PHILADELPHIA, PA – FEBRUARY 11: Al Horford #42, Ben Simmons #25, Tobias Harris #12, Josh Richardson #0, and Joel Embiid #21 of the Philadelphia 76ers high five one another during a timeout against the Los Angeles Clippers in the fourth quarter at the Wells Fargo Center on February 11, 2020 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The 76ers defeated the Clippers 110-103. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
If you haven’t heard the news by now, the NBA Board of Governors approved a restart plan, using the Walt Disney World Resort, in Orlando, Florida. This plan comprises of 22 teams returning to play an 8-game schedule to complete the 2019-20 regular season. The 22 teams consist of the 8 current playoff teams from each conference plus the New Orleans Pelicans, Portland Trailblazers, San Antonio Spurs, Phoenix Suns, Sacramento Kings, and Washington Wizards.
According to @VincentGoodwill teams will continue with their schedule as planned, skipping the games that would be played vs a non-22 team. (For example: if 3 games were vs the Bulls, Raptors and Pacers, the team would only play the Raptors and Pacers). In this case, the 76ers 8-game slate will be against the Indiana Pacers, Washington Wizards, Toronto Raptors, Phoenix Suns, Portland Trailblazers, Houston Rockets, Wizards again, and Orlando Magic.
Now, after a 4 month layoff, what can we possibly expect from our home team? Below, I discuss three topics that could make or break a championship parade down Broad Street.
Is Joel Embiid in Game Shape?
Joel Embiid is, arguably, the most polarizing player in today’s game. At 7 feet 280 pounds, the do-it-all center gave hope to a franchise coming off 3 straight, historically bad seasons. When Embiid is engaged, there aren’t many players better than him on either end of the court. He has Most Valuable Player and Defensive Player of the Year potential. The issues with Embiid have been injuries and maturity. Since his broken foot held him out his first two seasons, Embiid has dealt with a torn meniscus, back issues, shoulder separation, and a few other minor injuries. At his size and with his play style, you can expect a few more injuries throughout the rest of his career, as well. In regards to maturity, he’s not a child that cries when he doesn’t have his way, he’s more of a guy that knows how good he is so he doesn’t always take basketball seriously. He’ll troll you on social media and on the court, he’ll try to ISO you on the wing like he’s Kyrie Irving, he’ll let you shoot a jumper when he has no confidence in you making it, and there’s the huge rumor of him not taking his health seriously. Embiid has been in and out of shape throughout the season, so naturally analysts and fans alike, believe he doesn’t take his health and training seriously. Landry Shamet, former 76ers reserve, was tasked with buying Embiid four Chick-Fil-A cookies and cream milkshakes before every road trip, he would be seen eating hamburgers on the trainer’s table before games, and he would occasionally speak on how he wasn’t in the best shape during post-game interviews. If he struggles to stay in top shape during the season, what would happen during a 4 month mid-season break? Towards the end of the shortened season, it appeared that Embiid was a bit slimmer and moved a lot more fluid. In his interview with Lauren Rosen, Embiid mentioned that he started getting into a rhythm, after his injuries, and felt that, mentally, he was in a better place than earlier in the season. In regards to his work during the quarantine, he had this to say: “We’ve been going at it for the past four weeks, about six times a week, just trying to get a head start, and get ready for whatever’s coming. I have something to prove, and I feel like whenever that opportunity comes, it’s going to be my time.” The entire NBA community knows the difference between a first round exit and a finals appearance, for the 76ers, depends on what Joel Embiid shows up on July 30th…he is that good! After seeing his post-quarantine interview, he seems like he’s ready to go.
Point Guard or Point Forward
Ben Simmons isn’t your average point guard. He doesn’t shoot well from 3 and he’s 6’10. He does however, get to the rim at will and creates shots, for himself and his teammates, as well as anyone. A question many fans have asked, do you play him at the point in the playoffs given how passive he looks at times? In my opinion, I say yes and no, and I’ll explain why. Yes, when engaged, Ben Simmons is 100% a point guard. He is top 5 in creating open 3-point shots for teammates and points created for teammates. When he gets in the lane, he draws 3-4 guys every time, and that’s what you want from your point guard. However, if you noticed, I said “when engaged.” Simmons has a consistency issue with his aggression. One game he’ll look like Magic Johnson in LeBron James’ body, and the next, he’ll look like Rajon Rondo. While Rondo is a solid NBA player, he’s just not what you expect from a “generational” number one overall pick. Coach Brett Brown often places Simmons in the dunker spot – the short corner around 5-10 feet from the basket. During those Rondo-like spells, Simmons gets comfortable bringing up the ball, then running to the dunker spot. He plays as if he has no motivation to do anything besides pushing the ball. A way that Brown can prevent that is to have him as the screen/roll man. An example is in the clip below – vs the Brooklyn Nets, Ben sets a high screen for Raul Neto, gets a clean roll to the basket, receives the pass and finishes.
By getting the ball to Ben in the middle of the lane, he can draw defenders and kick or finish at the rim. Either way, by making Simmons the screener, he has a low chance of disappearing for possessions at a time, and it allows him to have an impact offensively, even if he isn’t the point guard at the time. I feel as though starting Ben at the point, with three shooters (Shake Milton, Josh Richardson, and Tobias Harris) and Embiid is not an issue. However, in the half-court, the offense flows better with Simmons off the ball, so making him the screener/point forward is the best option.
What will the lineups look like now that Brett has finally experimented with Al Horford coming off the bench? The final game prior to the All-Star break, and Ben Simmons’ last full game before his back injury, Brett Brown decided to do what most fans were clamoring for, and brought Al Horford off the bench. And what better team to play against, with this new look lineup, than the Los Angeles Clippers. Brown decided to replace Horford with Furkan Korkmaz, and while he had a forgettable game (0 points on 0-5 shooting and 0-4 from 3), the amount of space that one small move provided for the team was evident. Ben Simmons had one of the best games of his career, posting 26 points, 12 rebounds, and 10 assists, while playing suffocating defense on Clippers all-star, Paul George (11 points on 3-15 shooting). Joel Embiid posted 26 points and 9 rebounds, Josh Richardson had 21 points – including 3-5 shooting from 3, and Tobias Harris chipped in 17 points with 12 rebounds and 5 assists. Al Horford looked a lot more comfortable off the bench, at his natural 5 position. While he only had 9 points and 6 rebounds, in 28 minutes, it was noticeable that needed to be his role going forward. My opinion on who should be the fifth starter is Shake Milton. While the majority of his starts came with Simmons out of the lineup, Milton, as a starter, averaged 14 points per game (including a career-high 39 point outing vs the Clippers) shooting over 50% from three. Shake is the perfect complement to that lineup due to his outside shooting and his ability to create his own shot off the dribble – a skill the 76ers lack. Defensively, he’s no Tony Allen, but Shake has the ability to defend both guard spots pretty well. Adding him to the lineup provides excellent spacing for the Simmons/Embiid duo, as well as enough shooting and shot creation to prevent a stagnant offense. For the remaining eight games and playoffs, having Simmons and/or Shake on the court, at all times, is a must. Each of them can share the court with starting guard Josh Richardson, or reserve guards Alec Burks and Matisse Thybulle. That leaves Burks, Thybulle, Furkan Korkmaz, Glenn Robinson III, Mike Scott and Al Horford as rotational bench pieces, which is as solid a bench as they come.
On paper, the 76ers have one of the most talented teams in the NBA. Most fan bases would love to have a top 5 team, in their conference, year in and year out. However, Philly isn’t a fan base that is satisfied with just making it and they have a right to be upset with how this season has played out. Brett Brown said that he believed this team was built for the playoffs, so let’s see if that belief comes to fruition. #TrustTheProcess
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