The Sixers started off the season at 8-2, and it seemed like the team hadn’t really missed the presence of Ben Simmons. Regardless of your feelings on Simmons, he’s a big piece of the puzzle for the Sixers. The Simmons situation aside, and it’s only getting worse, the Sixers have seemed to go off the rails of late. If you looked at the attention paid to the team and the local and national commentary, you’d think that they’ve just played poorly.
Not the case.
You can speak of moral victories, playing hard, giving a great effort, and all of the rest of the cliches, and not one often really matters when you consider that this Sixers are on a five-game losing streak and have dropped from first all the way to eighth in the Eastern Conference standings. Winning basketball games, in spite of any adversity, is always the way a team is measured.
So, are the Sixers just a bad team? Do they miss Simmons more than they thought they would? Is Embiid not pulling his weight? Did they not sign the correct depth pieces? Are the younger players not as good as we all thought?
The answer to all of those questions is a resounding “NO.”
Are the Sixers a bad team?
Not at all. They’re, when healthy, one of the top teams in the conference, and for a small portion to open the season, they looked like the best team in the league. The problem, of late, has been health, and it’s nothing that the Sixers could have foreseen. Four members of the team, Embiid, Tobias Harris, Matisse Thybulle, and Isaiah Joe, have all missed time due to the league’s Covid-19 protocols. Harris and Embiid had reportedly tested positive for the virus, causing extended absences.
The team has dealt with minor injuries to Furkan Korkmaz and Danny Green, most notably, and Shake Milton also missed time for a while. But, three of the four that have missed time from the Covid protocols are all vital players to the team.
Do they miss Ben Simmons more than they thought they would?
It sure doesn’t seem to be the case. Now, looking at the team lately, handling the absence of three important players, having Simmons on the floor could have alleviated some of the pain they’ve felt during their recent five-game losing streak. But are we thinking of the Simmons of the past couple of years or the one that seemed to disappear during the Hawks playoff series last season?
Simmons, regarded around the league as supremely talented, has declined in each of the past three years. While his rookie season had everyone excited at the prospect of a 6’10” point guard with amazing court vision and the ability to play all over the floor, Simmons has fallen off. Last year was, statistically, was the worst of his short career.
His points, assists, and rebounds were all career lows. He’s regressed, and it shows. With that being said, Simmons being out has allowed players that wouldn’t normally be getting large amounts of minutes to really have the chance to step up and get experience in extended minutes. No one has benefited from this more than Tyrese Maxey.
Maxey is playing slightly over thirty-five minutes per game. He’s shooting 52% from the field, 88% from the free-throw line, and giving the Sixers just under five assists per game. He’s also averaging 17.5 points per game, which is huge. He’s also shooting 42% from beyond the three-point line on 3.3 attempts per game. Maxey has attempted 103 three-pointers this season. To put that in perspective for those that are watching the point guard position, Simmons has taken 34 three-pointers in his career. You read that right, his career.
Maxey has almost cemented himself in the starting point guard position with his play so far this season. There’s no reason for Head Coach Doc Rivers to move Maxey out of the lineup. He’s proved too valuable.
With Thybulle missing time in the Covid protocols, it has hurt the team on the defensive side of the ball, but Thybulle will be back shortly and taking control of the defense. He’s quickly become one of the top defensive players in the league, and it hasn’t gone unnoticed. Thybulle, like Simmons, doesn’t put many points on the board but the points he keeps off the opposing team are just as valuable.
Coincidentally, Maxey, Furkan Kormaz, Tobias Harris, and Danny Green have all stepped up defensively. Low scoring, coupled with declining rebounds and assist numbers, have been easily replaced by players getting their chance so, when the Sixers decide to trade Simmons, anything in return will be an addition as he’s provided the team with nothing but headaches over the past six months.
Is Embiid not pulling his weight?
While Embiid stats seem a bit down, his scoring, rebounds, and field goal percentage are all way down. It should be noted that Embiid hasn’t been asked to shoulder as much of the load as the past couple of years. Tobias Harris, Ty Maxey, and Seth Curry have provided amazing support and have all stepped up their games this season. Coupled with the additions of Georges Niang, who’s having a career year, and Andre Drummond as his backup, Embiid hasn’t needed to be as dominant as he has been in recent times.
Niang has truly been a blessing for the Sixers, but the real story is Drummond. Embiid and Drummond had their beef over the past few years. The signing, at the time, seemed a bit odd but, it’s worked out better than anyone could have expected. Thrown into a starting role, with Embiid in the Covid protocols, Drummond has responded with 11.4 points per game to go along with 16.4 rebounds and 1.8 blocks. Could we imagine Dwight Howard putting up those numbers while averaging 30.6 minutes per game?
It’s not a knock on Howard, but Drummond is seven years younger than Howard, with a lot less mileage throughout his career. At 28 years old, Drummond could be a piece that serves the Sixers throughout a deep playoff run and allows Embiid to manage his health throughout the year. While it’s true that Embiids stats are down, it’s simply because the team is playing a more well-rounded game, and the team doesn’t need him to do it all. Yet, he can be relied upon to put up monster games when he wants or needs to.
Did they not sign the right depth pieces?
Recently, people have made light of the Sixers and their perceived lack of depth. The issue has been the Covid protocols, more than injury. While Simmons sits out for whatever reason he or his agent have come up with this week, green and Kormaz have missed some time, and Shake Milton was out for a little over a month with an ankle injury. Looking at the Sixers reserves, Thybulle, Niang, Drummond, Milton, Korkmaz are all quality pieces, while players like Isaiah Joe and Paul Reed are more of a luxury at the end of the bench.
The Sixers, prior to free agency, didn’t seem to be in a good position, but the signing of Niang and Drummond have been huge for the team, and the return of Korkmaz and Green, has given the team a deep bench capable of keeping up with the top teams in the league. It may not be as good when thrown into larger roles, but they’re depth players for a reason. When healthy, the team is a deep one with ten players able to contribute minutes and points and quality defensive play on any given night against any team in the league.
Are the younger players not as good as we thought?
Again, simply not the case. We’ve discussed the evolution of Tyrese Maxey already. He’s quickly shown why John Calipari and others said that the Sixers got the steal of the draft in 2020. At 21 years old, Maxey has already shown that he can play at a high level in the league. While Korkmaz and Thybulle have continued to improve, people tend to forget that they’re both only 24 years old. Shake Milton is 25.
Those are the guys that were being groomed to fit certain roles on the team, and they’ve all developed nicely. Paul Reed was out of his mind last season in the G-League, and Isaiah Joe has shown improvement, but neither was expected to be playing a major role on the team this season. Their players like Korkmaz, Thybulle, and Milton are being developed for roles down the line.
We haven’t even mentioned Jaden Springer. The nineteen-year-old rookie who’s been playing in the G-League. His size, shooting ability, and athleticism are all above average, but again, Springer wasn’t drafted to be used immediately or even contribute. The idea behind the Sixers selection was that they were happy with the team as it stood and were able to add a young player with a good upside. The Sixers youth is not an issue.
It will only be a short time more, but when Embiid and Thybulle return, the Sixers should be right back at the top of the standings. It’s too early in the season to count them out since they’ve had some back luck with the Covid protocols. This isn’t a time to panic in Philly but rather just be patient as everyone comes back. Well, not everyone. Hopefully, Simmons is sent away sooner rather than later, and that distraction can be eliminated from the team. It seems to be the only negative for the team.