Five Takeaways Philadelphia 76ers Defeat Phoenix Suns

The Philadelphia 76ers defeated the Phoenix Suns by the score of 120-105. What five lessons were learned as the Philadelphia 76ers win their third consecutive home game?

The Philadelphia 76ers treated their home crowd to a third consecutive home victory tonight, by the score of 120-105 over the visiting Phoenix Suns. While this was by no means a contest of playoff bound NBA teams, the win is the third such win by the team, and the first time in three seasons for the team to have had this many victories this early in the season.

The more surprising factor in this modest but historic success of the team is the realization that the Philadelphia 76ers are still playing without two projected starters (Jerry Bayless and top draft pick rookie Ben Simmons) as well as without the play of defensive standout center Nerlens Noel.

The team had just been handed a loss by what appeared to be an evenly matched Minnesota Timberwolves in Minnesota earlier in the week. Not only did the team suffer a sound trouncing, but second year center Karl Anthony Towns clearly won the contest over Philadelphia rookie center Joel Embiid.

Those things happen in basketball.

It was critical for both the Philadelphia 76ers, and Joel Embiid, to have a good showing tonight.  Coming out poorly would have been difficult to overcome on the next contest, and complicated even more so until the team, and the rookie center, managed to turn it around.

It would have meant more questions for a team with few answers yet.

But the season has not been answering questions yet. In fact, with ten games under their belts, the team seemed to have as many if not more question than ever. With this home contest against the Phoenix Suns, the Philadelphia 76ers finally hoped to find some answers.  And thankfully, that is exactly what the team delivered.

Nov 19, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid (21) reacts to a fan during the first quarter against the Phoenix Suns at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Takeaway One: Joel Embiid Plays Harder After A Hard Loss

Joel Embiid did not play his best game of the season on a nationally televised game against the Minnesota Timberwolves.  It could not have come on a more poorly timed evening.

But even in a poorly played game, on a tough loss, Joel Embiid put up ten points and pulled down ten rebounds for his third double double of the season in just eight NBA games played.

The biggest question in everyone’s mind was: “how will Joel Embiid respond?”

He responded the best way any athlete can, he took out his frustration on his next opponent.

Against the Phoenix Suns, Joel Embiid put up 26 points (a career high) on 64.3 percent shooting form the floor, including three of five from three point range.  He brought down seven rebounds,  passed out of double and triple coverage for two assists, and blocked two shots.  For the second consecutive game, he has held his turnovers to three or less as well.

Watching Embiid, it’s hard to comprehend that he has not yet played in ten NBA games yet.  He passes the test of every sensory perception available as an experienced and rapidly improving talent in the NBA.

It’s as though he is a sponge for learning, and when he is beaten in the previous game, he comes out the next time with an answer.  Clearly he played the best game of his young career, and with just his ninth game of his NBA life, he has far better games yet to come.

He is still on minutes restrictions, so it’s difficult to judge his ceiling.  But his “per 36” continue to come in at the 27+ points  and 12 rebounds per game. Does that mean his is likely to be in the running for NBA Rookie of the Year?

Why Yes. Yes he is.

Oct 26, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers guard Nik Stauskas (11) attempts a shot while being fouled against the Oklahoma City Thunder during the second half at Wells Fargo Center. The Oklahoma City Thunder won 103-97. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Takeaway Two: Philadelphia 76ers Are Better Than Expected

The Philadelphia 76ers are out two starters in Ben Simmons and Jerryd Bayless. The team is also without the services of defensive center standout Nerlens Noel.  With a roster at 80%, and a starting lineup of just 60%, the team really is not set up to find much success this season.

At least not until some players return to health.

But head coach Brett Brown does not make excuses. In fact, he doesn’t even like looking back. He continues to build the team by organizing “team building” activities. He talks about the positives that come out of his young team’s play, and addresses but does not dramatize the team’s challenges.

And somehow, despite entering his fourth year without much success, he washes, rinses, and repeats again and again.

But somehow, hobbled and inexperienced as they are, this team is beginning to turn the corner.  It begins with the statistics, and the team is turning the corner in the fundamentals of the game.

This is a team with only one player starting who was on the team’s roster a year ago.  In fact, only six players from last year’s roster are recording statistics for the team this year.

It’s a young team. The Sixers are an unfamiliar team. As a matter of fact, it’s a team trying to forge an identity as well as cohesiveness during the early weeks of the 2016-2017 NBA season.

And they are winning some games in the process.

Mar 12, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Detroit Pistons guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (5) looses control of the ball while being fouled by Philadelphia 76ers guard Nik Stauskas (11) and guard Hollis Thompson (31) during the second half at Wells Fargo Center. The Detroit Pistons won 125-111. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Takeaway Three: Hollis Thompson and Nik Stauskas Improved

The Philadelphia 76ers entered the 2016-2017 season with some difficult choices to make in paring down for the 15 man roster.  With the team addressing the back court with three free agent signings, it appeared to be a true uphill battle for either Hollis Thompson and Nik Stauskas to make this team.

Retaining both players seemed to be a long shot.

Still, head coach Brett Brown likely spoke up for both players.   Brown respects a solid work ethic, and both players spent the summer working extra to improve their shooting and defense.  In the end, the team retained both veterans.

Against the Phoenix Suns, the pair combined for 35 points on 13 out of 18 shooting , including 8 of 11 from three point range.

Before the season began, I had expected the Philadelphia 76ers bench to impact games, but from the defensive side of the game. That bench would have included Nerlens Noel, Richaun Holmes, Jerami Grant, and even Robert Covington (with Ben Simmons starting).

But it’s been Nik Stauska and Hollis Thompson who have been solid recently.  Stauskas is beginning to deliver the promise of a perimeter scoring threat, while Thompson has been the lone player to deliver for Brown each of Brown’s four years of coaching.

While the team has improved in the long range shooting, both Stauskas and Thompson are shooting better than the team average.

Nov 19, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers forward Ersan Ilyasova (7) leaps to grab a ball headed out of bounds past Phoenix Suns forward P.J. Tucker (17) during the second quarter at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Takeaway Four: Ersan Ilyasova Proving Veteran Value On Young Roster

Nine year NBA veteran Ersan Ilyasova works very well on this young team.  This Philadelphia 76ers roster is built for versatility and mobility.  Unfortunately, the team entered the season without the services of projected starting point guard Jerry Bayless.  Likewise, starting rookie small forward Ben Simmons was unable to suit up to begin the season.  Even the solid performer at either center or power forward Nerlens Noel was unable to answer the bell.

That placed the team, already with minutes restrictions for both Joel Embiid and Jahlil Okafor, in a bit of a bind with the team’s front court, forcing young rookie Dario Saric to not only start, but play the majority of minutes at the power forward role with no viable option to rest him.

The team needed to address the four role, and did so by trading Jerami Grant for Ersan Ilyasova and a 2020 first round (top-20 protected) pick.

At the time, empahsis was placed on the conversion of second round selection Grant into a late first round selection, but the value of the exchange so far has been the synergy of Ilyasova iwth Saric.

So far, Saric is proving to be the more physical, and defensive four.  Meanwhile Ilyasova has been the more dependable scorer. In this contest, Ilyasova scored 11 points and pulled down two rebounds while Saric scored ten points while pulling down seven rebounds.

Jan 27, 2016; Auburn Hills, MI, USA; Detroit Pistons dancers entertains the fans during the game against the Philadelphia 76ers at The Palace of Auburn Hills. The Pistons defeated the 76ers 110-97. Mandatory Credit: Leon Halip-USA TODAY Sports

Takeaway Five: The Philadelphia 76ers Are 3-5 At Home

The Philadelphia 76ers began the season with five straight home losses.  But in the month of November 2016, the team lost a squeaker to the Orlando Magic 103-101.  Another too-close-to-ignore loss followed to the Cleveland Cavaliers 102-101.  Finally, three consecutive victories over the Indiana Pacers 109-105 (OT), Washington Wizards (109-102) and Phoenix Suns (120-105).  Let’s talk about why that is?

The team has played a consistent starting five.  The team has been managing load restrictions at center.  With the addition of Ilyasova, the team rotates at power forward position to keep Saric fresh.  That has allowed the team to send out the same starting five in eight of twelve games.  Consistency breeds consistency.  As the same five share the same game time experiences, they build trust and anticipation.

Both Joel Embiid and Dario Saric were welcomed to Philadelphia with unconditional love before they ever played a game.  Both players have turned the passion of the fans for their play into productive play.  Much like the play of Allen Iverson, or Brian Dawkins, truly successful athletes in Philadelphia learn to convert the raw passion in the stands into passion on the field, or court.

Finally, running against the grain of fans who have been quick to assign blame to head coach Brett Brown, the team’s three win five loss performance at home, despite no play from Bayless, Noel, and Simmons, is nothing short of incredible for this team.

The Philadelphia 76ers have Joel Embiid on the roster and the soon-to-be-arriving Ben Simmons in January 2017.  While this is the earliest for the team to reach three wins since November 2013, there are more potential wins to be had this month.

The team has only played five of their first thirteen contests on the road. Eventually the 76ers will need to translate some of this early success away from home.

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