By George Kondoleon
The Philadelphia 76ers headed into 2018 with a less than dazzling, but still respectable 17-19 record. Though some were expecting greener pastures for this youthful team fresh off the rebuild, Philadelphia has stumbled to find consistency early on. Even with the star power of Joel Embiid and rookie sensation Ben Simmons, the 76ers have failed to find consistency surrounding them.
The duo doesn’t have much help beyond the starting five, but they are major contributors to what has plagued the team. The Sixers are at the bottom of the league in almost every turnover category imaginable. Turnover percentage, turnovers per game, and opponent points off turnovers are crippling aspects of the game the promising young team has failed to overcome through the first 35 games.
Simmons and Embiid account for 3.9 and 4.1 turnovers respectively, some costly, most avoidable. For Ben Simmons, the turnovers were expected. Any rookie ball-handler is bound to have a high turnover rate, especially if tasked with the responsibility of being the catalyst for an NBA offense. But Embiid struggled with keeping the ball in the post in his 31 games last season and this season is a continuation.
While the 76ers are in the top half of the league in defensive rating, their mistakes on offense allow opponents to break out into transition for easy buckets. It’s these exact turnovers causing Philadelphia to fumble early 18-point leads. Brett Brown will have to try to mitigate these costly mistakes on a nightly basis, because hoping the star duo will clean up their game as soon as this season may be far-fetched.
The problems are ingrained beyond the starting lineup, however. The 76ers bench has scored 27.5 points per game, which is ranked just 26th in the league. Point guard TJ McConnell has been an incredible force off the bench, but the rest has been suspect. Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot has regressed on both sides of the ball. Jerryd Bayless has been hot and cold shooting wise. Amir Johnson has been serviceable offensively, putting Richaun Holmes out of the regular rotation. Trevor Booker has been decent in place of the injured Justin Anderson.
Basically, this 76ers team was held to too high of a standard with little depth in the front court. The wing position has been weak beyond Robert Covington. Covington’s contract extension didn’t see too much of regression in shooting, as he has been a key part of Philadelphia’s success in creating space for Simmons. There has been a bit of a dip in defensive intensity, however.
While it may be nitpicking at its finest, it’s not hard to see the difference in engagement off the ball with the wing who was one of the league’s best in terms of deflecting passes last year. The 76ers’ defense has done well with his slight regression, but a tightening up on the wing could push the team forward as they try to climb out of their struggles.
These small holes in the defense are what prevent the 76ers from becoming a truly elite defensive team. The starting five has real potential to become stout defenders, minus Redick. It will have to start with the anchor on the wing to tighten up his play.
As 2018 comes to the forefront and All-Star break nears, Philadelphia must bounce back to if they want to break a five-year playoff drought. The 76ers have had the third hardest schedule thus far, but have lost some winnable games, including falling late to the Sacramento Kings twice. Nonetheless, an easier schedule will bring more wins as the 76ers claw towards the playoffs.
2018 will also see the return of injured rookie Markelle Fultz, who through a muscular imbalance and a questionably reformed shooting stroke, has seem to be a forgotten aspect to this team’s early struggles. His return will provide depth and scoring off the bench.
His eventual return should be what keeps management patient to move a future asset for a bolstering bench move. There aren’t many realistic trades to spring this bench unit towards the top of the NBA, and conceding a mid-first for short-term relief would be premature for a team still not at the point of contention.
There are still positive talking points for the 76ers. Despite the turnover issues, both Simmons and Embiid are potential All-Star candidates, and both are on a trajectory to put them in a yearly awards race. Dario Saric has planted his feet firmly in the starting lineup thanks to his scoring production, giving Philadelphia another solidified piece to their core. Covington and Redick both have given efficient shooting from the outside. McConnell has flourished as one of the top bench players in the NBA this season.
Two games under .500 entering the new year won’t be get Philadelphia to the 43 wins that Vegas set their line as before the year. As of now, it wouldn’t even put them in the Eastern Conference playoffs. There should be concern about the 76ers in terms of finding postseason play. To say this early flop is a damnation of a long rebuild would be a reach. Philadelphia is struggling, but the rest of the season seems to fall into the young team’s favor.