The Philadelphia 76ers figured Ben Simmons and Jerryd Bayless would be doing a lot of the ball handing this season, but both of those players have missed the start of the season due to injury.
Stepping up in their absence is Sergio Rodriguez.
The 30-year-old veteran point guard played his first NBA game in six years on opening night against the Oklahoma City Thunder, and he acquitted himself well with 12 points, nine assists and most importantly no turnovers in a close loss.
“There is a bounce to his game, he can run the heck out of the pick-and-roll and he can shoot,” Sixers coach Brett Brown told reporters at practice on Friday. “He was beyond solid.”
The question is, can Rodriguez be consistent?
Rodriguez followed up his solid opening-night effort with 14 points, five assists and four rebounds in an ugly defeat to the Atlanta Hawks. He did turn the ball over four times in the loss, but Brown said after the game that Rodriguez will continue to start “for a while.”
“It’s becoming increasingly more cemented,” Brown admitted to reporters when discussing Rodriguez. “I think that, any time I can find some type of continuity and consistency, it sure helps everybody. I think that’s the way we’re going to go for a while.”
While the Sixers are 0-2, Rodriguez’s stellar play is a positive and could play a nice role in the development of Joel Embiid and Jahlil Okafor. Philadelphia has been especially weak at point guard in recent years, so having a guy who can consistently set up the offense will only help the offense, and the young studs in general.
Along with Rodriguez, another guy who stood out in the backcourt on opening night was third-year man Nik Stauskas.
During his first two seasons in the league, Stauskas has struggled to find his shot after being advertised as a dead-eye shooter coming out of Michigan. Stauskas also struggled during the Sixers’ preseason slate, and he looked like a player lacking in confidence. Things changed on opening night, as Stauskas was the Sixers’ most productive bench player with 13 points, four rebounds, one assist and no turnovers in 23 minutes.
Another big surprise about Stauskas’ success? He took the ball to the basket and made 5-of-6 shots.
“He was in attack mode,” Brown told reporters at practice. “He was not afraid to put it to the floor and get to the rim. I think he has a real chance to have a breakout year; we need him to have a break out year. I was really happy with his swagger last night.”
The only shot he missed was the lone three-pointer he took.
You can see the difference in Stauskas’ game when he makes a few shots; he gains confidence and is a completely different player. It’s not a good sign when you’re a shooter and you struggle with your confidence, but you have to keep shooting even when missing. Aggressively getting to the basket and finishing helped that confidence, and he even threw down a thunderous two-handed baseline jam.
“I don’t consider myself a shooter, I consider myself a gamer,” Stauskas told reporters after practice on Friday. “I don’t think I’m an effective NBA player when I just stand and spot up and shoot threes; that’s really not my game. Although I feel like I can do that, it’s not something that I want to be doing. I think I can be effective for this team doing other things.”
The Sixers picked up their fourth-year team option on Stauskas, and Brown thinks that can help him become a more aggressive player.
“I think the statement the club made on his contract lets him probably have a little more comfort on how we feel about him.”
Stauskas followed up his opening-night outing with six points in 29 minutes against the Hawks on Saturday, filling up the stat sheet with five rebounds, one assist and one block while hitting two three-pointers. He went just 2-of-7 from the field and turned the ball over three times, but there were still positive signs.
While it’s going to take Brown awhile to watch these guys play and get a feel for his new team, it’s a good thing that he’s getting some early production from the backcourt.