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Philly sports column: Roco and Saric traded to T’Wolves

On Saturday, the Philadelphia 76ers made a major move by trading Robert Covington, Dario Saric, Jerryd Bayless and a 2022 second round pick for the four-time NBA All-Star Jimmy Butler and Justin Patton. The surprise move capped off an exciting week of action in which the Sixers had two impressive victories against the Indiana Pacers and the Charlotte Hornets after an embarrassing 122-97 loss to the Brooklyn Nets on Sunday, Nov. 4.

Philadelphia beat the Pacers on Wednesday by a score of 100-94 and the Hornets on Friday in a close contest in which the final score was 133-132. Brett Brown and company are now undefeated at home with a record of 7-0 at Wells Fargo Center, and the win against Indiana ended the Sixers’ winless drought on the road, hopefully signaling the start to a much-needed winning streak.

Joel Embiid is continuing to prove that he may be one of the best two-way players in the league. Embiid is currently fourth in the league in defensive rebounds, averaging 10.7 per game. The 7’2 center is also averaging an astounding 28.2 points per game, and his 42 points during the game against the Hornets were huge in helping Philadelphia stay the course and take the game to overtime.

Down by three with about 36 seconds left in the game against Charlotte, Embiid matched up against “Cardiac” Kemba Walker. After a few tantalizing stutter steps that made it look like he was going to drive to the basket, Embiid took his shot and sank the three from deep with Walker all over him, sending the crowd at Wells Fargo Center into an absolute frenzy. During the postgame interviews, Embiid said, “They call me clutch for a reason,” and there’s no doubt that moments like these are why Embiid is quickly becoming the biggest name in Philly sports.

While Embiid is an all-star candidate and a Philly icon, the rest of the squad still needs to tighten up their game if Philadelphia wants to be a contender in the Eastern Conference. The Sixers struggle with turnovers and give up sloppy points in the paint when Embiid is not on the court. For example, when backup Amir Johnson replaced Embiid against Charlotte (seeing only five minutes during the contest), the Sixers’ plus/minus ratio was minus ten. Blown leads and excessive turnovers were two of the Sixers’ biggest problems last season, and it doesn’t seem like anything is being done to remedy those flaws by Brown so far this year.

Granted, Brown has a limited arsenal at his disposal coming off the bench. Probably the second-best big man on the team, Mike Muscala suffered a facial laceration and a broken nose during practice this past week and will miss at least four games before being reevaluated. Rookie Landry Shamet has shown that he has the potential to be a good shooter, as he is averaging 7.5 points per game with a .379 three point percentage; however, his defensive skill set is limited at best. With Johnson, Shamet and Wilson Chandler playing mediocre ball coming off the bench, the Sixers’ success essentially comes down to how Brown works his starting roster going forward now that Jimmy Butler is in the mix.

The trade to give away both Covington and Saric will leave a hole at power forward with Butler filling in at small forward. Now that it seems like Brown is throwing his defensive game plan in the trash by trading away a top-five defender in Covington and the consistent hustle of Saric, he will want to have his best shooters on the court at all times. This means that, depending on Muscala’s recovery, Simmons will have to move over to power forward, Reddick will return to his rightful place as the starting shooting guard and Fultz will need to step up at point guard.

Fultz is getting better; there is no doubt about this. Fans who were complaining about his lackluster efforts and unenthusiastic presence on the court are now seeing a Markelle who dives across the floor after against Charlotte to win the ball back after a careless turnover. The second-year shooting guard is attempting to make dunks on a nightly basis and is consistently trying to diversify his game by mixing in drives to the paint with the occasional pull up jumper.

Statistically speaking, however, Markelle is still far away from living up to the hype that game with his status as a number one overall draft pick since he is averaging just 8.9 points per game, only 3.6 assists per game and 4.1 rebounds per game.

The addition of Butler will no doubt help in the scoring department and take some of the pressure off Fultz to shoot. Butler provides an intense leadership that is matched by his production. In ten games so far this year, Butler is averaging 21.3 points per game and has a career three-point percentage of 34.1.

Last offseason, Brown said the organization was “star-hunting,” and he made good on his promise by signing Butler. Whether or not trading the farm for Butler will pay off remains to be seen, but with Covington and Saric gone, one thing is for sure: the process is over.

Andrew Heller is a second-year graduate student majoring in English.

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