Going into this season, I felt pretty confident that the Raptors would be one of the worst teams in the Eastern Conference and quite possibly the very worst. Needless to say, this four-game winning streak has changed my mind somewhat. I no longer believe the Raptors are likely to finish dead last in the East. I do, however, strongly believe that the Philadelphia 76ers are probably the worst team in the NBA this season.
I know they played an overtime on Tuesday in Washington that likely contributed to their listlessness last night night, but some of those guys looked like they would prefer the sweet release of death to playing professional basketball. How does Evan Turner play 16 minutes without taking a single shot? How does Lou Williams manage to miss 10 of his 11 field goal attempts when five of those attempts were layups (which were all botched)? Is Doug Collins actually a downgrade from Eddie freakin’ Jordan?
It’s not easy to for a team to decline in the season after they draft the previous season’s college player of the year with the second overall draft pick, but that appears to be what the Sixers are going to do. Turner is a career backup, at best. Then again, Andrea Bargnani was a giant pile of suck in his second season when he was the same age as Turner (22) so maybe it’s too soon to write him off.
Speaking of Bargnani, it looks like the verdict is in on whether or not he can maintain the same offensive efficiency he had when he was the Raptors’ second option. He’s obviously filled with confidence right now and it was clear last night that he knew he was the best player on the floor. In his best sequence last night, he bothered shot attempts under the basket by Spencer Hawes and Andre Iguodala and then ran the floor like a gazelle so Sonny Weems could feed him for the fast break finish.
With his 24-point performance last night, Bargnani is averaging 24.4 points over his last eight games and has scored at least 22 points in seven of those games. From an offensive perspective, he’s filling Chris Bosh’s shoes more than adequately. Now the question is who can fill Bargnani’s old role as a solid second option?
I don’t expect either Jerryd Bayless or Peja Stojakovic to be able to score 17 points per game like Bargnani did last season, but they looked pretty smooth in their limited playing time (15 minutes for Bayless and six minutes for Stojakovic) last night. These next two videos show all their field goals against the Sixers.
Pretty good-looking shooting stroke by Bayless on those three three-pointers, don’t you think? Watching that, it’s a little surprising that he’d only made those at a 29 percent success rate before last night. Nice little finish in transitition at the end of that clip, as well. As expected, Bayless is not shy when it comes to looking for his own shot. While he picked up a couple of assists, there certainly wasn’t any fancy playmaking involved. He’s a scoring guard, through and through.
Maybe it’s due to a fresh start in Toronto, but Stojakovic didn’t appear to be the desiccated corpse that some people were describing him to be. I don’t know if you were aware of this, but the guy can shoot a little. On the Raptors’ very first offensive possession after he entered the game at the 3:02 mark of the second quarter, he shot and missed his first three-point attempt as a Raptor. Undaunted, he attempted another one 33 seconds later and it was all wet. Roughly a minute after that, he showed he can still create his own shot a little bit (particularly against a player seven inches shorter like Jrue Holiday) with a beauty 12-footer.
I don’t have a highlight reel for Reggie Evans’ career-high 22 rebounds, but a few of them were evident in each of the above clips. With no Elton Brand to battle him under the boards, Reggie had his way with the Sixers in his territory. As DeMar DeRozan put it after the game: “He’s just a big crazy dude who gets rebounds.”
Last night’s output boosted Evans’ rebounding average to 12.6 per game to rank him third in the league behind Kevin Love and Joakim Noah. That’s impressive, especially when you consider that Evans has only averaged 28 minutes per game. His Total Rebound Percentage (an estimate of the percentage of available rebounds a player grabs while he’s on the floor) of 26.9 leads the league by a wide margin.
If Evans is able to maintain that Total Rebound Percentage (TRB%) over the course of the season, it will be the second-highest single-season mark in NBA history. That “record” is held by — you guessed it — Dennis Rodman with his 29.7 percent rate in 1994-95. So it’s no exaggeration to describe the season Reggie’s having as “Rodmanesque”. Wherever he ends up after this season when his contract, this crazy dude is getting paid.