As the search for the Sixers first win continues, it’s becoming harder to find dates on the calendar where it feels like the Sixers might have a chance at snatching a win. Despite it being the second night of a back-to-back for the Sixers, as well as the presence of perennial all-star Carmelo Anthony, a matchup with the Knicks feels like as good a chance as any to get that elusive first W. The Knicks are in 2nd to last place in the Eastern Conference at 2-10, having lost 9 of their last 10 games. Alas, it turns out no opportunities are quite good enough for the 76ers right now as they fell to the Knicks 91-83 at MSG on Saturday night. Anthony had 25 points to lead the Knicks on 50% shooting, while Michael Carter-Williams had only 9 points and 4 TOs, 3 of which came in the first 5 minutes of the game.
A silver lining for the Sixers was that, well, that there actually WAS a silver lining. Nerlens Noel, he of 3 pts and 5 rebs in last nights game against the Phoenix Suns, had by far his best game as a professional, leading the Sixers in scoring with 17pts, pulling down 12 rebounds, and throwing in a steal and a block. Noel displayed some serious aggressiveness on both ends of the floor, scoring on a multitude of post moves (including a nice pump fake on ex-Sixer Slammin’ Sammy Dalembert, and an excellent hook shot from the block over Amare Stoudamire) and ripping rebounds right out of the hands of Knicks players. Nerlens also logged 39 minutes in this game, contrary to Brett Brown’s recent comments on his energy level and minute caps. The mounting losses and multiple poor games had clearly sapped Noel’s confidence of late, so it was a great sign to see him play with such aggression and confidence. Despite McDubs being anointed the Sixers de facto leader by the media and team, it still really is unclear who the leader of this squad is. Perhaps Nerlens, who didn’t have to play through all of the losing last year, is a guy who will provide a nightly spark this year.
Nerlens wasn’t the only Sixer raising eyebrows last night. Robert Covington, last years D-League MVP who was recently signed by the Sixers, went OFF in the 4th quarter last night, cutting a 21pt deficit to start the quarter down to 8 pts towards the end. He finished the game with 14 pts on 4-6 shooting, including 4-4 from downtown. For you stat junkies out there, that gives him a eFG% of 100% for the game! He also did a decent job of checking Melo in the 4th quarter, so his D and shooting were on display. This is similar to Kj McDaniels, another young swing man on the team who has proven he can shoot 3s (8pts on 3-6 shooting, 2-3 from 3pt range last night).
The Sixers rank 7th in the league in percentage of their field goal attempts that are 3s, yet they rank dead last in FG% from 3-pt range at a robust 29.8%. If they are going to follow the advanced metric approach of 3s and layups with nothing in between (which they have been doing quite well), then these guys have to see the floor some more. Covington and McDaniels are 3rd and 6th on the team in PER, respectively. I’m ok with Luc Mbah a Moute continuing to get big minutes because of his veteran presence, but I think at this point Hollis Thompson just has to be glued to the bench in favor of guys playing better.
If you are a fan who truly doesn’t care about the wins and losses this year, and will be content as long as you get player development and progression on a nightly basis, well then maybe last night was a win for you. But it definitely wasn’t a win in the classical sense, and there doesn’t seem to be relief in sight. Keep an eye on that upcoming tilt against the TWolves on December 3rd. If they haven’t won yet, the Sixers will be 0-17 going into that game, one loss away from tying the record for most losses to start a season.