With a 0-18 start to the season, the Philadelphia 76ers have managed to play below expectations. After breaking the U.S. major professional sports record for consecutive losses, as of this writing the Sixers are one loss shy of breaking the NBA record for the most consecutive defeats to begin a season.
Even last year’s team, which won 18 games, didn’t break either record, with the Sixers’ first win coming in their 18th game. Wasn’t this supposed to be the year they took a step forward in the win column, even if it was a slight improvement of anything more than 20 wins?
Considering the injuries that have taken place, a slow start should’ve been expected. The early-season absences of Robert Covington, Carl Landry, Kendall Marshall, and Tony Wroten meant that the Sixers would be without roughly 90 percent of their NBA-caliber talent. None of these players are stars by any means, but they do improve the 76ers from a 10- to 15-win team to a 20- to 25-win one.
Zero wins at this point in the season, though? That’s hard to believe, especially if you would’ve told me the Sixers would have leads of at least five points midway through the fourth quarter in five straight games. Surely they could win one of those, right?
Unfortunately, those fourth-quarter leads have been followed by myriad bad shots and turnovers that could only be committed by a team as youthful as these Sixers. No active player is older than 24, and when combined with the overall lack of talent outside of Jahlil Okafor, Nerlens Noel, and Robert Covington, the Sixers will continue to struggle to close out tight games.
But there’s no question they’ve played better recently, despite those heartbreaking defeats in their last five games. The biggest difference? Covington’s return. He struggled to find a rhythm in his first few games, but he found his shooting touch on the Sixers’ road trip, shooting over 44 percent from 3-point range in his last five games. The length behind his 6-9 frame has also led to the team forcing more turnovers. In their last five games, the Sixers have forced an average of 19.4 turnovers, the chief reason behind their improved play. (To put that number in perspective, the Boston Celtics currently lead the NBA with 18.8 forced turnovers per game.) Individually, Covington has averaged over five steals per game in his last five and is averaging over 3.5 steals per game for the season.
Suddenly, the Sixers are playing more like they have the last couple years: they force lots of turnovers, shoot lots of threes, and turn the ball over enough to cost themselves games. With the team getting healthier, though, they’re bound to win more of those games. My expectation was for 24 wins before the season started, and I still believe they can do that.