Caleb Mynatt | September 29th, 2018
The 76ers are coming off of high hopes last season after years of mediocrity. After years of tanking, even to the point that the NBA debated changing their draft rules, the Process that Sam Hinkie started was finally completed. Can the Sixers carry over that momentum?
Recap of Last Season
For the first time in their careers, Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid were finally able to play together on the same court, not to mention with a decent team around them. It was obviously exciting, but the beginning of the season wasn’t what the 76ers had hoped for. At the end of December, the 76ers were 17-19 and struggling to compete for the eight-seed in a relatively weak Eastern Conference. The team started to look like itself at the beginning 2018, firmly planted itself in the playoff pack at the beginning of March, and then ended the season on a 16-game win streak to get themselves to the three-seed. The Sixers advanced past the Miami Heat in the first round of the playoffs and then lost in five games to the Boston Celtics.
The Sixers finished the season in or near the top-10 in virtually every statistical category except turnovers. The Sixers, even with their early-season struggles, were a well-rounded team. Although they fell short in the playoffs, that was indicative of how young and inexperienced their core was.
Last season, the Sixers played a very efficient offense that featured a lot of assists, high percentage shots, while also not denying themselves of their three-ball opportunities. If the Sixers had one offensive hold back, it was that their free throw percentage was around 75%, which is middle of the road in the NBA. The Sixers also played with the fourth-highest pace in the league, something that likely won’t change.
The scary thing for the rest of the NBA is that the Sixers not only have another year of experience together, but they also improved in the offseason. They kept their core intact; Simmons, Embiid, and Dario Saric all have another year of experience, and they also added Wilson Chandler in the offseason to give them another scoring punch off the bench. Along with the addition of Chandler, they are expecting to get more out of Markelle Fultz, who apparently fixed his shot over the offseason. All of that combined should set the 76ers up for offensive success, not to mention returning their very competent role players. The loss of Marco Belinelli may hurt the Sixers behind the arc, but they should be able to make up most of the void left by him with their players.
The 76ers should be improved on the offensive end, but their real potential lies in Ben Simmons. Simmons averaged a very efficient 15.8/8.1/8.2 this past season, but he did it all with a historically bad jump shot. From the mid-range, Simmons only shot 27.8% and many of those were open looks. Simmons only took three three-pointers that weren’t half-court heaves, and he didn’t make a single one. Everyone knew Simmons jump shot was a non-factor, and he really didn’t try to prove anyone wrong. Of the 998 shots he took, 879 of them came in the painted area. Simmons has the potential to transcend his game, and the Philadelphia offense, if he can become even somewhat of a consistent outside shooter. If that happens, look out.
Robert Covington and Embiid were both NBA All-Defense with Covington on the first team and Embiid on the second team. Combine that with a freakishly athletic 6’10 guard, Fultz’s elite speed and stealing ability, and the rest of their team that features other good defenders. This team was the third-best defense last year, and they should be somewhere around that this year. This team is big, quick, forces turnovers, and also led the league in rebounds last year. The Sixers shouldn’t only be able to get stops and close out possessions, but also turn defense into offense.
Chandler may help the Sixers offensively, but he’s never really proven himself to be a good defender. His physical attributes, however, indicate he could be a good defender if he put in the effort. If he can round out his game on the defensive end, he could really help the Sixers improve across the board. There’s a ton of potential to grow for what was an already elite defensive unit, and it should be one of the teams you actually enjoy watching play defense.
For as good as the Sixers were last year, the bench was not very impressive as a unit. The bench ranked in the bottom 10 in almost every offensive category, but they did finish as the 10th ranked bench defense. Also, to defend the bench, they ranked 22nd in minutes played, so they didn’t necessarily get a ton of time to prove themselves.
Chandler should help offensively and hurt defensively, but they essentially swapped him for Marco Belinelli. The real question that hasn’t been answered for this bench is what impact will rookie Zhaire Smith have? He’s projected to be out until December with a foot injury, but when he comes back could he add something to the bench depth? His summer league stats weren’t great, but that doesn’t mean he won’t be successful in a bench role. On its current course, the bench should be roughly the same as it was last year; very middle-of-the-road.
So how are the 76ers going to fare in the 2018-2019 season? By all indications, pretty well. They should be a top-four team in the East and, quite possibly, one of the best teams in the NBA. For as dangerous as they were last season, they could be unbelievable this season if their core has improved as a whole. Embiid could be an MVP candidate if he’s improved upon his already solid game, and that could carry the Sixers all the way to the Finals.
This is all assuming one thing: that the team’s stars are going to stay healthy. If Embiid or Simmons go down with an injury, something they’ve both already struggled with in their short careers, the Sixers title chances are tanked. That needs to be mentioned for two players that have been injured for extended amounts of time because for as good as Philadelphia could be, they won’t be if these two guys specifically aren’t on the court.
Are the Sixers title contenders? Probably, but definitely dark horse contenders. At least more so than last year. They have a ton of potential and should win a ton of games, but the top of the East is very good. Getting past the Raptors or Celtics may be tough for this team that still could maybe use some experience, but it’s not impossible. They probably won’t win the title, but they will be a lot of fun to watch. Injuries have to be taken into account for this team though, as the idea of them staying completely healthy seems to be an optimistic view at this point.
Final Record: 54-28, 3rd in the East
Questions and comments?
Main Credit Image: Embed from Getty Images