The Quad

Pro talk: Sixers’ role players have been key

Eric Rose, Practicum Writer

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The Philadelphia 76ers and their early season success is largely being credited to the team’s two budding superstars, Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. While that’s fair, seeing how dominant they have looked as one of the league’s newest elite duos, there are a lot of other Sixers who have played a significant role in the team’s first over-.500 record since November 16, 2013.

This offseason, Clippers guard J.J. Redick departed Los Angeles and definitely did not leave his talents there. With each passing game, Redick seems to get more confidence in the jump shot that has kept him in the league for 11 years. He had his first signature game in a Sixers uniform against the Indiana Pacers, where an 8-12 shooting performance from the perimeter fueled him to a 31-point game, topped with a circus three-pointer that iced the victory.

As Sixers’ broadcaster Alaa Abdelnaby likes to mention nearly every game, Redick lives in a state of perpetual motion. Watching Redick glide around the court with no wasted movements, moving around an endless supply of screens that leave him open is a thing of beauty. Redick is the first member of the Sixers since the Kyle Korver era where a fan can confidently believe a shot is going in every time it leaves his hands.

Sixers fans were unsure if fan favorite T.J. McConnell would be able to find any minutes on the court this season, but with the disaster that is the Markelle Fultz shoulder situation, McConnell took full advantage of the minutes he found. McConnell’s first chance at big minutes came against Houston in the fifth game of the year where he played what may have been the most impressive game of his career with 6 points, 5 rebounds, 9 assists, and 6 steals. The game was overshadowed by a very “Processera” Sixers choke that was cemented with an Eric Gordon buzzer-beater, but it became clear that McConnell still had a future on the team and deserved valuable minutes with the second team.

McConnell has added two new facets to his game that make him even more challenging to play against—aggression and a three-pointer. Over the past two years, his signature move was to drive past his defender, get into the paint, and either find a big man for an open look or continue dribbling until he got back behind the perimeter. Not often would you see him try to lay the ball up and risk getting blocked due to his small size, but his mentality has completely changed on this matter, showing much more comfort scoring in the paint. This had added a level of aggressiveness on offense that complements his gritty, annoying defense.

Albeit a small sample size, the emergence of a three-pointer that went from just 20 percent last year to 35 percent this year makes him a threat outside of the paint and helps make situations where he has to play alongside Simmons a little more effective. Not to mention, the nickname “Three-J” is pretty cool.

Finally, what can we even say about Robert Covington anymore? RoCo entered the season as a lock-down defender and one of the streakiest shooters in the league. 11 games later, Covington’s defense has been as good as advertised and his jump shot has been more automatic than ever, shooting at a ridiculous 50 percent clip on 7.5 3PA. While this is most likely unsustainable, it is clear that changing from the first or second offensive option to the third or fourth is opening up much better looks than he saw last year when he shot just 33 percent. Covington’s ball-handling and driving remain pretty big question marks, but his ability to be a top-end 3-and-D player in the NBA is certainly unquestioned.

While those three have been the most impressive of the bunch, it has not been without contribution from the rest of the roster.

Dario Saric has looked uncomfortable at times when not running the show like he did at the end of last year, but he still shows the flashes of brilliance that made him a rookie of the year finalist.

Jerryd Bayless doesn’t always pass the eye test and is often very frustrating to watch, but his season stats tell me he averages 11 points on 42 percent perimeter shooting, so to say he’s been ineffective would be disingenuous. A wrist injury, however, will keep him sidelined for a little while—the same wrist that sidelined him for all of last season.

Someone on the Sixers staff drastically saved Justin Anderson’s jump shot, turning a hitched mess into a fairly smooth release that is by no means automatic, but is eons better than whatever we saw last year.

Oh yeah, and this year’s number one overall pick Fultz hasn’t really played a game this year. He’s played, but he hasn’t really played. If we see anything resembling Washington Fultz, we’ll likely see him joining the Embiid-Simmons group, not the role players group.

The Sixers are off to their best start since Michael Carter-Williams decided to do his best Michael Jordan impression for three games, and the dominance of Simmons and Embiid has not been the only factor. A deep roster filled with players who know their role and play it tremendously has elevated the young team much sooner than they could have ever imagined.

Eric Rose is a student at West Chester University. He can be reached at [email protected]

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Pro talk: Sixers’ role players have been key