Talk about your mood whiplash; when you sort the Atlantic Division from worst to first, you go instantly from the Nets and Knicks to the 76ers, Celtics, and Raptors, a massive gulf in talent that instantly trades the 23rd and 22nd best teams in the league for the top three seeds in the East last year.
We begin with the third-best among them, and the team that a lot of folks have pegged for the 2 seed this season behind a newly-recovered-from-injuries Boston squad.
The first thing that jumps out at you is that Wilson Chandler is the second-highest-paid player on this team because so many players are on rookie deals.
Joel Embiid makes $25.25 million, Chandler makes $12.8 million. Most of the guys you’ve heard of—Markelle Fultz, Ben Simmons, Dario Saric, the high-profile acquisitions under Sam Hinkie through the “even a complete idiot will get things right once in awhile if you let him answer easy enough questions often enough” Process—are on low-cost rookie deals.
Speaking of Chandler, he went to the Sixers via a trade where Denver unloaded a player and two second-round draft picks…for $110,000. Cash.
To say Chandler has something to prove after a decade in the league is putting it mildly.
The big question here is whether the Sixers’ pieces fit together well enough to improve on their 52-30 record in 2017-18, or if that big 16-game winning streak at the end of the season is one of those statistical aberrations that only serves to establish a team headed for a nasty snapback year. Or, since this team is so young, some combination of both metered by a gain in skill by a growing core.
2017-18 record: 52-30
2018-19 over/under: 54.5
Oh Man, How Do You Even Predict This
Make no mistake. If I were standing in a Vegas sports book right now instead of sitting in an office in Seattle punching this up, I would take one look at this bet on the board and be like “Nope, nope, no way, not touching this, too uncertain, no way, no how, not with someone else’s money never mind my own.”
The hitch here is whether everyone stays healthy. Embiid’s famously injury-prone, Fultz nearly missed the whole season, Ben Simmons was a second-year rookie, Zhaire Smith is already dinged up, basically the entire squad has a massive question mark where their uniform number should be.
Then again, the Sixers cobbled together a patchwork roster and won 52 games last year, including 16 in a row. You see why this borders on the completely impossible.
Is Markelle Fultz Worth A Damn?
Fultz had all kinds of crazy hitches with his jump shot last year, and while he did manage to shoot 40.5 percent from the field, he didn’t make a single three-pointer, and his .415 True Shooting was absolutely atrocious. Even Lonzo Ball managed a .444, and he couldn’t throw it in the ocean from aboard a boat. (also, like Ball, Fultz can’t hit a free throw. He shot just 47.6 percent from the line.)
You don’t want to use a 14-game sample to tell a story, but the Sixers have a nasty habit of guys who can’t hit threes and show no particular inclination for shooting them getting played in lineups together.
Are we sure that giving minutes to Fultz, Simmons, and Embiid won’t lead to a necessary case of Scott-Hollins Syndrome or, in Embiid’s case, a massive sacrifice of rebounding the same way the Cavaliers couldn’t hit the glass effectively with Kevin Love stuck on the perimeter all the time?
Is Ben Simmons Really That Good?
I’ve compared Simmons to Magic Johnson. And I stand by that. Big guy with a point guard’s game. That’s what the 6’9” Johnson made his name on, and it’s what the 6’10” Simmons is doing.
But this is 2018, not 1988. The fact that Simmons not only can’t make a three but doesn’t seem to even have enough faith to shoot one? That is alarming as hell.
So what we’re left with is a case where a guy who is old-school as can be puts up great numbers that would hold up brilliantly by an old-school standard, but who pales in comparison offensively to new-school guys.
Then again, a 54.5 eFG% is good by any standard even if not a single three is attempted. Stephen Curry is at 57.9 for his career, and he hits over four threes a game.
Simmons averaged 15.8 points, 8.1 rebounds, and 8.2 assists a game, and while our disdain for counting stats at Pace and Space is well-documented, those are Magic-esque numbers (Magic averaged 18.0/7.7/7.3 in his rookie year in 1979-80.)
“But muh threes” is such a common refrain in the modern era to diminish a player, but Simmons still manages a tremendous statistical contribution despite never shooting them.
What I’m saying is Simmons makes no goddamn sense.
So How Does This All Come Together?
All five of those guys are on the team this year, and continuity matters.
T.J. McConnell is still on the team. Chandler has something to prove if he hopes to make a dollar after his contract’s up. Fultz might have a breakout season (or he might suck, but if he breaks out, that’s more depth for the team.)
If not for this team being injury-prone as hell, it would look hands down like a team that was set to add about 5 or 6 wins to last year’s total, and if they stay healthy, they’ll compete for a 1 seed.
So will they stay healthy?
…no. I’m Boston born and raised, had a lead feature writer active on this site for two seasons who (with the editor’s blessing) never missed an opportunity to slam Hinkie, I’m a Pacers fan, basically I have every reason to be a Sixers hater.
So if I am catastrophically, hilariously wrong, and the Sixers become Warriors East, this is your official blessing from me to rip the living crap out of me on Twitter, and I will laugh at myself in the season recap.
But I’m calling the Under on this one. And, along with it, throwing the “Plausible” plate out there…because this should be a 58-win team, but I just can’t see everything going right for them.