If the 76ers got points for honesty - and, believe me, they would take them - the team might win a few more games this season.
As it is, with the NBA awarding them only for balls that go through the basket, it is going to be a long season of hard times for the Sixers, who have certainly grown used to those during their extended pre-swan phase as the league's ugliest of ducklings.
"They're not going to come in here with a new set of rules tomorrow," coach Brett Brown said after the team's deflating, 99-71, home-opening loss to Utah on Friday night. "That table is set, and we're going to walk it down."
Walking it down is one thing, taking only a step at a time to carefully instruct a roster that is either underage or under-talented. That's fine, and Brown's only course. What the Sixers did Friday, however, was walk it up as well, and that proved disastrous.
In stealing some wins during the first two seasons of Brown's tenure under the strip-down plan of Sam Hinkie - stealing exactly 37 of them in 164 games - their only chance to score on most nights was to push the ball and reach the basket area ahead of the opposing posse. This was sound logic, if not always sound basketball, but it beat the heck out of trying to get points in the halfcourt without the benefit of either post scorers or outside shooters.
The dynamic has changed this season, though, with the arrival of a skilled low-post threat in Jahlil Okafor. The rookie has dominated the team's practices, and he scored 26 points in his NBA debut against Boston on Wednesday - also a loss, but nevertheless. It's no wonder Okafor's teammates are looking to lean on him and, judging by the home opener, to wait for him as well.
Point guards Isaiah Canaan and T.J. McConnell pushed the team to just three fastbreak baskets, while the offense devolved into a matter of dumping the ball inside to Okafor and waiting to see what happened. With Okafor matched up against 7-foot-1 defender Rudy Gobert, not much did. Okafor was double-teamed when he put the ball on the floor, usually by a perimeter player who didn't worry about leaving his assignment, or Gobert handled things admirably himself. Okafor finished with 10 points in 36 minutes.
The question for Brown to answer, and it's a puzzler, is how to keep the Sixers, whose mission this season is to develop a pair of 6-foot-11 players, from being a halfcourt team. Big men take longer to get to their appointed stations near the basket. That's workable if there are complementary pieces on the floor to punish defenses that overplay the post, but the Sixers are not so blessed.
"I lived this for 12 years. I'm OK with it," Brown said, referring to his time as a San Antonio assistant waiting for Tim Duncan to meander into the offensive end of the court. "We've got to balance post and pace. When we see [Robert] Covington and [Nik] Stauskas come in, then we'll start to see some inside-out stuff. But to walk it up the floor to get 63 shots and think we're going to beat many in the NBA, that's not how you play. That's not how I'm playing."
Covington, who made his share of the whopping 446 three-pointers he took last season, is out with a sprained knee for a couple of weeks. Stauskas, a shooting guard who was the No. 8 pick in the 2014 draft, is still on a minutes restriction because of a leg injury. He made his debut Friday and provided the most efficient offense on the team, scoring 12 points in 21 minutes, including a pair of three-pointers.
With those two healthy, teams will probably pay a higher price for doubling Okafor, but no team is going to not double him. So, in some ways, with the development of the young star a priority, Brown's problem remains the same. With Okafor in the game for 35 minutes or more, and paired for around 27 of those with Noel, the Sixers are not going to be the fleetest of teams. They will be in the half-court a lot - which they knew when they drafted Okafor, by the way - and they will have to feed him there. It's going to be painful every bit as often as it is pretty for a while.
"We're going to experience some heartache over the next month. Everybody bunker in," Brown said. "That's a fact. We might draw one out and find a brilliant performance, but this is going to be a fist fight for a while. Let's admit what's going on right now."
More points for honesty, although what will change after a month or so is only by a matter of degree. They will go from having no chance on most nights to having a slim chance on most nights. That will be better, though, and, as the man said, this is still a one-step-at-a-time process, even as it enters a third season. That process isn't going to speed up any time soon, but, boy, the offense better.