Three weeks ago, even relatively devout 76ers fans could be forgiven for not recognizing the name Shawn Long. You might've recalled his pretty strong showing for the Sixers at Summer League last July, and if you were on the press mailing list for the Delaware 87ers -- lucky you -- you might have noticed him popping up in a lot of "LONG'S 22 HELPS SEVENS DOWN RED CLAWS" type headlines. But however D-League dominant-he was, it seemed unlikely he'd factor into a Sixers season where the team already had four young, high-upside centers on the roster.
Then of course of those four bigs, one of 'em got surgery, one of 'em got traded and one one of 'em got hurt (and/or maybe just stinks). So with 20 games to go, Shawn Long was called up to the Sixers, posting 13 and seven in garbage time a blowout loss to the Bucks at home. That seemed likely to be the meaningless highlight of a nothing Sixers campaign for Long, but as Okafor keeps missing games with knee issues, Long has continued to be productive in picking up the slack. And last night, he had his best game of the season, posting 18 and 7 in just 19 minutes against the Chicago Bulls.
Long's per-36 numbers, already decently absurd before last night's 117-107 Sixers victory -- just can't help ourselves beating these garbage teams -- are now downright hilarious: 25 and 14, shooting 67% from the floor, with a 28.5 PER The sample size is still too small (92 minutes) to mean anything considerable, and at this point in the season it's hard to trust any numbers being put up by anyone. But it's especially notable on these Sixers, who have seen such similar high-efficiency offensive production from Joel Embiid, Nerlens Noel and (most recently) Richaun Holmes before the beginning of Longsanity.
It's hard not to start wonder if playing center on this Sixers team is kind of like being a running back for a team with an impenetrable offensive line, or being a ground-ball pitcher on a team with an all-Golden Glove infield. It seems like as long as our big can roll to the hoop, catch the ball and crash the boards off misses, playing with pass-first point guards like T.J. McConnell and Sergio Rodriguez in Brett Brown's increasingly coherent half-court offense ensures at least above-average production from our five-man. (Unless, of course, that center was taken with the No. 3 pick of the 2015 draft, in which case such context doesn't seem to help a ton.)
Or maybe the Sixers just have a better eye for young centers than Drake does for European slang he half-understands. Either way, the Sixers' ability to get such consistent contributions so far down their depth chart is one of the biggest reasons they seem practically certain to win 30 games one year after barely scrapping their way to double-digits. This season really just never stops being incredible for one reason or another, does it?
The Philadelphia 76ers got blown out 112-97 last night by the Oklahoma City Thunder, in a game where they looked like they couldn't wait to hit their collective post-puberty growth spurt so their older brother wouldn't be able to bully them on the driveway hoop anymore. The Sixers' problems with the Thunder's strength, length and athleticism were many, but nowhere bigger than on the boards, where their teamwide ineptitude was cruelly exposed. Some highlights:
-The Sixers only grabbed 25 boards total on the night. That's tied for the lowest team-wide total in any single-game NBA performance this year, and worse than any other rebounding night of the Process era.
-Nobody in the Sixers' starting lineup grabbed more than three rebounds. The high man for the Sixers was Shawn Long with six off the bench. The Thunder's starting lineup had as many offensive rebounds (nine) as the Sixers' first five had total boards.
-The Sixers' center rotation of Jahlil Okafor, Richaun Holmes and Shawn Long combined for ten rebounds total. Enes Kanter had 11 boards in 20 minutes off the bench as OKC's backup C.
So yeah, good times from a team without a single active player (besides Long, who just got here five minutes ago) averaging 10 rebounds per 36 minutes. If only we had a seven-foot monster with freakish hands and athleticism to hold down the middle for us, who we could be confident would actually be healthy for any of the 2018 season. Free WFC parking and infinite Crab Fries refills would be nice too.
Remember when the Sixers and Magic squared off back in the Doug Collins era as two of the lightest-free-throw-drawing teams in NBA history, combining for just 15 fouls and 13 FTAs between them in a 78-61 contest that David Stern had officially stricken from the league record? Well, last night was certainly not that, though at times it was equally unwatchable, with the two teams combining for 70 FTA in a game where the referees blew the whistle like they were playing flute on a Drake hook. Dario Saric and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot fouled out, the Sixers blew a big lead and the Magic triumphed in OT, 112-109.
Whatever -- weird game, not really worth talking about, and we're definitely at the point where it's hard to even know who to root for down the stretch in games like this against other lottery contenders. The Sixers are currently in the No. 5 lottery slot, now just a half-game behind the Magic, so the loss could end up having huge implications for both teams in May. Perhaps even more importantly, it moves the Magic within 1.5 games of the Kings, who are No. 6 in the current lottery rankings, but keep slipping higher and higher.
And really, thank God for pick swap. As the Sixers have unexpectedly rebounded slightly the past week or so and piled up a trio of wins -- more than it looked like they'd get the entire rest of the way a couple weeks earlier -- those swap rights with Sacramento are a permanent safety net, assuring us that as long as the Kings keep losing, there's only so much the Sixers can do to play themselves out of lottery standing. Of course, it still benefits the Sixers to stay in the lottery mix themselves, since it just increases their chances of jumping into the top three, but it means that if -- lord forbid -- the Sixers ended the season with only the 7th-worst record, we'd probably still have a pretty good shot at a top-five pick thanks to Vlade and Vivek's infinite generosity.
The Kings' upcoming schedule, by the way? Hosting Milwaukee tomorrow, then at Golden State, at Clippers, and home to the Grizzlies and Jazz. Five straight playoff teams with something still to play for. These last dozen Sacramento games are gonna be the Process equivalent of the postseason for the Sixers, so get those tanking beards going.