The 76ers Are Not In The Moment
By Dave Gloeckner (4th and GO)
First posted on www.4thandgo.com
This was supposed to be the year the Philadelphia 76ers turned the corner and stopped living in their mom’s basement. Mom was nice to the Sixers the past few seasons. She knew they needed time to heal, learn and grow. There was no rushing this team or hurrying them through The Process. Then September hit and the NBA season calendar turned to 2017-18 meaning it was time to go up those creaky wooden stairs and finally show how much they’ve learned by living below the surface. As the Sixers walked those proverbial steps, the city and fans excitement grew with the anticipation of what the immediate future held. It was time for basketball to be relevant again in Philadelphia. Most had their hopes set at a push for a playoff spot in the weak Eastern Conference. While some even dreamed of a top four seed. And even the front office felt the momentum as they unveiled the season’s motto as “Welcome To The Moment”. The time was now. The roster tanking was well in the past.
After a 13-9 start, the energy and hype mirrored the preseason optimism. It made you start believing this was “The Moment”. We were reaping the benefits of the bold plan that Sam Hinkie constructed. Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, along with key role players, made this team must-see TV every time they took the court.
And then the cruelness of reality sunk in. A December to forget has rewound the excitement like it was a mixed tape whose ribbon spun out of it’s case. Today’s loss in Toronto marked a low point in the Sixers’ season, putting them four games below 0.500 with an overall record of 14-18. They’ve now lost 5 in a row and 9 of their last 10. Their December record is 2-9. Bah Humbug.
The disheartening part is that during this discouraging stretch, the Sixers have lost to 4 teams with a sub 0.400 record. With 3 of those games occurring at the Wells Fargo. That is inexplicable and frankly embarrassing. What’s even worse is that they’ve let big leads (8+ points in 3rd Q or later) wilt away in 5 of their 9 losses this month. That is brutally bad basketball. It is worse to watch than the dreck they put on the court the last 3 seasons.
So why has it gotten to this point? Why are the Sixers all of the sudden in 10th place in the East and 3 games out of a playoff spot? The casual fan’s first observation will be their struggles without star center Joel Embiid. And to an extent, that’s a correct declaration as the Sixers are 1-7 in which #21 doesn’t suit up. He is obviously their most important player as the team’s offense, and defense, revolves around Joel.
But it’s deeper than that and the blame needs to be pointed at one man, head coach Brett Brown. The free flowing, 3 point shooting, everyone has a green light offense isn’t working. Watching Ben Simmons bring the ball up with the defender repeatedly sinking into the lane with no offensive adjustment is just mind boggling. Only recently have we seen the Sixers run plays to post up Simmons. However, it’s just a change of pace and only called out of a stoppage or when they desperately need a basket. The problems don’t stop there as the coach’s rotations are starting to hurt this team. A favorite in the clutch last year, TJ McConnell, is nailed to the bench in favor of the skittish Jered Bayless. And then there’s the inconsistent, almost panicked use of time outs and game strategy. Brown allowed Ben Simmons to get fouled 12 times against Washington in a span of 4 minutes, resulting in 24 free throws, only to watch his 22 point lead dwindle to 3. Luckily the enormous margin was just enough as the Sixers held on to win the game, a rarity to date this season. And what about the decision to not foul on Thursday night against Toronto, with the Sixers down 3 points with 25 seconds left. He let the Raptors dribble and pass 12 seconds off the clock until he opted to finally foul. Those were precious seconds needed if you had any hopes at coming back.
It’s frustrating as a Sixers fan to see this team so poorly managed. Collapsing to Houston and Golden State in unthinkable fashion could be forgiven being those teams are the class of the NBA. Doing it against Chicago and Sacramento is a disgrace. I understand this is a growing year for the coach too, but it doesn’t have to be. Starting the 4th quarter against the Kings, the Sixers were up 7 and got outscored 13-0 before Brown could react. Sac-Town’s lineup didn’t feature Chris Webber, Peja Stojakovich or Vlade Divac. Instead the five on the floor were Frank Mason III, Justin Jackson, Buddy Hield, Malachi Richardson, and Willy Cauley Stein. Holy F*$#ing S&!t. How about a timeout or a substitution instead of watching that Un-Fabulous Five wear your team out like a ratty undershirt.
And to pile on even further is to put a microscope on what is hurting the team the most; turnovers, fouls, and 3 point shots. The Sixers are 30th in the league in turnovers. In other words they are the dead last. On the flip side, they are ranked 20th in the league at forcing turnovers. Meaning they are turning the ball over 4 more times per game than their opponent. The other alarming stat is that they allow teams to go to the free throw line at an extremely high rate. Opponents are averaging just over 26 free throw attempts per game placing the Sixers 29th in the league in that category. Finally, the offensive strategy that I mentioned earlier just isn’t working. In a league where 3 point shooting reigns supreme, the Sixers are aren’t following suit. They are 13th in the league in 3 point shots attempted but 25th in 3 point FG%.
|2017-18 Season||Turnovers / TOV %*||FT Allowed Per Game||3 Point FG%|
|Statistic||18.4 / 15.8%||26.7||0.350|
|League Rank||30th / 30th||29th||25th|
Some of that has to do with the limited amount of shooters at Brown’s disposal. But the other problem seems to be the forced nature behind many of their attempts. There are too many times that a mental trigger is pulled well before the ball hits certain players hands. I’m talking to you Redick, Covington, Bayless and Luwawu-Caborrot. These are three categories that the Sixers rank in the bottom 15% of the league. They are also things that coaching should be able to fix or at least disguise. But instead it’s like Groundhog Day each game for our beloved ballers.
Brett Brown is now in his fifth season with the team. He has endured some of the worst situations a coach could be put in. He has never once pointed the finger or made excuses. Instead he comes to work everyday with an infectious passion that makes him beloved by his players. He deserves every chance possible to coach this team and work through the tough times. But if you go back in history and look at his coaching style, you will see the stats from this year are eerily similar to last season’s failed campaign.
|2016-17 Season||Turnovers / TOV %*||FT Allowed Per Game||3 Point FG%|
|Statistic||16.7 / 14.9%||26.0||0.340|
|League Rank||30th / 30th||27th||25th|
And that’s why the finger needs to be aimed at the man with the clipboard. This year they have more talent than ever. They have potential super stars and proven veterans. But the same issues keep rising to the top over and over again. And this isn’t taking into account the inability of his teams to hold leads, a trait that has also carried over between seasons. Brett Brown is a coach we all thought we didn’t know until he had talent. But he’s proving to be a coach who doesn’t correct his teams most glaring flaws. If he can’t rewrite this now, a season with so much hope, and a city who is bursting at the seams to live and die with this team, will wilt away.
The season is not lost but the Sixers are currently facing their biggest adversity yet. It will be telling to see how such a young team can block out the noise and focus on the message in dire times. The Cleveland Cavaliers did it earlier this year but that is a veteran laden team captained by one of the greatest players in NBA history. How young teams respond is normally a reflection on their coach and mental fortitude. Brett Brown has been given a hall pass for 4+ years. He is now facing the pressure that comes from coaching in Philadelphia. I, for one, hope he can adapt and coach his team through this treacherous stretch. We want the Sixers to be relevant again. We’ve endured losing for too long. The team tells us “Welcome To The Moment” but it feels like we’re still waiting.
*TOV% is an estimate of turnovers per 100 possessions per www.basketball-reference.com