These early games against Eastern Conference basement dwellers are pretty much meaningless when it comes to evaluating the Sixers on a macro scale, because the only thing that matters this season is whether they can beat the Raptors, Celtics, and Bucks in the playoffs.

You’re supposed to breeze past the Knicks at home in December, and the Sixers took care of business with relative ease last night. This allows us to now focus on an uber-important stretch of games that includes Toronto at home, Christmas Day in Boston, then a four-game west coast road trip.

This stretch will be a “barometer” for how good the team really is. It will be a “measuring stick” in terms of how far they’ve come. Maybe it will be a “litmus test” as well. I’d have to go to Thesaurus.com to find another synonymous cliche there.

But yeah, they clobbered the Knicks last night. Here’s what they did well:

Rebounding

New York came into this game averaging 12.1 offensive rebounds a night, which is 5th best in the NBA. Enes Kanter himself was snagging 4.1.

All of that meant absolutely nothing, as the Sixers just pummeled David Fizdale’s team on the glass. They held the Knicks to a season-low four offensive rebounds and limited Kanter to a grand total zero for only the third time this entire season. New York finished with four second chance points last night despite averaging 14.7 this season, so that’s a significant 10-point differential in that category. Brett Brown’s team really limited New York’s ability to get some cheap put backs and keep pace throughout the game.

Brown:

I especially liked the defense in the second half. I thought that our finishing plays with rebounds and trying to find people, I don’t remember many, if any games, where Kanter has ended up with zero offensive rebounds. They’re among the leading teams in the NBA in offensive rebounding, so the defense in the second half, they cut it to three, you know, we took off at about the seven-minute mark of the third, but the rebounding, especially to complement the defense, was pleasing.

You could tell the Sixers were annoyed at allowing the Knicks to cut into that lead. Philly responded with a barrage of dunks and a trio of foul shots coming out of the ensuing timeout, and the lead was extended back to double digits less than two minutes later.

Speaking of Kanter, I tried to pay some attention to the handful of low post matchups he had with Mike Muscala. I think Mike did a decent job against him earlier this season, but a couple of times last night he just didn’t have the size to keep him from bulldozing his way to the rim. Kanter scored eight of his 15 points when matched up against Muscala (2-3 FG and 4 free throws on 30 possessions) and seven of his points against Embiid (3-5 FG and 2 free throws on 28 possessions). I’ve said before that I like Muscala as a second unit stretch five, but I don’t know if he’s got the measurables defensively to outplay a guy like Aron Baynes or Jonas Valanciunas come playoff time.

A good start, however, is playing a combination role in holding a guy like Kanter to zero offensive boards for the first time in 14 games:

That’ll get the job done.

A model of efficiency

Jimmy Butler scored 20 points last night while only taking nine shots. He got to the line 10 times, which is only the second time he’s reached double-digit free throw attempts since coming to Philadelphia in mid-November.

He looked more assertive last night, more active early in the game I think. Sometimes we see him come out in a deferential mindset before he gets more of the ball in his hands.

Butler was asked about his aggression or his mentality in a few different ways last night, and I think this quote probably was the pick of the bunch:

Q: Is there a switch at some point? I assume that when the postseason comes around you’ll want to be aggressive at all times –

Butler: I will be.

Q: So where does that switch happen, is that at the end of the regular season and –

Butler: No no no, don’t do that, don’t talk about (the idea that) I can just turn it on and turn it off. I feel like at times I can, but I think it starts now. I have to get in a rhythm and get used to being aggressive. But I’m telling you, if somebody is making shots, I’m gonna get the ball to him as much as possible. If this guy is making shots (points to Landry Shamet), Joel, JJ – you can be aggressive in more ways than just scoring points. You can be aggressive on the defensive end. I feel like whatever I’m doing out there, I’ve got to help the team win.

That’s all good and well, but we all know that there will come a point when  other guys are not hitting and he’s going to have the ball in his hands in crunch time and iso situations. He’s certainly capable of doing it, and we’ll see how he plays against Toronto and Boston in the next two games.

Ben didn’t think he played well

Ho hum, another triple double for Ben Simmons.

He didn’t like the way he played last night. He took a technical foul out of frustration and felt like he turned the ball over too much:

“I knew after the first half, I knew it was going to change. I think I came out with a different mindset. I was kind of pissed off with the way I was performing and I don’t think I played well at all tonight. If you look at numbers obviously it was a triple-double, but in my head, I didn’t play well tonight. Turning the ball over too much, not being aggressive enough. I think those are the main things.”

Hmm, well that’s always good to hear from a star player, but I think Ben did more than fine last night. He was 5-10 from the floor, which is a bit down in terms of field goal attempts and percentage, but his turnover number (3) was below his season average and any time you snag 10+ assists, it means guys around you are playing well. Just keep feeding ’em, which is what Butler was talking about.

I personally would rather see Ben find ways to be continually effective throughout a game instead of opening with those first quarter bursts and then sort of flatlining a bit. It’s one thing to catch a team off guard with a couple of early buckets, but feeling your way through a game as a point guard comes with time and experience, and the way he led that charge to extend the lead back to 10 points was probably the most significant contribution he made last night.

https://twitter.com/TheRenderNBA/status/1075579147513159680

Landry Shamet, a career high 17 points

I like his game and his demeanor. He’s a relatively quiet guy, not a ton to say to the media, which is perfectly fine. He just sort of goes about his business without any of the typical NBA fanfare.

Brown made a good point about Shamet last night. In a world where most rookies are one-and-done 19 year olds, Landry has a few more years of experience under his belt.

Brett:

You know, he’s not a first year college player. I feel like that counts for a lot. He’s older. He acts older. He’s had more experience than, like Kevin Knox for example, who I think is going to be a heck of a player. But you see those rare guys that come out of college who have actually had a college career and an education and have grown up. He used to be a point guard a little bit at Wichita State and I think it’s a perfect storm to giving him a better chance to do some of the things we’re doing in his first year in the NBA.

Yep. It’s very noticeable. The way in which Shamet has quickly found his way into the system is impressive.

Specifically, I think the time he spends with JJ Redick really shows itself in how Landry moves without the ball. Case in point:

He looks like Redick coming off those screens. He really looks like a veteran guy out there at times.

I also really liked that pull up three-pointer he made, the one where he grabbed a loose ball and basically ran it up the floor and stepped into the shot. That’s probably a carryover from his point guard days, because you don’t see a lot of catch and shoot guys who are able to dribble 20+ feet and bury a shot in transition like that.

Landry on his current situation:

I’m just trying to learn as much as I can. I try to improve night in and night out and try to understand that there are going to be highs and lows in this and I continue to just listen to everyone, guys like him [Jimmy Butler] are in my ear; I’m taking the advice as I can and just trying to get better. Jimmy, Ben and Joel and even Coach will get on me for not shooting the ball. I don’t know how I got so lucky to be in this situation as a rookie. It feels good; it makes my job easy.

Believe it or not, Shamet is now the team’s leading three point shooter. Check it out:

Shake and Amir don’t count because they haven’t taken enough threes.

Shamet has been a nice story this year. It’s about time the Sixers got something out of a late first round draft pick.

Other notes:

  • JJ Redick scored his 10,000th point last night. More on that later today in what we called a “sidebar.”
  • The Sixers shot 22-25 from the foul line last night for an 88% mark. That’s waaaaay above their season average of 77.5%
  • T.J. McConnell’s contributions didn’t show up on the stat sheet, but he was a total pest defensively all night long.
  • 3-4 field goal shooting and a quiet, but effective 9 points for Furkan Korkmaz in 17 minutes off the bench. That’s pretty much what you’re looking for from him at this point in his career.
  • Just 10 turnovers last night, which is tied for the second-best number this season.