Well, it wasn't a win, but it was fun nonetheless. The Sixers fell to the Wizards 120-115 in D.C and let's sort out the guts of the thriller.
1. Embiid's minutes restrictions, or lack thereof
Head Coach Brett Brown said earlier in the week that Embiid's total minutes would be "somewhere in the teens, but it wouldn't be a fluid number". Embiid was obviously not happy, and was caught off guard when he heard about it.
By tip-off, it was slated to be somewhere between 16 and 20 minutes. By halftime, which at that point Embiid played 13 and a half minutes, I knew right then that soft restriction number was thrown out the window. Embiid played 27 total minutes and while he obviously looked rusty, he still dropped 18 points, grabbed 13 rebounds, dished out 3 assists and had one of the more savvy blocks on arguably one of the best point guards in the NBA, John Wall. It then led to a Simmons breakaway dunk. Something Sixer fans hope to see for the next 10 years, plus.
Also by my count Embiid fell 3 times. I note this because it's something that gives all Sixer fans heart attacks, but he was OK! The minutes restriction is something to track all year. As Jeff Van Gundy said during the broadcast if you want to win, you need your best players playing, and well, Embiid is the best player on the team and he needs to play to not only get back in game shape after not playing 5 on 5 for 6 months, but to achieve the goal of making the playoffs.
2. Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz impress
Well mostly Simmons, although Fultz had a solid first game.
Simmons got to the rim off some nifty dribble hand-offs, and screens, he abused guards on the block and posted a nifty 18/10 and 7 assists. He still didn't take a single jump-shot outside the paint, but was a terror in transition and active on the defensive end. Look for Brett Brown to use Dario Saric (who had a bad game) and Simmons at the Center and Power forward spots a lot this year. It's a line up that is so effective when there are shooters around them.
Speaking of shooting. Markelle Fultz and his new jumper still baffles me. For a player who made a living making shots off the dribble at every level of the floor in college, it makes it all the more confusing why he decided to change with his shot only weeks before the season. I'm sorry, I'm not buying the right shoulder injury as an excuse, the person who even suggested a change messed up a good thing. Fultz will get it back, but man I just want one thing to go right with a rookie going into the season, for once. Is that so much to ask?
With that said he had a solid night. He had some great passes, one to Bayless in the corner that didn't go down, and then he hit JoJo on a nice bounce pass for a dunk in the third quarter. He also had some nice cuts to the basket and had a semi-hesi pull-up jimbo in the paint. His lack of a shot (at the moment) will be something to track also, teams will play off Fultz (Never thought I'd be typing that sentence in regards to Fultz.) There were a few times where he drove into two or three defenders because he refused to take a jumper, and got stripped or blocked. He still showed flashes as to why he was the best prospect in the draft.
3. Rain Those Threes
In my piece back in August, one of the reasons I thought the Sixers could make the playoffs was because they would continue to chuck threes. They ranked in the top 8 in three-pointers attempted per game the last three seasons but was sorely lacking in efficiency. With better shooters on the team, and more spacing, the Sixers mad 15 threes on 43% as a team! With Redick, Bayless, and Covington shooting like that, this offense will be fun to watch, especially with all the funky lineups Brett Brown can experiment with. Speaking of Robert Covington.
In that August piece, I noted how the spacing and infusion of talent will help out Robert Covington, who no longer has to be the first option on bad teams. He can do what he does best. Cut, rebound, defend, and shoot threes. And those threes where falling. He went 7 of 11 from three, and made a crucial three on the left wing to bring the Sixers within 2 (113-115) with 1:18 left in the game. He was the team's leading scorer with 29 points and finished with a +10. The national audience is going to be introduced to how good of an NBA player Robert Covington is.
5. Okafor and Sauce nowhere to be found
Brett Brown displayed a 10 man rotation, a rotation without an injured Richaun Holmes who is the 2nd string center (Amir Johnson was not good by the way). That rotation did not include Jahlil Okafor or Nik Stauskus. This might be a regular occurrence when Embiid is in the lineup. Okafor was still pretty much the same player in preseason, slow, gets killed in every pick and roll possible, and the ball still stops moving when he's on the court, and that's despite him actually improving the speed of his decision making on offense in the preseason.
Sauce had a poor preseason and I think Furkan Korkmaz should get minutes over him, but that beside the point. With a healthy Bayless, Covington, Redick, TLC, and Fultz, there doesn't seem to be enough time for Sauce (or Justin Anderson for that matter) in the rotation. This is something to track if you're of the belief that the Sixers are willing to let Sauce walk in restricted free agency this summer. I certainly predicted in the last paragraph of my last article that Stauskus won't be on the team next year.
The Sixers had a few chances down the stretch, Brett Brown drew up a great play for a JJ Redick three to try and tie the game with 20 seconds left but it was the two crucial turnovers beforehand that really did the team in. Overall the team lost because of mistakes a young team makes, the good news, the team was in a game where it was mistakes of youth rather than lack of talent that cost the potential win. It should be a fun year granted --of course, as we need to say with everything Sixers related.
Everyone stays healthy.
P.S. The team needs to now find a way to gain a reputation with the Refs. John Wall has certainly earned the right to have Superstar calls, and no-calls, but the Sixers need to get some calls. I counted at least 10 bad calls and non-calls.