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Ricky Council IV earned his first career double-double with 19 points and 10 rebounds on Saturday night, giving the Sixers a giant lift off of the bench in a 119-113 win over the Wizards.
Here’s what I saw.
— I think Ricky Council IV is creeping closer to consideration for a standard NBA contract. When they had him join the program last summer, it was fair to be skeptical that the jumper would ever come. Hell, it’s still fair to wonder if the shot will ever get there. But every time he gets on the floor for regular minutes, he does at least one thing that makes you raise an eyebrow. And man, did he leap off of the screen against the Wizards.
On Saturday night, his first big-time play was this move in transition, freezing Jordan Poole in place on his way to the rim:
Little did we know at this point that Council was only getting warmed up. Philadelphia had several of their best defensive possessions in weeks, and Council was at the center of a couple of those, showing the foot speed to slide in space, the strength to stop a driver who wanted to go through his chest, and the discipline to minimize silly fouls on reach-ins.
Most rookies, even older rookies like Council, come to the league and need time to put on the muscle to play through contact. He is essentially a complete product in that department, with defenders bouncing off of him when he attacks off-the-dribble. If he begins to get regular minutes, teams will likely dare him to shoot and try to take away what he’s good at, but that hasn’t shown up quite yet. And if you’re a buyer of Council stock, you could argue that he’s at least showing the confidence to let it fly, which could be a sign of things to come.
Deep in the fourth quarter with the game hanging in the balance, Council had more want-to (not to mention energy) left in the tank than anybody on the floor, and he bulldozed through Wizards players for critical offensive rebounds to extend possessions. There was only one play, his horrible shot toward the end of the third quarter, that I could take real issue with, and that is a shocking level of play-to-play competence for a guy who has barely played this year.
A rock-solid performance for Council IV, and one that should earn him consideration for a lot more playing time. He played physical, purposeful basketball, and showed a level of effort that other guys on the team could learn from. Take a bow, kid!
— We are only two games into the Buddy Hield experience, but I am already more excited to see him with the full-strength group than I was when the Sixers executed the trade. Hield brings some traits to the table that have been largely absent from the team in recent years, and I don’t just mean the volume shooting.
The volume shooting does not hurt. By adding him to the roster, the Sixers immediately became a more dangerous team in transition. Hield is a master of getting to his spot and forcing a defender to either hug him at the three-point line or stop the driver, which is a no-win situation for a scrambling defense. Right out of the chute in the second half, Hield hit a transition three moments after the Sixers forced a turnover on the other end, helping to produce one of Tobias Harris’ few highlights of the evening.
Hield’s constant movement harkens back to JJ Redick, who would bend defenses by constantly running off of screens, opening gaps for the likes of Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. While Hield isn’t at that level of activity, he’s a predator of space, seizing opportunities to shoot gaps and bail out teammates who have picked up their dribble. On one third-quarter possession, Hield sprinted to the elbow to catch a short pass, then exploded toward the rim for a layup as the Wizards scrambled to meet him at the free-throw line.
He has more offensive utility than it seems he was given credit for coming out of Indiana. The Sixers should be able to use him as a secondary creator even when the group is at full strength — he hit some nice pocket passes to Paul Reed in the pick-and-roll, hit some touch passes over the top, and functioned as a competent, if inconsistent creator on a team that needs to overcome the loss of an MVP with 39% usage. I don’t expect him to be prime John Stockton, but he’s balanced responsibilities well so far.
— It may have come against a horrible Wizards team, but this game showed the sort of perseverance Tyrese Maxey needs to have to lead this team in Joel Embiid’s absence. Things did not come easy to him early, and it would have been somewhat understandable if a guy coming off of illness just sort of faded from view as the game wore on. Instead, Maxey shook off the tough start and stopped trying to beat his head against the same wall.
The first half featured a lot of Maxey dribbling into traffic without a plan, which has become all too common in Embiid’s absence. It’s fair to say he has been pressing a little bit, throwing up shots, and missing passing reads that seem inexplicable for a player of his caliber.
Slowly but surely, those issues melted away. As he has so many times this season, Maxey rallied at the end of the first half, and then exploded in the fourth quarter, keeping the Sixers out in front even as their defense went off of a cliff. The pull-up shooting turned around, and as the Wizards started crashing harder on him as a shooter, Maxey’s dribble-drive game put this one away.
— A bit of love is due to Cam Payne, whose handle got the Sixers out of trouble at least a few times on Saturday night. I don’t know if he’s actually “better” than Patrick Beverley, but it is helpful to have a guy with a real handle off of the bench.
— KJ Martin commits the worst foul you’ve ever seen once per game. I swear that makes sense.
— It would be hard to overstate how bad Tobias Harris was in this game, and he is fortunate that the Sixers were able to get contributions from unexpected places against Washington. This is the sort of team Harris should bulldoze — a lifeless defense with no rim protection and routinely bad effort. There are plenty of mismatches for him to get to work against, and you’re going to get cross-matches in transition when they inevitably go through poor stretches on offense. But nobody got Harris the memo, I guess.
What was striking to me is that Harris, one of the elder statesmen on this team, was the guy who seemed out of sync with how everyone else wanted to play. The two new guys have found a decent (but not perfect) balance between hunting their shots and moving the ball to open teammates. Hield has even been used as a pick-and-roll creator, threading some passes into Paul Reed for good offense around the paint. Meanwhile, Harris seemed to bring the offense to a screeching halt with a lot of his touches, slowing it down or barreling into traffic rather than playing with his head up.
His transition play was as bad as I think it has ever been, leading to multiple gruesome turnovers to squander stops they had earned on the other end. Usually, you can get at least one definable positive from Harris, whether it’s out of transition offense or halfcourt offense, but he was bad every which way. It was unclear what he was seeing throughout the night — the turnover he committed with Tyus Jones on his hip in the fourth quarter is one of the single dumbest plays of his career.
You can get away with bad Harris against the Wizards. This is not going to cut it against real NBA teams.