Coming off another signature win against the Denver Nuggets, the Memphis Grizzlies return to the court once more against the Philadelphia 76ers Saturday night. While both teams will enter the game with winning records, it seems they have gone seperate routes to achieve those marks. While the Grizzlies overall have exceeded expectations, the 76ers have stumbled out of the gate.
I took some time with Justin Carter (@juscarts) for some insight on the current state of the Sixers.
1.) Philadelphia struggled to begin the year, but has started to play better recently. What is the biggest reason for the improvment?
I think this team started a little slow for two reasons -- a tough schedule that featured road meetings with the Celtics, Raptors, and Bucks, and the fact that the team was working Markelle Fultz into the lineup at the same time that Dario Saric was struggling. Saric is notorious for struggling early in the season because of the amount of international ball he played in the offseason, but he’s started connecting on his shots over the past couple of games, which is good!
2) Markelle Fultz continues to be a work in progress. What is his biggest improvement so far, and what area needs the most improvment going foward?
Fultz still hasn’t put things together defensively and that shot is still...not where you want it to be...but he’s developing some really good on-ball offense. I’m always surprised to see how easily he seems to be able to get to the basket, especially when his lack of a consistent jumper means that defenses should be anticipating him driving to the basket. There’s still improvement that needs to happen, and he hasn’t looked like a first overall pick, but there’s encouraging signs, especially if Brett Brown can stagger his minutes and Simmons’ minutes more.
3) With the struggles of Saric and Redick so far, who have the 76ers relied on as a third option for offensive production?
Redick’s efficiency is way down this year -- from 46% to 38% from the field and from 42% to 35% from three -- but he’s still been the guy relied on as the third offensive option. His raw scoring stats are where they were last year; it’s just taken more shots to get him there.
I think the hope here is that Redick can get those numbers up and continue to be the third option, but there’s also been a few guys picking up the slack: rookie Landry Shamet is shooting almost 40% from three, Robert Covington is hitting over 40 percent from deep...so while it isn’t really one guy jumping up and being a new third option, there are players who are making up for Redick’s misses.
4) From a 76ers fan perspective, how do you react to Joel Embiid’s honest and sometimes blunt approach with the media? Is it refreshing, or can it sometimes be a distraction?
In general, I think athletes speaking their minds to the media is a good thing -- we should never forget that each NBA player is a fully-formed human being with thoughts and opinions. Seeing players and coaches speak about political issues has been refreshing and important. But with Embiid...I’m not interested in opening up a can of worms here and drawing the ire of Sixers Twitter, but I do think some of the things that he says rub me the wrong way and if they aren’t viewed as a distraction yet...they definitely will be at some point.
5) There was enormous speculation of the 76ers adding a superstar over the summer. Is the preference to add that player during the season, or waiting until next offseason?
I think the team will make that move for a star player when and if the right opportunity is there, regardless of timing. With a young team and the Celtics and Raptors looking like the clear top tier in the East, there’s time to wait and find the right move, to not rush in to things. I know a lot of Sixers fans want the team to win now, but I wouldn’t prioritize going for a title this season with the aforementioned teams plus Golden State existing over trying to make the best move to set the team up for the long haul.
Philadelphia is a young team going through growing pains, but is one of the East’s best teams and one of the most exciting in the NBA. Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid are arguably the best young duo in the game. Fans should consider it a treat to see them in action tonight....even though it will hopefully be in a losing effort.
A special thanks to Justin Carter for taking the time to answer our questions. You should definitely check out Justin’s wonderful work and some other great 76ers coverage over at Liberty Ballers. Likewise, continue to follow us here at Grizzly Bear Blues for some of the best and most in-depth game day coverage of the Memphis Grizzlies.