NBA Notebook: 76ers have found winning formula
As we move through another week of the NBA and the first completed week of 2021, there are a number of compelling storylines to watch. Let’s take a look at a few of the more notable takeaways.
The New York Knicks are actually (gasp) good
In arguably the most shocking turn of events of the season thus far, the New York Knicks enter the month of January with a winning record! Congratulations, Knicks fans, and don’t sweat the caveats resulting from the late start. The Knicks are 5-3 and on a three-game winning streak with multiple upsets already under their belts.
The Knicks are being led by triple-double threat Julius Randle. The former Kentucky big man is averaging 23.1 points, 12.0 rebounds, and 7.4 assists per game, and RJ Barrett has also been effective making his second-year leap. It's a long season, but at fifth in the East there is plenty to be excited about for Knicks fans as they look for better days under head coach Tom Thibodeau.
Markelle Fultz's breakthrough season comes to an end
The notoriety associated with being the first overall pick in the NBA Draft creates expectations that are sometimes difficult to live up to. Markelle Fultz knows that better than most, but had begun to see tremendous success in his new home with the Orlando Magic.
Unfortunately Fultz's redemption tour will have to be put on hold after the young guard suffered a torn ACL that will force him to miss the remainder of the season. It's a sad blow to a player that failed to live up to expectations coming out of college, but has displayed remarkable perseverance ever since.
Coby White has the Bulls trending in the right direction
The Chicago Bulls still have some growing pains in store as they force feed their young players significant playing time, but things look hopeful for the future with the emergence of guard Coby White. The North Carolina product is an electric player, seemingly with an extra bar on his energy meter.
While Zach LaVine is the Bulls' leading scorer, White is averaging the most minutes played at 34.2, and is second on the team in scoring at 18.6 points per game. He still isn’t the most efficient player, and needs to improve his 2.0 assist to turnover ratio, but White is electric, courageous, and fun to watch.
Games will go on
This week saw chaos in the nation’s capital, and with it the social turmoil that had fans and players alike questioning the role of sports amidst unrest. When we last witnessed social unrest of this magnitude back during the summer, the NBA very nearly came to a total halt in the bubble as players deliberated ceasing play to make a statement.
Thankfully for all of us who love the game, Wednesday’s events merely created an opportunity for displays of unity. Arms locked, heads bowed, and/or taking a knee in support of one another, teams throughout the league came together to show the emotional impact that Wednesday’s events stirred within them, but the games still went on.
The Sixers have found a winning formula
Two seasons ago, the Philadelphia 76ers looked like championship contenders. However, they were bounced from the 2019 NBA Playoffs by a miraculous buzzer-beater from Kawhi Leonard. While that was surely demoralizing, it also sparked hope that they were close to the top.
Fast-forward to 2020, and the 76ers saw a major downturn in their fortunes. Finishing sixth in the East, they met the Boston Celtics in the bubble and looked like a team without a future. They were swept hopelessly and played uninspired basketball. Entering 2021, the 76ers parted ways with head coach Brett Brown, and are now being led by Doc Rivers. Rivers is not an excellent tactical coach, but he is an excellent motivator, which is exactly what the Sixers needed.
The 76ers currently find themselves leading the East at 7-2, and have the look of a contender once again. Adding Seth Curry and his sharp-shooting has been an important piece of the puzzle, but as with years past, playoff execution and improved chemistry from Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid will likely determine the outcome of this year's talented squad.