March 05, 2019
Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. As the Sixers careen toward the playoffs, it's time for all of us to raise the bar. That means adding a new component to our coverage called Five Star Review, which will serve as a companion to our existing coverage of the hometown basketball team. You get more Sixers analysis and all you have to do is show up. A great deal, if you ask me.
Everybody likes awards and shiny things. Five Star Review is our way of catering to that urge, spotlighting key sequences and performances, in-game oddities, puzzling quotes, and everything in between from each Sixers game. This space offers a chance to reflect further on observations from the night before using video, quotes, and good old-fashioned logic.
You should all know how a five-star scale works: a five-star performance is the best of the best, a one-star performance is the worst of the worst. Mistakes take precedent in defeat, excellence takes precedent in a victory. You get the picture and are encouraged to submit your own set of stars in the comment section below.
Today's game: a 114-106 win over the Orlando Magic, featuring the return of good JJ Redick.
JJ Redick getting back on track
When we talk about Philadelphia's star-studded core, Redick's name tends to be somewhat of an afterthought in the conversation. He's expected to do what he does at a high level, and his name only rises to the top of a Sixers conversation when he's mired in a slump.
That's exactly what happened following the All-Star break, with Redick failing to find the range without his primary screen setter, Joel Embiid. Redick is a man of routine — he picked up lessons from guys like Ray Allen over the years, who stressed the importance of maintaining order even (and perhaps especially) during slumps.
That doesn't mean Redick responds to tough times like a robot. Redick insisted his new, shorter haircut was planned for a while, and that a Lego-building session with his sons on Sunday helped provide some peace during a stressful time. But over the weekend, he was desperate for anything to switch up the mojo.
"The other day, I was like, I really did a fucking fantastic job of making my bed before the Golden State game. There's a reason for it, I like order," Redick said after the win over Orlando. "And then today when I got out of bed, I woke up from my nap, and I was like, whether or not I make my bed has nothing to do with it."
Jimmy Butler was the crunch-time hero, but it was Redick (26 points on 8/16 shooting) who led all scorers. Without him, they would have been cooked. If the Sixers can get this Redick on top of great star production, look out.
Jimmy Butler helping on Nikola Vucevic
Butler's heroics in crunch time deserved to lead the conversation overnight. Everybody likes a little hero ball when the shots are dropping, and Butler grabbing the game by the horns in crunch time always makes for a great spectacle.
I was just as impressed by his ability to disrupt Nikola Vucevic in the paint, where the Sixers were shorthanded on Tuesday night. Butler's well-timed help flustered Vucevic and was integral to holding him to just 12 points, and he even stood his ground against the opposing center in a one-on-one battle late in the fourth, adding to his crunch-time heroics:
Butler's gambling on these plays sometimes comes back to haunt Philadelphia, but he has done a better job of balancing risk in recent weeks.
Mike Scott building momentum
It seems crazy to say about a guy who arrived as a small piece of the Tobias Harris trade in February, but Scott may very well be Philadelphia's most integral bench player heading into the playoffs. Brett Brown has leaned on Scott heavily since the Sixers returned from the break, and the head coach has not hidden how important Scott is to their plans.
"Mike especially is on my mind with us being depleted," Brown said before Tuesday's game. "Mike is a glue guy. Mike is going to end up being really important in the playoffs, playing the five and four and all of that."
Despite good performances from Amir Johnson and rookie Justin Patton on Tuesday, Brown decided to go with a smaller look down the stretch, using Scott and Ben Simmons as their nominal bigs. It's a configuration that they're going to go to in the playoffs, and Scott's shooting ability combined with his lack of fear will stretch defenses late in games.
Scott took a little while to settle into his groove with the Sixers, but he is now shooting a blistering 47.9 percent from deep since joining the Sixers. He has added some real toughness to the second unit that changed the fiber of the team when they go small and do not be surprised when this look gets more run in the playoffs.
Justin Patton passing on the move
For a guy who was playing his first NBA game since April 2018, Patton looked quite comfortable on an NBA floor. Everything that was apparent in the minutes he has played for Delaware — his length, his light feet, and his limitations on defense — was on display during a cameo appearance against the Magic.
What was unexpected was Patton's work as a passer. Big men who excel at passing are rare, and learning how to time passes out of the paint is one of the hardest developments for an NBA big man.
I wouldn't expect Patton to develop into Nikola Jokic, but if he can make snap reads like this as a roll man, he'll have a long career in this league, health permitting:
Patton is going to be hard pressed to find minutes, but there's no better way to endear yourself to the veterans than to make sure you keep the ball moving.
Justin Patton chasing blocked shots
It wasn't all rosy for Patton. Early in the fourth quarter, he fell victim to a habit that tends to plague young big men, chasing block attempts at the cost of giving up space to Orlando on the offensive glass. The Magic had never really been out of the game, but that early-period rally gave them a real chance to steal the game late.
Brown is in a tough spot with a guy like Patton. In an ideal world, you'd want to give the young man time to develop because in theory he fits well with what you need from a big man in the modern NBA, and he has more upside than some of their other options behind Joel Embiid. But with Patton returning so late, Brown has admitted it'll be tough for him to get real time between now and the end of the year.
"It'll be hard for him to continue to grab minutes, with the way our team is constructed and the calendar. In March, I don't feel the need right now to do anything else but win games," Brown said. "If he does make a mistake in a game, it's not my style to you know, yank him out. I'll hit him in a dead-ball situation, I'll continue to coach him in real time and grow him in that capacity. He's a good kid, he's trying. But how much I'm going to be able to play him going forward is up in the air."
There will be plenty of minutes available in the G-League for Patton in the meantime. Those reps will be integral to his development and may determine whether the Sixers opt to bring him back for a bigger role next season.
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