What happens to that thought that most of this current roster is just filling space until the great era of Sixers basketball arrives?
With Michael Carter-Williams in a walking boot with what was described as a left foot arch bruise, James Anderson had 36 points last night, including an off-balance three-pointer with 6.6 seconds left that pushed the Sixers game with the Houston Rockets into overtime, and allowed for an unlikely 123-117 victory.
It was the third game he hit double digits. In 39 games with two teams last season, Anderson hit double digits four times.
Then again, the fourth-year pro has started all nine games with the Sixers, three more than he had totaled in his three previous NBA seasons.
Which begs the question: Is this a matter of improvement or opportunism?
"I think it's both,'' Sixers coach Brett Brown said. "I hope it's both.
Anderson took 16 shots and did not record an assist. He made six of eight threes, no bigger than the one that forced overtime. He had five rebounds, three steals and didn't turn it over once. And yet throughout it all was this lingering doubt of whether he was becoming a legitimate NBA commodity or simply a byproduct of a team whose early success is driven by a storm of preseason slights.
Brown was part of the San Antonio hierarchy that drafted Anderson out of Oklahoma State.
"And we drafted him with the knowledge that he was a scorer,'' said the coach. "He was an athletic wing. Maybe he was a shooter, maybe he was a driver, maybe he was a good offensive rebounder. He was all those things. But he was a scorer. And to see different ways he scored tonight, that's the way he was at Oklahoma State. And you see a lot of these guys when opportunity presents itself and it sort of collides with their age. He's ready to break out. He's ready to assume the role of a starting two guard. Or a two guard with significant minutes and rotations. I think we got him at a very timely stage of his career when he can let all those things come together. Opportunity. Age. Development. And tonight we saw what he can do.''
These are the kind of evaluations that will recur throughout this so-far paradoxical season. Tony Wroten, another overlooked player acquired in a summer trade, scored 18 points, dished 11 assists and added 10 rebounds. Darius Morris scored 10 points in 19 minutes. Lavoy Allen, Brandon Davies . . .
"Are you surprised you're 5-4?'' I asked the coach.
"Yes . . . Yes I am,'' he said.
Just the appearance of Jeremy Lin last night should remind us not to dismiss players based solely on scouting reports. The air show he put on against the arc-indifferent defense the Sixers are compelled to employ filled much (but not all) of the void created when the Rockets chose to rest James Harden.
That's right. Once again a team seemed to view a game against the Sixers as the NBA equivalent of a water stop. Harden has been the Rockets' best player this season, averaging 24.9 points, 5.1 assists and 4.6 rebounds. He will likely play tonight against the Knicks.
Think the Sixers were aware of that?
The Rockets missed 10 straight field goals down the stretch, wilting as if they were in the second game of a back-to-back, not the first.
It's early, but the Sixers have played most of this season as if their professional lives depend on it. And for a coach brought in here to develop talent, there is no better canvas than that.
"I feel very proud of them in regards to their competitive spirit,'' Brown said. "I think when you just throw people together or coach a team, we have no right to have an inherent chemistry or camaraderie. We've just sort've been introduced over the last 2 months. So to manufacture anything like that and feel like it just happens is very naïve.''
He wasn't trying to pat himself on the back with that. But there's no way around it. Sam Hinkie and Brett Brown may have arrived a little too soon. If there is such a thing.
"I feel like there are signs regularly that the group trusts each other and enjoys playing with each other and has each other's back,'' Brown said. "We're not going to roll over. At times we may lose and at times it may get deflating but by and large I think it says that . . . the group has a fighting spirit.''
On Twitter: @samdonnellon