In case you stepped away from the season of the “double tank” for the weekend, you should know that the 76ers have won 2 out of their last 3 games and now stand at .500 in the month of December. We realize that both victories came against fellow NBA bottom dwellers Minnesota and Detroit and with a simply brutal schedule ahead of Brett Brown’s team this month, we don’t see these good times lasting past this week.
Still, today we’re going to look at three positive items we have seen over this recent four game stretch in which the Sixers picked up two wins; got beat by the defending champs in respectable fashion and suffered a highly competitive loss to the vastly superior OKC Thunder.
Believe or not we had a hard time limiting this post to just three items.
1) The Improved Play of Michael Carter-Williams — When MCW first returned from his shoulder injury, the reigning ROY attempted to carry his Sixers team, which was absolutely desperate for a win, on his back every night. The results were not pretty. In his first 9 games back in a 76ers uniform, #1 averaged 14 ppg. thanks to 34% shooting from the field and 21% from three. His TS% hovered in the low 40’s and his assist to turnover ratio was nearly 1:1 (5.7 to 4.1). During that stretch MCW too often was forcing the action with the dribble-drive; repeatedly launching ill-advised jumpers and in general not playing very smart basketball.
However over the last 3 or 4 games, PG1 seems to have found his rhythm and the result has of much better play from the point guard spot has been that the Sixers are a more competitive team on the court. Look at MCW’s basic numbers over the last 4 games: 20 ppg.; 11.3 apg.; 8.8 rpg.; 2.1 spg and a better than 2:1 assist to turnover ratio (5.3 TOV per — still too high for my liking!). His shooting stroke still needs help, but numbers have been much better over the last 4 games — 45.7% on FGA and 30% from deep.
Forget about the improved stats for a minute. If you look at the video tape, what you will find is that MCW is making better decisions with the basketball; playing less selfishly and getting his teammates the ball in very good spots. Of course it also helps when those teammates are knocking down shots. Which brings us to…
2) Robert Covington’s Shooting — Covington came to the 76ers with a reputation as a very solid outside shooter. I’m not sure if it was nerves or adjusting to a new system or what, but in his first 7 games as a Sixer, Covington struggled to score the ball. Covington’s 4.6 ppg. on 28% shooting through 7 games under Brett Brown had me wondering if his signing was an attempt by Sam Hinkie to push my 76ers loyalty to the brink.
In the last week, that has all changed and Covington has become a bright spot for a team in desperate need of some positive vibes. Over the last 4 games, Covington seems to have settled in and found his stroke and his stat line over that stretch is hard to believe — 18 ppg. on 60% shooting from three and 54% from the field. Covington’s increased production has pushed his TS% to 62.1 and given the 76ers a legit outside threat who can stretch the floor. I’m trying to remember the last time the 76ers roster contained that type of weapon and I am drawing a blank. I guess Jodie Meeks qualifies — sort of. Covington’s surge in play has opened up driving lanes for the other perimeter players on this team and created space for big like Noel and Sims to operate down low. It’s almost like the 76ers are a real NBA team!
Now I am willing to admit that the TWolves and Pistons are awful teams that struggle on the defensive end, so #33’s scoring burst against those opponents could be viewed with some skepticism. However, on Saturday night Covington dropped 25 on 64% shooting vs. the Thunder — one of the stingiest defenses in the Association (3rd at 94.1 ppg.), so some level of respect should be shown for his play of late. Obviously we will need a larger sample size to find out if Covington can contribute to the long range rebuild of this franchise, but for now let’s just enjoy what we have seen over the last four contests.
3) Rebounding — If you follow the 76ers or this site closely, you know by now that Brett Brown’s team has trouble on the boards. The most alarming part of this issue is that the Sixers are one of the longest and most athletic teams in the NBA, yet rank in the bottom third of the League in rebounding (41 per night — 22nd). On a team that has been designated as the tallest roster in the Association, Carter-Williams, a point guard who is coming back from shoulder surgery, is the team’s leading rebounder at 7.1 boards per night. Prior to this recent four game stretch the 76ers were second to dead last in the NBA in rebounding diferential at -4.5. In short, Brett Brown’s crew would not be described as a group of Windex men (to use a Dick V term).
Over this recent four game stretch featuring better play from the 76ers, Philadunkia’s home team has show significant improvement on the boards. They out-rebounded Oklahoma City (44-40) as well as a big Detroit frontline (53-47) and finished the Minnesota game at -1 on the glass (50-49). The Sixers grabbed an unprecedented (for them) 19 offensive rebounds against the Thunder. The only blemish in this four game stretch was the San Antonio loss in which the Spurs, without Duncan and Splitter, still finished a +10 on the glass. Despite that effort vs. SAS, over their 2-2 run in December the 76ers are +1 overall on the boards, which is a significant improvement.
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