Three Questions the Sixers Need to Answer Before the Playoffs

NBA: DEC 27 Nets at Clippers
LOS ANGELES, CA – DECEMBER 27: Brooklyn Nets Guard James Harden (13) argues a non foul call as the Los Angeles Clippers face off against the Brooklyn Nets at Arena on Monday, December 27, 2021 in Los Angeles, CA. (Photo by Will Navarro/Icon Sportswire)

NBA All-Star weekend has come and gone, and as exciting as it was to see two of the Philadelphia 76ers‘ own, Joel Embiid (All-Star Starter) and Tyrese Maxey (Rising Stars), participate in such an entertaining weekend of events. The Sixers will return to Philadelphia ties for 3rd and only 2.5 games out of first place in the Eastern Conference standings.

When we last saw the Sixers, they inquired James Harden and Paul Millsap from the Brooklyn Nets, sending Ben Simmons, Seth Curry, Andre Drummond, along with two first-rounders. A blockbuster trade such as this, at the halfway mark of the season, changes the dynamics of the team drastically. There are only 24 games left in the season, with only 11 away and 14 home games remaining on the schedule. The Sixers, with a possible bid for the number 1 seed and postseason success, there are 3 major questions that need to be answered as the push for the postseason begins, with the team now looked at to make a legitimate playoff run.

Can the Two Superstars Coexist?

The Sixers’ quest for a championship will always and will be on the shoulders of Joel Embiid, even with the addition of James Harden. The acquisition of Harden legitimizes the team’s chances significantly, but this hinges on the two superstars coexisting and finding that chemistry on the court.

This season Harden averaged 22.5 points, 8.0 rebounds, and 10.2 assists, which is great production from a player that’s being described as a down year by man, but even bringing that type of production to the Sixers, the two have to figure out what works best for them as individuals as well as for each other on the court. That can be variations of a two-man game, pick, and roll/pop between Harden and Embiid. The two could mix in some isolation looks, taking advantage of each player’s ability to score with the ball in their hands, a common ground that needs to be reached between the two and creating for other teammates. 

How to Define Roles?

Bringing in a player of James Harden’s status and caliber definitely changes things in the starting lineup and how the Sixers will play moving forward. These changes will affect two starters, specifically Tyrese Maxey and Tobias Harris. These two players now will have to fit around a team that will be centered around the two superstars, Embiid and Harden, which means how figuring out how to utilize Maxey’s and Harris’ skill sets is crucial.

Does Maxey move to the SG position, or do you keep him at the point guard position knowing Maxey is dynamic with the ball in his hands? Does Tobias Harris transition to a spot-up shooter when on the floor with Harden? Who better fits to lead the second unit when substitutions are made? These are a few of the questions that need to be figured out during this second half of the season when defining the new roles these two starters will now have to take off on.

How to Improve Role Player Production?

The major trade that sent Ben Simmons to Brooklyn netted the Sixers James Harden in return. As excited as the city and the fans have been, it can not go unnoticed that two key role players also went out in that trade to Brooklyn, those players being Seth Curry and Andre Drummond. The two played meaningful roles on the team, with Drummond averaging 9 total rebounds, 2.5 offensive, in only 18 minutes, and Curry starting 102 games averaging 31.4 minutes, 13.6 points, 3.3 assists, shooting 42% from three in his two seasons with the Sixers. This production played a significant role on this Sixers team that will need to be replaced. The Sixers have one remaining roster spot remaining left.

Last week on The Rights to Rickey Sanchez Podcast, Daryl Morey hinted at already being filled with a possible buyout candidate big. If not, young bigs like Charles Bassey, Paul Reed, and vet Paul Millsap will have to step in and produce when their number is called. Players like Shake Milton and Furkan Korkmaz also now have risen up the rotation ladder, with Curry now being gone and will be looked to for shooting production off the bench.

In conclusion, I have all the belief that the two stars of Joel Embiid and James Harden have finally aligned over Philadelphia with the same common goal and mission to win the city a championship. They will figure out what needs to be done to best put this team in a position to win and be willing to take whatever sacrifices must be made.

The Sixers’ role players and depth is still a concern, but Embiid is having another MVP season and the addition of Harden scoring and play-making ability should make getting shots for players like Danny Green and Korkmaz much easier. The 76ers start their run to the playoffs this Friday against the Minnesota Timberwolves, which should be an exciting night for Sixers fans as the potential debut of James Harden will be here finally.