The Fundamentally Flawed Philadelphia 76ers
Armed to the teeth with talent and size, the Philadelphia 76ers certainly appear to be one of the most formidable teams in the NBA. At a glance, the Sixers should be an obvious title contender.
Philly has, however, underwhelmed thus this year. But unlike their under-achieving Western Conference counterparts the Los Angeles Clippers, the 76ers aren’t missing out on regular season wins because of load management or lingering health concerns. The Sixers are flawed, fundamentally so.
The Process is over, and the era of patience has long since passed in Philadelphia. It’s time to make a change.
At the end of the day, the two pillars of Sixers basketball have proven largely incompatible. Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid are two elite players, and among the best in the world at what they do. That said, sharing a court -- especially with Philly’s crop of supporting players -- is a messy affair.
Here we have a player who shouldn’t shoot threes co-habitating with a player who won’t shoot threes. As such, the Sixers are making inefficient the NBA’s statistical revolution, while also sabotaging their own floor-spacing.
This starts with Simmons. His unwillingness to open up his game isn’t just cowardly. It’s negligent. The 76ers just inked a Simmons to a $170 million max-extension for this?
Embiid, meanwhile, suffers as a result of the gravity Simmons demands on the court. Embiid has a jump shot that keeps defenders honest, but he is most effective working much closer to the basket.
That becomes complicated when the Sixers are trying to hide Simmons on the opposite block. Jojo, a career 31.6 percent shooter from deep, takes far fewer threes when Simmons is off the court.
This isn’t a new problem, but it was made worse this summer. Tobias Harris, Al Horford, and Josh Richardson don’t get out and run in a way that would aide Ben Simmons; the Sixers are 19th in pace this season. Nor does this trio help spread the floor much; the team is nothing more than average shooting the three ball.
Sixers general manager Elton Brand might have been a little star-struck in assembling this roster. But it should be exceedingly, sobering clear that this group - even as the game slows down in the postseason - is poorly constructed.
The Sixers have wins against Milwaukee, Boston, and Miami this season. This team doesn’t shy away from the spotlight. And yet in its last 15 games, Philadelphia is 8-7. In that time, the team is 16th in offensive rating, 17th in defensive rating, and owns a 0.2 net rating.
There’s a funk in Philly, one that not only is unlikely to dissipate, but rather will continue to consume the club. Things may go from iffy to bad for the Sixers.
What ought to happen
A major, proactive change is needed in Philadelphia. That could mean deciding between Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. This probably means trading the former.
Simmons’ contract extension doesn’t kick in until next season, so trading him for equivalent talent will be hard. Things would have to go nuclear for Philly to quit on this season by the February deadline. That said, there are moves out there.
Sixers head coach Brett Brown deserves a fair bit of scrutiny in this equation as well. He’s somewhat on the hook for Simmons’ refusal to shoot threes and Embiid’s apathy toward conditioning. He too just signed a big contract extension, though; moving on from Brown would also be difficult from a financial and public relations stand-point.
The Sixers front office further shot itself in the foot by signing Al Horford and Tobias Harris this summer. Stars players are the rarest of commodities in the NBA, but neither Horford nor Harris compliment the already odd pairing of Embiid and Simmons. Josh Richardson, meanwhile, is a poor replacement for the sharp-shooting JJ Reddick.
With a more traditional point guard who spreads the floor, the Sixers’ problems correct themselves rather quickly. Likewise, a coach that could get Simmons, 23, to show a bit more growth would also make a big impact on Philly’s fortunes.
Making meaningful change will require bold action. The folks in the 76ers front office can’t be happy lying in this bed they’ve made for themselves, but the optics of something like trading Simmons or moving on from Brown are understandably not great.
What might happen
The Sixers woes aren’t hypothetical or forthcoming. Already the wheels are coming off. Al Horford recently lamented as such. He recently said of his time in Philly thus far:
"It's not as good as I want to be. I still haven't been able to find my rhythm with the team... I'm out [there] for the team and doing what I can to help us. But offensively, I'm very limited with the things that I can do. So I can't control that stuff... So all I have to do is make sure I'm there for the team, trying to do everything I can to help us win."
There just aren’t enough touches, and there isn’t enough space on the floor for Horford to excel. And though Tobias Harris has been as good as advertised, this combination is not giving the Sixers $60.7 million worth of production.
Moving Horford or Harris would be a slightly less embarrassing pill for Philadelphia to swallow. And with Simmons’ extension set to kick in, it would alleviate what is about to be a very congested Sixers payroll.
Even if the Sixers do find the gusto to swap one of their core players, the market for such big moves might be rather dry. Everyone and their mother is hoarding cap space for the 2021 free agency period. But second-tier blockbuster trade isn’t impossible for Philadelphia.
What is most likely to happen, however, is for the team to make a move on the fringes. Does Davis Bertans or Nemanja Bjelica really turn the tide for Philly? Probably not. But adding some shooting is never a bad idea.
The club’s bench has actually been reasonably effective, but something that looks proactive might alleviate some of the sort of negative buzz outlined above. Something’s gotta give in Philadelphia, but don’t hold your breath.