Last night, despite a super-human effort from emerging Rookie of the Year candidate Nerlens Noel (30 points; 14 boards; 70% shooting form the field), the 76ers lost their 55th contest of Tank 2.0. Instead of analyzing the fact that Brett Brown’s squad missed their last 10 shots of the 3rd quarter last night or how they trailed the playoff bound Clippers by 32 during the final quarter, I thought we’d try something a little different on a Saturday morning.
Thankfully, the 76ers have only 9 games remaining in the 2014-15 season. Seven of those contests are against playoff bound / caliber teams, while the other two games are against fellow tankers — the Los Angels Lakers and New York Knicks. After careful consideration of the remaining schedule and the currents status of the Sixers, I have assembled a list of six items I want to see from Brett Brown and this 76ers roster over the last nine games of the season.
1) Continued development from Nerlens Noel: Noel has been a beast as of late, and I would love to see that trend continue for the rest of the season. Noel has exploded since the All-Star break (and more specifically since trade deadline day) – averaging a virtual double-double with nearly three blocks per game in that time. He has been visibly more aggressive and assertive on the offensive end, and clearly more confident, while on defense he is already a dominant in development. He is also the only player in the NBA to be in the top 10 in both blocks and steals. Not bad for a rookie.
Perhaps most impressive so far this season for Noel is the fact that he has missed only 4 games, and none of them knee-related, after sitting out the entirety of last season. His durability has helped to ease the worries of some of the Philadelphia faithful. Hopefully Joel Embiid can have similar success, as far as staying out on the court, next season.
Regardless of whether or not he wins the Rookie of the Year award this year, Noel has established himself as a great young player with a developing offensive arsenal and the potential to be dominant defensively.
2) More playing time for Thomas Robinson: Thomas Robinson has been a pleasant surprise since signing with the Sixers. In his 15 games with the team, he has put up averages of 8.9 points and 7.9 rebounds per game, while shooting 50% from the field. Despite his promising play and production however, Robinson has only been playing a little over 17 minutes a game – I would like to see that number increase over the season’s final stretch.
Robinson has shown that he might be worth brining back, at least in a reserve role, as his energy and aptitude on the offensive glass make him potentially very valuable. He has also demonstrated an ability to finish around the rim. Robinson is only a couple years removed from being a top-5 pick in the NBA Draft, and some of that potential could still be capitalized on. Over the rest of the season it will be up to team to decide if he is worth trying to bring back, and there is no better way to make an educated decision on the matter than by giving Robinson ample opportunity to show his stuff.
3) Some playing time for Glenn Robinson III: I really wanted the Sixers to select GR3 in the second round of the 2014 NBA Draft. After seeing some of his offensive ability at Michigan, I was intrigued and thought he might make a nice fit on the restructuring Sixers. The Sixers used the 32nd pick on K.J. McDaniels, who many felt could have been a first round selection. When Robinson III was still around for the 76ers’ second second-round pick at 39, I found myself getting excited in the media seating section of the Barclay’s Center. But again, the Sixers passed up on Robinson III, this time in favor of Jerami Grant, who has improved greatly over the course of the season.
Thanks to a log-jam at the wing spots in Minnesota, the Sixers were able to acquire GR3, less than nine months after I wanted them to draft him. One problem however: He hasn’t been playing!
Since his acquisition by the Sixers, Robinson III has only appeared in two games for a grand total of nine minutes. Sure, the Sixers have a lot of options to try out at the perimeter positions themselves, but this guy could be good. He is long, athletic, and has knock-down shooting abilities. He is the type of guy that could potentially develop into a legitimate (two-way) NBA wing player, and the Sixers lucked into him. He will be a free agent this summer, and the Sixers need to evaluate if they want to try to bring him back, so it only makes some sense for Brett Brown and co. to give him some burn down the stretch.
4) More solid play from Hollis Thompson: I had some sizable expectations for Hollis Thompson heading into the 2014-15 season. On the heels of his solid Summer League play, and with a year of experience under his belt, I thought that he may be ready to break-out as a shooting/scoring option for the Sixers. I wrote this back in October, prior to the season’s start:
Hollis however hasn’t taken quite as big a step forward as I expected this season. Injury issues and a deeper roster of wing players has limited Thompson’s on-court impact. After starting 41 games last season, Thompson has started only 22 this year, while his minutes per game have increased only incrementally. There was a period during the middle of the season (January-ish) where it seemed that Thompson had become sort of an afterthought, which JaKarr Sampson, Robert Covington, and Luc Mbah a Moute eating up a majority of the perimeter minutes. After dipping to under 20 minutes of action per game in January, Thompson’s playing time has again increased over the past couple months, and he has again established himself as a consistent contributor. I would like to see Thompson continue to contribute and step-up throughout the rest of the season; give the organization something to think about when pondering his future with the franchise.
5) More W’s aren’t necessary: For the second straight season, it looks like the Sixers will not finish with the league’s worst record, despite all the national flak they have taken for their selected route of rebuilding. They avoided finishing with the league’s all-time futility mark – a legitimate concern for some before the season’s start, and something that nobody wanted – and they demonstrated that they could compete, and even beat some of the league’s best teams. The team has outperformed expectations, and considering the goals, the season could be considered a success.
With that said, at this point, the 7-6 don’t need to rack up many more wins. The goal is still to land as high as possible a pick in the upcoming Draft, and each win makes that percentage points harder. As it stands currently, the Sixers will have the third best odds at landing the top pick in the draft, and they want those odds to increase, not shrink.
2014-15 Sixers, your effort is applauded, and now comes the time to look to the lottery.
6) More W’s for the Lakers & Thunder: While we don’t need the Sixers to win many more games for lottery-placing purposes, it would be nice to see a couple Western Conference teams in the Lakers and the Thunder pull out some late season wins. The Sixers receive the Lakers top pick in the 2015 Draft if it falls out of the top 5, and they also get the Thunder’s pick if it falls out of the top 18. Thus, the more wins these teams pile up, the better the chance the Sixers have at snagging their picks in the upcoming draft. The Sixers can have as many as four first-round picks in the upcoming draft – that would certainly give the rebuild a boost.
Michael Kaskey-Blomain is a scribe for Philadunkia. You can follow him on Twitter @therealmikeKB.
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