Like Spongbob looking for someone to celebrate Leif Erikson day with, I couldn’t understand why people weren’t more excited. Sports talk was still bashing the Eagles and Chip Kelly into the ground, admittedly deservingly but shit’s old news. Hey coworker, want to talk about the Six… no, you don’t watch basketball huh. Oh nice, Mike Missanelli is going to interview Sixer owner Scott O’Neil, this might be good. Nevermind! The radio was turned off when Missanelli said the Sixers are going to have more loses than the previous two years. I’m not letting any pessimism ruin my sunny Sixers disposition.
So what’s going on? Am I on Mugato’s crazy pills or something? Possibly, but also it seems like the talking heads in Philly are missing the point. There’s been so much talk in this offseason about how the tank job has not gone as planned. How agents are telling their clients not to work with the Sixers. How Dario Saric is never coming over. How Joel Embiid is a lard ass. About how if you feel something on your head it’s not rain, it is in fact the entire sky falling...
Well guess what? The sky ain’t falling ladies and germs. Jahlil Okafor is the stud offensive go-to player that this team has been desperately craving. He’s a player that you can run your offense around due to the bevy of ways he can put the ball through the hoop and he’s a player that other players are going to want to play around because he’s unselfish.
I was impressed in so many different ways by him. His footwork is dizzying, his arsenal of moves bountiful, his defense is better than advertised, his ball handling skills for a center are matched by only that of the 7 foot white guy with the head band and two arm sleeves that you created in 2k. Trust me when I say the Lakers are going to regret over thinking this one, BIGGGGG time.
Even more than the flashy stuff I was impressed by the things he was doing that at first glance may not have appeared as difficult as they actually were. There was a play where Jahlil got the ball trailing in a fast break scenario. Marcus Smart set himself up perfectly to take the charge with the 6’11” 270lbs big boy bearing down… but it didn’t happen. Jahlil dropped on a dime and hit a floater from 8 feet out. A center, hitting a floater! At this moment from my couch I literally jumped up and let out a Ric Flair “WOOO!”
The big man had 8 turnovers but I don’t see it as a major cause for concern. He did some rookie stuff like dribbling into double teams, forcing passes, and not letting the game come to him but it was all correctable. In fact it was only when he turned the ball over that I was able to believe that he’s a 19 year old kid playing his first ever professional basketball game. On one play he was double teamed, took his time while being hacked by two defenders (evident by a visibly huge scratch on his back), stepped between them, and found Hollis Thompson across court for a wide open 3. It was a thing of beauty.
In fact as early as the second quarter he started having double teams thrown his way and that didn’t stop him from dropping 26. His hands are so big and his wingspan so long that he can securely palm the ball in one hand, keep the defenders away with his body and the other arm, pump fake a pass in one direction without losing group, and then fire across court in the other direction. That’ll teach them to leave their man open.
As far as his teammates’ play first you have to bring up Nerlens, he was everywhereeeeee. Defensively both he and Jah had 2 blocks but Nerlens seemed like he was affecting every shot within 10 feet of him. He’ll be in the conversation for defensive player of the year for much of his career once the league starts respecting the Sixers, but we already knew as much. Offensively he and Jah worked well together as far as spacing and helping each other get good looks, whether through passing or setting the other one up with an easy offensive rebound (7 between the two). Nerlens’ rebounding also continued to look much improved from last year, collecting 12 altogether. Offensively he looked aggressive. He took it into the chest of defenders and got to the line 7 times. Great stuff to see from the second year player.
Outside of the two big men, Jakarr Sampson had a very solid game. He used his athleticism to get by defenders but remained in control, something he struggled with last year. Jakarr finished with an efficient 13 points. Canaan was solid shooting the ball and stretching the floor, dropping 18. The problem however is he just isn’t the type of player capable of setting up an offense which was evident by how much he played off the ball alongside TJ McConnell. McConnell made a couple of impressive drive and kick outs to shooters, one of which led to a Canaan three, the other bouncing off the hands of an unsuspecting Noel. He did however make some knucklehead rookie mistakes such as allowing Isaiah Thomas to get an easy layup on a back door cut while face guarding him, turning the ball over at the end of a quarter by trying to split a double team, and the cardinal sin of fouling a jump shooter. All in all he didn’t look terrible though, he looked like someone who could use more experience. Jerami Grant was aggressive, too much, and played a pretty out of control game (in his defense there were a couple plays he seemed to get hacked without getting a call). Hollis Thompson had a cold shooting night, going 3-15, but he stuck at it and finished the night 3-6 all three of the made shots being three balls. And lastly, Richaun Holmes and particularly Christian Wood appeared lost and not quite NBA ready in their first game, something that’s far from surprising.
Overall I left the game feeling ecstatic. Yes, they lost by 17 but they were within striking distance for 3 quarters. Their interior defense is more than solid and they’re playing without three of their starters, Marshall, Covington, and Stauskas, plus their scoring 6th man, Wroten. Missanelli, is way off thinking they’ll lose more games this year than the previous two. You can take that to the bank and tell them I sent you there.
Now as far as the home opener tonight and most importantly the 7 ½ point line in favor of Utah, the Jazz are a good young team that some experts have picked to sneak into the grueling Western conference playoffs. They have a strong young front court with Gobert and Favors that will certainly be a challenge to Noel and Okafor. Their point guard play is not very strong with their projected starter Dante Exum out for the year with a torn ACL, good news for the Sixers who were abused by Thomas on Wednesday. The Sixers defense always performed at a notch higher when the team played at home and they covered the line much more than they did not at home. It’s also hard to imagine the Sixers committing that many turnovers two games in a row (although not impossible either). Stauskas however is still a game time decision and I wouldn’t count on Jahlil to drop over a quarter century again (I’m thinking more like 16). Normally I would say if it’s a toss-up in your head and the Sixers are at home, go with the Sixers, but I just don’t trust TJ McConnell to play 25+ minutes as the only real point guard in the line up. Jahlil and Nerlens have no real backups ready to step in and give them a breather and they both have tough matchups.
Unfortunately I’m taking the Jazz -7 ½. That being said, LETS GO SIXERSSSSSSSS!