Are The Philadelphia 76ers Contenders or Pretenders?


If the Philadelphia 76ers keep the same core of Joel Embiid, Tobias Harris, and Ben Simmons, would the team be contenders or pretenders?

Or would they be just another good regular-season team who pretends like they have a chance at winning a championship? Taking a look at the team stats for the Philadelphia 76ers last season, we can get a feeling on where the team was last season.

Looking first at the unadjusted offensive rating, we can see that Philadelphia comes in at a good, not great rank of 13th best in the NBA on that side of the ball with a rating of 114.13. This 13th placement may feel low, but the top 13 were clearly a tier ahead of the rest. The difference between 13th and 10th is a measly 0.53 point difference. Less than a single point in offensive rating separates the 76ers from a top 10 offense, while the gap between 13th and 14th is a 1.15 point differential.

While numbers are great, what does this mean? These rating discrepancies mean that while the Philadelphia 76ers may not have the sheer firepower of the Brooklyn Nets (118.91) or the trigger-happy Utah Jazz (118.42), it does mean that the 76ers are not being left in the dust on offense by other teams. While improvements can be made, such as staggering the team’s star players’ minutes to eliminate the all-bench lineup or upgrading our assist count from its lowly 23.7 (22nd in the NBA), this team is not devoid of an offense.

Moving next to defensive rating, this year’s Sixers had a great year, with a rating of 108.51, second only to the Los Angeles Lakers’ rating of 107.84. This is where the Sixers truly shined this year. With Matisse Thybulle’s improvement and rightful placement onto the All-Defensive 2nd team, Joel Embiid’s shot-altering presence, and Ben Simmons’ near Defensive Player of the Year earning play, the clear competitive advantage of this team was the ability of this team to play suffocating defense.

The Sixers’ net rating this year was 5.62, good enough for a fifth-best net rating in the entire league, and only 0.03 points from matching the Bucks net rating for best in the East, proving that their playoff seeding was not a fluke.
All of these stats seem great to think about. We’re a great defensive team, with an MVP finalist who has rejuvenated Philly fans with hope after years of trust and faith.

We have a perfect costar reunited with the coach that got the best years out of him, hitting clutch shots and game-winners. We have the defensive duo of Ben Simmons and Matisse Thybulle, disrupting passing lanes and making other stars’ lives a living nightmare. Yet if all of these things are true, why aren’t we getting ready to play the Suns for a championship?

From the 2004-2005 season, no team has ever had a defensive or offensive rating worse than 11th and won a championship. The 2019-2020 Lakers won a championship with the 11th best offense according to offensive rating but paired that 11th rating with a top 3 defense, and even earlier, the 2017-2018 Golden State Warriors paired an 11th best defensive rating with a 3rd highest rated offense, and the 2009-2010 Los Angeles Lakers paired an 11th rated offense (that featured Kobe Bryant) with a number 4 defense.

This means that more than likely, it doesn’t matter if that Sixers defense is number one or number 11. The Sixers cannot win without more offense on this team. Whether that’s Damian Lillard, Bradley Beal, or CJ McCollum, there is a need for the Sixers to balance out their roster more instead of specializing in defense. If the Sixers go into next year’s playoffs with this same core, these Sixers will face the same fate as this year and years past.

This team has the assets and the core to compete right now. They have great players and a truly great captain at the helm in Daryl Morey. I don’t believe the Sixers will sell low on Simmons or anyone else for that matter. However, if nothing changes, this team will be stuck in the pretender’s column until those changes are made.