Written by Garrett Catalana – @GarrettCatalana
With a quarter of the season complete, here are my Sixers grades for the first 22 games of the season.
Joel Embiid: A
– No surprises here. Joel would be the valedictorian of this Sixers squad proving his lofty draft status back in 2014 on both ends of the floor. He currently leads the team in points per game (18.5), rebounds (7.6), blocks (2.4), three point percentage (50%), free throw attempts per game (6.1), PER (23.8), and VORP (0.3).
What he has done to this point has been beyond any preseason expectations for someone who hadn’t played a basketball game in over two years. He has been a sponge on the court, correcting problems from the previous game and mastering it by the next game. He has been a good floor spacer with an impressive outside shot and a good rim protector cleaning up messes left out on the perimeter.
The only thing that doesn’t make his grade an A+ is the turnovers, where he is currently 5th in the NBA in turnovers per game (3.7). In his first few games, it was managing double teams, then it became keeping a tight handle when making his move in the lane, and lately it seems that he has been pressing to get his own, as shown in the Nuggets game the other night.
All in all, Embiid has been incredible this season after such a long time on the sidelines, and he is showing Sixers fans and the entire league that he is capable of being one of the top players in the NBA.
Ersan Ilyasova: B
– Above all else, Ersan has been what the Sixers have been lacking during the rebuild: a quality NBA player. Even though he is now playing on his fifth team in two years, Ilyasova is a consistent stretch-four player who will make outside shots at a decent rate, get rebounds, and take charges (even if he’s one of the worst floppers in the NBA).
While the Sixers haven’t won that many games, it’s hard to imagine how much worse the offense would have been without Ilyasova over the past month. He definitely has his limitations as a player (way too many step-back threes for my liking) but all in all, he’s been a veteran presence who has effectively worked in the system. It’s still unclear what Ersan’s end game is with this team (unrestricted free agent after the season), whether they resign him, trade him at the deadline, or let him walk in free agency, but he has been a fine addition to this Sixers team.
Richaun Holmes: B
– Holmes has been doing what we have expected out of him, even though his minutes have varied from game to game. Outside of TLC, Holmes has played the least amount of minutes of all the healthy guys on the team, yet he has been solid when he has played meaningful minutes. He and Sergio Rodriguez have a nice connection so far as a P&R combo with Holmes getting many good looks at the basket. He has been active on the offensive glass, getting 11% of all available offensive rebounds (9% last season). His grade could have been higher if he logged more minutes but for now he’ll have to stick with a solid B grade.
Dario Saric: B-
– Saric has had a very up-and-down start of the season, and whether starting or coming off the bench, his role hasn’t been very well defined. Case in point this past week: after having his worst game as a Sixer December 2nd versus the Magic, where he scored just two points on 1-5 shooting with two turnovers, he registered his best three performances of the season averaging 18.3 PPG on 53% shooting (50% 3P%) and 9 RPG.
Saric has so many factors going against him, like adjusting to a new league, a new culture, new teammates, new coach, a new role, and no offseason (went right from Efes to the Croatian national team). Not to mention with Joel Embiid and Jahlil Okafor constantly in and out of the lineup and the trade for Ersan Ilyasova, Saric’s role on the team hasn’t been stabilized. But all in all, Saric has been very solid so far, ranking second on Scott Howard-Cooper’s NBA Rookie Ladder (behind only Joel Embiid). His 3P% has been impressive (40%) but I’d like to see his assist numbers improve (just 1.8 APG).
Gerald Henderson: B-
– Henderson has been just about what we’ve expected him to be. He’s playing only 24.5 minutes per game, but he’s shooting a career-best 46.6% from the field and 39% from three. His defense hasn’t been the best, but he does well what he knows how to do. He has served as an NBA quality wing for the team, but the issue is that the team doesn’t have enough of them to constantly compete in games.
Sergio Rodriguez: B-
– “El Chacho” has certainly dished the ball out well as a Sixer (6.7 APG [12th in the NBA]), and has served admirably in the starting lineup while Ben Simmons and Jerryd Bayless are recovering from injury. Sergio has been fine with the Sixers, playing a role he wasn’t supposed to play when they signed him in the offseason, so I can’t fault the 30-year old Spanish point guard too much. He plays little to no defense and he turns the ball over a fair amount, but he’s been better than expected.
Nik Stauskas: C+
– Sauce deserves credit from nearly getting cut to getting major minutes, but lately the third-year pro has been slowly down. Following an eleven game stretch where he averaged 12.7 PPG off the bench while shooting 51% from deep. However, in four games in December, Stauskas is shooting just 20% from the field and 17% from three. He seems to be regressing back to the mean after an inspiring start to the season. Much like Dario, he significantly benefits from stability around him with a consistent role. He does no good starting, so he is most beneficial to this tem coming off the bench, where his exploitations as a defender are less exposed. He is currently dead last in Defensive RPM amongst shooting guards in the NBA (-3.16). Hopefully with the eventual returns of Simmons, Bayless, and Covington, Stauskas can be more effective in a bench role.
Robert Covington: C
– No one has had a more up-and-down season than Robert Covington. Pegged as the Sixers best outside shooter, Sixers fans have been (understandably) upset at RoCo’s three-point shooting this season (just 30%). He also has a paltry 41.8% effective field goal percentage, which is the worst of the Sixers rotation players. He still can’t dribble and is bad attacking the basket (team-worst 40% FG% at the rim), so why is he still playing? The answer is his defense.
Covington is second only to the Greek Freak in Defensive Real Plus/Minus amongst small forwards (2.41). Covington still isn’t quick enough laterally to guard on the perimeter one-on-one, but where has made his mark is as a help defender. With his quick hands, RoCo is constantly getting his hands on the ball on defense, whether on a steal, block, or deflection. According to NBA.com’s Hustle Stats, Covington is second to Draymond Green in deflections per game (4.2). He also leads the team in steals and is fourth on the team in rebounds per game (5.1).
On offense, Covington has been an F, but his hustle and defense has helped raise his grade to a C. If Covington wants to have a role on this team moving forward as a 3&D wing, he needs to be good at defense and shooting threes at the same time. While I love his hustle and defensive effort this season, Covington needs to hit open shots.
Hollis Thompson: C
– Hollis deserves a ton of credit going from undrafted, training camp invitee back in 2013 to NBA role player four seasons later. We know what Hollis does well and what he doesn’t do well. He can put himself in a good position along the three point line to make a spot-up three pointer and he has gotten better over the past few seasons cutting to the basket off the ball when teams play him too close on the perimeter. He isn’t good at taking the ball to the basket and he isn’t a great passer either. He tries hard on defense and is decent on closeouts but overall is a so-so defender.
His usage rate is at its lowest since his rookie season and he’s averaging the lowest amount of minutes per game in his career, so he easily gets lost in the shuffle. He’s shooting 39% from deep, and that’s all the Sixers need him to do.
Jahlil Okafor: C-
– I can’t add much about Jahlil that hasn’t been said already, but what I can say is that he is, one, putting up nearly identical numbers on offense that he did last season and, two, he is doing a better job as a rim protector this season.
For all of his faults, Jahlil is a talented basketball player who has a role in the NBA. It is up to management and the coaching staff to put him in a position to succeed and best utilize his skillset. That hasn’t been the case so far in Okafor’s career. He’s a master on the low-block yet he sometimes gets tunnel vision trying to score and at times he does a poor job establishing post position.
While he has done a better job protecting the basket, using his long arms and big body to get Tim Duncan-style blocks and forcing poor attempts at the rim, he still is very late on rotations and rarely ever shows on a pick-and-roll.
H is what he is and until we get an answer to the center logjam, be ready to see more of the same with Jah.
Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot: C-
– If everybody were healthy, TLC would have been playing in Delaware with the 87ers from the start. But with so many injuries, he has had to sit at the end of the bench as an emergency body. He has tallied 108 total minutes so far this season in 15 different contests, so his minutes have been sparse. However, TLC has gotten meaningful minutes (16, 10, and 10) in the last three games, scoring a career-high seven points against the Grizzlies.
However, TLC is still very much a project. He is not strong enough to handle the NBA yet and his dribbling has to drastically improve. I have been impressed with his offensive and defensive instincts in his limited minutes. He has put himself in the right spots; whether a baseline cut on dribble penetration or setting himself up in the corner on a kick-out. He definitely has NBA-ready length and quickness but he has to keep on improving his overall skillset by getting meaningful minutes in the future, whether with the Sixers on in Delaware.
TJ McConnell: D
– TJ has been the worst Sixers rotational player so far this season and it doesn’t seem close. In all honesty, he should not have even gotten any meaningful minutes this season with the additions of Rodriguez, Ben Simmons, and Jerryd Bayless. But with the Bayless’ nagging wrist injury and Simmons’ ailing foot, TJ has been the team’s backup point guard once again this season. TJ tries very hard on defense and will guard the opposing point guard 94 feet but he doesn’t warrant enough attention of offense to be an effective player. The main reasons are that he is not shooting at all and that when he does he is missing.
Per 100 possessions, TJ averaged 14.2 field goal attempts last season while averaging just 9.5 FGAs this season.
Last season, TJ shot 48% 3-10 feet away from the basket and 50% 10-16 feet away. This season he is shooting just 35% from 3-10 feet and 20% 10-16 feet away. He even shot a respectable 35% from three last season and he is shooting an awful 17% from three this season.
We all love TJ with the heart and hustle he provides, but if he can’t command any respect on offense, he can’t get any meaningful minutes, especially once Bayless and Simmons return.
Nerlens Noel, Jerryd Bayless, & Ben Simmons
– Only three total games played by this group (Bayless), so no grade yet for these three. But the team will greatly benefit from the return of these three players when come back in the (hopefully) near future.