Dec. 03, 2016
Listless Sixers Lose Ugly Game To The Underrated Magic
Something surprising happened for the first time this season. For the first time since his first game for the team, the Sixers didn't lose a game because of TJ McConnell. Don't get me wrong, he played like straight garbage -and even injured Robert Covington, who had put up back-to-back 20+ point performances. The rest of the team came out just ridiculously "off" though and never recovered -partially because TJ played so many minutes in the second half.?
Coming into this game, I had two concerns. First, I wondered if the Sixers would be out of rhythm after having not played two nights ago like they were scheduled to. Clearly that was the case, and they didn't regain that rhythm until well into the second quarter. Second, I knew the Magic are a lot more offensively potent and dangerous than they are made out to be, and I had a feeling their wings and point guards might have a field day against our lax perimeter defense. Again, clearly that was the case, and the Sixers were out of this game by the end of the third quarter barring some defensive stops and a big offensive fourth quarter.
Luckily, there were a few positives to take away from this game. First of all, let's recognize just how much Ersan Ilyasova is straight balling for the Sixers these past few games -especially tonight. He hasn't looked this good in years due to being misused after his first few years in the league, and a lot of people don't understand just how good Ilyasova really is. He is a fantastic offensive player who is just now starting to show those forward skills he showed in Milwaukee and with the Turkish national team. He's looked more like a stretch four than the small forward he came into the league as the past few years but Ersan more and more is putting the ball on the floor and driving to the hoop like a perimeter player. This is huge for the Sixers, as they really haven't had a consistent scorer who could shoot the three since Covington was that guy for the second half of the 2014-15 season. When you add in his role as an excellent secondary facilitator, his rebounding, how much he hustles and the general intangibles he has, you're talking about a player who can make a major impact on a game -and a potential max player this offseason. Don't write it off as a contract year, either. Ersan is simply finally being given the freedom to play his game, and we're increasingly seeing the results. Either way, the more Ilyasova shows on the court, the better off the Sixers are.
Secondly, Joel Embiid and Jahlil Okafor played heavy minutes together, and they complemented each other perfectly. If you recall, I pointed out that they would back in my writeup of the Sixers' 2015 Draft, and they played exactly that way en route to a combined almost 40 points. Trust me when I say that is nothing compared to what they can do. Embiid -like Robert Covington- is the kind of offensive player who can score quickly and without taking away many offensive looks from his teammates. I fully expect Jah & JoJo to average around 18 and 23-25 or more points a game together respectively.
The aforementioned Covington had a solid game overall, hitting threes when the Sixers badly needed them, pulling down rebounds, making good to great passes, and doing the little things he needs to do. Still, I expect a lot more from him when it comes to playing tough defense and especially driving to the hoop deliberately. More on his game in the player grades piece that will follow this recap.
Probably one of the least noticed positives from this game was continued improvement from late first round pick Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot. He really needs to improve defensively in order to be a legitimate franchise comerstone and starter but TLC again made some plays that show the potential he has and what he can hopefully bring to the Sixers someday. Probably the play that stands out the most was when he blocked a shot at one end then drove the length of the court and avoided a defender to finish with a close layup. That's a much harder play than it seems and one that only good offensive players can do with any kind of regularity. The young raw but athletic rookie swingman out of France will take time to develop but could very well be a starter next year if he continues to steadily improve. Hopefully he can develop into an at the very least solid perimeter defender because the Sixers have nothing but inconsistency there right now on that end.
One thing that was probably overlooked by many but could potentially be very important this season is the fact that Nik Stauskas played a bit of point guard late in the game. Stauskas is a terrific facilitator at the two guard spot and has great vision and a great feel for the game so it only makes sense to try him at the point, and he would be a huge upgrade over both TJ McConnell and Jerryd Bayless. I hope to see more of this.
Lastly, he struggled at times offensively but for the second straight game Hollis Thompson had some great defensive possessions. He forced Aaron Gordon into some really difficult shots that in the past he wouldn't have made. You really can't ask any more of Hollis on that end other than to do it much more consistently. His job could very well depend on it.
Despite these positives, the story of the game was easily both the funk the Sixers got into early offensively and the way the Magic just flat out lit them up on the other end -even on the few times the Sixers contested their shots. DJ Augustin yet again showed why he's one of the most underrated point guards in the league, Jeff Green played exactly how Jeff Green can play, and both Serge Ibaka and former Sixers' first round pick Nikola Vucevic absolutely killed the home team late in the game.
If not for two Robert Covington threes, some offense by Sergio, and especially both the three point shooting of Joel Embiid and the all-around play of Ersan Ilasova, this game would've been over by halftime if not sooner. If the Sixers ever start a game this "off" on offense again, it probably will be. They -and we the fans- need to shake it off because tomorrow promises a much tougher game where they'll need to bring their absolute best in order to win.