’ defensive schemes last season:
“Yes, we were expecting it, maybe not to the blatant way that they did it, but yes we were expecting that. I think that we did a better job in the second half of going to floor spots. I mean, wild double-teams from the top of the key or from one side of the floor, you know when they’re going to leave them. So I thought Jo did a pretty good job of knowing that they are always leaving Markelle from wherever on the floor. It’s almost as if the best play they could run is to throw it to Joel, and to just have Markelle follow his man and get to the front of the rim every game.”
More or less.
Where Markelle certainly is effective is pushing the pace and handling the ball as the backup point guard. He had a really nice sequence in the second half last night where he knocked down a three-pointer then came back up the floor for a nasty and authoritative dunk. That resulted in another three point attempt a possession or two later I believe, and the most important thing about that was you see the confidence he gets from the first three ball going in, which snowballs into more assertive floor behavior over the next 5-6 possessions. That was the best part of his night, by far. The fans were really into it and that spurt was crucial in getting him those 16 points.
I honestly think the reaction after this dunk is the most emotion I’ve seen from him this season:
GET OUT OF FULTZ'S WAY 😤 pic.twitter.com/Mh60vcSqkR
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) October 30, 2018
And no, showing emotion doesn’t really matter that much, or at least is shouldn’t, but plays like that can go a long way towards dispelling the notion that Markelle has “bad body language,” or, at the very least, that he looks a little languid in the way he moves around the floor. Philly is a simple town, and all you really have to do is throw down a huge dunk or run into a wall and you’ve earned the love of the fans forever.
As for his shot chart, Markelle wasn’t hitting a ton of longer looks last night, but trying this many shots and this variety of shots is what grows your game:
16 shot attempts is a huge takeaway for me. He needs to keep firing.
Also, a lot was made of the defensive matchup with Trae Young, but you know the Sixers do a lot of switching, so Fultz was only on Young for 18.2% of possessions last night, according to the NBA’s tracking data. Young was 2-3 in shot attempts while defended by Markelle and scored five of his 11 points on those 10 total possessions.
Nice rebound game after a poor night against Charlotte. He finished with 21, 12, and 9, with only two turnovers on the evening. Ben shot 8-11 from the floor and tried ten of those shots in the paint with one missed elbow jumper.
There was a stretch to open the second half where he either scored or assisted on the first 20 points the team posted. That was ultimately the spark that blew open a game that actually was tied at the half.
He was also part of my favorite set of the night, which got Landry Shamet a wide-open three pointer:
Really smooth stuff.
They just run a handoff into a horns set, and Shamet fakes a backscreen for Simmons, who hits him on the flare instead of driving to the rim. Amir Johnson sets the second screen and Shamet has at least 7-8 feet there to wind up and fire.
When is Dario coming over
Another bad Saric game.
The slow start is slower than usual this season, because he began to snap out of it during game six of last year. We’re now headed into game eight and he he’s averaging 11 points and 8 rebounds while shooting 35% from the floor and 24% from three:
They need him to get going. He’s a big part of what they do offensively and his ability to stretch the floor and shoot takes the burden off of others.
Season-high for Mike Muscala last night, who put up 14 and 5 on 5-7 shooting. He knocked down 4-6 from deep, which is great to see because ultimately they need him to be able to space out and emulate what they got from Ersan Ilyasova last season, which was about 10 and 7 in 24 minutes off the bench. Muscala played 19 minutes last night.
This three-pointer stood out to me:
He was 3-4 from that spot in the floor last night, and you see how his ability to space really helps the Sixers combat that initial double team on Embiid, who is able to dish the ball back out to the perimeter for some quick rotation into the corner.
Muscala on that:
“I’ve been working a lot with John Bryant, one of the assistant coaches here, everyday getting back in the gym. I feel confident out there. The way that Ben passes the ball, the attention that Joel commands and Markelle’s passing ability and pushing and transition, there’s a lot of open shots to be had.”
There certainly are a lot of open shots to be had. If Muscala can consistently hit that corner three this season, that will really help the second unit offense look more fluid, and also give Brett Brown the option of maybe going back to that 4/4 small look that was successful last season.
And look, worst case scenario, say Fultz just doesn’t work out with the first unit – you can do a lot worse than a second unit of Markelle, Landry Shamet, Wilson Chandler, Mike Muscala, and Amir Johnson. Throw Zhaire Smith and T.J. McConnell into the mix and the bench will continue to improve as the season progresses.
- Trae Young’s bright yellow shoes were very distracting on TV.
- I enjoyed the second quarter cut-in with NBC Insider Tom Haberstroh, though it probably went on a little too long. I get that they were just trying to introduce the audience to their new hire, and it was pretty honest talk from all three guys in the booth. The Sixers broadcast I think features very little homer bullshit, which is appreciated. Alaa has really improved since he started the gig however many seasons ago.