The Sixers are probably the most engaging underdog within the NBA restart

If the sixth-seeded Philadelphia 76ers play as much as their potential, they’re a official title contender within the NBA’s 2019-20 restart. This staff has the expertise to beat any of the Milwaukee Bucks, Los Angeles Lakers and LA Clippers in a seven-game collection.

However these mysterious dudes additionally face a gargantuan quantity of unknowns. No franchise has a wider vary of potential outcomes in Orlando than the Sixers, who may bounce in the midst of August and be compelled to retool their staff or problem for a championship into October.

There are 5 key questions that can resolve the destiny of probably the most engaging darkish horse amongst this 22-team subject. Let’s run by them.

MORE: Rosters, schedules and standings projections for each staff


That is form of an apparent one, but it surely’s undeniably the largest query dealing with this staff. At 26, Embiid is among the many most dominant and gifted gamers within the East, however he has missed time in every of the previous two postseasons. His well being is all the time a priority.

When Philly got here inside one shot of advancing previous the champion Toronto Raptors final season, Embiid was the primary cause why. The Sixers posted a plus-18.6 web score in 237 minutes with Embiid on the court docket, and a minus-52.5 web score within the 99 minutes he sat out. That 71.1 level differential is equal to … nothing. It is absurd. There isn’t any comp.

Embiid appears to be like spry and slot in apply footage, however to cite one other enigmatic Sixers nice, “We talkin’ ’bout apply?” Embiid must be obtainable for giant minutes when the actual video games begin.

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76ers middle Joel Embiid explains why he believes he ought to be the focus of the staff’s offense when the NBA restarts in Orlando.

2. Is Ben Simmons a frontcourt participant?

The large buzz popping out of Philly’s Orlando coaching camp is that Simmons is enjoying a brand new place, and the staff is experimenting with a brand new beginning lineup that consists of Shake Milton, Josh Richardson, Tobias Harris, Simmons and Embiid.

The hope is that this may also help the Sixers discover a extra cohesive offense, and, effectively, the one manner is up.

The large three of Simmons, Embiid and Al Horford has been an offensive catastrophe. In 429 minutes on the ground collectively this season, they’re managing a putrid offensive score of simply 98.8. How unhealthy is that? Out of 389 NBA trios which have performed no less than 400 minutes collectively, the Horford-Simmons-Embiid trio ranks 386th in factors per 100 possessions. Not elite, of us.

However there’s some cause to be optimistic. Simmons won’t be a standard energy ahead, however who’s today? His pace, dimension and power permit him to protect nearly anybody on protection. On offense, Simmons is extra Stockton than Malone, extra Pippen than Barkley.

He should stay a major playmaker for 2 causes. First, he is Philly’s greatest shot-creator, producing the NBA’s seventh-most uncontested photographs off of passes this season, per Second Spectrum monitoring information. Second, his abilities are principally wasted off the ball. In 2020, a overwhelming majority of NBA playmakers can simply morph into off-ball spot-up threats whereas their teammates do work elsewhere, however not Simmons.

Take a look at his shot chart. Out of his 361 made photographs this 12 months, simply seven have come outdoors the paint.

Horford’s transfer to the bench ought to unencumber the center of the ground for Simmons to assault the enamel of the protection, get to the rim or discover open shooters on the perimeters. It is undoubtedly value a shot, and rely me among the many optimists. So long as Simmons nonetheless finds the ball in his palms, I believe it will work.

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Ben Simmons knocks down a few 3-pointers as he shoots round within the Sixers’ apply.

3. Is Shake Milton prepared for this?

We already know that Milton is among the many largest steals of the 2018 NBA draft. He’s a 23-year-old with wing dimension and level guard expertise. His physique is tailored for at the moment’s NBA, listed at 6-foot-5 however with a wingspan over 7 ft. Oh, and he can shoot effectively from downtown.

Gamers drafted in the midst of the second spherical hardly ever crack NBA rotations, not to mention beginning lineups, however Milton has already achieved that. Nonetheless, is it actually honest to count on him to thrive as a starter within the postseason in his second season, inside a lineup that has but to even play one actual minute collectively? Possibly not, however once more I am optimistic right here.

When Simmons received damage in February, the Sixers had been compelled to raise Milton’s position. He began Philly’s closing eight video games main as much as the stoppage and made headlines when he lit up the Clippers for 39 factors in 20 photographs. (Solely James Harden and Russell Westbrook have scored 40 or extra factors in opposition to the Clips this season.)

However it’s how Milton did it that received everyone in Philly excited. He went 7-for-9 from downtown (the Sixers want capturing) and torched the Clippers on pick-and-rolls (the Sixers want one other ball handler). That evening, Milton displayed a formidable array of rim assaults and off-the-bounce jumpers. He regarded like a featured contributor in opposition to some of the formidable defenses within the league. Second-rounders aren’t supposed to try this.

Milton is one other G League success story, honing his craft final season getting reps at level guard in Delaware, the place he averaged 25 factors and 5 assists in a excessive usage-role. However within the bubble, Milton will probably be a lower-usage perimeter participant, and his catch-and-shoot expertise will probably be key.

And dude can flat-out shoot. He hit greater than 42% of his 3s in every of his three seasons at SMU. He is doing it once more this season within the NBA, changing 45% of 106 makes an attempt. As he will get extra minutes subsequent to Simmons and Embiid, it is honest to imagine he’ll get tasty appears to be like and instantly improve Philly’s mediocre perimeter manufacturing.

I am offered on Milton. The larger query right here is how did this man slip to the second spherical?

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76ers guard Shake Milton describes his feelings after his profession evening vs. the Clippers and his ideas on when Brett Brown took him out of the rotation.

4. Can Al Horford thrive in a bench position?

Philly’s present roster vibes could be summed up by the truth that Sixers followers appear far more enthusiastic about Milton than they do about Horford. Horford is a five-time All-Star and the staff’s shiny offseason acquisition from final summer time. Milton was the No. 54 choose within the 2018 draft and has began 19 video games in his two-year profession. However right here we’re.

As a substitute of changing the perimeter holes left by JJ Redick and Jimmy Butler, the Sixers’ entrance workplace opted to get greater (and grow old) by providing Horford a four-year, $97 million deal. However going greater hasn’t labored.

Philly’s web score within the 535 minutes that Embiid and Horford have shared the ground is minus-1.3. There are too many cooks in that kitchen, and the meals is gross. If we’re now supposed to take a look at Simmons as an influence ahead, you may argue that Philly’s entrance workplace has 4 bigs clogging up the highest 4 spots of its cap sheet.

Regardless, there’s nonetheless an opportunity to salvage this. The Sixers’ lack of a bench price them an opportunity at a title final 12 months. James Ennis III and Mike Scott each submit web scores of round plus-2.Zero within the 2019 playoffs. The remainder of Philly’s bench rotation had a minus-15.Zero web score or worse. Yikes.

If Horford can present the second unit with some management and manufacturing, he may assist be certain that critical flaw does not repeat within the 2020 bubble. However whereas Horford is certainly not washed up, it stays to be seen if he can thrive in a secondary position.

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Tobis Harris seals his defender and will get the feed from Al Horford for the dunk.

5. Are Josh Richardson and Tobias Harris ok?

Whereas Milton, Embiid and Simmons have been the speak of the bubble, Philly wants its different starters to step up, too.

One cause the Sixers rank 18th within the league in offense is their meager 3-point capturing. They rank lifeless final within the NBA in unassisted 3-pointers and rely closely on catch-and-shoot alternatives, largely generated by Simmons, per Second Spectrum. Milton will assist, however Richardson must be a extra dependable spot-up risk. He is making lower than 34% of his catch-and-shoot 3s this 12 months (the NBA common is 36.9%), and Philly cannot capitalize on Simmons’ all-world creation if their beginning capturing guard cannot knock down photographs.

The identical goes for Harris, who’s within the first 12 months of a five-year, $180 million contract. He’s gifted sufficient to create his personal appears to be like, however he may also thrive off the ball and supply spacing. Because the staff’s second-leading scorer, he is important, however in final season’s make-or-break collection in opposition to Toronto, Harris wasn’t ok.

Harris’ manufacturing caved when it counted. He failed to attain greater than 16 factors in any of the seven video games in opposition to the Raptors, making simply 38% of his photographs and 29% of his 3s. Yuck. He must be higher this time round, and he ought to be.

The Sixers want a contemporary begin, and Orlando provides them one. This staff, swirling with questions, is correct at residence in a bubble surroundings with a great deal of uncertainty. Sure, it takes one thing near blind religion to think about a world through which the Sixers out of the blue come collectively and attain their potential. But when this group stays wholesome and will get sturdy performances from their most essential gamers, they’re probably the most harmful underdog within the restart. Do not rely them out.

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