Philadelphia 76ers November 2016 Recap

The Philadelphia 76ers enjoyed some unexpected but modest success in November 2016. Modest, but symbolically magnificent for a win starved team.

The fans of the Philadelphia 76ers are some of the most basketball savvy fans in the nation. Savvy enough to embrace a multi-year strategy for rebuilding a scorched earth team. Few prospects, no draft picks, and no cap space meant austerity for the past three years. During those years, the fans of the Philadelphia 76ers have had to endure the scorn of the myopic NBA, and could only muster a “Wait until Joel Embiid gets here!” in defense.

He’s here.

Oh, and while we are looking back at the month of November 2016, let’s toss in the other NBA rookie who many swore would NEVER come to the NBA, Dario Saric.

Almost on queue, the Philadelphia 76ers have placed their future into the hands of two NBA rookies.  Right now, the pair has outperformed the remaining NBA rookie class by a wide margin. But part of this story is the fact that the Philadelphia 76ers have yet to suit up top 2016 NBA Draft selection Ben Simmons.

But there is much more to the story now. Wins unexpected, losses heartbreaking, player updates, and a peek to the future.  Let’s get to it.

Nov 7, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid (21) and forward Dario Saric (9) battle with Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (27) during the first quarter at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Four Wins Twelve Losses

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Success feeds the embers of optimism that warm the hearts of every Philadelphia 76ers fan. I am just as guilty, as I believed the team could manufacture five wins in November 2016.

They might have too, if the basketball court had been playable on the last game of the month against the vulnerable Sacramento Kings.   The court was deemed unplayable, and so that game will be rescheduled.

But the team did get off four wins in the month of November, a feat only last outperformed in November 2013. The wins came at home against the Indiana Pacers, the Washington Wizards, the Phoenix Suns and the following night against the Miami Heat.

For the month, the 76ers were 4-6 at home, and 0-6 on the road.  Road wins are much less frequent for this team, as the last road win came January 20, 2016 against the Orlando Magic.

But the record was the result of some improvements that are happening at the fundamental and statistical level.  The Philadelphia 76ers are among the top ten best teams at three-point shot accuracy.  But the team is also among the top ten teams at assists, a top three NBA team at blocks, a top ten NBA team at defensive rebounds.  While the team sits at 26th offensively and 19th defensively, both sets of number show vast improvement over the October ranks.

Dec 3, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers guard Nik Stauskas (11) drives to the basket against the Boston Celtics during the fourth quarter at Wells Fargo Center. The Celtics defeated the 76ers 107-106. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Please Hold The Sauce

In our October Recap, we were prophetic in the singling out of Nik Stauskas:

Perhaps Nik Stauskas will emerge as that “sharpshooter” Sam Hinkie envisioned when he traded for him in 2015. Perhaps the team will improve upon the 28.6 percent accuracy from three-point range?

Perhaps indeed.

The Philadelphia 76ers are currently at 36.0 percent accuracy from the three, and Nik Stauskas has certainly been a player in that resurgence as he has been hitting 44.8 percent of his shots from the perimeter in November 2016. But he was not the only one.

Dario Saric has been shooting for 41.6 percent accuracy from downtown,  while averaging 6.0 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game. That’s from the power forward role.

Alongside the “Croatian Sensation” is new acquisition Ersan Ilyasova.  Ilyasova was acquired in the trade which sent Jerami Grant to the Oklahoma City Thunder. Grant also brought a protected 2020 first round pick from the Thunder to the 76ers.  Was it a salary dump?  If it was, then the laugh is on the Thunder.

Ilyasova delivered incredible reinforcement to Saric at the four, where he gets starts and allows Saric to excel off the bench.  Since arriving, Ilyasova is shooting 47 percent from the floor, and 40.3 percent from three-point range.

Finally, the team’s offense fell to the capable hands of Sergio Rodriguez. While “El Chacho” was not at his best shooting, his 6.8 assists per game kept the hot shooters on the team well supplied with the ball

Dec 2, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers forward Robert Covington (33) reacts to his three pointer against the Orlando Magic during the second quarter at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Behind the Scenes

So far, the team has been circling the wagons at less then full strength.  But that is not to say that the team is not scrappy.

Shooting guard Gerald Henderson has truly stepped in as Mister Dependable, delivering solid performances with each outing.  Point guard Jerryd Bayless tried to make a go of it, but his wrist injury wouldn’t allow it.  That cameo appearance prompted research into just what the issue is, and what is being done to return Bayless to health.

On the topic of health, ironman Robert Covington has been trying to play through a left knee injury. Eventually, he aggravated the knee to the point where he sat:

In November, Covington oscillated statistically between nearly invisible to leading the team. That prompted head coach Brett Brown to tap the shoulder of veteran Hollis Thompson, who had a very good November.

Finally, the team eagerly anticipates the return of both Nerlens Noel and Ben Simmons.  Noel has some work to do to set up for his next NBA contract. And while the team has been evasive about the progress of Simmons so far,  there is every reason to expect his return to add to the positive momentum of the team going forward.

This team is winning games, at 80 percent strength. The top player, rookie Joel Embiid, is on load and minutes restrictions. Impressive

Dec 6, 2016; Memphis, TN, USA; Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid warms up prior to the game against the Memphis Grizzlies at FedExForum. Mandatory Credit: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

December looking Ahead

The key is Joel Embiid. He is all that hype, plus.  Joel Embiid is the future of this team, hands down. When he plays, Embiid is such a dominating presence in the post, that it literally redirects the opponents lanes. While still learning the game, Embiid is a sponge.  He rarely duplicates errors, which is an incredible counterbalance to his relatively shallow basketball background.

So far, in the early part of December, the team is 1-4, but the win was a huge road victory against the New Orleans Pelicans.  For the month, the team plays seven home games and seven road games.  Despite the slow 1-4 start, the team could end up at ten wins by month’s end.

Since the team will be hosting the Los Angeles Lakers and the New Orleans Pelicans, as well as travelling to face the Brooklyn Nets, the Phoenix Suns, the Sacramento Kings, and the Denver Nuggets, the 76ers could find some success. Only the games hosting the Toronto Raptors and travelling to face the Utah Jazz appear to be out of the team’s reach right now.

Much of the team’s chances to win depend upon whether Joel Embiid will play in the game or not.

Jun 23, 2016; New York, NY, USA; A general view of a video board displaying all thirty draft picks in the first round of the 2016 NBA Draft at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

Future Looking

Beyond the possibilities of entering 2017 with a ten or more win team, there is plenty of additional landmarks to get excited about. Let’s look at some:

I. Ben Simmons Will Return – In January 2017, Ben Simmons will likely join the team and begin to phase in at the point guard role.  While that may result in both negatives and positives initially, it will likely bring a key solution to the ever nagging problem with this team.

Who gets the ball in crunch time?

With Ben Simmons on the floor, he will.  He has the size and physicality to penetrate to the basket. He has the accuracy to dish the ball to the open shooter. Most of all, he has the basketball IQ to know where to go with that ball instantly.

Simmons will bring to the back court what Joel Embiid has brought to the front court – a complexity difficult enough to thwart most opponents.

II. Ten Day Contracts Can Be Signed – January 5, 2017 – While the Philadelphia 76ers may have a full, but unhealthy, roster for now, that could change in 2017.  The 76ers are sitting on a cornucopia of promising talent in their D-League affiliate, the Delaware 87ers.

Cat Barber is sitting at 19.5 points per game with 4.0 assists and 68.8 percent accuracy from the perimeter.  Shawn Long is scoring 19.0 points per game with 10 rebounds.   Dionte Christmas is scoring 16.2 points per game while shooting 42.6 percent from three-point range.

Each player could be called up to see how they mesh with the 76ers going forward.  With the current 76ers roster, they may even earn quality playing minutes in the process.

Dec 1, 2015; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers forward Nerlens Noel (4) and center Jahlil Okafor (8) celebrate a score against the Los Angeles Lakers during the second half at Wells Fargo Center. The 76ers won 103-91. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

NBA TRADE DEADLINE 23 FEB 2017

III. NBA Trade Deadline – February 23, 2017 – Do you feel it?  The subtle slipping of leverage into the hands of the Philadelphia 76ers?  You see, the team is sitting on a powder keg of front court talent.

Plenty of teams have “inquired” so far, whether about the cost of either Nerlens Noel or Jahlil Okafor. Ultimately, some team hovering in the .500 range will panic at the thought of post-season slipping away, and will pull the trigger to shore up their center position – whether offensively or defensively.

And that suits the Philadelphia 76ers just fine.

The Atlanta Hawks, Portland Trailblazers, Indiana Pacers, Detroit Pistons, and even the Boston Celtics should all place the Philadelphia 76ers on speed dial. Other teams should as well.

What is the cost of our player? Well, the Philadelphia 76ers would be wise to expect a draft pick at or better than the slot of the player surrendered.  If the exchange involves players, the prospects should be expected to compete as a starter for the 76ers next season.

Ultimately, the 76ers should expect a combination of player(s) and pick(s). Teams seeking help to get over the hump will likely not hold title to lottery picks, and will need to spice up the trade with additional assets.   More picks or a player or players would do the trick.

If the 76ers exchange a player for picks only, that would open up the roster to begin to bring in D-League players on ten-day contracts.

In the end, the 76ers have tremendous upside going forward.  On one hand, the team is trending on the vastly improved side and getting better as players arrive healthy.  On the other hand, the 76ers have plenty of opportunities to improve the depth and quality of this roster going forward. Sweet November.

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