The Sixers have come a long way since their postseason heartbreak last season, but have they finally found the key to right previous wrongs?
When a championship team is pictured in one’s mind, all that seems to be considered is the superstars who are accounted for 20+ points per game and taking over in key moments. This is no doubt they’re important (and probably the most important factor) but it is also essential to surround these franchise pieces with the right supporting cast – an area the Sixers have worked tirelessly to improve this offseason.
As Doc Rivers put it after the recent Pacers game, “There are going to be nights where our bench is going to win us games.” This was put on full display in the recent preseason matchup as the Sixers bench poured in an impressive 67 points in the victory. While this was a preseason game and the minute splits favored these bench guys getting extra time, the ability that his been flashed speaks volumes for the potential of the team.
A look at the Sixers Starters
Outside of Joel Embiid undoubtedly sliding in for Dwight Howard, these seem to be the starters that are penciled in for the time being. The biggest takeaway for this is that Embiid and Simmons are finally being treated like the stars they are. Danny Green and Seth Curry are dedicated to creating space for them to work and play their respected play styles and Tobias Harris is continuing to play his necessary (yet extremely overpaid) role of spreading the floor and serving as a complementary scoring option.
The process is nearly complete
Let’s start with the big fella. At the end of the day, the potential of this Sixers team depends on how far Embiid is able to take them. While concerns regarding his injuries and fitness are valid, when he is on the court he is every bit the star Philly faithful could hope for and he was ranked 10th in the Sports Illustrated top 100 NBA players as a representation of this.
The closest this Sixers team has come to winning a championship is still the 2018-19 team who were knocked out by a heartbreaking shot from Kawhi Leonard on the way to the Raptors’ eventual title. In this series, Embiid ranked second in the team in minutes per game- only behind Jimmy Butler. However, it was a complete necessity for Embiid to play this sum of minutes due to the massive dropoff when he was not on the court.
In the minutes Joel sat on the bench, the Sixers were completely dominated. Greg Monroe and Boban Marjanovic served as the backup big men. In games 1 and 2 against the Raptors, Boban played just under 12 minutes and the Sixers were outscored by 22 points during his time on the court. In the Sixers losses in games 4 and 5, Greg Monroe registered were outscored by 25 points in just 16 total minutes of play.
Throughout the series, the Sixers outscored the Raptors by 21 points per 100 possessions when Embiid was on the floor and were outscored by the Raptors by 46 points per 100 possessions when Embiid was on the bench. The shot by Kawhi will always be remembered for sinking the team, but the fact of the matter is if there was a competent big man to cut these numbers the Sixers likely wouldn’t have been in that position in the first place. The signing of Dwight Howard will play a major role in cutting this difference for the upcoming season, and Tony Bradley is also a much more well-rounded player than either of the big men behind Embiid in the 2018-19 season.
Both of these big men have flashed their appeal early on as Howard scored 14 points in last night’s game and has been talked about by just about every member of the Sixers roster for the leadership role he has already played. Dwight has played an extremely important role in the pick-and-roll game as well as gobbling up rebounds and anchoring the team on defense. Tony Bradley is just 22 years old and was a first-round pick in 2017.
Bradley also scored most of his baskets on lobs and putbacks in his time in the NBA so far but also flashes nice shooting potential and there are hopes that this is developed further. His career averages are just 4.9 points and 4.6 rebounds, but his game is still far from a finished product. Regardless, both big men are legitimate backup options for Embiid and more than capable of holding it down on the occasions where Joel is forced to miss a game.
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