Are the Philadelphia 76ers done?

Ben Simmons Playing for 76ers
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Ricky Dimon

NBA · 2 years ago

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Since graduating from Davidson (The College That Stephen Curry Built), I have been writing about sports--just about any and all you can think of!--and coaching tennis in Atlanta, Ga. Beyond the four major sports, I am an avid tennis fan and cover the ATP Tour on a daily basis. If I'm not busy writing, you can generally find me on a tennis court or traveling the world wherever a sporting event takes me.

Joel Embiid is fed up. Not quite Kevin Love level fed up (see the Cleveland Cavaliers dysfunction), but he is not happy.

And for good reason. Embiid’s Philadelphia 76ers have lost four games in a row, falling to fifth place in the Eastern Conference standings at 23-14. They are a whopping nine games back of the Milwaukee Bucks and also trail the Boston Celtics, Miami Heat, and Toronto Raptors. That is by no means acceptable for a team whose talent level was—and is—such that it was thought to be perhaps the best team in the East going into the season.

There is at least some good news for the 76ers, most notably that it is only Jan. 6. The NBA season is a marathon not a sprint, and 37 games into it Philadelphia is still two weeks away from even reaching the halfway point. So…are the Sixers done, or not?

The case for the 76ers being done

“Losing four in a row sucks,” Embiid said, “and it doesn’t feel like we’re getting better. So it is frustrating…. I care about winning. It’s taking a toll on me. All I care about is winning. It sucks. We’ve got to find a way.”

Philly found a way in the early stages of the 2019-20 campaign, going 5-0 and eventually extending its record to 20-7. Since then, however, head coach Brett Brown’s squad is 3-7 and has fallen to Orlando, Miami, Indiana, and Houston in succession heading into Monday’s date with Oklahoma City (check out our free NBA predictions).

The Sixers have surrendered at least 115 points in three consecutive contests—more than 10 points higher than what their season average was prior to that stretch. Embiid is not putting up enough shots because he is too often seeing double-teams down low. More specifically, he is not attempting enough high-percentage shots. The 25-year-old is forking up more three-pointers than what his percentage (33.0) suggests is an ideal number. Philadelphia is turning the ball over 14.5 times per game, including 3.7 by Ben Simmons. That is a statistic not easily correctable; it is simply the nature of the beast.

The case for the 76ers still being alive

Do the 76ers need to make a trade in order to get themselves back in gear? At the moment, no; and probably not anytime this season, either. There is no doubt that they have the talent to contend, if not to be the best team in basketball altogether.

“We have to figure out a balance of how to [combine] all of our talents together on the floor,” Tobias Harris explained. “I just think what helps that is if we continue to move more on the floor, continue to make plays for one another and do the little things for [teammates]…. We have a lot of talent, but at the same time we’ve got to all figure out how to mesh our talents together and make it work for the better good.”

Embiid, Simmons, Harris, and Al Horford is undeniably an awesome nucleus. And don’t forget about Josh Richardson, who is contributing 14.8 ppg. Rookie guard Matisse Thybulle impressed—especially on the defensive end—in November and early December but has missed the last six games with a knee injury. Thybulle’s return will improve the defense and once again make Philly one of the deepest teams in the conference.

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