Three NBA Things: 76ers Nets thoughts so far

Three NBA Things as the Philadelphia 76ers even the series with the Brooklyn Nets 1-1

The Philadelphia 76ers topped the Brooklyn Nets to even the series 1-1. At least, I think they did. They pulled the starters with around 10 minutes left when they were 31 points ahead, and I decided to get a head start on writing, figuring there wasn’t much point watching Dazanan Musa and Jonah Bolden duke it out. Maybe this will look embarrassing tomorrow, but I value my sleep enough to take the risk.

Without further ado, three thoughts about this series so far.

1.)  Boban Marjanovic is a beautiful 290-pound mythical creature

After putting up 18 points, eight rebounds, six assists, and two blocks across 25 minutes in Game 1, Boban Marjanovic had another great performance in Game 2, recording 16 points and 8 rebounds in just 18 minutes.

This guy is so much fun to watch. In the first quarter of Game 2, Boban slammed home a pass from Ben Simmons. Then he demonstrated his buttery jump shot, knocking down 2 mid-rangers. Then he grabbed an offensive rebound easily (it didn’t even look like he really jumped, or even had particularly great positioning – the benefits of being a giant) and banked a short shot off the glass. 4 possessions, 8 points.

When he’s on, he looks like someone’s older brother dominating all the younger guys. When he’s off, he’s easily exploited. He’s been on so far in this series.

And the 76ers need it. Embiid has been playing short minutes, and there really isn’t another rim protector beyond these two. In the minutes where both sat in game 1, the 76ers were a sieve. Marjanovic isn’t Embiid, but he’s been dropping all the way back to the rim on pick and rolls – his mere existence there is a deterrent.

Sometimes the 76ers got burned on the pick and roll when he dropped, giving up open threes. That will be a problem in the next round if they advance. But for now, his presence is huge for Philadelphia.

2. Ben Simmons, the attacker

Ben Simmons put up just 9 points in Philadelphia’s loss on Saturday. It brought back memories of Simmons underperforming in the playoffs last year against Boston and brought up all the old questions about whether Simmons could be a key cog in a championship-caliber offense.

He reminded us Monday night what he can do.

Simmons put up 18 points, 12 assists, and 10 rebounds in just 29 minutes. More important than the numbers was how he got them – he drove hard to the rim and made some very difficult layups look easy. His excellent facilitating was part of the reason the team’s ball movement was so much better Monday. It at one point prompted the color commentator to shout in joy, “now that’s basketball.”

Folks can get so caught up in his jumper that they forget how athletic he is, how much control he has around the rim, and how brilliant a passer he is. Questions about his motor are still swirling, but performances like Monday will help put those to rest.

3. The 76ers’ ceiling

On the Ringer NBA podcast Monday, the hosts debated Philadelphia’s offseason moves. The team added Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris, in theory raising the team’s ceiling exponentially. But the team’s holes – a lack of depth, no good options for defending elite point guards – were directly created by those moves. They argued that Philadelphia should have kept last year’s 52-win core intact, built around the margins, and relied on continuity.

That rang true after the demoralizing loss Saturday. After the dominant win Monday? Not so much.

The 76ers are such a fascinating basketball experiment. You have your two bedrock pieces, a 6’10 point guard who can’t shoot and the modern reincarnation of Shaq. Those two are hyper-elite but already aren’t a great fit. Then you add in Butler, a throwback wing who likes to take the ball away from those two, and take mid-rangers. Add in J.J. Redick running around a lot and Tobias Harris filling in holes, and you have…a contender? A squad doomed to middling mediocracy? What are the 76ers?

It’s really a shame we have such little time to assess them. They barely got a chance to learn how to play together this season. At times on Monday night, you’d never have known – the ball was zipping around the court as they played with beautiful harmony. Then other times, they look like they just don’t know what they should be doing.

The 76ers probably increased their long-term ceiling by adding all of this talent (if they can hold onto everyone – topic for another rant). Maybe their ceiling this year is higher too. But the naysayers have a point – it’s hard not to wonder how much more complete and cohesive last year’s team would look after a year of patient roster building.

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