Looking ahead, the Philadelphia 76ers are a trendy pick to make noise in the Eastern Conference. They traded up to get prized prospect Markelle Fultz number one overall, and hope to have Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid healthy throughout next year. They are also looking for notable contributions from veteran free agent acquisition J.J. Redick. It’s not going to be a cakewalk to immediate success with such a young roster, though. Here is the 2017-18 Philadelphia 76ers season preview.
Countdown to NBA Tip-Off: Philadelphia 76ers Season Preview
What Worked Last Season
The main reason things looked promising for the future was the play of Embiid. The big man was sensational, averaging 20.2 points and 7.8 rebounds per game, per Basketball Reference. He also had 2.5 blocks per game, which would’ve been second in the NBA. If he can stay healthy, Embiid could be an All-Star player for years, and his impact near the rim on both ends is huge for this young club. He wasn’t the only big making plays, though.
Rookie Dario Saric was a key bright spot, as he brought constant energy and athleticism both off the bench and in a starting role. With his rebounding and defensive prowess in rim protection, he will be a major piece for the years ahead. Saric also displayed good court vision as a secondary playmaker at times, as he had 2.2 assists per game. That said, the two primary penetrators on Philly were the lifeblood of the offense.
T.J. McConnell had a very solid season, as he led the Sixers with 6.6 assists per game, per nba.com. He is a bit of a throwback point guard, as his best skill set is creating open looks for teammates via pick-and-roll sets and patient offense. McConnell had a heavy workload with that, along with Sergio Rodriguez, who is not currently in the NBA.
A few benefactors from passes out to the perimeter were veteran Gerald Henderson (who is no longer with the team), guard Nik Stauskas, and wing Robert Covington. In addition to Richaun Holmes and Ersan Ilyasova (now of the Atlanta Hawks), these guys were able to cash in on spot up opportunities from ball movement.
Defensively, Philadelphia had some more consistent contributors. Covington routinely had tough matchups on the wing, and he more than held his own. He was fourth in the NBA in steals per game, and the Sixers were able to convert on some of those on the break, which always helps a young team. McConnell had his fair share of swipes, too, and the Sixers were third in league in total steals per game (per nba.com).
What Needs Improvement
To the naked eye, a 28-54 record is not great, but injuries took their toll for this team last year. Simmons did not play a game after being selected first overall, and Embiid only appeared in the first 31. So, hopefully those two are around all season, first off.
The biggest room for improvement is knocking down more open shots. The Sixers were one of the worst shooting teams in the league last season, which is why they were dead last in offensive rating, per nba.com. With Simmons’ passing acumen, he should be able to get his teammates more room to operate, and things should open up as a result. Redick will instantly improve Philly’s perimeter shooting, and his constant movement will open up driving lanes and post-ups at times.
For a team that was in just the 24th percentile in isolation last season, an addition of two primary ball handlers that can also score on their own (in Simmons and Fultz) adds a different dimension for head coach Brett Brown. Pick-and-roll sets will be more of a focus this season as well, especially with the return of Embiid, and talented big Jahlil Okafor. Holmes and Saric are capable rollers, too.
Defensively, they need to be better in the painted area, particularly Okafor. With the size on this Philly roster being effective on the perimeter a la Covington and company, and McConnell and Fultz’s ball pressure, they need to cut off penetration better.
If that happens, they should put opponents on the free throw line less. 26.0 opponent free throw attempts per game (per teamrankings.com) is too many to concede to expect to win close games. If they can clean that up, they’ll be in much better shape.
The Sixers definitely have a better roster now. Acquiring a free agent like Redick is huge, on and off the floor. The wily veteran always gives you knockdown three-point shooting, and his defense has greatly improved. The 33-year old has gone through his share of playoff battles. For a young team learning how to win, he’ll provide much-needed leadership. You can’t quantify that.
Along with Redick, Philadelphia added Amir Johnson. He’s had a productive career as a defensive big, and he’s efficient in opportunities to score around the rim. He’ll provide depth in the second unit, and could help Okafor become a more committed defender and rim protector. He’s a no-nonsense contributor.
Johnson has averaged 7.5 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 1.0 block in his career, per Basketball Reference. He has a player efficiency rating of 16.0 and a box plus/minus of 2.6 as well.
As was previously stated, acquiring Fultz and Simmons is the biggest difference. Fultz is a polished scorer at all three levels, and he can also create for others. His 6’10 wingspan makes him a potentially great defender as well.
When it comes to Simmons, he’s likely the team’s primary playmaker. He has impeccable vision as a point-forward, and he’ll create his own shot when needed. His frame will add another quality rebounder and weak side shot blocker, too.
Last but not least, 2016 first-round draft pick Furkan Korkmaz should see some playing time this season. He is a quality perimeter shooter who could benefit from playmaking from Simmons, McConnell, and Jerryd Bayless. It will be interesting to see how his arrival impacts the development of Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, who flashed last season as a bench scorer.
There’s buzz surrounding the Sixers this season, and for good reason. The Eastern Conference has lost some star power since last year, and there is so much disparity between the top two teams (in the Boston Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers) and the rest of the pack.
For that reason and the addition of key pieces, their Westgate Las Vegas Superbook over/under win total is set at 42.5. That seems a bit high to me, though. It’s hard for me to realistically see Embiid not missing at least ten games, given his injury history. That’s harsh, but it’s proved to be the case since he’s been drafted.
That said, Embiid gets on his first All-Star team this year. Also, Simmons will be in the running for Rookie of the Year with his dazzling passing leading Philly in assists. However, I’m taking the under here and am going to say injuries are inevitable.
The Sixers finish as the seven-seed at 40-42, and lose in the first round to the Cavaliers. “The Process” will have been proven right, however.
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