The best athletes in sports play in the NBA. The Sixers are playing in the league with a slow-pitch softball team. This is not a prescription for success.
Beyond Joel Embiid and Gerald Henderson, where is the athleticism on this team? Yes, I know Ben Simmons and Nerlens Noel have not played and they are certainly more athletic than anybody else the Sixers have at the moment. Still, Noel has no offensive skill and while Simmons has NBA-ready skills, is he alone enough to transform what is a slow team that can’t defend and does not shoot nearly well enough to make up for its lack of speed?
Anybody seen the Lakers under new coach Luke Walton? Los Angeles is as much fun to watch as any team in the league, this side of Golden State. D’Angelo Russell and Jordan Clarkson are the new NBA with their speed and skill. Without the albatross that was Kobe Bryant getting in the way, these two are combining for 33 points per game and playing with great freedom given them by a coach who understands the modern player better than just about anyone in the profession.
Put them with a resurgent Lou Williams, the post-up threat of Julius Randle and a reborn Nick Young and you have an exciting team that is 7-7 while averaging nearly 110 points per game. The Lakers have beaten the Warriors, 117-97; the Hawks, 123-116; and the Rockets, 120-114. Those are serious scores against serious teams.
Yes, it’s early and the Lakers might not be this good over the long run, but that high draft choice from the Lakers that was supposedly coming in the Michael Carter-Williams trade might not be so high.
I keep trying to imagine what the Sixers might become when Simmons gets on the court. I am hopeful, but realistic. I just don’t see them becoming a contender unless this roster can somehow undergo a dramatic makeover. There are still too many disparate parts, not nearly enough NBA-quality athletes and too few players that will bring anything of lasting value in a trade.
It is nice to see Nik Stauskas playing like he did at Michigan, but, unless his defense improves dramatically, he is still going to give up as many as he gets. Two-way players win in today’s NBA. The Sixers don’t have them.
Let’s stipulate that the Cavaliers, Warriors, Spurs and Clippers are the league’s best four teams. Most of those teams’ stars are in their primes. I don’t see them coming back to the pack anytime soon.
The Hawks, Hornets, Raptors and Celtics are a solid next tier in the East behind Cleveland. Anybody see the 3-10 Sixers as competitive with those teams now or soon?
The Timberwolves are fascinating, not because of their 4-8 record, but because of their young talent. Andrew Wiggins just had a six-game stretch of 35, 29, 47, 22, 29 and 36. Karl-Anthony Towns is one of the best young players in the world. Zach LaVine is the kind of flying wing runner the Sixers simply do not have.
It’s really not fair to compare Towns and Embiid at this stage because Towns has so much more experience from his AAU days, his season at Kentucky as the centerpiece on a team that was two wins from 40-0, and his great rookie season in the NBA. Wiggins and Simmons are a better comparison in terms of basketball experiences, but they play completely different positions.
I received a fascinating e-mail from a reader last week, suggesting that Minnesota is going to be a title contender in a few years. That night, I watched the Timberwolves demolish the Sixers, 110-86. But the Sixers were on a back-to-back. Two nights later, Minnesota lost at Memphis, 93-71. It is an unforgiving league with a brutal schedule.
The Sixers looked great Saturday against the Suns, but Phoenix has the league’s youngest starting lineup, and was on its fourth game of a five-game road trip and on a back-to-back of its own.
Bottom-line, three-plus seasons after the teardown began, I still don’t see the Sixers as anything close to playoff contenders, much less title contenders. Wish I had better news, but I don’t.