This edition of “Fo’ with the Foes” – Philadunkia’s advanced scouting series which with the help of an accomplished journalist from around the NBA beat or blog world, previews key upcoming 76ers games – features tonight’s opponent, the New Orleans 2-3 in their last five games and most likely will be without Jrue Holiday tonight, but still feature MVP candidate Anthony Davis.
After the jump, I’ll look a Fo’ key items for tonight’s game. Additionally, we’ll get a little more insight into this New Orleans team the Sixers face tonight from our colleague Nick Lewellen at bourbonstreetshots.com, as Nick will answer Fo’ questions on his Pelicans from us here at Philadunkia.
Here are Fo’ key items I will be watching for tonight…
1) “The Brow” — From what I have seen on NBA TV and SC, Anthony Davis is absolutely the real deal. You don’t need to be an NBA scout to realize that fact. Wednesday night he posted 27 points and 10 boards in a win over Detroit. Additionally over his last 5 games he is averaging 26 points and 10 rebounds per night to go along with 55% shooting from the field. That stat sheet includes two 30+ point nights. I’ll be curious to see how badly Davis destroys the Sixers bigs tonight and what kind of numbers he can post. I would argue that Noel might want to sit this one out and take notes on how an athletic big is supposed to play in this League.
2) Nerlens Noel — As a result of the 2013 Draft Day trade, that brought Nerlens Noel to Philly and sent Jrue Holiday to New Orleans, the two players will be forever linked. Whether or not you were a Holiday fan is irrelevant now. The facts are, in the name of “rebuilding”, the Sixers traded away a rising and healthy point guard for an injured and offensively raw 7-footer. Who comes out as the long run winner is this trade has yet to be determined, but right now the Pelicans have the edge. Because of the trade and Holiday’s current success (15-7-3 per night), I’ll be interested to witness if Noel finds an extra gear tonight and if he can slow down Davis at all.
3) NOP vs. the Schedule — Tonight will mark the Pelicans third road game in the last five days and they have a huge match-up looming on Sunday in Toronto. Thus I will be interested to see if the Pels (Who are 7-14 away from NO this season.) are road weary and possibly looking past the 76ers towards their game against the Raptors on Sunday. I am hoping this is the case tonight and that the 76ers can take advantage of a tired, uninterested and Jrue-less Pelicans team in order to keep this game competitive for most of the night.
4) Defending the Three — In recent weeks, the 76ers defense has shown slight improvements. However, they still struggle mightily to guard the perimeter and specifically the three-ball. The Hawks and Raptors shot a combined 22-52 from three (42.3%) against the Sixers. That torching of Brett Brown’s defenders may have been expected as Atlanta ranks T2nd in the League in 3P% (38.5%) and Toronto comes in at T8th (36%). The Pels are a respectable 3-point shooting team (T18th at 34.5%), but certainly nothing spectacular. So, tonight I am expecting the Sixers perimeter defenders to dust themselves off, show some pride, guard the hell out of the three point line and force Davis to win this game by himself.
And now…Fo’ Q&As with Nick Lewellen at bourbonstreetshots.com:
Philadunkia: All of us at Philadunkia are disappointed that Jrue might not be playing tonight. His numbers are very solid and he’s looked good on NBATV to us, but give the folks in Philadunkia nation an inside perspective on how he has played so far this season.
Nick Lewellen at bourbonstreetshots.com: About a month ago, I wrote a piece claiming that Jrue was having the best season of his career. I think that is still true. He is posting career highs in PER and WS/48. More than that, he has done a better job managing his turnovers this year, which has always been his Achilles heel. Obviously, he isn’t getting a lot of national attention, and he probably won’t until he is on a winning team. With so many great scoring point guards in the League, it is easy to forget about Jrue. However, his play, especially his defense, has been so important for this team. He is clearly the second best player on this roster.
Having said that, there are still parts of his game that need work, and I think he is still building chemistry with his teammates. Nevertheless, Jrue is a stud, who can shut down some of the best perimeter scores in the league. I’m sorry if this clip breaks Philly fans hearts, but just take a look at his defense on this play against Russell Westbrook.
What I like best is that he’s a floor general, a willing and natural passer, a rim protector, and a go-to scorer — all wrapped up in one neat incredibly long bundle. As soon as he has a jump shot to go with it, he’ll be a top-5 NBA player.
Philadunkia: Obviously the Nerlens Noel for Jrue Holiday tracked closely and results compared for years here in Philadelphia. Is there the same high interest level in this game and the long term ramifications of the trade from the NOP side?
Nick Lewellen at bourbonstreetshots.com: I’m not sure there is a higher than normal level of interest in this game than the average game, to be honest. From what I have seen, the average and casual Pelicans fan is okay with not having Nerlens in NOLA. The consensus seems to be that he overlaps too much with Anthony Davis, and they wouldn’t have worked well together. Unfortunately, I can’t say that every Pels fan is a big fan of Jrue, though I don’t have an explanation for that one.
Now, the trade is a different matter. Fans and analysts in New Orleans are still talking about it. While I’m starting to get a little fatigued on the topic, I understand why. It was a big trade, and a lot of people are going to place the Pelicans success or failure in the coming years on the outcome of that move (fair or not). Also, in hindsight, it was a pretty interesting deal. I think it has stuck around in conversation for so long, because it basically forces a discussion about methods of rebuilding a team and how to value draft picks. At any rate, there is still plenty to talk about with that trade, and we are still talking.
Philadunkia: Why did Austin Rivers (10th pick overall in 2012) never flourish in New Orleans and will a fresh start help him?
Nick Lewellen at bourbonstreetshots.com: I’m not sure anyone has a good or clear answer for why Rivers didn’t work out in New Orleans. My feeling has always been that it just wasn’t an ideal situation from the beginning. Injuries and roster limitations forced him to play out of position and in much a larger role than he could handle early in his career. His rookie year was admittedly terrible, and I think that damaged his confidence beyond repair in New Orleans. Having said that, he did get better in New Orleans. Rivers improved as a defender and 3 point shooter. Of course, he still has plenty to work on.
I think a fresh start could be the best thing for Rivers at this point. A change of scenery, role, and system seems like what his career needs. The reality is that the Pelicans have needed a back up point guard for a while, and Rivers just wasn’t the answer. I can’t speak for all Pelicans fans, but I really hope he catches on somewhere. He seemed like a nice guy and hard worker. It always bummed me out that he couldn’t hit his stride here.
Philadunkia: The Pels are 2-3 in their last 5 and lost at Boston on Monday night. What have been the main issues for NO in this recent stretch of play?
Nick Lewellen at bourbonstreetshots.com: Recently, the Pelicans have looked like a young, inconsistent, and frustrating team. Over the last 5 games, the two wins were against a great team in Memphis and a blowout against the Pistons (it was 58-36 at half). The 3 losses were against Washington, which you expect, Charlotte, and Boston. In the Charlotte game, Kemba walker did his thing, and we didn’t have an answer late in the game. The Boston game was the worst for me. It was just a sloppy game for us, but it felt like we were in it until Marcus Smart (of all people) drained a well-defended corner three. At any rate, it is hard to say what the main issue has been. Occasionally, it is turnovers or 3 point shooting, but really it just feels like we are struggling to put it all together, in my opinion. Some nights they look like they are the next big thing in the West. Other nights they look like they are headed back to the top of the lottery. Such is life with a young team.
Thanks to Nick Lewellen for his time and answers.
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