Written by Garrett Catalana – @GarrettCatalana
As I have done with the first quarter of the season, here are the midseason grades for our beloved Philadelphia 76ers.
Joel Embiid: A
Previous Grade: A
– Joel has been an absolute monster when he has been out on the court. He is the complete package with an array of post moves, a beautiful jump shot, and elite athleticism to protect the paint. The only concern I have with Embiid is the turnovers (still), but this guy has been playing basketball for like four years. He’s a shoo-in for Rookie of the Year and he has solidified himself as a franchise player. There really isn’t much else to say about Embiid, other than I hope his knee issue isn’t anything that lingers on for the rest of the season.
TJ McConnell: A-
Previous Grade: D
– Timothy John McConnell has been playing out of his mind since he was inserted into the starting lineup on December 30th. The team has gone 11-5 with TJ in the lineup since that point, which is crazy because of how bad he was to start the season. His game-winner over Carmelo was amazing and the love/hate relationship he has with Dario is so cute (#TrustTheFriendship).
While he still doesn’t have a reliable outside shot, TJ has shot the ball much better the rim, forcing defenders to stick with him rather than helping out on his teammates. He has also done a nice job of finding his teammates, racking up the assists including a 17-assist game against the Celtics on January 6th.
I initially thought TJ could have been cut after the first quarter of the season, but McConnell has quickly become a fan favorite with his hounding defense, passing, and his bromance with Dario. Quite a year by the guy who once had to pay a cover at Xfinity Live because the bouncer didn’t think he was a professional basketball player.
Robert Covington: B+
Previous Grade: C
– After starting the year slow from deep, Robert Covington has bounced back in 2017 by shooting 36% from three, way closer to his career averages. He will still take the occasional horrible shot that makes you want to barf, but RoCo has been much better on the offensive end of the floor, increasing his true shooting percentage each month (.421, .450, .509, .574).
While his offense is slowly but surely rounding back to form, Bob’s defense has been outstanding all season. He’s currently first in Defensive RPM among all small forwards and he leads the league in deflections per game (4.2). Oh, he also has to guard the other’s team best perimeter player (Kyle Lowry, James Harden, Jimmy Butler) every single night.
Public Service Announcement: Please don’t boo Robert Covington, Sixers fans. You’re better than that.
Nerlens Noel: B
Previous Grade: Inc.
Noel was not traded like many speculated as he was rehabbing from a knee injury away from the team in Alabama. He suited up for the first time this season on December 10th against the Pistons, returning to the big man rotation with Joel Embiid and Jahlil Okafor, but playing time was limited at first. After playing just three minutes December 26th Brett Brown made the decision to make Nerlens the primary backup on nights Joel Embiid played. This decision allowed the Sixers to play all 48 minutes with rim protection, even as Noel struggled to get back in the flow of the game. But Noel has settled in, shooting much better from mid-range (11 of 18 from 3-10 feet and 10-18 from 16-24 feet) and around the basket. With improved play on both sides of the floor lately, Noel is making it difficult for Bryan Colangelo to trade him away.
Richaun Holmes: B
Previous Grade: B
– With the return of Nerlens Noel and having suffered a concussion, Richaun has seen limited minutes since mid-December. His play against the Clippers and Bucks in the last week was very encouraging, finishing in the lane and blocking shots. Holmes is definitely in a tough spot, sitting fourth on the center depth chart, but his play and low cap figure are making it difficult for the Sixers to keep both Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor.
Dario Saric: B
Previous Grade: B-
– If there was any game that personified what Dario Saric is all about, it was his performance against the Kings on January 30th.
Saric finished the game with 17 points (8-11 shooting), 5 rebounds, and 6 assists off the bench. He was able to penetrate and attack the basket. He was hitting shots from out on the perimeter to space the floor. But was most impressive was his passing and playmaking ability. Dario was dropping dimes all over the floor to different Sixers with pizzazz.
That’s the Dario I want to see to every night: the primary playmaker and facilitator off the bench.
Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot: B
Previous Grade: C-
– I suggested in the quarter season grades that TLC should get some minutes in the D-League if he wasn’t going to get any minutes with the big club, but in January he actually started playing rotational minutes. Our favorite Frenchman averaged 14.6 minutes per game in January and showed flashes of why he could stay in Philadelphia for the long haul. His cuts to the basket both in the half court and transition have been precise. His best offensive performance of the season came against Houston last week as he shredded them for 12 points by finishing at the basket off cuts. He still has a long way to go, but his recent play has been very encouraging.
Gerald Henderson: B
Previous Grade: B-
– Henderson’s production had waned by the end of 2016 before a nagging hip injury forced him to miss three games in late December. Brett Brown made the decision upon Gerald’s return to have him come off the bench, with Nik Stauskas starting in his place, and that lineup change has benefited Henderson immensely.
January represented Henderson’s season high in FG%, TS%, Offensive Rating, +/-, and assists. He has become a reliable option off the bench, playing good team defense, and shooting well from deep (41% from three, leading the Sixers). If he continues his strong play, I think the Sixers will guarantee his $9 million salary next season.
Nik Stauskas: B-
Previous Grade: C+
– When I last discussed Sauce Castillo in the quarter season grades, he was dead last amongst all shooting guards in Defensive RPM because he is a terrible perimeter defender.
Well he still is very bad, but he has jumped from dead last to 61st (out of 98) in Defensive RPM. So what changed? Two words: Joel Embiid.
Stauskas was inserted into the starting lineup full-time just before New Years, which was instantly beneficial because he started playing more impactful minutes with Joel Embiid, TJ McConnell, and Robert Covington. This scouting report courtesy of BBallBreakdown shows how Stauskas has been effective in the starting lineup:
His stats aren’t that impressive overall (shooting 38% from three) but he is certainly playing with more confidence on both ends of the floor. He is attacking the basket and facilitating more, which is good, but I wonder if Sauce has a future in Philadelphia. He might not be any better than a team’s fourth best guard, but because he is still super cheap next season ($3.8 million), he could stick around.
Ersan Ilyasova: C
Previous Grade: B
– Like I had said in the first quarter grades, Ersan is doing what Ersan came here to do: hit outside shots, take charges, be a professional, and space the floor. He has been the most consistent Sixer this season, leading the team in win shares and offensive box score plus/minus. As Marc Zumoff loved to mention, Ersan had hit a three in each of the 41 games since coming to Philadelphia, before the streak ended against Houston this past week. He is shooting 38% from deep this season, but his grade dips from the first quarter because of his erratic shot selection and total inability to play defense. The question remains is to whether Ersan will be on the team next season. He’s currently hurting the development of Dario Saric by taking some of his minutes, while the problem will be further amplified when Ben Simmons returns to the lineup. While he has been a major positive this season for Brett Brown, it’s tough to see him return next season.
Jahlil Okafor: D+
Previous Grade: C-
– Not to just keep jumping on Okafor’s case, but it’s very apparent that the Sixers play better without Big Jah on the floor. I do believe he’s a talented player with a good skillset and the makings of being a decent rim protector in a team defensive concept, but I don’t think that role is in Philadelphia. His play has been okay but he doesn’t make those around him better. It will certainly be interesting how the Nerlens-Jahlil dynamic will work in the coming months, but I will give Jahlil credit, however, he has been very professional about the whole situation since Noel returned, staying quiet publicly and not being a distraction on the team. He deserves props for that.
Sergio Rodriguez: D
Previous Grade: B-
– Sergio’s play has dropped off significantly in the last two months, after a hot start to the year. TJ McConnell has supplanted him as the team’s starting point guard and matters will only get worse when Ben Simmons returns to the lineup. El Chacho averaged 26 minutes per night in November and December, but his playing time decreased in January down to 17 MPG.
Sergio was originally signed to be the team’s third point guard, behind Ben Simmons and Jerryd Bayless, but injuries to both forced him into a role he wasn’t supposed to fill. He’s the team’s worst defender and he hasn’t been that effective as a playmaker in the last few weeks. He’s a nice veteran to have in the locker room mentoring the young international guys, but I don’t think Spanish Chocolate will be back in Philadelphia next season.
Chasson Randle: INC
– Don’t have much to say about Randle, since he has played in just four games and 29 total minutes. But apparently he has shown enough to be signed for the remainder of the season (keep gettin’ dem checks!). I’m interested to see if he can develop any type of rapport with Ben Simmons in the coming months (as I wrote before).
Jerryd Bayless: INC
– Bayless suited up for just three games this season before opting for surgery to repair a torn ligament in his wrist that he originally injured in training camp. It isn’t all bad news, however, because Ben Simmons hasn’t played either. Hopefully Jerryd will come back next year healthy and ready to contribute. But depending on what players the Sixers add in the offseason and if TJ continues to develop, that final year of Bayless’ contract ($8.57mil) in 2018-2019 might a sore sight to Sixers fans’ eyes.
Ben Simmons: INC
– COME BACK SOON!
Featured image courtesy of Virginia Holman