| New players, an injured All Star, and other teams courting Ben Simmons. The 76ers are talented, but their stretch run begins with more uncertainty than last year |
A Repeat of Last Year’s Surge?
Last season, the Sixers rode a 16 game winning streak into the post-season that won them the 3rd seed in the Eastern Conference. They did not have Joel Embiid for half of those wins, but they came against bad teams (only two wins were against playoff teams, Milwaukee and Minnesota). This year, the Sixers emerged from the All Star break in pretty good position, and they do have some easy opponents left in their final 22 games. But there are also multiple challenging games, and with uncertainty around Joel Embiid’s knee (more on that below), it’s hard to envision an end of the season run similar to last year.
Easier games at this point appear to be three against the Chicago and two each versus Atlanta and Orlando, and one against Dallas, Charlotte, and Miami.
The difficult games include Golden State, Houston, Oklahoma City, Sacramento. Three of those teams are playoff locks in the West, and Sacramento might be the most surprising story in the league this year, fighting for their first playoff spot since 2006.
There are also some games that could help the Sixers rise in the standings. They get one more shot at Boston and Indiana, as well as two more games against Milwaukee. With all of those teams ahead in the standings and a potential 2nd or 3rd round playoff matchup, those games will serve as measuring sticks for Philadelphia to win the conference.
First Impressions of New Players
Tobias Harris looks like a very natural fit. Great shooter and overall scorer, and a better athlete and defender than advertised. He’s scored in double digits in every game with Philadelphia and they’ve won four of six with him in the lineup.
Unfortunately his worst game came against the team’s biggest rival. He shot 4/14, and didn’t hit a single three in a loss to the Celtics last week. Overall Harris is a consistent scorer and fits well within the team’s overall structure. But for better or worse, many will judge his long term viability by how her performs against the Celtics, especially in a playoff matchup. The Celtics have a lot of wings who can play on the perimeter as well as down low, like Marcus Morris, who sees the Sixers’ acquisition of Harris as a direct response to his play in their matchups.
Boban Marjanovic has also been impressive in limited minutes. In the place on an injured Joel Embiid versus Miami on Thursday, he put together a nice stat-line; 19 points, 12 rebounds, 2 assists, and a block in 27 minutes.
He’s only averaging 15 minutes per night as the team’s backup center, but that’s probably for the best. His size is definitely imposing, but his slow foot speed and lack of agility can get exposed, especially on switches. He’s simply more effective in short stretches than starter level minutes.
Mike Scott is more confident with the ball in his hands than I expected. He’s not afraid to shoot either. He was one of the few bright spots in an ugly loss on Saturday to Portland (15 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists on 5/8 shooting). He may not perform that like each game, but Scott is almost a lock to see minutes in the playoffs.
Redick Benefiting the most
The team traded for Harris and suddenly it became the big four in Philadelphia. Not only does that ignore an easy local parallel with the collegiate Big Five, it doesn’t give enough credit to JJ Redick. He is having the best scoring year of his career at 34 years old! 34 is also his season high in scoring, and it came in game with his new teammates.
Redick is a great shooter, but his ability to catch and shoot off balance or while moving might be second to none. The Sixers are already pass happy with Ben Simmons bringing the ball up, and their new players seem to have picked up on that strategy quite well. If you were to take the names off their jerseys, Tobias Harris looks a lot like Simmons’ with the ball in his hands. Beyond the two just being of similar size, Harris is comfortable pushing it up the court after a rebound and knows that Redick will be filling the lanes on the wing.
Embiid out with knee soreness, Zhaire Smith return seems unlikely
The two candidates on the roster to absorb Korkmaz’s playing time would be Jonathon Simmons and James Ennis. Neither have been particularly good in their brief time with the Sixers, although their athleticism might provide a slight improvement over Korkmaz’s defense.
SIMMONS TOOK A THREE
Technically, Ben Simmons has attempted three point shots before; mostly long, half or full court heaves at the end of quarters and shot clocks. But in the middle of a blowout against the Lakers, Simmons took a legitimate normal three pointer.
LeBron James had conceded the space all game, and for good reason. Despite all of the aspects of basketball that Ben Simmons is good at (read as: literally all of them), he might be most well known for his lack of a jumpshot, especially three pointers. The fact the Simmons’ attempted it even caught his teammates off guard.
It’s not clear if this is a true turning point for Simmons. He hasn’t attempted another three since, and seems to stress patience when asked about it.
“I think I’m getting there. It just takes time, but I’m going to get there,” Simmons said. “I will start pulling up…but it’s not one thing I am looking at. It’s not everything. I’m not focused on just doing that. I am going to play my game, play to my strengths and continue to try to get better.”
Ben Simmons and Magic Johnson
The comparisons are easy. Point guards who were larger than normal. Simmons has adjusted to the NBA quickly, but Magic doesn’t have the GM duties nailed quite yet. He was caught up in another tampering investigation when he revealed that Simmons had asked to meet with him in the coming summer. The Sixers and Lakers denied Simmons’ request, so it wasn’t technically tampering, but it was good to see the NBA investigate it so quickly. After their failure to trade for Anthony Davis at the deadline, largely due to the awkwardness of Davis and LeBron James sharing agents, the Lakers could reasonably be expected to search for other options. But this was an unforced error by Magic, who didn’t have to mention it at all.
Ultimately this won’t amount to much right now. Elton Brand has made it clear that the team is willing to max out Simmons, and Simmons himself hasn’t expressed any dissatisfaction about being in Philadelphia. But the modern NBA is defined by player movement and not-so-subtle tampering. There will surely be more courting of the Sixers star players in the future.