I am a Philadelphia sports fanatic, following the 76ers, Flyers, Phillies, and Eagles. Today the focus is the Sixers.
The Philadelphia 76ers are the #1 seed in the Eastern Conference for the first time since the 2000-01 season when Allen Iverson was wearing red and blue. They finished the season 49-23, good for third best in the NBA. This was thanks in large part to MVP finalist Joel Embiid, who averaged a career high 28.5 points and 10.5 rebounds. Embiid's supporting cast also did not disappoint, as Ben Simmons, a 6-10 point guard, is a finalist for defensive player of the year and Tobias Harris averaged a career best 19.5 points per game.
So the question is, will the 76ers steller play during the regular season translate to the playoffs? The answer is that it most certainly can, but only if Embiid plays at his MVP pre injury level and Ben Simmons contributes effectively on the offensive end. The Sixers first playoff game against the Washington Wizards on Sunday proved that they can in fact beat inferior teams if one of these two stipulations comes to fruition (Embiid: 30 points and 6 rebounds on Sunday), but not championship level teams (Simmons: 15 rebounds, 15 assists, but only 6 points). There's a reason the Brooklyn Nets are favored to come out of the East, because they have 3 legitimate players who could chip in 30 points a night, and 3 legitimate players who could go off for 40 on any given night. The Sixers and Nets supporting casts outside of their stars are about even, but the star power of the Nets tips the odds in their favor.
What does all of this mean? It means that Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, and Tobias Harris have to play out of their mind in order to get past the Nets and whoever the Western Conference sends to the finals. It is reasonable to assume that if Embiid can average 25 or more in the playoffs and Simmons can continue his stellar defensive play while also chipping in at least 10 to 15 a night, the 76ers will go places. Tobias Harris, although frequently overlooked in this equation, is the rock the Sixers have depended on all year. It's almost clock work that Harris will get 18 to 25 points a night and play reasonably good defense. This in fact has been the key all year for Harris, play passable defense and contribute consistently on offense, something he did not do last season.
What about Philadelphia's other two starters, Daryl Morey imports Seth Curry and Danny Green? Well, for the SIxers to legitimately compete for a title, they have to continue doing what they're doing. Curry shot nearly 45% from beyond the arc during the regular season and Danny Green, after starting slow, picked up his play to average a cool 40.5% from the three point line. Both Curry and Green average below 13 points a game, but on any given night, either one can go off for better than 20. These two represent yet another key to the 76ers title hopes, consistent three point shooting and perhaps more importantly, space for Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons to operate. Should their play continue, the pressure will really being on the Sixers stars to produce up to their capabilities.
That brings us to the bench, where the Sixers utilized 6 different players in Sunday's win over the Wizards. Shake Milton is a lock for 20-25 minutes a night, and had it not been for several minor injuries and inconsistent play throughout the second half of the season, he might have been in contention for the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year Award. Then theres George Hill, who Morey brought in at the trade deadline to be a more consistent ball handler and very capable three point shooter. Matisse Thybulle has played all NBA defense this year, and should continue to match up against the 76er's opponents' most deadly scorers when Simmons is on the bench. Dwight Howard who, despite being 35 years old and in his 17th NBA season, plays solid back up minutes in place of Embiid. The bench is rounded out with three point shooter Furkan Korkmaz and promising rookie Tyrese Maxey. All of these players outside of Howard have been inconsistent to say the least, and in order for the Sixers to get to the finals, they all have to show some semblance of consistency in the playoffs.
The promise land for the 76ers is the NBA finals, and more specifically a title. They can surely get there, but only if Joel Embiid plays in MVP form, Ben Simmons locks down the opponents top scorer, and Tobias Harris continues his remarkable consistency. If this occurs, then the Sixers just need to have decent contributions from their supporting cast in order to make some real nosie. Only time will tell how far the Sixers go in the playoffs, but if they play the way they have played all season long, then they have a real chance to win it all.
© 2021 Brett Nicholas