How The International Game Will Affect The Sixers

By Andrew Curran (@andrewjc417)

The rest of the world is storming the shores of the typically American dominated NBA. In the past year’s draft, nearly half of the 60 players selected were raised on foreign soil, with a ridiculous 8 players taken in the lottery, including Philadelphia’s own Benjamin Simmons. And with this new talent, comes a new style of play. The NBA has felt the emerging presence of the international game for years, but this year with players such as Ben Simmons, Dario Saric, and Sergio Rodriguez, with a hint of Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, the Sixers will for the first time feel the effects of the international game as well.

It is imperative to distinguish what separates the American game and the foreign game, mainly the European game. As a whole, the European game is much slower and more team-oriented than what we are used to in the States. This style of play gets everyone involved and makes the game much more fluid. In the American game, it is normal to see one player be the focal point of a team, as seen by Steph Curry leading the league with over 30 ppg last year, while the best Euroleague players average around 15 ppg. The game length alone does not account for that difference.

This style of play is also partially responsible for why Olympic games are often much closer than they should be on paper. Serbia and Spain had no business playing with Team USA, but their teamwork clearly outmatched their American counterparts and caused some very close games. This pass first, shoot second approach of the foreigners brings us players like Simmons, Saric, and Rodriguez, who posses great court vision and passing skills.

All summer and preseason long, the members of the Sixers squad repping foreign flags dazzled with their flashy passing. It was almost like Simmons was too unselfish at times, but there was no denying his superb passing skills, especially for a man his size. We all knew what Simmons could do, but unless you watch European basketball for some reason, chances are you knew next to nothing about El Chacho before the summer, and for Saric, there is only so much you can learn from a 4-minute highlight tape. But once they stepped on the court, their vision and crisp passing skills proved superior.

Another key difference between the international and domestic styles of play can be seen in the way their young players are developed in youth programs. Here in the USA, I was 4 inches taller than everyone in youth ball, so naturally I was put at center. Because of my height, I was never taught to shoot or handle the ball properly, and this doomed me as 6’1 centers aren’t too common in high school ball. For the most part, that is how it is in the states.

However in Europe, they coach regardless of size. Even if you are 9 feet tall, you will be taught to shoot and pass, and if you’re athletic enough you might even develop some handles. This contributes to the surge in popularity of stretch fours. You see it in Kristaps Porzingis, a 7’3 seemingly uncoordinated brute, who is anything but, and can drain threes with the best of them. You see it in Dirk, Ersan Ilyasova, Nikola Mirotic, and hopefully Dario Saric. Simmons himself even praised the way he was developed to be a team-oriented player in his native Australia.

So how will all this affect the Sixers? The past few years we have seen the Sixers attempt to try a run and gun style of play, hoping to cash in on freakish athleticism but not much skill. In 2015 they were among the leaders in pace, trying to use players like Jerami Grant and Jakarr Sampson in transition. Last season, they slowed down a bit in order to feed Jahlil Okafor.

This season, the Sixers may still be amongst the fastest paced teams in the NBA due to players like Saric and Simmons who are bigs with the ability to push in transition. However, once the offense gets settled in the half court, the biggest change will be seen. Ideally, crisp passing thanks to our foreign friends will give the Sixers a more fluid offense with better ball movement. This will slow the game down, not in a give the ball to Jah and stand around for 12 seconds type of way, but in a getting everyone involved, keeping the defense on their toes, finding the open cutter kind of way.

Hopefully, especially as the rookies adjust to the NBA game, the presence of skilled passers should also help solve the Sixers’ frustrating turnover problem. Philadelphia has been 29th and dead last in the league in turnovers the past two seasons. Insert Simmons, Sergio, and Saric, and hopefully take away excess Hollis Thompson and Nik Stauskas, and suddenly you have a vast improvement in ball security and offensive efficiency. As soon as the team develops some chemistry, they should be able to play a much cleaner, effective game.

Those are just the direct effects of these new players. Finally, with Saric, a PF who can shoot, and even Embiid (who did grow up Cameroon, but plays very Americanized) demanding attention on the perimeter and down low, shooters like Robert Covington should finally be able to get some open looks. His career 3-point percentage is a few clicks above 36%, but don’t let that relatively average number fool you. Roco was deadly when he got open shots, the problem being they didn’t occur very often, as players like Noel and Grant did not demand too much attention last year.

The 76ers will definitely feel the fingerprints of the international game on their style of play this year, and, oh boy, am I ready for that change.

Previewing the Sixers-Thunder Season Opener

By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)

Almost two and a years after the team selected him with the third overall pick, Joel Embiid will take the court for the Philadelphia 76ers in a regular season game for the first time. The man who asked to be called the Process will be carrying all the hopes and dreams of a franchise that his twice-surgically-repaired feet can handle.

With 2016 first overall pick Ben Simmons sidelined until at least January, this season is largely about determining whether Embiid is a true franchise centerpiece worth shaping an entire roster around, and more crucially, whether his body can hold up under the rigors of a NBA schedule. We obviously won’t have those answers after 48 minutes tick off against the Thunder, but we’ll finally be able to start collecting data in the quest to find out.

Head coach Brett Brown announced at practice Monday that Embiid will play 20 minutes, consisting of four 5-minute stints. The team has not yet announced how many minutes Jahlil Okafor will be playing, but Brown said Richaun Holmes will receive the rest of the playing time at the center position. Additionally, Dario Saric is all systems go despite catching an elbow from Embiid the other day in practice.

It’s unfortunate that Okafor isn’t back up to full speed for this matchup, in particular. When the Thunder have Steven Adams and Domantas Sabonis both playing, or they roll out their Stache Brothers line-up with Adams and Enes Kanter, it would actually make for a good time to try Embiid and Okafor together.

Speaking of those Thunder, while the Warriors dropping a 3-1 lead in the Finals has become a meme, Oklahoma City blowing that same 3-1 lead to Golden State one round before has not been mentioned nearly as much. That series loss predated the blowing up of the Thunder’s core, with Kevin Durant signing with Golden State in free agency, and management trading Serge Ibaka to Orlando for Victor Oladipo.

Russell Westbrook saved the collective psyches of Thunder fans by signing an extension in the offseason, and this is firmly his team now. Countless fans and analysts are curious to see what Westbrook unchained looks like now that he doesn’t have to defer to Durant half of the time. Could he average a triple-double? Could he win MVP? Could he dunk so hard that he rips a hole in the time-space continuum, allowing him to go back and prevent the James Harden trade from ever happening? All of these things are on the table.

Clearly, stopping Russ should be priority 1, 2, and 3 for the 76ers. Unfortunately, they didn’t have much success at it last season, as Westbrook triple-doubled in both games against the Sixers, putting up a 21-point, 17-rebound, 11-assist line in Oklahoma City, and 20/15/10 and Philadelphia. With Cam Payne currently out with a foot injury, former second-round pick Semaj Christon is the lone back-up point guard following Oklahoma City’s release of veteran Ronnie Price. That means Philadelphia should expect full-throttle Westbrook for as many minutes as he can handle.

Oklahoma City doesn’t might Westbrook’s high usage because even when he misses, they have a plan. The Thunder led the league last season with an offensive rebounding percentage of 31.1%, a number that has been high again at 26.2% in this preseason. Adams and Kanter are among the best offensive rebounders in the league; they’ll be a true test on the glass for Embiid, Saric, and the rest of the big men.

Containing Westbrook and denying second chance opportunities are far and away the two keys to a competitive game for the Sixers. Danny Chau of the Ringer recently wrote a good piece on the expanded role for Steven Adams within the offense, but I feel he may find his newfound floater tough to execute in the face of a 7’3″ Cameroonian goliath. The Thunder also don’t have much in the way of spacing, as Ersan Ilyasova and Kyle Singler coming off the bench are probably their best three-point options. But when the Sixers point out the opposition lacks spacing, there are three fingers pointed back at them. Or something.

Regardless of the outcome Wednesday night, as long as Joel Embiid gets through his 20 minutes healthy and we have a few new vines of him and Dario to fetishize, I think Sixers fans will be happy. The NBA is back, buckle up!

Projected Starters:

Sergio Rodriguez
Gerald Henderson
Robert Covington
Dario Saric
Joel Embiid

Oklahoma City
Russell Westbrook
Victor Oladipo
Andre Roberson
Domantas Sabonis
Steven Adams

Sixers 2016-17 Win Total Forecast

By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)

It’s been a one step forward, one step back kind of offseason for the Philadelphia 76ers. After years of waiting, Joel Embiid was finally cleared to take the court, only for Ben Simmons to suffer a Jones fracture requiring surgery in his right foot. Then, the same day Jahlil Okafor returns to the court, the team announces that Nerlens Noel will require surgery on his knee.

So what is one supposed to make of this Sixers team with all this injury uncertainty? Prior to the Ben Simmons injury, the Nevada desert dwellers set Philadelphia’s win total at 27.5. Now, the line has adjusted to 24.5, still a big jump up from last year’s 10 wins. All praise to Embiid.

As I do every year, I’ll be offering a prediction on whether the Sixers will fall over or under their wins total. Again, my methodology involves grouping each game by a combination of the opponent, the amount of rest for each team coming into the game, and where the game is being played.

One note: the playoff line is very thin, especially in the Eastern Conference, so I fully realize teams like Chicago and Miami could make it to the postseason. It’s a broad look at the league; it doesn’t need to be perfect. As the Black Eyed Peas would say, let’s get it started.

Home, both teams rested, facing a likely playoff team

Wed, Oct 26 vs Oklahoma City; Sat, Oct 29 vs Atlanta; Sat, Nov 5 vs Cleveland

Fri, Nov 11 vs Indiana; Wed, Nov 16 vs Washington; Sun, Nov 27 vs Cleveland

Wed, Dec 14 vs Toronto;  Wed, Jan 11 vs NY Knicks; Fri, Jan 13 vs Charlotte

Fri, Jan 20 vs Portland; Fri, Jan 27 vs Houston; Wed, Feb 8 vs San Antonio

Fri, Feb 24 vs Washington; Mon, Feb 27 vs Golden State; Fri, Mar 3 vs NY Knicks

Fri, Mar 17 vs Dallas; Sun, Mar 19 vs Boston; Mon, Apr 10 vs Indiana

All things being average, NBA teams should win around 60% of their home games. However, things aren’t average when you have a Sixers team projected to finish in the bottom-5 facing teams heading for action in late April. We’ll give them 5 wins here out of 18, with likely a few coming against teams that could miss the playoffs if things don’t break right like the Hawks, Knicks, and Mavericks.

Running total: 5-13

Home, both teams rested, facing a likely lottery team

Tue, Nov 1 vs Orlando; Mon, Nov 21 vs Miami; Wed, Nov 23 vs Memphis

Fri, Nov 25 vs Chicago; Wed, Nov 30 vs Sacramento; Mon, Dec 5 vs Denver

Fri, Dec 16 vs LA Lakers; Sun, Dec 18 vs Brooklyn; Tue, Dec 20 vs New Orleans

Tue, Jan 3 vs Minnesota; Mon, Mar 6 vs Milwaukee; Tue, Apr 4 vs Brooklyn

Thu, Apr 6 vs Chicago; Sat, Apr 8 vs Milwaukee;

Now we’re talking! These are games the Sixers have a real fighting chance when they step on the court. 6-8 feels about right for this set, with the Lakers and Nets contests looking especially tasty.

Running total: 11-21

Home, both teams on a back-to-back

Sat, Dec 3 vs Boston; Wed, Mar 29 vs Atlanta

In both of these matchups, the opponent is traveling from a home game to Philadelphia. With both Boston and Atlanta being in the same time zone, these aren’t the most difficult back-to-backs. Still, let’s give the Sixers one of these wins, perhaps the Hawks game if Atlanta gets off to a rough start and deals Millsap at the trade deadline.

Running Total: 12-22

Home, Sixers on a back-to-back

Sat, Mar 4 vs Detroit

The Pistons are a sure-fire playoff team and by early March, Reggie Jackson should have been back for a while and 100% healthy. On a back-to-back, tough spot for the Sixers.

Running total: 12-23

Home, opponent on a back-to-back

Mon, Nov 7 vs Utah; Sat, Nov 19 vs Phoenix; Fri, Dec 2 vs Orlando

Wed, Jan 18 vs Toronto; Tue, Jan 24 vs LA Clippers; Sat, Feb 11 vs Miami

Here are games where all the intangible are working in Philadelphia’s favor. Maybe this will be the year the Clippers don’t absolutely annihilate the Sixers at the Wells Fargo Center? Regardless, Phoenix, Orlando, and Miami are all winnable games. 3 wins in this group.

Running total: 15-26

Away, both teams rested, facing a likely playoff team

Wed, Nov 9 @ Indiana; Mon, Nov 14 @ Houston; Sun, Dec 11 @ Detroit

Thu, Dec 29 @ Utah; Fri, Jan 6 @ Boston; Wed, Feb 1 @ Dallas

Mon, Feb 6 @ Detroit; Mon, Feb 13 @Charlotte; Wed, Feb 15 @ Boston;

Thu, Mar 9 @ Portland; Sat, Mar 11 @ LA Clippers; Tue, Mar 14 @ Golden State

Wed, Mar 22 @ Oklahoma City; Sun, Mar 26 @ Indiana; Sun, Apr 2 @ Toronto

Wed, Apr 12 @ NY Knicks

There are not a lot of spots here where you really feel good about the Sixers coming away with a win. Possibly, they could steal one from the Pacers or Knicks, and win in Houston or Dallas. 3-13 in this grouping.

Running total: 18-39

Away, both teams rested, facing a likely lottery team

Thu, Dec 8 @ New Orleans; Fri, Dec 23 @ Phoenix; Mon, Dec 26 @ Sacramento

Sun, Jan 8 @ Brooklyn; Sun, Jan 29 @ Chicago; Sat, Feb 4 @ Miami

Wed, Mar 1 @ Miami; Fri, Mar 24 @ Chicago; Tue, Mar 28 @ Brooklyn

Better luck for Philadelphia against these fellow cellar-dwellers and teams fighting for an 8-seed. Another win against Brooklyn, and some potential victories over the likes of the Suns, Kings, and Heat. Add another 3 wins and 6 losses to the total.

Running total: 21-45

Away, both teams on a back-to-back

Tue, Dec 6 @ Memphis; Sat, Jan 21 @ Atlanta

The Sixers are traveling from Denver to Memphis, and then, Philadelphia to Atlanta. The Grizzlies go from New Orleans back home, while the Hawks have a home/home back-to-back. Both these teams are good enough that they should put away the Sixers at home.

Running total: 21-47

Away, Sixers on a back-to-back

Wed, Nov 2 @ Charlotte; Sat, Nov 12 @ Atlanta; Thu, Nov 17 @ Minnesota

Mon, Nov 28 @ Toronto; Fri, Dec 30 @ Denver; Sat, Jan 14 @ Washington

Wed, Jan 25 @ Milwaukee; Thu, Feb 2 @ San Antonio; Thu, Feb 9 @ Orlando

Sat, Feb 25 @ NY Knicks; Sun, Mar 12 @ LA Lakers; Mon, Mar 20 @ Orlando

By and large, this is actually a very easy set of opponents, with Toronto and San Antonio the only two stone-cold locks to make the playoffs. Still, a road game against a better-rested opponent is a tough task regardless of who you are facing. 2-10 from this category.

Running total: 23-57

Away, opponent on a back-to-back

Mon, Jan 16 @ Milwaukee; Fri, Mar 31 @ Cleveland

The Sixers could potentially grab a road win with the rest advantage over Milwaukee, but there’s no way I’m predicting them to upset LeBron and the defending champions, rest or not.

Running total: 24-57

There you have it. By the slimmest of margins, I am taking the under for Philadelphia for the first time in the four years of doing this exercise. Even though the Sixers should be in the top half of the lottery once again, fans should still get to see more wins than years past, and much more exciting play behind the three promising rookies: Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, and Dario Saric. Let’s get this season started!

Clash of the Cappers – 2016 Week 7

By Josh Mansilla (@Manzilla36)

Throughout the 2016 NFL season, NFL handicapper Josh Mansilla will be providing his weekly plays, along with a brief write-up on how he sees the games playing out. We’ll track his picks alongside those of our other capper, Dan Urda, to see who best assisted our readers throughout the season. Dan’s picks for Week 7 can be found on this week’s podcast.

Season Records

Josh Mansilla: 4-2

Dan Urda: 13-20

Broncos -8

It was a tough loss last week, as Dallas handled Green Bay and proved they are a top team in the NFC, even with two rookies carrying the offense on the road. We are 4-2 on the year now and looking to bounce back this week.

I like Denver to get the job done at home. A lot of things I look for in match-ups all hold true in this game. First you have a Houston team coming off a come-from-behind overtime win last week vs the Colts at home. A game they were outplayed and should have lost; now, they go on the road in the altitude in a clear “let-down” situation.

You also have a Denver team coming into this game off back-to-back losses. One game where they didn’t have their starting quarterback and another where they were without their head coach, both huge factors contributing to their poor performances. I expect the Broncos to be extra motivated in this game and I believe their defense steps up in a big way against a quarterback who opted to leave Denver to play for the Texans.

Prediction: Denver 27, Houston 10

Survivor Pick

I will also be taking Denver this week in Survivor as I think they snap their 2-game skid with a bounce back win here.

Good luck.

Sixers Finish Preseason on a High Note

By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)

Box Score

If you were going to script the perfect win for the Sixers during the 2016-17 season, it would probably look a lot like Friday night’s preseason finale in Miami. Philadelphia fought back from a second half deficit, and unlike past years, actually did enough to get over the hump, take the lead, and then hang on for the victory. Most importantly though, it was their two rookies in the starting frontcourt doing much of the heavy lifting.

Joel Embiid finished with 18 points and a game-high 9 rebounds in just 18 minutes of action. Encouragingly, a good portion of his time on the floor was spent going toe-to-toe with the $98M man, Hassan Whiteside. He ran the floor well, scored after establishing good post position, and finished out of the pick-and-roll, here showing good chemistry with Sergio Rodriguez.

The one downside for Embiid was that he fouled out in the fourth quarter, which obviously makes for a terrible foul rate given his low number of minutes. If Embiid is going to bump those minutes up into the mid-20’s, he will have to learn how to avoid those unnecessary fouls.

Meanwhile, Dario Saric was equally impressive with a game-high 19 points and 7 rebounds. Saric was an absolute bully down low, using his strong center of gravity to drive the defender back, and then a series of pump fakes and shooting with both hands to finish at the rim. He also showed off a pretty, finesse move with a spin move to get around Justise Winslow for a hoop. Then, Saric capped it all off with a three-pointer with a minute left to stretch the Philadelphia lead to 4. Great bounce back night for The Homie after a few rough shooting performances.

Outside of the two main rookies, the best player on the floor for Philadelphia was Jerami Grant. Grant finished with 17 points on 4-9 shooting, best helped his cause by repeatedly getting to the foul line (9-12 on the evening). Jerami had an excellent preseason, scoring in double digits in 6 of the 7 games and looking more polished offensively than his strategy of past years to run through and jump over everyone.

The Sixers will next take the court Wednesday night against Oklahoma City in the regular season opener. Whether they win or lose, the success that night, and each night throughout the season will be determined by how these young blue-chip guys are progressing. Friday night was certainly a step in the right direction.

Other Notes:

  • 76ers fans received some bad news earlier in the day that Nerlens Noel would be undergoing a minor surgerical procedure to repair an inflamed plica in his knee. Per the internet, a plica is a fold of membrane that only about 50% of people even have. It makes total sense that Noel would be suddenly afflicted with something that not everyone has to even deal with; if the Sixers didn’t have rotten, no good luck when it comes to injuries, they would have no luck at all.
  • Although Noel remained out, Jahlil Okafor made his preseason debut and scored 4 points in 8 minutes of action. His only field goal attempted resulted in a gorgeous, spin move and finish against Hassan Whitside. The man certainly did not forget how to score during his long lay-off.

  • Brandon Paul, Cat Barber, and James Webb all did not see action Friday, while Shawn Long played just 2 minutes. It’s clear at this point that they will be the final 4 roster cuts. Congratulations Nik Stauskas and Hollis Thompson. Despite doing nothing to earn it with your preseason play, you will be making the team once again, barring an external, recently-released player getting picked up.

Elton Brand Retires After 17 Seasons

By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)

In what would truly appear to be the end (although we’ve been fooled before) of an impressive NBA career spanning nearly 2 decades, Elton Brand announced his retirement yesterday. In typical Ol’ School Chevy fashion, it was an understated affair during the team’s media session, free of the pomp and circumstance often associated with these things nowadays. The entire Sixers team was on hand to give him a round of applause and wish him well.

Brand had signed with the Sixers on a 1-year deal for $1.55M prior to training camp. He will still receive just under $1M of that as part of the guaranteed portion of the contract. That’s not a bad haul for about a month’s worth of practice; Brand did not appear in a preseason game with the team.

Although he has become a token figure for veteran leadership, let’s not overlook all that Brand accomplished in his 17-year career. Here are a few of the accumulated statistics for where he currently stands in NBA history:

  • 96th in Points
  • 18th in Offensive Rebounds
  • 42nd in Defensive Rebounds
  • 51st in Total Rebounds
  • 20th in Blocks
  • 35th in Value over Replacement Player

According to anyone who had the pleasure of interacting with him, Brand was also as gracious and classy as they come off the court. There’s a reason the Sixers were so desperate to have him around to provide a positive influence on the young big men. Any young player would be lucky to have the kind of impact on and off the court that Brand had since entering the league out of Duke. Best of luck in any future endeavors, Ol’ School Chevy. I hope to see you on the Sixers coaching staff in the not-too-distant future.

Brand’s retirement means guys like Hollis Thompson and Nik Stauskas can breathe a sigh of relief heading into tonight’s preseason finale. His late inclusion to the 20-man roster ahead of training camp had meant one of last year’s players would not be making cut. Now though, barring something unexpected like Brandon Paul making the team or Philadelphia picking someone completely new off waivers, the 15-man roster heading into the season looks set.

2-on-1 Fast Break Podcast: 2016 NFL Week 7

By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak) & Dan Urda (@DanUrda)

Win or lose, NFL handicapper Dan Urda back on the podcast covering Week 7 lines promises to be more enjoyable than the 2016 presidential election.

Week 6 Record: 1-4; Season Record: 13-20.

Listen to the podcast on the SoundCloud site.

Or listen via the embedded player below:

Please contact us via twitter or our facebook page to provide feedback on what we’ve done so far, or for questions you’d like answered on future editions of the podcast.

Sixers Front Office Hires Signal Continued Transition

By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)

bryan_colangelo_2009When Bryan Colangelo was hired by the Philadelphia 76ers in the beginning of April, there were only a couple of months until the franchise’s most important draft in decades. It would not have been prudent to completely overhaul front office departments and essentially start from scratch in terms of both internal player evaluation and external scouting in such a relatively short time frame. So although Colangelo brought in guys like Ned Cohen and Marc Eversley, a lot of the holdover from the Sam Hinkie era still remained.

Now, with a full offseason in the rearview mirror, Colangelo has the luxury of filling the ranks how he sees fit. The team announced yesterday that in addition to Cohen being promoted to Vice President of Basketball Operations, they were hiring a host of other individuals, most prominently former Raptors executive Alex Rucker as VP of Analytics and Strategy.

The full announcement on the Sixers website also notes that: “In conjunction with the aforementioned changes, former Vice President of Basketball Operations Sachin Gupta and Vice President of Analytics Ben Falk have moved on to pursue new opportunities.” Falk and Gupta were a pair of the more well-known Hinkie hires, a clear indication that the Hinkie era is fading further and further into the past.

It’s certainly nothing new or unexpected that the new man in charge is going to want hand-picked individuals working for and with him. Cohen was reportedly instrumental in the decision-making at this year’s draft, during which the Sixers were largely praised for their selections. He was a highly respected part of the NBA league office before joining Philadelphia. Giving him increased responsibility is likely a wise and deserving move.

Likewise, Rucker has a terrific reputation and (in my opinion) a favorable outlook on incorporating new waves of data and viewpoints. He was prominently featured in Zach Lowe’s SportVU article on Grantland (RIP), and there is a lot to like if you check out his opinions as expressed on his twitter timeline.

All of which is to say that although change can be viewed in a negative light at times, especially for those who view themselves as ride or die for Sam Hinkie, there’s plenty of reason to believe in these hires and what Bryan Colangelo has been trying to build since he arrived.

The Hidden Brilliance of Richaun Holmes

By Andrew Curran (@andrewjc417)


Overlooked and lost in the shuffle have been the constant themes of Richaun Holmes’ basketball career. Overlooked by college scouts, overlooked by NBA teams, and overlooked by fans, Richaun Holmes has had a chip on his shoulder throughout his journey, a feeling that can be seen through his ferocious finishes and Rocky-like passion on the court. It has been a long road from Moraine Valley Community College to the NBA for Holmes, but he is finally starting to demand attention.

First, a brief personal aside. Back in 7th grade, playing basketball for Cherry Hill Travel, I was stuck at the bottom of the depth chart with flashier, more well-known athletes ahead of me. I played sparingly, checking in briefly when someone got into foul trouble. But one game, due to injuries and a myriad of unfortunate circumstances, we only dressed six players, and guess who got the start at the 5. I went in and tore it up, reaching a double-double and even banking in an unbelievably ill-advised three ball with twenty seconds left in the half, which I may or may not have read as two seconds. That performance led to a gradual increase in playing time as the season went on.

Fast-forward to November 9th, 2015. With Nerlens Noel out due to an ankle injury, Holmes got his first start with the Sixers. At one point, Holmes was trailing the one and only Phil Pressey on the fast break against the Bulls. Pressey lobbed it up, and it was thrown down emphatically by you guessed it, Mr. Holmes. It was at that point when I began to personally identify with Richaun Holmes, another player who needed to catch some breaks to show what he could do.

Holmes ended that first start with a modest, yet surprising, total of 11 points, while playing in a system designed to cater to the 3rd overall pick and future cornerstone, Jahlil Okafor, not some unknown, 2nd round tweener. In the remaining games last season, it appeared obvious that Holmes deserved to play. He brought a fire to his play that fans of The Process have come to appreciate. This time around, with the revolving door of undrafted and 2nd round players having stopped spinning, Holmes needs to be allowed to have an impact.

Nerlens Noel and Richaun Holmes are, in many respects, very similar players. However, their main difference lies in their draft status. Naturally, being a high draft pick, Noel gets every benefit of the doubt, while Holmes has a very small margin of error. While logic dictates that Noel is more valuable than Holmes, stats tell another, very interesting story.

Interestingly enough, Holmes averaged 14.6 points per 36 minutes last season as, opposed to Noel’s 13.6 points/36. Holmes shot nearly 60% from two-point range, whereas Noel was slightly above 52%. Proof of Holmes’ superior offensive game goes well beyond stats. Throughout last season, it was clear Holmes was more comfortable taking mid-ranged shots than Noel, and even getting them to fall towards the end of last year.

This preseason, Richaun’s jumper has continued to improve; when he has time to set his feet, more times than not the ball will end up in the hoop. On the other hand, Nerlens, despite multiple offseasons spent re-working his shot, still looks awkward when shooting and optimism over possible improvement is running out rapidly. Even when finishing inside, the gut feeling with Holmes is that somehow he is going to end up putting someone on a poster, while you often expect another clank off the backboard from Noel. Then, while Noel grades out as a better defender on the whole, Holmes did offer similar rim protection in terms of blocks, besting Noel 2.1 blocks/36 to 1.8.

To be fair, Noel does score slightly higher than Holmes in categories such as rebounding, steals, and assists, but there are reasons to look past those numbers. First of all, Holmes’ rebounding was a legitimate weakness, but his improvement on the boards this preseason and at the end of last season has been nothing short of impressive. It is not bold at all to say that at this point, he is the better rebounder both in terms of aggression and technique. His 10.8 rebounds per 36 minutes this preseason is much better than his numbers last year, and also better than Noel produced a year ago. 

Nerlens does have much quicker hands, as his steals output is historically great for a man his age and at his size, but the assists and PER are particularly deceiving stats. Holmes often played with the second team, a group which we can all agree was straight-up incompetent at times. Holmes was often the one bright spot, and frequently made passes that would be counted as assists if he was playing with better teammates. With the logjam at center for the Sixers, Holmes might be more effective at the 4 than Noel for short stretches, thanks to the former’s ability to step out and hit a jumper.

Now, am I saying that the Sixers need to get rid of Noel ASAP to make room for future All-Star Richaun Holmes? No. But Richaun Holmes is a much more capable player than he gets credit for, as supported by both stats and the eye test. If Noel does leave Philadelphia, it’s good to know they have a ready-made replacement already in-house.

More Embiid Minutes Can’t Save Sixers Against Pistons

By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)

Detroit 97, Philadelphia 76 – Box Score

Before Saturday night’s game, the Sixers made the surprising announcement that Joel Embiid could be available for back-to-back games this season, a bridge fans did not think the team would cross until at least 2017. Not only is this great news for Embiid’s burgeoning Rookie of the Year campaign, but based on recent returns, Sixers fans are going to need all the Embiid they can get.

Now 1-5 in the preseason, Philadelphia has been especially dismal on the offensive end the last two games. Against the Pistons, the team shot just 36.8% from the field and 3-20 from three. Basically, the team’s only effective strategy on offense has consisted of letting Embiid establish deep post position and let him go to work.

Which in itself largely works out pretty well, as Embiid played a career-high 20 minutes, tallying 15 points on 5-8 shooting and 5-7 from the foul line, in addition to 5 rebounds. The one flaw in his night was his 7 turnovers, as Embiid was more than occasionally overeager to force the action. I think it’s fair to assume this is a product of this being just his 6th game back after being forced to sit out 2 years due to injury.

Ultimately though, the highs are greatly exceeding the lows. After an Andre Drummond hard foul, Embiid got fired up, and on the very next play, punctuated an and-one against Boban Manjanovic by roaring and flexing for the crowd.

As for the other 2014 lottery pick, Dario Saric finished with 8 points on 3-7 shooting and 5 rebounds. Saric did a nice job looking for Embiid on post entry passes, but if I had one quibble, it would be that he can occasionally be lazy on passes along the perimeter (3 turnovers). Like Embiid’s turnover issues, I’m willing to give Saric the benefit of the doubt for now, realizing he’s still adjusting to the speed of the NBA game.

Among the guards, Brett Brown shook things up by giving Sergio Rodriguez the start ahead of TJ McConnell. Rodriguez did a decent job distributing, recording 7 assists against 3 turnovers, while TJ finished with just 1 assist off the bench. El Chacho displayed his creative flourishes with some of his passes, but I think more than anything, Brown likes pairing him with Embiid because Joel can cover up for Rodriguez on the defensive end. Not only is Embiid an imposing deterrent at the rim, but he showed on a couple more occasions against Detroit an ability to switch onto perimeter players and hold his own. There was one possession where Tobias Harris tried to drive at Embiid twice, but JoJo perfectly slid his feet and stonewalled him from getting into the lane.

As to those players with less secure spots on the roster, hough his lottery pick pedigree may keep him safe for one more year, Nik Stauskas is doing nothing right now to show he’ll be an impactful player at the NBA level. Sauce went 0-5 from the field against Detroit, missing two threes along with three lay-ups. A couple of those shots at the rim were wild flailing attempts on drives, as Stauskas just looks more lost by the day out on the court. I would have no issue if the team opted to go with a more unknown quantity like Brandon Paul or Cat Barber.

The Sixers have one final game on the preseason schedule, next Friday night in Miami. We are just 10 days away from Russell Westbrook, the Thunder, and opening night. I think fans are ready, but it remains to be seen whether this Sixers squad will be.