From the start of “The Process” there was one clear goal- bring a championship to Philadelphia. It has been nearly 8 years since Sam Hinkie was first given the reigns as the Sixers GM and this mission was put in place. This organization has come a long way from the dark days of winning 10 games in a season or the Draft Lottery being the most exciting day of the year for Sixers fans.
The Sixers are 7-0 this season with all their starters available to play. Daryl Morey has done a great job attaining floor-spacers in an effort to spread the floor for the fruits of the process, Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. Doc Rivers has provided this team with a new identity and it seems as if the team has the best chance at a championship since 2001.
I won’t avoid the elephant in the room and act like James Harden isn’t a major reason why this conversation is even being had. The Sixers ultimately missed out on the 8-time all-star, 3-time scoring leader, and former MVP and the Sixers holy trinity remains intact.
Despite the trade not coming together, it is still extremely noteworthy that Morey was at least willing to include Simmons in the deal to land the offensive mastermind. Trading the 24-year old defensive stud for the 31-year old Harden would have been a direct “win-now” move that would put all the chips in the middle in chase of a title within the next 3 years.
Ultimately the price for Harden was too steep and Simmons (along with Maxey, Thybulle, and whoever else was discussed) remains a Sixers and will continue to compete for a championship this season. The Nets mortgaged their future to put their star-studded roster together which is an admirable and gutsy move. The Sixers are a very good team and have established themselves as a title threat. But the view from the Sixers perspective must shift from long-term contenders to the gold standard title threat before the window begins to close.
“The Process” himself is the largest reason for why this shift in mindset needs to occur. Joel Embiid is every bit the superstar the team could have dreamed of getting their hands on. At 26 years old, Embiid is firmly in the prime of his career and mentions his championship hopes with every chance he gets. The 7-footer is playing the best basketball of his career, looking locked in and in better shape than he ever has. Embiid is the greatest version of himself and is the consensus MVP across the league.
Through 10 games this season, Embiid is averaging 26.6 points, 12.1 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 1.6 blocks, and 1.4 assists per game. In Tuesday’s game against the Heat, he put his dominance on full display ending with 45 points and 16 rebounds- with 35 of those points coming in the second half. The Cameroonian native hit big shot after big shot and left everything on the floor in order to come out with the overtime victory.
There has been so much talk regarding Embiid’s health throughout his career due to his injury concerns. He has faced minutes restrictions, serious load management planning, and has never played more than 64 games in a season. This careful handling is no doubt a necessity and has gone a long way into getting the most out of the Sixers’ superstar. However, there is no guarantee this plan lasts forever. No one fully knows how long Embiid can keep up this level of play and the Sixers need to take advantage of every second he is capable of playing to this MVP level. The Sixers certainly have taken major strides in the right direction this offseason, but Embiid has taken even greater strides in his own individual game. Whether the supporting cast is up to par with this -or if they will be in the near future- is where this conversation gets complicated.
Ben Simmons is a terrific basketball player. He is one of the best individual defenders in the NBA, is elite in the fast-break, and effectively distributes the ball in a way that no player above 6’10 should have any business doing. He is just 24 years old and is yet to fully come into the prime of his career. The former 1st overall pick is an extremely valuable part of this team and is a player that every NBA team should be happy to have.
That being said, the lack of offensive growth from Simmons is extremely frustrating. The talks of Embiid and Simmons not being able to play together are far from the truth, but they still are certainly not the perfect pairing. The fit between the duo will never be perfect, and there has not been any evidence to suggest that he will ever grow into being able to be a secondary scoring option for the team. Despite the increased spacing that Simmons so desperately needed, he is averaging just 12.4 points and 7.9 assists this season– a poor sign compared to the 16.2 points and 7.9 assists he averages throughout his career.
The spacing has seemed much cleaner this year and the ball has swung around the perimeter in a much more efficient way. However, the Sixers are currently a team built for regular-season success. Much of the success of this has come due to Doc Rivers’ emphasis on using Simmons in the post. Very little scoring has come from Simmons in this gameplan as he typically waits for the double and finds the open man. This is effective for the time being but has been a problem for Simmons in the playoffs in the past. This was especially notable in the 2018 season where the Celtics packed the paint, refused to free up passing options, and was held to 1 point in 31 minutes in game 2 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
Sixers’ Current Weakness
The biggest weakness on the current Sixers roster is the lack of perimeter creators. Tobias Harris has played terrific this year but serves best on the catch-and-shoot or his mid-range/post-up game. Seth Curry has proved to be far more advanced in his creative abilities than expected but lacks an isolation scoring ability that often is necessary during crunch time. Tyrese Maxey has impressed in a large way but is already filling a much bigger role than could be expected and Danny Green lacks any shot creation outside of a pump fake or side-step.
As it is, Shake Milton is probably the best isolation scorer on the roster outside of Joel Embiid. This was proven in last night’s win over the Heat, where he put up 31 points. His style of play fits what the team needs in this area, but forcing him into this large of a role is a lot for a guy who has only played 69 career NBA games. Milton also has yet to go through an entire season with a legitimate role on an NBA team.
In the natural evolution of the NBA’s style of play, perimeter scoring has become essential to a team’s success. The gravity of Embiid is real, and he attracts 2-3 defenders nearly every time he posts up. Having a legitimate perimeter scorer who can create on his own would help open things up for Embiid even more and make the Sixers that much harder to match up with. Joel Embiid is still the closer on this team, but having a true scoring threat to be his counterpart could go a long way in raising the ceiling of this team.
Sixers vs. Rest of NBA
The Nets, Bucks, Lakers, Clippers, and arguably a handful of other teams are legitimate contenders for this season. That being said, it is still a fairly open year. Whether the holy trinity of Embiid, Simmons, and Tobias Harris is good enough to go blow for blow with these other powerhouses is where the answer to if a move should be made lies.
The dream has always been for Simmons and Embiid to bring home a trophy to Broad Street but unfortunately, dreams do not always come true. The chase of that championship is most important and if Daryl Morey decides that finding an elite perimeter scorer makes this ultimate goal more attainable, Sixer fans everywhere should fully hop on board with this. Trading the longevity of being contenders for a greater chance of winning a title while Embiid is still in his prime is a tough pill that may be worth swallowing.
As frustrating as the reckless tweets on Sixers Twitter may be, this is a great problem to have. The Sixers should be in no rush to get rid of Ben Simmons and he is still an extremely valuable long-term piece for this team. Largely due to being forced to play without their proper roster, the Sixers have slipped to 3rd in the Eastern Conference. At full strength, the current team has looked very good. Maybe it is worth playing out the season with the current roster before making a franchise-altering move. However, timing is everything and the Sixers need to bear in mind that their clock is constantly ticking.
Photo by: Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire
Lead Sixers Writer for Philly Sports Network and Co-host of the Pick Swap Podcast. Trust the Process
Twitter: @Sean_Barnard1 and @PickSwapPod