Given the franchise’s history, Sixers fans can be excused for wondering if Michael Carter-Williams is too good to be true.
MCW, as he’s known, is averaging 17.7 points, 7.3 assists, 5.8 rebounds and an incredible 3.13 steals per game, which leads the NBA. He has done everything that could have been expected – and more.
That is why Sixers fans have a right to be concerned by MCW’s early-season injury issues. First, he missed four games with a bruised arch. He’s missed the last two games with a skin infection, which is causing soreness in his knee.
Is MCW injury-prone or have the Sixers, who aren’t exactly upset at the prospect of losing games, being overly cautious with their young star.
The second possibility makes sense. Why risk MCW’s health by playing him? With increasing the ping pong balls count in the NBA Draft lottery as one of the Sixers’ primary goals, there’s no need to push a player back into the lineup or pressure a sore player to play.
That’s why there’s no rush to get rookie center Nerlens Noel back into the lineup. It wouldn’t be surprising if Noel sits out the entire season recovering from an ACL tear sustained in February.
But there is a concern about MCW’s durability. If he’s missed six of the first 21 games, how will he hold up for an entire season? Almost all rookies run into the NBA wall, but the Sixers are barely through the first quarter of their season.
What if MCW is going to have nagging injuries every season? If that’s the case, the future certainly doesn’t look quite as bright.
Maybe this is all much ado about nothing.
But, given the franchise’s history, you can’t blame Sixers fans if they’re starting to become concerned about their star rookie point guard.
HISTORY LESSON: It has been 30 years since the 76ers won the NBA Championship. The 1982-83 Sixers were one of the best teams in NBA history – at least for one season. For a variety of reasons, the team never attained those heights again and was broken up over the next few years.
The Sixers have only returned to the NBA Finals once since their last championship.
NO DEFENSE: As I noted in November, the Sixers, who were expected to have difficulty scoring, are experiencing more problems at the defensive end of the court. The latest example came Friday, when the Bobcats, the lowest-scoring team in the NBA, scored 105 points during a 17-point win over the Sixers.
DOWN-TURN: Evan Turner, the Sixers’ leading scorer, had a bad weekend. He scored 16 points during the 105-88 loss to the Bobcats on Friday, and then scored just six during Saturday’s 103-92 loss to the Nuggets.
The 6-point output against Denver was only the second time Turner was held to single digits this season, and it’s his second-lowest point total. The weekend games were also the first time Turner has failed to reach 20 points in consecutive games.
Turner shot poorly in both games. He made 7 of 18 shots against the Bobcats and just 3 of 12 shots against the Nuggets. More disturbing is that he only attempted one free throw in the two defeats. Turner had only shot 1 free throw or not gone to the foul line at all in two games this season. Now, it’s happened on consecutive nights. That’s an indication that Turner has been less aggressive driving to the basket.
The Sixers were historically bad at getting to the free throw line last season. They’ve been better at drawing fouls this season, in part due to the aggressiveness of Turner and Michael Carter-Williams. The key to Turner getting his game back on track might be aggressiveness in driving to the basket instead of settling for jump shots.
KORVER ON TARGET: Congratulations to Hawks gaurd Kyle Korver, who set an NBA record Friday by making a 3-pointer in the 90th straight regular-season game in which he’s played. Korver, a former 76er, missed several games this year with a rib injury and he didn’t make any 3-pointers during a playoff game last season, but that doesn’t count against the record. The previous record was set by Dana Barros while with the Sixers and Celtics from 1994-96.
KOBE’s BACK: Kobe Bryant is expected to play tonight (Sunday) against the Raptors. This will be his first game since tearing his left Achilles tendon nearly eight months ago.
Bryant’s minutes are expected to be limited, at least for a short time. But the Lakers (10-9), who are currently out of the playoff picture, certainly could use any help they can get in the competitive Pacific Division.
SURPRISING CELTICS: Nobody may be more surprised about the Boston Celtics being in first place in the Atlantic Division than the Celtics themselves. The Celtics jettisoned veteran players such as Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett as they appeared to be pursuing a strategy of accumulating ping pong balls for the draft lottery. Instead, they find themselves in first place.
The Celtics aren’t having a great season. They enter Sunday with a 9-12 record. In the Atlantic, however, that’s good enough for a 1½-game lead over the Raptors (6-12) and a two-game lead over the Sixers (7-14). The Nets (6-14) and Knicks (5-13) are each 2½ games behind.
CONFERENCE DISPARITY: The Celtics’ and Lakers’ situations highlight the difference between the Eastern and Western conferences. Entering Sunday, only three teams in the Eastern Conference (the Heat, Pacers and Hawks) had winning records. By contrast, only five teams in the West (Timberwolves, Pelicans, Grizzlies, Kings and Jazz) have losing records.
If the Lakers were in the East, they’d be the No. 3 or 4 seed. If the first-place Celtics were in the West, they would have the third-worst record in the conference.
THE WEEK AHEAD: The Sixers will get a taste of the Western Conference this week. On Monday (7 p.m.), they host the Clippers (13-8), who are in first place in the Pacific Division. They hit the road to play at Minnesota on Wednesday (8 p.m.) before returning home to face the Raptors from the Atlantic Division on Friday (7 p.m.) and the surprising Trail Blazers (17-4), who are in first place in the Northwest Division, on Saturday (8 p.m.).
IVERSON GIVEAWAYS: The Sixers are packaging four games, with fans who purchase all four receiving Allen Iverson collectibles. The games are Jan. 11 (Knicks), Jan. 25 (Thunder), Feb. 7 (Lakers) and March 1 (Wizards). The collectibles are the “Alien” Iverson doll, the Iverson Gumby, a retro Iverson bobblehead, and an Iverson Celebriduck. The items will be distributed at the March 1 game, which is when Iverson’s No. 3 will be retired.
It seems odd to include games against good draws such as the Knicks, Lakers and Thuner as part of a giveaway package. Perhaps the Sixers are hoping to attract more hometown fans to those games to reduce the portion of the crowd that is pro-Knicks, pro-Lakers or pro-Thunder.