December 31, 2018
The Sixers played the Portland Trailblazers on Sunday night and got absolutely blown off the floor. Since everything I have to say about that game will be a repeat of columns past — the bench stinks, please shoot threes Ben, etc. — we're going to have a little more fun on New Year's Eve and dish out some resolutions.
Philadelphia could use a whole lot of help all over the roster (and high atop the front office), so here are a few goals to aspire to as we ring in 2019.
Resolution: Find at least one two-way player for the rotation
Brand's decisions to leave the 15th roster spot open for as long as he has is puzzling on the surface. The Sixers are almost impossibly thin compared to the teams they need to compete against for the Eastern Conference crown, and they could have easily shuttled in a player or two for a look before buyout season approaches.
Instead, we've been left to watch the team flounder whenever one of their top guys needs rest, is in foul trouble, or is otherwise having a tough night. This team should be active around the trade deadline, and at the very least Brand has a huge summer ahead of him.
Resolution: Put Jimmy Butler and Joel Embiid in more pick-and-rolls
There are plenty of complaints from the fanbase about Brown at this point, but the one that rings true for me is that he is too rigid with his rotations. The Sixers play the groupings they always do every game, and while that helps build continuity, it also limits the different combinations they can go to each night.
We don't see a lot of Butler-Embiid pick-and-rolls because Brown isn't a big advocate for the play in general, but also because Ben Simmons' presence makes it harder to get plus-value out of running one. Brown needs to commit to getting more minutes with just Butler and Embiid on the floor so they can see what these two are capable of.
Resolution: Win Defensive Player of the Year
There's a lot of time left to make up ground, but I think it will be tough for Embiid to garner serious consideration for MVP if things remain steady in Philadelphia. Their record isn't quite good enough with the eye-popping numbers players are putting up elsewhere, and none of the other candidates have had to accommodate another major piece mid-stream as Embiid has for Butler.
But I think he should be right there with anyone in the discussion for Defensive Player of the Year. The Sixers have slipped on that end with a porous bench, but Embiid remains one of the league's best rim protectors and Philadelphia is elite with him on the floor. As the rotation around him adjusts to their defensive tweaks, Embiid is primed for a big second half.
Resolution: "New year, new me!"
This one is less about basketball. Butler has flamed out in spectacular fashion at his last two stops, and is on the verge of signing a massive contract extension in the summer. If he wants to be part of a championship team in Philadelphia, he needs to commit to being the reliable veteran he should be at 29. With potential clashes of ego on the horizon for the franchise's young stars, they need Butler to help them realize they are all better off if they stick together.
Resolution: For the love of god, start shooting
You already knew this was coming. A lot is riding on Simmons' jumper.
Resolution: Make more shots from the right corner.
As Redick himself has acknowledged, his lack of success from the right corner this season has been absolutely unbelievable. He is 5/24 from that spot on the season, good for a paltry 20.8 percent. A lot of those looks are damn good ones and ones you'd expect an elite shooter to make in his sleep.
I would suspect some improvement is coming. Redick shot 45.5 percent from the right corner last season and 35.9 percent there during his last season in Los Angeles, so at the very least I'd bet on him moving toward average shooting there. It'll help a bunch.
Resolution: Play less minutes
A lot of Chandler's success comes down to being in an appropriate role. We saw on Christmas Day that Chandler is more than capable of jumping into the wayback machine on occasion, offering solid contributions on both ends of the floor. At his age, consistency is the biggest issue.
That would be helped by simply asking him to do less. It's on Brand to fill out the rotation so that Chandler doesn't have to be the fifth starter and a crunch-time player, because I believe he can still be helpful as long as he's not overextended.
Resolution: Lock in on defense
It's tough to get on Shamet too much for anything he's doing on offense. He has had wild swings back and forth on the pendulum as a shooter (there are some real clunkers to his credit this year), but ultimately he has settled in as a reliable weapon off the bench and one of the nice surprises of his draft class.
The Sixers badly need him to progress as a defender. It'll take time because he needs to add some strength and agility that doesn't often come in the middle of a season. If they can turn him into at least a competent defender, the Sixers will have a valuable role player on their hands.
Resolution: Make more open threes
This is not a misprint — 56.9 percent of Muscala's shots this season have been threes that are considered "wide open" by the NBA's tracking standards. That is a staggering number compared to some of his teammates. Redick, for example, has only had about 20 percent of his attempts this year come on wide-open threes.
Muscala is shooting 34.6 percent on these shots. That number has to be higher, end of discussion.
Resolution: Find a way to survive on defense
McConnell's reputation has long been of a guy who competes his butt off on defense, but he hasn't been at all impactful on that end this season. The Sixers have been several points worse with him on the floor than off, with forced switches leaving him helpless against the bigger wings that have flooded the league in recent years.
With Markelle Fultz currently
battling Lavos the destroyer of worlds, banished to the shadow realm, okay maybe he's just doing physical therapy, the Sixers need McConnell to be able to hang on defense so that things don't fall off a cliff. He has turned himself into a reasonably competent player on offense, warts and all.
Resolution: Go get that paper
I think this has been said approximately 100,000 times by members of Sixers Twitter this season, but it's pretty baffling that Korkmaz's extremely cheap option wasn't picked up. Go get paid and pop some corks this summer, my man.
Resolution: Quicken the three-point release
By the time an Amir Johnson three goes down or rims out, the Sixers have released another three-week timetable for one of their injured players. If it goes down I guess it doesn't really matter, but yeesh.
Resolution: Find a way to contribute on offense
The Sixers have been extremely good on defense with Bolden on the floor. Numbers match the eye test here, where we've seen Bolden cause chaos with his length and athleticism around the rim.
The next step for him is simply finding a way to get involved on offense without mucking things up for everybody else. I think this might have to come from playing minutes as the backup center and the only big on the floor, where he can potentially be a lob target and a finisher on passes from any number of their other players. That'll put more pressure on him defensively, but the shooting is ghastly at this point, so I don't know if they can survive with him playing extended minutes as a four.
Resolution: Crack the rotation before your first season ends
It'll be a tall task for the Texas Tech product to find his footing (no pun intended) before the 2018-19 season ends. He's going to be tough to play on offense if he's not knocking down shots, and given everything he has had to overcome this year, it would be a nice achievement for him to even get on the floor, in this writer's opinion.
But the Sixers desperately need what he brings to the table as a defensive weapon, even if that impact will be minimal for a rookie wing whose position is not totally clear. Getting him some developmental reps this year would be a good kickstart for next year, which will hopefully be his first full and normal season as a pro.
Also, stay away from sesame.
Resolution: Force the Sixers to use a real roster spot on you
I've been a big fan of the Shake Milton experience so far, from the Frosty Freeze Out towel-waving to his performances in garbage-time minutes. He has been killing teams in the G-League, averaging 24 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 3.9 assists per game on better than 47 percent shooting for the Delaware Blue Coats.
The key will be turning that into competence in real minutes for Philly. He looked a tad lost on defense when he was given a chance against serious competition recently, and he'll need to be more than a garbage-time hero to graduate from a two-way deal.
Resolution: Find a new home
I have nothing against Jackson personally, but he's the fourth point guard on a team that used two No. 1 picks on players they consider point guards. His two-way spot should be used on someone with any two-way upside as a wing, or at least a person who can shoot or defend and stands taller than 6-foot-4.
Resolution: Get healthy and stay healthy
It's hard to know what Patton can bring to the table if he's never healthy enough to show it. Focus on the rehab and keep progressing. The team could certainly use another athlete on the back end.
Resolution: Get right, no matter what it takes
I've probably written as much or more than anyone has about Mr. Fultz since he arrived in Philadelphia, which has led some to believe I have some sort of vendetta against him. The opposite is probably more accurate — there is nothing I would like to see more than a young, hard-working kid being able to live out his dream, and there is nothing that could improve the Sixers more internally than Fultz returning to something resembling his college form.
It's just impossible to say whether physical therapy is going to be the magic bullet that solves all his issues. We haven't seen the real Fultz since he was playing Summer League basketball in Utah, pulling up from anywhere and everywhere and flashing the potential that made him a No. 1 overall pick. I don't know if that kid is ever coming back, because we haven't seen him so much as attempt a three since before Halloween.
Is it a change of scenery he needs, a removal of toxic people around him, or something else we haven't considered yet that will turn the light bulb on? I can't say for sure. But I can say that I am pulling for him as a person, and I hope that he finds whatever it is that he needs to get back on track.
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