NBA Season Preview: Philadelphia 76ers

2019-20 Regular Season Record
: 43-30 (.589%), 6th in Eastern Conference, Lost in 1st Rd.
Head Coach: Brett Brown

Upon the shutdown of the league for COVID-19, the 76ers were in a tough spot, having lost 5 of their last 9 games. At that point, they were an excellent home team, going 31-4. Conversely, their record on the road was equally as unimpressive at 10-24. It seemed that if there was a time for a hiatus, and a subsequent return of the season, the 76ers would stand to benefit from it. However, after going 4-4 in the seeding games, the 76ers were promptly swept out of the bubble by Boston. Joel Embiid had an excellent season, averaging 23.0 ppg, 11.6 rpg, 3.0 apg, 1.3 bpg, but missed 22 of Philly’s games. At 25 years of age, he hasn’t come close to 80% of his team’s games. Ben Simmons put together a solid campaign that earned him All-NBA 3rd Team honors – 16.4 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 8.0 apg and a league-leading 2.1 spg, although he missed significant time during the season due to injury. Tobias Harris was his typically solid-self, playing 72 games and averaging 19.6 ppg, 6.9 rpg and 3.2 apg while being scoring option number two. This was the first year of The Process that felt like the 76ers went backwards. They’ve now had three straight solid regular seasons, but will need to start winning in the second season to be more relevant. Following their playoff exit, the 76ers fired Brett Brown

Embiid & Simmons

With the two All-Stars on their roster, the time is now for the 76ers to strike. Both players will be entering the season healthy and eager to perform for new coach Doc Rivers. Rivers is set to use the duo in some new ways, including the pick-and-roll, stating:
I guarantee you we’ll run more pick-and-rolls, and I guarantee you’ll see more pick-and-rolls with Ben and Joel in them, but I like a lot of the stuff they ran in the past, too. They had some pretty good movement stuff. We want to make them as comfortable as possible.

Putting Simmons and Embiid in the pick-and-roll should allow Simmons to operate in the lane, either taking the ball all the way to the rim, or kicking it out to the 3-point line to some of his new sharp-shooter teammates (more on that later…). If Simmons is defended well, he will be able to hit Embiid rolling all the way to the basket, where he is a dominant scorer, or he can hit Embiid on the pop, where he can hit the 3-ball (a career 31.9% 3-point shooter with a lot of room to improve). The 76ers will go as far as Simmons and Embiid can take them, and while a lot of that depends on their offense, much of it is dependent on their defense, too. Last year, they combined for 1.9 bpg, 3.0 spg and 5.6 deflections per game. Simmons will continue to get votes for defensive player of the year given his quickness, length and willingness to cheat into passing lanes while Embiid is a natural rim-protector who has a career average of 1.8 bpg.

Shooting Help

At the end of the 2017-18 season, the 76ers rattled off a 20-3 run that cemented their place as the 3rd seed in the East. Ben Simmons was torrid during that stretch, averaging 13.7 ppg, 9.3 rpg & 10.1 apg with six triple-doubles. Why the dominance? He was surrounded by shooters like JJ Reddick, Marco Belinelli, Robert Covington and Ersan Ilyasova. They allowed Simmons to get a defensive rebound, drive the length of the floor and get all the way to the rim for a score, or a kick it out to his teammates spotting up to shoot. Less than three weeks into his tenure as President of Basketball Operations, Daryl Morey has already pulled the trigger on some deals to once again surround the Simmons with shooters. He flipped Al Horford, who had a disappointing 2019-20 season, for Danny Green. Although much maligned in LA, Green was still a respectable 36.7% 3-point shooter and brings an even 40.0% career mark to Philly. Green also brings defensive versatility to Philly, which will help them in the playoffs, averaging 1.3 apg, 2.7 deflections and 7.1 contested shots (all of which ranked 2nd on the Lakers next to all-world Anthony Davis). Morey’s second deal brought in Seth Curry, who is a career 44.3% 3-point shooter since entering the NBA in 2014-15. Landing Curry was important for Morey:
Having a truly elite shooter really changes the dynamic for Ben and Joel. Those who watch the Sixers up close and personal - like you have longer than me - when Joel and Ben have had that, it's actually insane how good those lineups and how good those teams played when everyone was healthy.

A less splashy move made on draft night was their 49th overall pick Isaiah Joe. Besides being a classic example of someone with two first names, Joe was considered by many to be one of the best shooters in the draft.

Can Doc Rivers & Daryl Morey Push the 76ers Over the Top?

With two of the more high-profile non-players in the league, the 76ers are on the hot-seat to produce immediately, and they’re perfectly setup to do so. Besides the aforementioned All-Star duo of Simmons and Embiid, they have perennial do-it-all-type Tobias Harris, who has been coached by Doc Rivers previously with the Clippers. Rivers is pretty clear regarding his expectations of Harris

We’ve gotta get him back to being is a quick-decision player. I told him I saw him dribbling way too much. Tobias is so darn skilled going downhill left and right. We need to get back to taking advantage of that.

Rivers is one of the more accomplished coaches over the last couple of decades, winning at a rate of .581% (943 wins), which includes six 50-win seasons, two trips to the NBA Finals, and 1 NBA Championship. He will help foster a culture of winning in Philadelphia with his positivity. What can Daryl Morey do? You can bet your bottom dollar he will stop at nothing to try and make his team better – he was the 2nd most prolific trade partner in the NBA during his tenure with the Rockets, only out-matched by his protégé Sam Hinkie. 
People say, 'They’ll do and trade anything.' Yeah, we will. Until you have your foundational players, your franchise should be in a state of flux. You need to keep trading and moving players until you get to that point.

The man with an MBA from MIT will continue to do his best in charge of one of the iconic franchises in the NBA. 

Tom’s Take: The 76ers will have a successful regular season, and win one round in the playoffs, before bowing out in the 2nd round

Photo Credit: Martin Cole/DPPI/Icon Sportswire