Last year, when the Philadelphia 76ers were riding a 14 game win streak to end the 2018 regular season, I wrote an article that openly challenged Colin Cowherd’s comments regarding the surreal Sixers’ run. Cowherd referred to the Sixers as “the fat kid who is finally in shape,” and claimed that Philadelphia would be developmentally behind Eastern Conference rival, the Boston Celtics, in ten years’ time.
At the time, I thought his comments were ridiculous and unsubstantiated. Then, in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, the Celtics, who were missing two of their stars in Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, beat the 76ers in five games in a series that was dominated by Boston’s young core.
Philly didn’t see rookie guard Markelle Fultz rise to the occasion and prove he deserved the number one overall pick. Instead, we saw fellow rookie Jayson Tatum play an average of 37.9 minutes per game with 118 total points and a true shooting percentage of .626 in the series.
Rookie of the Year Ben Simmons gave his doubters plenty of fuel for their fires, as Philadelphia had a plus/minus of -63 when he was on the court. Being outscored by 63 points over the course of five games with supposedly one of the team’s best players on the court is not a sign of potential; it’s a sign of embarrassment.
When the most exciting thing to come out of the most anticipated playoff series in recent memory is a career-high 19-point game by T.J McConnell to hold off elimination, something is wrong. I was wrong.
Boston is the team to beat in the East this season, and Philadelphia did not do enough in the offseason to come anywhere close to reaching their level.
The hype surrounding what Brett Brown and former general manager Bryan Colangelo would do to take the Sixers to the next level started almost immediately after Philadelphia bowed out of the 2018 playoffs. The speculation surrounding where Lebron James would end up once free agency started was in full force, and many sports talk personalities on stations like The Fanatic and WISP believed Philadelphia would be the next super team.
Then, on May 29, Theringer.com released information from an anonymous source who claimed to work in artificial intelligence, saying that Colangelo had leaked classified information about the organization through the use of burner accounts on Twitter.
The offseason went downhill from there. Colangelo resigned soon after the story came out, leaving the Sixers without a general manager for the 2018 NBA Draft. Brett Brown, acting as the interim GM, drafted hometown hero Mikal Bridges from Villanova with the tenth pick in the draft. The move seemed like a perfect fit for both the Sixers and Bridges, seeing as how Philly needed a young three-point shooter and Bridges’ mother worked in the Sixers’ front office. But later in the draft, Brown traded Bridges for the Phoenix Suns’ pick, Zhaire Smith, a shooting guard from Texas Tech university. And like many Sixers rookies before him, Smith broke his foot in early August and is expected to miss significant time during the 2018-2019 season.
So what happened this past offseason? Well, they didn’t get Lebron. They didn’t get Kawhi Leonard. They don’t have a healthy first round pick. And after all the talk of “star hunting,” Philadelphia did not sign a single player that puts them over the threshold to compete for the Eastern Conference crown; just a couple of average Joes in Wilson Chandler and Mike Muscala.
Sure, having Markelle Fultz on the court will be an asset, assuming he’s worked out the kinks in his shot and can stay healthy. Resigning J.J Reddick to another one year deal was also a good move for the Sixers since he may be the best three-point shooter on the squad. However, the depth that the Sixers had on the bench is practically gone. Richaun Holmes, Ersan Ilyasova, Marco Bellinelli, Justin Anderson and Timothe Luwawu Cabarrot were all either released or traded over the summer. These guys were the backbone of the team last year, and the additional chemistry they provided to players like Joel Embiid and Simmons proved invaluable at times.
These losses mean that if the Sixers are to compete without an additional all-star, the starting five is going to have to do a lot of heavy lifting. The starting lineup for the Sixers will most likely be Embiid, Simmons, Dario Saric, Fultz and Robert Covington. Much of their play will be dependent on how Fultz and Simmons perform together with Fultz at shooting guard and Simmons at point guard. If Simmons improved his mid-range game over the summer, he may be taking that element away from Fultz, forcing him to be more of a perimeter shooter; an area he still may not be comfortable with. Both Fultz and Simmons are supposedly natural point guards, but each player has a history of shooting problems that will need to be nonexistent this year if the team wants to compete with a tandem like Kyrie Irving and Tatum.
As expected, Simmons and Embiid led the Sixers in almost all categories during the preseason. Embiid averaged 23 points per game, and Simmons averaged close to a triple-double with 9 PPG, 7.8 rebounds and 9.2 assists. It may seem like a lot to ask, but in his second year, Simmons will need to average similar (if not better) numbers for the Sixers to compete with teams like Boston, Golden State and Houston that are built around proven all-stars.
The newcomers will also have to step up and show that they are an improvement from last year’s bench. Look for Muscala to be the new Illyasova, drawing fouls in the paint and providing some shooting support. Young talents from the summer league, such as Jonah Bolden and Furkan Korkmaz, will also need to provide defensive help off the bench in addition to their shooting capabilities. But most importantly, Philadelphia will have to limit their turnovers and make smarter decisions, so that they don’t blow as many leads as they did last year.
However, at the end of the day, this squad is very similar to the 2017-2018 squad, and if there was a way to simulate this season like in NBA 2K19, that wouldn’t be such a bad idea.
Andrew Heller is a second-year graduate student majoring in English. AH804286@wcupa.edu