OTG Team Awards: Philadelphia 76ers
The Sixers head into the 2018-2019 NBA playoffs as one of four presumptive favorites to represent the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals (along with the Celtics, Bucks, and Raptors). Their regular season campaign is now in the books, and after finishing as the 3rd seed with a record of 51-31, the Sixers are looking to do some damage in the postseason. However, OTG’s team awards series focuses solely on regular season performance, and is thus restricted to an 82-game sample size.
Joel Embiid had a career year, and as you’ll soon find out, took home more than half of the Sixers team awards trophies. That being said, he’ll almost certainly grab more prestigious silverware in his future (we’re talking MVPs, people), as his on-court performance is a curious blend of physical dominance and shooting ability that stands out in the contemporary talent-loaded, perimeter–oriented NBA.
Sixth Man of the Year: TJ McConnell
Consider this section a condemnation of the Sixers shallow bench unit. Boban would be up for this award, if he hadn’t played only 22 games in blue and white this season. Seeing as none of Jonathon Simmons, James Ennis, Zhaire Smith (give it a year for this guy), Mike Scott (although he may come closest, thanks to his floor-spacing), Jonah Bolden or Furkan Korkmaz are really up to the challenge, McConnell takes this award by being an adequate back-up playmaker on this front-court loaded roster. His line of 6.4ppg/2.3rpg/3.4apg on splits of 53/33/78 may not wow you, but neither does the rest of the Sixers bench. So, congratulations, I guess?
Most Improved Player: Joel Embiid
Embiid was already an All-Star in the NBA’s weaker conference, but this season, he has proven that he is capable of winning an MVP award during his career, provided he stays healthy. This season, that’s precisely what he did, outputting career-best numbers in points per game (27.5), rebounds per game (13.6), assists per game (3.7), steals per game (0.7), blocks per game (1.9), WS/48 (0.194) and VORP (3.3). In a season where Ben Simmons arguably stagnated in terms of his development, Embiid made a major leap this year, and is rewarded for it here. Although not a contender for the league’s actual MIP (many other players have taken bigger respective leaps in ability), Joel is the most improved Sixer this year, without question.
Newcomer of the Year: Jimmy Butler
Philadelphia had a record 16-11 at the time of the Butler trade, and closed out the season with Jimmy on a 35-20 run. His season line of 18.7ppg, 5.3rpg, 4apg, 1.9stl & 0.6blk on splits of 46/35/86 adequately represents his All-Star level contribution to this Sixers team, who often look invigorated whenever Butler assumes control of the Phantastic Phive’s (Simmons-Redick-Butler-Harris-Embiid) offense. Although many will argue for Tobias Harris here, who is indeed enjoying a comparable statistical season (20.0ppg, 7.9rpg, 2.8apg, 0.6stl, 0.5blk on very efficient shooting splits of 49/40/87), here simply hasn’t played as many games as Butler has for this Sixers squad. Ditto for Boban and all the new bench bodies. Thus, the NOY has to go to Jimmy G. Buckets (the G stands for Gets).
Defensive Player of the Year: Joel Embiid
Joel Embiid is on the list of contenders for the NBA’s 2018-2019 actual DPOY award (along with the Giannis, Paul George, and Rudy Gobert), so he’s got to take the tinfoil trophy we’re giving out here. Inarguably a top-10 defender in the league already, Embiid sports the sixth-best individual Defensive Rating (103.3), the fourth-highest block percentage (49.6%), and fifth-most defensive win shares (0.154) in the NBA. He anchors the paint for this Sixers team, and deters would-be rim divers and backdoor cutters. While Jimmy Butler may be the perimeter gnat and primary wing defender for this Sixers team, his impact is nowhere near as great as Embiid’s, who is a rim-protection policy all unto himself. That’s two team awards for Embiid already this year, and there’s still another one coming!
Most Valuable Player: Joel Embiid
You guessed it! Who else could it possibly be? Ben Simmons has been great, Butler has provided needed kick and wing play, Harris has struggled slightly since arriving but has shown spurts of tantalizing potential fit - but only Embiid has been transcendent. Embiid easily paces the Sixers in +/- (+5.8), and his absence is the most felt of all the members of the Phantastic Phive. Embiid allows Philly to run offense through him in the low post, and he insulates the paint on the less glamorous end of the court. When Embiid has played this season, Philly had a record of 43-21, which is a 55-win pace over the course of a full 82-game season; make no mistake, if Embiid continues to stay healthy and play to his potential, he will win a league MVP to accompany this (marginally) less significant honour.
Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference, StatMuse, NBA.com.