The Philadelphia 76ers have Processed their way from a 10-72 season in 2015-16, the second-worst 82-game mark not only in franchise history but of all time, to back-to-back 50-win seasons and second-round playoff appearances.
Last year’s edition went 51-31 and came one insane, improbable miracle shot from Kawhi Leonard away from the Eastern Conference Finals.
Some people say that’s the kind of lineup that will win you the East if not a championship. Vegas seens to agree, putting the Sixers second only to the Milwaukee Bucks on the East’s over/unders for win total at 54.5.
The team has averaged 51.5 wins over the past two seasons. Will these additions and another year of experience be enough to push Brett Brown’s squad three wins higher?
2018-19 record: 51-31
2019-20 over/under: 54.5
Australia Is Out to Kill You
Ben Simmons puts up counting stats to the tune of 16.9 points, 8.8 rebounds, and 7.7 assists per game in 2018-19.
He is also loudly criticized for ruining floor spacing and for his complete aversion to even so much as attempting a three-point shot, something he’s done just 17 times in 160 career games while making exactly zero of them, four fewer than former teammate and HERO OF SERBIA Boban Marjanovic and one less (1-of-22) than Shaquille O’Neal managed in his career.
On the other hand, when he does shoot the ball, it goes in 56.5 percent of the time, bringing to mind nothing so much as the 1982-83 version of Magic Johnson (16.8/8.6/10.5 pts/reb/ast and 0-of-21 on three-pointers while shooting 54.8 percent.)
And it’s not like Simmons is taking all his shots from three feet and in, where 56.5 percent would be terrible for a guy who’s 6-foot-10. He’s shooting 70.6 percent from that close and 42.2 percent on shots within 3 to 10 feet of the basket.
The trouble is, as soon as he gets more than 10 feet from the basket, he’s about as useful as a guy like DeAndre Jordan from out there; he hit 25.7 percent between 10 and 16 feet and 10.5 percent of long twos beyond 16 feet.
So he can’t shoot…but as a rookie he hit 74.4 percent from three feet and in, and for comparison, LeBron James hit 75.5 percent from that close last year.
In another NBA universe, Simmons would see his career develop like Giannis Antetokounmpo in Milwaukee; let him do his work at the rim and surround him with shooters to let him make plays in a positionless scheme.
Simmons is also an excellent defender (2.6 DBPM) and a guy whose numbers are legit All-Star territory (4.1 VORP) even as his advanced stats regressed from his rookie year as NBA teams figured out how to guard him.
The point of all this is that Ben Simmons is a good basketball player…although how he fits into a modern scheme as a guard is still an open question.
The Rest of the Best…or Best of the Rest
Al Horford was the silent killer in Boston, quietly putting up a 3.4 VORP season as the clubhouse collapsed around him, playing lockdown defense (plus-2.7 DBPM), and even throwing in a career-high .605 TS% for good measure.
Do I like his $28 million salary? No. But his contract is front-loaded over the next four years, declining by $500,000 a year as the cap continues to rise. That makes him a better value with each year at least until his skills finally fall off a cliff since Horford is 33 and has been in the league since 2007.
Horford is a 36 percent three-point shooter, the first key ingredient in that “create spacing by turning Simmons into Aussie Giannis” offense I’ve proposed.
Joel Embiid, meanwhile, is an enigmatic figure in the Sixers’ plan. He’s making $27.27 million this year, and that’s great for a .194 WS/48 and 3.3 VORP guy with a plus-2.1 DBPM (see a theme developing yet with the way this roster is constructed?), but at the same time, he can’t stay on the floor (31 games his rookie year, 63 in his sophomore campaign, and 64 last year, and that’s while missing his whole first two seasons due to injury), and that’s always going to be a concern.
Embiid is a horrid three-point shooter (30.0 percent), and that’s at the heart of why he and Simmons can’t share the floor. They both need to play in the same part of the court to be effective, and that clogs the offense like a bar toilet.
You’re not going to trade a guy who averages 27.5 points and 13.6 rebounds in 33.7 minutes a game, so where Philly goes from here is…an issue.
And then there’s Harris and his team-high $31 million salary, part of a 5-year, $180 million supermax he signed during the offseason.
Harris had 1.5 VORP in 55 games in Los Angeles last year…and 0.3 in 27 games in Philadelphia. His 3-point percentage dropped from 43.4 percent on the Clippers to 32.6 percent on the Sixers on approximately the same number of attempts (4.7 a game in LA; 5.0 in Philly.)
31 million for a guy whose career-high in VORP is 2.0? Really, Philadelphia? I like Tobias Harris too, but that’s a strange conclusion to draw from a major dropoff in 27 games on your team last year. Maybe as they integrate him into the offense?
And then there’s Josh Richardson and his at-times questionable shooting (41.7 percent FG, 35.7 percent 3PT), but on the other hand you’ve got a guy who gives you quality above-break-even starter’s minutes (.106 WS/48) for just $10 million a year.
Then you look at the rest of the roster and guys who will play mainly when the starters sit—Jonah Bolden, Mike Scott, Trey Burke, and Kyle O’Quinn—and while they’re not all great (Burke had a negative VORP, albeit on a terrible Knicks team for most of the year, and Bolden had a nasty habit of disappearing whenever he started), they’re good enough for a bench unit on a potential 55-win team.
Man, I’m always nervous about projecting great things whenever Joel Embiid’s health is involved, but this is a stacked lineup that addition-by-subtraction’d a chemistry problem out of their clubhouse when Butler left and added pieces that fit into a team with championship aspirations.
With the Raptors no longer a top-of-the-table force with Leonard gone, the Celtics a mess, the Nets a giant question mark, and the Knicks…well, the Knicks, all the seeds are planted for Philadelphia to feast on the Atlantic Division like a cheesesteak, and there’s your obligatory food reference for an article about the City of Brotherly Love.
So let’s consult the Phila-Delphi Oracle (OK, that’s a tortured pun) and project 55-27, making the over but only just, and finally cracking the Eastern Conference Finals this year.
These guys are Confirmed.