Way Too In Depth Philadelphia 76ers Season Preview
We continue our NBA preview today with the up and coming 76ers.
About Last Year:
“The Process” finally ended last year, or depending on your definition, just took the step past tanking. Regardless, Joel Embiid was finally healthy and was awesome, Ben Simmons was healthy and was awesome, Dario Saric was really good, many of the complimentary pieces were good, and it especially came together in the later parts of the year as they finished the year on a long winning streak and 52 wins.
After beating the Heat in the first round of the playoffs, they fell to the Celtics in the second round. While it was probably a little bit disappointing to lose to a Celtics team missing both Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving, last season was still a undeniable success. It got even better when they managed to rid themselves of overlarge collars.
(hopefully) healthy Markelle Fultz
Found a new slant
I don’t think anyone else really counts?
A quiet off-season for the Sixers other than the GM fiasco which has been talked about plenty in other places. They were tossed around as an option for both LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard but didn’t land either player and it isn’t totally clear how serious it was anyways. In the end, most of their offseason news was burner accounts and Fultz jump-shots.
The Good News:
A young Sixers team won 52 games last year, Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid are a year older and more experienced, Markelle Fultz will actually play (we hope), and very little was lost this off-season. Both Embiid and Simmons do have some kinks to work out (more on that in the next section) but they should be the sort that will improve with experience and both are already phenomenal even if they don’t improve.
Embiid is the sort of elite defensive presence that putting him on the floor with anything competent will produce high-level defensive results, then you remember that the Sixers have high-level defenders in Robert Covington and Ben Simmons who both play next to him a lot and this team should be great defensively for the second straight year. If Fultz can make good on some of his defensive potential they could approach historic levels of defense.
On offense it is a little bit dicier but they should still have little trouble being good enough to score enough given their high-level defense. Embiid has issues but he draws tons of fouls to slow down the game and get opposing bigs off the floor, for all the talk of Ben Simmons lack of jumper he is a great inside scorer and otherworldly passer. Enough people are aware that Dario Saric is pretty unheralded that he is hardly unheralded anymore but he’s a swiss-army knife who makes up for a lot of the flaws of his teammates.
Even if Fultz struggles, (which wouldn’t be a huge surprise. This will effectively be his rookie year and rookie point guards almost always struggle) the Sixers have good complimentary pieces. Robert Covington came down to earth a bit as a shooter after a torrid start but he has a good track record of being a reliable shooter and is a legit All-NBA caliber defender. JJ Reddick is getting older but his shooting is otherworldly and helps cover up for Simmons lack of jumpers and Embiid’s bricky jumper.
If he can manage to stay on the floor, Jarryd Bayless is not all that good but he’s a functional rotation guard, same with Wilson Chandler on the wing. Mike Muscala could be a nice fit next to Embiid if he ever gets minutes. There may even be some minutes for their rookies which will be interesting.
This team is simply brimming with talent and ready to build on a strong season last year, if Fultz can hit the ground running then one of their few blind spots could be filled as well. Perhaps the best news however, is that this group is young enough that even if they can’t tangle with the giants of the league right now, they can still sit tight because their peak is likely to still be coming in another couple of years.
The Bad News:
The main worry to me still remains Joel Embiid’s health. Last season was a success for him health-wise and he only played in 63 games at 30 minutes per game. He will need multiple seasons of health to get rid of that worry in a significant way. If he messes up his foot again and misses most/all of the season that would very suddenly put a significant damper on the mood for the Sixers.
Aside from potential health concerns, it isn’t clear how clean a fit Embiid and Simmons are and how their offensive games hold up against higher competition. Simmons’ inability to shoot makes it possible for him to be schemed out of a game if opponents can limit transition chances, and Embiid’s jumper got bricky and he’s a black-hole who turns the ball over at an alarming rate.
Last season, the best the offense looked was at the end of the year when Embiid was hurt and the Sixers essentially rolled with Simmons+shooters. Embiid has a nice stroke so he could find the range after shooting just 30.8% from deep last year, but even then he needs the ball a lot.
Combine these, and unless some improvement is made (which isn’t out of the question) the Sixers have a lack of “go-to” guy. Once again, this is mostly only a worry against high-level and dialed in defenses, but against those teams they scheme Simmons out of the game and let Embiid turn the ball over repeatedly.
Fultz, in theory, could be a big help here. But it wouldn’t be wise to put too much hope in a guy who is essentially a rookie point guard. As stated before, rookie point guards, even ones who end up being really good, almost always suck at first.
In short, the main worry is basically that the team and many of its players are not a finished product yet. Which is also one of the biggest pluses for this team, it isn’t yet a finished product and yet they are still likely to compete at the upper end of the Conference.
Biggest Wild-Card for the season?
It has to be Fultz. In theory his brand of pick and roll scoring and shooting could be a boon and god-send for the Sixers offense. In theory he should even be able to avoid a lot of the young-guard issues due to the presence of Simmons and Embiid ensuring that he doesn’t get asked to do too much.
On the other hand, if whatever was wrong last season persists and he isn’t good, then the SIxers will continue to have a very real hole in their build.
So how good do you think Fultz will be?
Tough to say this year, as stated a few times already, young point guards usually suck. That said, I certainly believe in him. I loved his game coming out of college, and something that separates him from a lot of young guards in the league is that his defensive potential is incredibly high as well. Anyone who has followed me for very long can attest to the fact that I love guys who can get it done on both ends, and Fultz is a good bet to get there.
Best Case Scenario: 60-22
Fultz has a second season like Ben Simmons. He is still clearly raw in some ways but he is very ready to contribute right away. Simmons and Embiid also defeat some of their demons from last year, Simmons isn’t a lethal shooter (and likely never will be) but he at least shoots and hits occasionally when teams play way off him, Embiid doesn’t turn it over so much.
The Sixers are historically great on defense and their offense gets pushed into the top 10. They fight through both the Raptors and Celtics in the playoffs before meeting the Warriors were they lose a competitive 5 game series. The Warriors then proceed to break up next off-season and the Sixers only get better, poised to take over the league for real.
Worst Case Scenario: 48-34
(this doesn’t count terrible injuries. Obviously Embiid re-injuring his foot in a bad way is the worst case scenario, but every team could be derailed by a player missing almost the entire season)
Embiid and Simmons remain hugely talented but their flaws are still there, and opponents are more prepared to take advantage of them. Whatever was going on with Fultz last year continues, and it turns out that Ersan Ilyasova and Marco Belinelli were more important to the late-season run than we realized.
The Sixers are still good, incredibly good given their youth, but they just regress in a lot of ways from last year. They flame out in the second round of the playoffs, Simmons and Embiid remain an awkward fit, and while there is still a lot of optimism, there are real questions the team has to answer going forward.
So What’s the verdict? Line is 54.5.
Tough line for me. On one hand, they won 52 games last year and are likely to be better. On the other hand, their division rivals in Boston and Toronto should also be better, and likely improved by a wider margin than the Sixers are. I also think there is a decent chance that several other Eastern teams win more games as well.
In the end, it is a painful under. I’m going to predict it being a case of the Sixers being an objectively better team, but it just doesn’t reflect in the win-loss column. That said, I wouldn’t be shocked at all if they went over, this is a very tentative under.