Things were supposed to get better. Once the Philadelphia 76ers started getting their “veteran” point guards Tony Wroten and Kendall Marshall back on the court, the team was going to revert from historically bad to “Minnesota-bad”. That’s what Sixers fans were telling themselves and apparently, the foundation upon which GM Sam Hinkie constructed the roster this offseason. However, it’s now been about a week and a half since Philadelphia has seen the pair return to action, and it’s still business as usual for the struggling 76ers.
Since Wroten first made his return against Denver on December 5th, the Sixers have gone 0-6. Unlike when they were blowing leads in the fourth quarter every game a few weeks back, the majority of these contests have not been particularly close; just two of the six games were within single digits. Before we dive into why this has been happening, let’s start with the obvious caveats.
Tony Wroten has played in just four games, and Kendall Marshall in only two; combined; they’ve played a total of 97 minutes, which is slightly over a two-game sample size. Both players are dealing with minutes restrictions coming off ACL surgeries and have yet to play in a back-to-back.
In fact, neither guy has even played in the same game as the other, let alone been on the court at the same time. Wednesday night in Atlanta might very well be the first time they suit up together, as the Sixers do not have a game the day before or after that contest. Still, having established it’s been a small sample size, what have been the results when the guys have actually taken the court? (All stats courtesy of NBA.com/stats)
Let’s start with Wroten, who has the worst net rating on the team thus far this season. The offense has cratered with Tony on the court, and it’s easy to see why. Wroten has shot just 32.1% from the field (leading to a team-worst 39.5 TS%) while also sporting a team-worst 19.5 turnover ratio and a team-high 30.5% usage rate. Literally, the Sixers worst shooter and the most careless player with the ball has the rock in his hands more than anyone when he’s on the court. The Sixers have to hope this is simply a case of needing to shake the rust off, and Wroten returns to career norms of just over 40% from the field and a turnover/36 min down around 4.5, rather than his current 5.9.
First, I’ll point out the disclaimer that neither player has been on the court for any garbage time (by which I mean time toward the end of the game when the score is out of hand, that’s not the name of the Sixers’ base offense). Given that there’s been a fair amount of garbage time over the course of these last six games, Philadelphia lineups without these two guys out there could be helping themselves to some stat correcting minutes against opposing teams’ deep benches. Still, one might have reasonably expected the numbers to look much better than they do.
With Kendall Marshall, the outlook is rosier, as Philadelphia has been slightly better with Marshall out there. He has clearly helped the offense since his return on the 11th, with an assist percentage of 42.3% that would rank among the best in the NBA. Marshall appeared to show nice chemistry with rookie Jahlil Okafor, who has shot 50.0% from the field on passes from Marshall, with Big Jah being his most frequent target. Those numbers should only improve as the pair plays more together; there were times Okafor and the other big men looked surprised at the pocket passes Marshall was fitting into them.
While they haven’t provided the instant panacea Sixers fans craved, these point guards should eventually start to help the on-court product. In just a couple games, we have seen how Kendall Marshall’s elite passing ability can help boost the scoring of those players around him. Tony Wroten simply can’t continue to be this bad, as his length and quickness have helped the defense, and he just needs to regress toward career norms offensively.
I know Sixers fans hate to hear it because they’ve certainly exhibited Dalai Lama levels of patience in recent years, but these guys likely just need a little more time to start making an impact on the final scoreboard.