Another Viewpoint: The perpetual myth of Flyer bullying

Another Viewpoint: The perpetual myth of Flyer bullying

This is a guest post from longtime reader, commenter and friend of The700Level Brent Blanchard, aka 2sentz.

This morning I was struck by how just two weeks ago, many fans and blog commenters were lamenting this team’s “lack of toughness,” then suddenly even more fans expressed outrage at Friday night’s antics. How could those views coexist? Regardless of where you stand, opinions on this underachieving team are like tracer-fire right now… winging in every direction and rarely hitting the moving target.

So really, how accurate is the Flyer’s current “bully” narrative, and how much has it tangibly hurt the team during this and the past few seasons? I was curious enough to spend almost half-a-lunch-break today researching the internet’s convenient “Flyers section,” and data indicates while their current reputation may be warranted, allegations of a tangible negative impact are not.

First, there’s penalty minutes by team. Perhaps predictably, the Flyers finished either first or second in team PIM in four of the past five years, which indicates aggressiveness, maybe even some recklessness. However, during those seasons they made the playoffs all but once, including a first-round, two second-round and a Finals appearance.

So the aggressiveness hasn’t seemed to hinder them too much… or at least not as much as holding only two solid defensemen has.

Then there’s the more literal measure of bullying and sloppy recklessness that can really hurt your team, suspensions. Over the same past five years (including start of this season), there have been 136 player suspensions for a total of 488 games (my favorite offense: “giving throat slashing motion”). Of that, the Flyers have received nine for a total of 29 games, and half of those went to their indispensable playmaker Jody Shelley.

So while the Flyers have arguably earned their fair share of suspensions, they’re not well beyond the league average, and certainly not operating roughshod with a collective cheap-shot “bullying” mentality that warrants criticism beyond any other team. There’s simply no evidence of this.

Of course there are occasional days where an untimely slash or trip leads to a critical power play. But at the end of the day, the numbers indicate—like Ray Emery, Scott Hartnell and other players have been stating—the team’s lack of ability to score and play solid D (read: talent and execution) have led to frustrations that result in fights and penalties, and not the other way around.

Nobody’s out there “gooning it up” or hurting this team with any regularity, and viewed in this context, perhaps the isolated freak-out that occurred last Friday can—as fans are hoping—actually help inspire this team without defining it. The Flyers have numerous significant issues, however aggressiveness and hard play does not appear to be one of them.

Sixers-Bucks 5 things: Joel Embiid back to face the 'Greek Freak'

Sixers-Bucks 5 things: Joel Embiid back to face the 'Greek Freak'

Sixers at Bucks
3:30 p.m. - CSN/CSNPhilly.com/streaming live on the NBCSports App

The Sixers (12-26) look to get back in the win column when they face the Milwaukee Bucks (20-19) at the Bradley Center in a Martin Luther King Day matinee.

Let's take a closer look at Monday afternoon's matchup:

1. Back on the Embiid express
The Sixers have started to show flashes of coming together and finally turning the corner on their massive rebuild. However, they are nowhere near the point that they can remove the biggest piece of the puzzle and still expect to win games.

The Sixers found that out again on Saturday night, as they were pummeled during the second half of a 109-93 loss to the Washington Wizards with Joel Embiid sidelined for rest.

The team didn't want to use the rookie phenom's absence as an excuse, but it was clear his presence was missed.

“We didn’t have that extra oomph,” Sixers head coach Brett Brown said after the loss. “Obviously, the omission of Joel Embiid clearly is impactful, but that’s the challenge. We just didn’t have it tonight.”

Embiid and his 19.6 points, 7.6 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game will be back in the lineup against the Bucks.

2. Freak of nature
The Sixers won't be the only squad with a star in the making on the court Monday afternoon.

Giannis Antetokounmpo has shown plenty of potential since he was selected by the Bucks 15th overall in the 2013 draft (Anthony Bennett, who was recently released by the Brooklyn Nets, was taken No. 1 overall that year, for those of you keeping track at home). But the man known as "The Greek Freak" has taken his game to new heights this season.

Antetokounmpo is averaging 23.4 points on 53.5 percent shooting in addition to 8.8 rebounds, 5.7 assists, 2.0 blocks and 1.8 steals per game this season - all career highs. He's also coming off a 33-point, eight-rebound and six-assist performance in the Bucks' 111-98 loss to the Atlanta Hawks on Sunday.

With Antetokounmpo playing point guard full time now and the Bucks' starting five boasting players all above 6-foot-7, it's hard to determine how the Sixers will match up on defense. Whatever the plan is to slow down "The Greek Freak," it will have to be a total team effort.

3. Protect the paint
All of that size and athleticism for the Bucks is a big reason they attack the rim so much. Milwaukee is tied with Oklahoma City for the league lead in points in the paint with 50.6 per game.

The Sixers were dominated on the low block for 54 points by the Wizards on Saturday with Embiid out. For the season, they rank 14th in the league in points in the paint allowed at 42.3 a night.

One thing that might help the Sixers is their shot blocking. They swat 5.6 shots a game (sixth in the NBA), which could deter some of those romps to the rim by the Bucks.

4. Injuries
T.J. McConnell (right wrist), Ben Simmons (foot) and Jerryd Bayless (wrist) are out for the Sixers.

Khris Middleton (hamstring) is out for the Bucks.

5. This and that
• The Sixers have lost 12 of their last 14 games to the Bucks.

• Ersan Ilyasova spent the first seven seasons of his NBA career with the Bucks (see story on his return to Milwaukee). This will mark the fourth time he has faced his former team.

• Jabari Parker, selected No. 2 overall in the 2014 NBA draft right before Embiid, has emerged this season with 20.4 points, 5.8 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game.

Sixers' T.J. McConnell (sprained right wrist) out Monday vs. Bucks

Sixers' T.J. McConnell (sprained right wrist) out Monday vs. Bucks

The Sixers will get Joel Embiid back in the lineup when they meet the Bucks on Monday afternoon in Milwaukee, but they'll be without their starting point guard.

T.J. McConnell will miss Monday's game with a sprained right wrist suffered in Saturday night's loss to the Wizards in D.C., the Sixers announced Monday morning.

McConnell reportedly did not travel with the team to Milwaukee and is back home in Philadelphia.

The 24-year-old McConnell has been a presence this season for a Sixers team that desperately needed something from the point guard spot. In 38 games this season, McConnell has averaged 4.8 points, 5.8 points and 4.8 assists, 2.8 rebounds and 1.4 assists a night in an average of 22.3 minutes a game.

The highlight of McConnell's season, of course, came last week when he nailed the game-winning shot at the buzzer to give the Sixers a 98-97 victory over the Knicks.

Sergio Rodriguez is expected to start in McConnell's place Monday against the Bucks.