The Philadelphia 76ers can only hope that in three or four years they're anywhere close to where the Oklahoma City Thunder are as a team and a franchise, but as they say, on any given pre-season Tuesday night in Manchester (at a building called the Phones 4u Arena??). Anyway, the Sixers held tough against the Thunder in their second pre-season outing, weathering a torrential Kevin Durant downpour in the third quarter and getting it back close late, until bad free-throw shooting and some other stuff did them in. Final score: OKC 103, PHI 99.
Much different game than the Sixers' turnover-soaked pre-season debut--this time, the Sixers only intercepted the ball a mere nine times and gave it away a more manageable 20 times (still unthinkable by Doug Collins standards, but to hell with those). The headliner for this game instead was the team's surprisingly hot outside shooting, which was thought (for good reason) to be a huge liability for this Sixers squad going into the season.
Nearly everyone who sucks from three-point range (and yes, that's just about everyone you've heard of on this team) was lighting it up tonight. Michael Carter-Williams went 3-5 from deep. Tony Wroten went 4-8. Even Thaddeus Young, who made a grand total of one three-pointer each of the last two seasons, went 2-2 from behind the arc. It's good to know that these guys aren't totally incapable of throwing it in from 20-plus, though you'd have to be optimistic bordering on delusional to believe it's in any way sustainable.
In any event, a good effort from the Sixers against an obviously superior team--even with Russell Westbrook out and Durant sitting the fourth. I'll spare you guys the sonnets about each individual Sixer this time out, but a couple notes worth making:
Evan Turner gets the game ball again, his second very strong game in a row. 19 points on 7-16 shooting, seven boards and four dimes, with only one turnover this time. He looked in control for most of the game, making smart decisions in the half-court, converting on a couple tough layups, hitting jumpers he should be able to make, and kicking it out to open men when the situation called for it. Do kinda wish he had a floater in his arsenal--he was 0-2 by my count when he got some space in the lane and tried to push one over the second line of defense, with both misses looking a little awkward--but maybe he can be part of Michael Carter-Williams' study group for that when the time comes.
Best thing about ET's performance (again) was the free-throw shooting. Well, not the shooting, necessarily, since he missed five of his ten attempts, but hey, ten attempts!! That's 22 now over the course of two games. Evan went nearly all of March this year before racking up 22 FTAs. Two of them even came on a jumper where Turner raised as if to shoot, getting OKC defender Perry Jones III in the air--known in some parts of the world as a "pump fake"--and waited until he was coming back down to jump into Jones and draw the obvious whistle. It's the world's easiest way to earn two free throws, and I'm not sure I saw a single Sixer consciously do that in the entirety of last season.
Encouraging stuff, Evan. Might be just two pre-season games, but the pre-season has not exactly been Evan's time to shine in the past few years, so even him performing as solidly as a fourth-year player of his pedigree should be by now is a huge step in the right direction.
The final line for Spencer Hawes isn't terrible--11 points on 5-11 shooting, nine boards--but he was outclassed in just about every way by OKC's top two pivots, 20-year-old rookie Steven Adams and vet Nick Collison. Six years into his pro career, the remaining lack of fundamentals in Spence's game is really pretty frustrating. He doesn't box out, he doesn't get a hand up on shooters, he's slow to rotate over on help defense, and he's forever trying to thread passes into open spaces on the post that simply don't exist. This will undoubtedly be a recurring complaint throughout the season, so I probably shouldn't waste too much of my breath here, but when you make Steven Adams look like Dwight Howard, you probably deserve at least a little bitching.
He did make a nice sweeping hook shot across the line in the third quarter, though. Good job on that one Spence.
The most interesting Sixer on the night was probably Tony Wroten, who looks to be the natural successor to Lou Williams in terms of open-court and playmaking talent and just absolutely mortifying decision-making. At one point after hitting four threes, Wroten jacked a step-back 28-footer--a contested one, no less--which even calling a "heat check" would be giving too much credit. He also hoisted an easily-blocked three in transition at the end of the first half (even though there were five seconds left on the clock) and squandered a three-on-two opportunity by going full-throttle into both defenders.
Wroten's excellence in pushing the ball on the break and playing physically near the basket are obvious, and his line on the night was quite good--a team-high 20 points on 5-13 shooting (6-6 from the line), four rebounds and three assists. But giving him any amount of control with this team does worry me a little, since not only is his ability to make snap judgments on the court highly suspect, but there seems to be a little selfishness and immaturity to his game that could disrupt what seems to be an otherwise fairly good ball-sharing team. Minor concerns on a young lottery team, and it's great (and far more important) to see that the potential is there with T-Wrote, but I don't think he should be pushing MCW (who had another solid game today) for the starting PG role anytime soon, certainly.
And holy hell, a couple words about Kevin Durant, who nearly racked a triple-double while barely breaking a sweat in 33 minutes of game action--21 points, 12 assists and eight rebounds. He seemed to be taking it easy for the first quarter, but he had a couple shots in the third quarter that forced the Sixers to start doubling, and then it was just over--KD's getting LeBron-like in his whip-passing out of the double team, finding the open man for an uncontested three or drive to the basket. He's really getting to that level where double-teaming him is even more dangerous than leaving Evan Turner against him in isolation, and the entire Western Conference should be petrified by this development.
Sixers come back to the States now for a Friday game against the Celtics at their D-League affiliate 87ers' new stadium in lovely Newark, Delaware. No idea yet how good this team is going to be this year within the gamut of regularly bad to historically bad, but I expect I will enjoy watching them. #TeamWHOP