Spoiler: It could be a while.
Philadelphia went into Thursday’s game against the Nets with the league’s best record at 7-1; they then went on to lose to a Brooklyn team missing their two best players in Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. We all know it is too early in the season to judge this year’s Sixers team, but when will be the right time to judge them?
Both the Sixers’ losses could be easily discounted as ‘schedule losses.’ Both games were on the second night of back-to-backs, with the loss to Cleveland coming without Joel Embiid in the lineup and the Brooklyn game showing a ‘trap game. With both the Nets stars out, it could have been harder for the Sixers players to stay focused.
The team does have problems that should not be discounted; however, problems have already shown up not just in the two losses but also in some of the wins.
Before Thursday’s game, the 76ers boasted the league’s best defense with a rating of 102.9 over the first eight games, yet somehow allowed the Nets to put up 122 points while missing their two top scorers. Outside of Ben Simmons, the Sixers seemingly have no perimeter defenders. They allowed 60 points to Bradley Beal on Wednesday and then a combined 50 points to Joe Harris and Caris LeVert on Thursday.
In the two losses this season, Philadelphia’s lack of depth was also made apparent. In the games where Embiid dominates, the Sixers win, but if Embiid is absent or plays well but not necessarily outstanding, the team struggles. Embiid is the focal point of the Sixers’ offense, and they rely on him to draw double teams to create space for others. Without Embiid dominating and collapsing opposing defenses, the other Sixers have struggled to create open shots for themselves.
This lack of shot creation is exaggerated even further when the reserves take the court. Shake Milton has been the Sixers’ only bench player able to create for himself or others so far this season, and when he was forced into the starting lineup with the injury to Seth Curry, the bench lineup’s offense stalled completely. The reserves have shown signs and padded their stats in junk time, but when the game is in the balance, the bench squad disappears, except for Milton and Dwight Howard.
Philadelphia has games coming up against Denver, Atlanta, and Miami, which could have given a better indication of where the team is at. This could all be thrown into flux, though, given the positive COVID test from Seth Curry and the entire team’s close contact status.
Those matchups could be pushed back by a week, if not more, and team practices could be put on hold for the foreseeable future. Considering the Sixers’ issues with game fitness early in the season and their struggles with offensive and defensive continuity, canceling games and practices could be a major setback.
In the best-case scenario, it could still be a month before we have any idea of what this team will be.
Featured Image: Frank Franklin II/The Press of Atlantic City