The Sixers played two games this week. But after the report that Markelle Fultz and his agent expect Fultz to play again this season, the battle on Christmas at TD Garden, the ensuing melancholy among fans over the state of the Sixers, the vitriol toward Ben Simmons in Utah, and a bounce-back win over the Jazz, it sure feels like the team has played more than two games.
At 23-13, the Sixers are third in the Eastern Conference. Here are our last weekly observations of 2018:
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• The Sixers' loss in Boston on Christmas has been dissected to death at this point.
Just one thought to add before we collectively move on: We didn't actually "learn" that much about the Sixers from that game.
We saw that:
-Butler, Embiid and Simmons are excellent players
-Their fit, while not ideal, is a work in progress
-Simmons' barely existent jumper is most problematic against very good, athletic teams
-The team relies on JJ Redick making three-point shots
-The bench is an issue
None of these takeaways are new. While Tuesday's game was dramatic, fun, and ultimately frustrating for Sixers fans, it would be a stretch to call it eye-opening. We'll learn more about the Sixers over the next couple months than we will from a single game.
• NBA All-Star voting is open, which means the Sixers' campaign for Ben Simmons, Jimmy Butler and Joel Embiid has commenced.
We have some time between now and Jan. 21, when voting closes, to discuss whether the Sixers should have three All-Stars. Simmons can certainly boost his case with more performances like his triple-double night on Thursday in Salt Lake City.
For the time being, here's a suggestion: Landry Shamet should be in the Rising Stars Challenge.
Shamet is shooting 40.3 percent from three-point range, the best of any rookie with at least 20 three-point attempts. He's playing important minutes for one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference, and doing it with the poise you'd expect from a veteran.
His defense is a clear weakness, but fans don't tune into All-Star weekend for defense.
In early November, Shamet told The Delaware County Daily Times' Jack McCaffery being chosen for the Rising Stars Challenge was one of his goals. As we head into 2019, it looks like a goal he has a real shot of attaining.
The assistant coaches who select the participants should send Shamet to Charlotte in February.
• Over the next three games, Jonah Bolden has a chance to take a spot in the Sixers' rotation.
Before the Sixers departed for their five-game road trip, Brett Brown said Bolden would play. He was true to his word on Thursday night, giving Bolden 13 minutes against the Jazz. Bolden had four points, one rebound and a block in Utah. He didn't look great in his first stint, fouling Kyle Korver on an out-of-control closeout with 7.1 seconds left in the first quarter, but he played better in the second half.
Brown is searching for answers that might not exist on his bench - he experimented with a zone on Thursday in the second quarter in an attempt to cover up his team's lack of capable perimeter defenders. It's possible Bolden is an answer readily available to him, outside of the trade and buyout markets. If Bolden can protect the rim and run the floor while playing with a degree of discipline and contributing something offensively, it would be hard to justify not giving him an extended run in the rotation.
• We all know the Sixers' spacing is far from ideal, but there aren't too many teams in the NBA with talents in the paint like Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons.
Embiid and Simmons each have 12.6 points in the paint per game, tied for ninth in the NBA. The Pelicans are the only other team with two players in the top 10 (Anthony Davis and Julius Randle).
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