The Process Disciples: The 76ers’ Season is Underway

The Sixers stand for the National Anthem (via NBA)

After a long four months without meaningful basketball, the 2018-19 season has finally kicked off. This year has been headlined by a significant lack of defense from pretty much everyone, the rookies are starting to make waves, and LeBron’s new-look Lakers have left a lot to be desired.

For the 76ers in particular, the start of this season has been an eventful one. A trouncing by the Celtics, a trouncing of the Bulls, two nail-biters against the Magic and Pistons, had a Giannis show in Milwaukee, Ben Simmons is injured, Markelle Fultz and TJ McConnell are causing a crisis – we could go on forever. 

For some thoughts on the early season state of affairs in Philly, the Process Disciples have come together for our first edition of the regular season. The writers joining us today are:

1. What are your overall thoughts on what you’ve seen from the 76ers through the first five games of the year?

Rose: This team has been on a roller coaster ride through the first few weeks of the season. They’ve seen pretty much every possible result in the first four games alone – blow-out loss, blow-out win, 1-point win, and 1-point loss. We’ve seen a lot of good, with some of the most notable ones being Joel Embiid improving, JJ Redick not missing a shot since May, and Markelle Fultz taking (and making!) three-pointers. We’ve also seen a fair amount of bad. Blake Griffin dropped 50 on the 76ers’ head, Ben Simmons has been dealing with a back injury in which we have no idea the severity of, and we’ave had questionable coaching decisions in regard to Markelle Fultz’s place on this team. There’s been hardly any consistency with the team’s performances so it’s virtually impossible to sum up what we’ve seen so far into anything concise. The season is young and things will hopefully improve with everyone getting back into the swing of things, so my thoughts right now? Meh.

Mangigian: After getting over the brutal loss in the opener against Boston, I have enjoyed watching our young pieces progress. I’ve been really impressed with Redick’s spark off the bench. Embiid is scoring 30 on bad nights and Simmons already has two triple doubles. Markelle Fultz has been what I expected, and I believe he is already moving in the right direction, even if it’s not fast enough for some. The turnovers were tough to watch against Boston, but Philly has already started to figure it out. The team will start to get some momentum over these next few weeks, and I’m sure a lot of my concerns will wash away.

Anderson: I’ve liked what I’ve been seeing so far. Starting with the young guy, Markelle Fultz, knocking down some tough perimeter shots. His shoulder looks pretty good and it feels satisfying watching him make these shots on the court. Simmons and Embiid have done what I expected them to when it comes to leading this team. The rookie Shamet has shown he can be put into these games and help out with scoring. Some losses have hurt including the season opener against the Boston Celtics, but players looked good and fresh. It’s only the beginning of the season though, and with regards to their 2-3 start, they still have a long season ahead of them.

Kirkland: Philadelphia looks how most people probably imagined them to be. The 76ers are a young talented team that pose a bunch of match-up issues.  Though they have a modest 2-3 record, they are a playoff team and will win a lot of games behind their point guard/center combo and the sniping of JJ Redick off the bench. They will also struggle at times because they can be turnover prone and have been getting carved up defensively. Outside of Redick, they don’t have exceptional shooters. It is a new regime under Elton Brand and he will have work to do to take this team from good to great. The front office made the decision to start Markelle Fultz, but they have not seemed to fully commit to either letting him get his run or going with vets that would likely give them a better chance to win games in the short term. Brett Brown needs to decide what he is going to prioritize before the season continues further. The rest of the team needs to re-commit on the offensive end, where at times they have simply lacked effort.

2. Who has been your biggest surprise on the team?

Rose: His play hasn’t necessarily been a surprise for me because I think we all knew he was capable of it, but JJ Redick is lighting the world on fire right now. In the two games against the Magic and Pistons (coincidentally when Ben Simmons was out of the lineup), Redick had 31 points, 4 rebounds, and 4 assists, and 30, 6, and 6, respectively, on 50% shooting from the perimeter (14-28). Redick has taken advantage of his new bench role and it will be interesting to see what the outlook is for Redick’s spot on the depth chart after this scorching start. If Coach Brown decides Redick’s production warrants him the ability to move to the starting lineup, it would cause a dramatic decline in bench scoring. If not, we could see JJ Redick as a top Sixth Man of the Year candidate by season’s end.

JJ Redick and Joel Embiid celebrate Redick’s three-pointer (via NBA)

Mangigian: My biggest surprise is how much I love JJ Redick coming off of the bench. Redick has been electric late in games and has provided such a boost to our bench. While he may be wildly outperforming Fultz, keeping Redick on the bench gives the Sixers some much needed secondary scoring. Clearly not being in the starting lineup has not stopped Redick from shooting the ball effectively and coming up clutch late in games.

Anderson: J.J.Redick. He has been incredible shooting the ball in these games when coming off the bench. It’s different seeing Fultz in the starting lineup over Redick after last season’s shoulder issue holding Fultz out, but it’s looking like it has been paying off. Redick is the second leading scorer for the 76ers right now averaging 21 points, three rebounds, and three assists per game while shooting 42% from the perimeter. The key for Redick now is to be consistent when knocking down shots coming off the screens or getting the hand-off pass and in the first week and a half, he has been. From the looks of it, if Redick continues to come off the bench and produce, he could have a chance at running for the Sixth Man of The Year Award.

Kirkland: It is always nice to have scoring off of the bench. But getting 21 points per game and a accuracy from distance via JJ Redick is great for a team that has many questions to answer about the rest of the rotation going forward. There are a lot of moving parts to basketball but the ability to score when your starters rest is a must. Hopefully Markelle Fultz can continue to get more comfortable so that the 76ers will get production from their shooting guard regardless of the starter. For now, Redick is the unquestioned leader of the Process bench mob and we know he will continue to take and make big shots all season.

3. How about your biggest disappointment?

Rose: For the third season in a row, Dario Saric hasn’t started the regular season impressively. His shot has been way off, undershooting everything into a 25% clip, and as expected, he’s been slow-footed on defense. Dario’s play-style results into stat-sheet stuffing, making his 12 points, 8 rebounds, and 3 assists in 26 minutes look pretty good, but he has not passed the eye-test so far. This is definitely a trend that has followed him his whole career so I fully expect him to get back to where we saw him by the end of last year. It’s very frustrating to see a guy who has proved to be an extremely valuable asset look, well, not great though.

Dario Saric shoots a three over Chicago’s Bobby Portis. (via NBA)

Mangigian: Dario Saric has been a massive disappointment to me. The Sixers rely heavily on Saric to provide scoring from the wings, and his shooting has been abysmal to start the 2018 season. 25% from beyond the arc is unacceptable. Shooting an overall 37% from the floor is brutal, and it is costing the 76ers games already. While I am not worried about Saric getting back into rhythm, it has been painful to watch him struggle to makes uncontested shots.

Anderson: It would have to be Dario Saric. He has not started off well this season and must improve. His shooting is looking rough at 37% from the field. He can have some spurts of good shooting, but it is not consistent enough to drastically help the team. It has always seemed like Saric has a rough start and then gets back into the hang of things as the season progresses as in years past. At practice, Saric may have to go back to form shooting three feet away from the rim to get back on the right track.

Kirkland: Saric is the easy answer because of his late offensive start, but outside of Joel Embiid’s individual defense the 76ers have been horrific defensively. After finishing 3rd in defensive rating last year, Philly is currently at 19th at 110.2 (Boston is first with 97.3). With Robert Covington, Joel Embiid, and Ben Simmons on the roster there is no reason for the 76ers to be this bad as a team defensively. They have the size, athleticism, and length to run with any team and need to continue to gel on that side of the floor. There was an assistant coaching change in the organization and Brett Brown warned that there would be some early growing pains defensively to start the season. I will be interested in seeing how this team rallies defensively especially once their key reserves like Mike Muscala and Wilson Chandler come fully back into the rotation to provide some more size.

4. How do you feel about how Brett Brown has handled the TJ McConnell and Markelle Fultz situation in the loss to the Pistons?

Rose: I can see both sides of the coin on this one. TJ McConnell is far more experienced while they would likez to continue to develop Markelle Fultz. Every game counts in the NBA, and if they feel that TJ provides them with a better chance to win that game, then so be it. Personally speaking, I expected TJ to be the guy to close out games during Simmons’ absence because Fultz has not shown enough to trust him to do what needs to be done in a close game against a conference opponent. Do I agree with it? The Hinkie in me says no, but we’re not in the depths of the Process anymore and wins really matter, so I don’t have any strong preference on either side of it.

Mangigian: My ideology on Markelle Fultz is this: If you’re going to start the kid, don’t pull him for practically the entire second half. Either we’re riding with Fultz’s growing pains or we aren’t, pick a side. Brett Brown is clearly a player’s coach, and there’s a lot he does right, but this is something I do not agree with. This is the time to see what Fultz can do late in games. We know what we get with TJ and now’s the time to take risks. I have seen Fultz start to get some more minutes in the second half when playing well which is good as he did in the second half against the Bucks.

Anderson: Brown needs to have a better game-plan for these guys’ minutes. Like Max said, you can’t have Fultz starting and then barely play the second half after he’s producing. We must see what Fultz is like in late game situations and keeping him out obviously won’t do it. T.J. has always brought the spark when checking into the game, but to close them out, I’d rather see what Fultz can do. Now, if Brown gives Fultz the opportunity at the end of the game to be on the floor and he doesn’t finish strong, then we’ll know who must be on the court between him and McConnell.

Kirkland: At some point you have to commit to either developing and seeing what you’ll get from Markelle Fultz or playing him as a reserve while championship chasing. Starting Fultz in the first half just to not have him involved in key moments down the stretch of games is a rhythm breaker for the team and not a great way to build confidence within a young prospect. T.J. McConnell is a steady, reliable vet but does not have the ceiling that Fultz has. I would argue that right now the 76ers are one more legitimate offensive threat away from being able to run with the league’s elite. What if that guy already rocks number 20 for them? It is the beginning of the season and you can take a few lumps. Let the kid play.

5. Do you think the two preseason games in China have played a part in the team’s shaky start?

Rose: It’s hard to say for sure because players handle jet lag differently than others, but I think there is an inherent issue with having teams fly to China right before the regular season begins for two meaningless games. The 76ers only got to play three preseason games, two of which were across the planet, and then eight days after their last game in China – and last preseason game in general – the Sixers opened up the year with a huge game against their biggest rival who proceeded to blow them out. Because of the significant travel time, Philly had to deal with recovering from what I imagine was a physically and mentally draining trip. I’m not saying that that was the reason the Celtics won, because they have shown they have their number, but it definitely could have played a role. I get the idea of bringing the game over to a huge market, but in the nature of competition, the execution seems like it could use some work.

Mangigian: It might not be an ideal situation to travel to China for preseason games, but I’m not buying this excuse. The shaky start comes from repeating similar mistakes to last year. The Sixers have shown that as a young team, they usually struggle to finish close games. Allowing Blake Griffin to get to the rim uncontested as time expires, is inexcusable and goes way beyond some jet lag.

The Sixers spend time with the youth during their time in China. (via NBA)

Anderson: No I don’t think so. It’s hard to say because the only problem I would see involving their preseason games in China is the jet lag. However, it doesn’t seem likely that that would mentally drain these players from their excitement for their season opener against the Boston Celtics. Those preseason games in China were just warm-ups for the real deal in the NBA.

Kirkland: I’m not really buying that. All of these guys are on the road all year between NBA, traveling in the off-season for community events, pro-ams, and any of the other things that professional athletes do. The shaky start is due to a new defensive philosophy combined with some key injuries and a rotation that is not settled. This team has too much talent to not improve going forward, and I expect that to happen quickly.


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