The 2016-17 Philadelphia 76ers believed it was their year to make the playoffs. They had just gotten 1st overall pick Ben Simmons, who people compared to LeBron James, and star center Joel Embiid was finally healthy after missing two entire seasons. But in the final training camp session, a scrimmage led to Simmons suffering a severe foot fracture with an estimated recover time of three to four months. The organization decided to pull the plug on the season when Embiid got injured after playing 31 games. With both stars out, the Sixers tanked to get a better pick and ended up going 28-54. That record allowed the Sixers to end up with the 3rd pick of the NBA draft.
The summer of 2017 was the Sixers decided to take a chance and make a step forward. There were big decisions to be made with the team however. First was whether or not to keep Head Coach Brett Brown. Brown was a part of all the losing and fans wondered whether it was time to move forward with a different coach. The Sixers decided to stay the course and give Brown a chance with a healthy team.
The second decision was what to do with the number 3 pick in the draft. The Sixers decided that Washington point guard Markelle Fultz was too good of a prospect to pass on. They made a deal with the Celtics who had the number 1 pick in the draft to take Fultz. Now all the chips were in the middle of the table for the Sixers this time. The Process needed to start yielding results.
On both ends of the court the Sixers improved dramatically this season. They became the 7th best scoring team in the NBA helped by ranking 2nd in assists. The Sixers were also 1st in the league in total league rebounds. On defense they improved a lot as well ranking 2nd in opponent’s three point shooting percentage. They were even better at stopping other shots with the 1st overall opponent field goal shooting percentage in the NBA.
It all came together when the team went on a 16 game winning streak to end the regular season. In the first round the Sixers faced off against a veteran Miami Heat team. Joel Embiid missed the first two games of the series, but the Sixers ended up winning in five games. However the Semi Finals were a completely different story. Against the Celtics both the coaching and the players got exposed and the Sixers lost three winnable games due to execution late. They ended up losing to the Celtics in five games. Now the Sixers are at home as their fans wonder what the next step is for The Process.
“Although we fell short in the end we basically doubled our wins from last year so it was a very successful season. I’m excited about the future with this team.” Philadelphia attorney and Sixers holder Leonard Hill said.
Most Sixers fans agree with Hill but it wasn’t a great season for all the players. Even with their success everyone on the team can improve. Let’s look at the most important players for the Sixers this season and talk about what went right and what they could do better.
Ben Simmons had one of the best rookie seasons of all time. From the opening tip of the season it was clear that this 6’10 point guard would cause problems in the NBA. Simmons showed the strength to finish down low in traffic and the smarts to get teammates involved throughout the game. Even off the injury, Simmons looked comfortable right away. He averaged 15.8 points, 8 rebounds and 8 assists per game. Most importantly Ben only missed one game all year and led the Sixers to 52 wins in the regular season, despite Joel Embiid missing 19 games.
Simmons is probably going to be the rookie of the year and his performance against the Miami Heat in the first round showed that he’s special. Against the Heat he averaged 18.2 points, 10.6 rebounds and 9 assists per game. Simmons also had clutch moments in games showing that he could also be a closer. For those good moments the loss in five to the Celtics showed some of the flaws Simmons has. This doesn’t take away from the year he had but it does mean that there are things to work on for him to reach the next level.
Much of the reason Ben was ridiculed against the Celtics was the infamous one point performance in Game 2, in which he shot the ball four times and had one point. Since that game Simmons was the public target for everything that went wrong for the Sixers in the series. He did bounce back with 16 points, 8 assists and 8 rebounds in game three and averaged 14.4 points , 8.2 rebounds, and 6.4 assists per game. Still that wasn’t up to the standards Simmons set during the season.
That series was important because it showed Simmons’ flaws. The most noticeable hole in Simmons’ game is the jump shot. Simmons isn’t really reliable with a shot from further than 7 feet away. He does set up teammates with passes and screens, and himself with backdoor cuts for easy dunks, but the jumper isn’t there and better teams expose it. Simmons has to force the defense to guard him further out and then use his high IQ and athleticism to then get to the basket.
The other area where Simmons needs to improve at is his aggression on both sides. This is tougher because the problem is flipped on offense and defense. Simmons needs to realize that sometimes the right basketball play in the deep run, is the wrong one at the time. An example is taking attempts at the rim might not be as open, but if it creates foul trouble that is more helpful later. On offense he should be more aggressive earlier in games to set a tone. On defense Simmons is actually too aggressive, which causes him to get in foul trouble often. He’s got to learn to contest shots without fouling and trust his naturally speed and length without using his hands as much.
All that being said Simmons has shown enough to suggest that he’ll be a great player in the future.
“He’s a great player and can do everything but shoot,” Hill said, “If he just develops a 10-15 foot jump shot he will be unstoppable I’m amazed that he played so well this season without a jump shot to be completely honest. “
Joel Embiid had a standout season for the Sixers. He was their leader on and off the court with his strong play and personality. Embiid averaged 22.9 points, 11 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.8 blocks per game this season. Embiid was also a starter in the All Star game and is now in the discussion with the best centers in the NBA. Besides the low post moves, which have been impressive to watch, Embiid is a great defender in the middle. He was so good at defending that Embiid is a finalist for defensive player of the year. An honor that only one Sixers player has ever won, Dikembe Mutombo in 2001.
In the playoffs Embiid came through with impressive performances. He helped the Sixers win the last three games against the Heat after returning from a facial fracture injury. In those last three Embiid averaged 18.6 points, 10.3 rebounds and 3 blocks per game and clearly outplayed Hassian Whiteside.
Yes, his lasting memory of the season was missing that layup to the Celtics in game 5 but in that game he had 27 points and 12 rebounds. He wasn’t the most efficient from the floor but he wanted to take the fight to the Celtics, which is something the Sixers badly needed against their physical play. In the series Embiid ended up with 23 points, 14.8 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game. However he shot only 44 percent in the series which isn’t good enough.
Embiid’s biggest improvement would be playing on a more consistent basis for the team. This is something that’s going to be hard, but last season was his first without a major injury. Of course the facial fracture which caused him to miss the last eight games of the regular season and two playoff games was more of a freak accident than anything. In all he did miss 19 games because the Sixers didn’t want to play him in back to backs or if there was any possibility of getting injured.
Another area Embiid needs to improve on is the three point shot. This could either be improving from beyond the arc or shying away from the shot a little more. Embiid shot 30.7 percent from deep in the regular season, which isn’t good enough to attempt the 3.4 per game that he did. In the playoffs, this trend didn’t stop and he attempted 29 threes in 8 playoff games while only making 8. For the playoffs he shot 27.6 from deep which is a terrible percentage from beyond.
One last improvement that Embiid could make is reacting quicker in the post. He played well against Boston but part of that is because the Celtics didn’t want to leave the shooters open on the outside. As a result Embiid was on the post alone with no doubles coming from the outside. During the season one way teams tried to stop the Sixers was doubling Embiid and forcing a pass which ended as a turnover far too often. He averaged 3.7 turnovers a game while only getting 3.2 assists a game which is a terrible ratio.
“Joel Embiid showed me this season that when given the opportunity, he can be one of the best big men in the NBA,” Armchair All Americans writer Darnell Jones said, “Talent was never the question about Embiid it was always can he stay healthy enough for an entire season. The injury to his face at end of the season was unfortunate but going forward Embiid must continue to build on this past season and I think he will.”
Sixers fans worried about Dario Saric’s ability to fit in with a team that was adding two more ball dominant players into the rotation. Any team would love to add Ben Simmons and a healthy Joel Embiid but the affect on other players was a concern. Saric had a successful rookie season, a campaign which almost saw him win rookie of the year, but with the added talent Saric was supposed to take a step back with the loss.
However Saric continued to improve each game, averaging more points, rebounds and assists than last year. He averaged 14.6 points, 6.7 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game in the regular season. Add on the fact that Saric hit 45 percent of his shot attempts up from 41 percent last year. His three point shooting was up as well, hitting on 31 percent of his shots last year but that improved to 39.3 percent this season.
Dario got better as the year went on. In the first round against the Heat he was huge in the first three games getting more than 20 points in each. He ended up averaging 16.6 points, 6.8 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game. Like most players on the Sixers Saric struggled in the first couple of games against the Celtics. He was attempting contested threes which is what the Celtics wanted. Saric adjusted to the defense going from a stretch four to becoming a low post big man. In the series, Saric averaged 17.8 points, 7.8 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game in the series. The power forward has showed that he has toughness and won’t back down in one of these big playoff series.
If he can be anything like a Kevin Love to the Embiid and Simmons led team that would be a huge plus for The Process. Saric simply has to continue in improving his shot and post up offense to become the player he can be. The good thing is he’s on the right track.
At the beginning of the year, Robert Covington signed a four year deal worth $62 million. People wondered whether or not Covington was worth the price tag when he signed the deal because he never had a breakout season in the past. After a good regular season, but a disaster playoff finish the jury is still out on the small forward. Covington started the season off hitting 44 percent of his three point attempts but over the season he went back to the mean and shot 37 percent from deep. Covington ended up with 12.6 points and 5.4 rebounds a game. He still was an important defender but his season and worth to the future of the Sixers was hurt by the Celtics series.
Against the Heat, Covington averaged only 9.4 points, and 5.6 rebounds per game. He even had an awful game in their game 2 loss shooting 3 of 14 from the field. When the Sixers played the Celtics it didn’t get much better for him. Covington did have 22 points in game 2, but the other four games were awful. He hit 3 of 26 shots in those other games combined and was benched in games four and five for TJ McConnell. Covington averaged 6.8 points, 5 rebounds per game with 26.8 percent shooting from the field against Boston. Yikes.
While Covington started the season off scorching hot, he cooled off down the stretch when needed. The Sixers need improved consistency shooting wise from Covington going forward. They also need him to develop as someone who can take people off the dribble and finish at the basket. He is going to turn 28 next season so it might be too late for these improvements but if he wants to stay in the starting lineup that’s how.
“During the regular season I mentioned how I thought Robert Covington was one of the best 3 and D wings in the NBA,” Jones said, “Defensively he took the challenge of guarding the opposing team’s best player every night. Covington struggles to finish around the rim at times but he fits perfectly with what Brett Brown wants to do.”
Markelle Fultz was seen as the best prospect in the 2017 draft by many analysts. The Sixers agreed with popular opinion and traded the third overall pick with a future selection to the Celtics for the 1st overall pick. Fultz was seen as the player who completed The Process.
Instead, Fultz came into the league with no confidence in his jump shot and a shoulder injury. It’s unclear what happened, but some combination of those two factors led to Fultz missing 68 games. When Fultz was on the court he showed flashes of the explosive ball handling and athleticism the Sixers thought they were getting. He averaged 7 points, 3 rebounds and 4 assists per game. In the playoffs people wondered if he would make an impact as a spark off the bench. He didn’t, only playing in three games against the Heat and not at all versus the Celtics.
The first thing he’s got to do is be available. Fultz only played 14 games with the team so there wasn’t the biggest sample size as far as what he can do. We have seen this from Sixers players before so hopefully they can get him back on track to play more games next season.
The bigger concern is that he’s going to have to hit jumpers. Yes there is the concern that Ben Simmons can’t hit shots, but Simmons has proven that he can be effective without a jump shot. To put both Fultz and Simmons on the court with no shooting could ruin their spacing on offense. If that lineup that doesn’t work, Fultz would have to adjust or be moved because Simmons is the future. That’s a long way away but still it is a possibility.
“I would have liked to see Fultz more in the season,” Hill said, “I didn’t really get to see what he was. But right now I don’t think he’s a future all-star. Right now he’s suffering from the Sam Bowie curse because of how good Jayson Tatum has been. Every time Tatum plays better it looks worse for Fultz.”
JJ Redick, Marco Belinelli, Ersan llyasova
At 33, JJ Redick just set a career-high in scoring average (17.1). He also ranks first in 3PT accuracy over the past 3 seasons (44%).
Despite his age, Redick should have a strong market this offseason. Is he a lock to return to PHI?
In the offseason, J.J. Redick signed a one year contract for $23 million. This was a landmark move for the Sixers because it was the first time they shelled out money to get a big time player in the “Process” era. Even better, Redick turned down playing for the Rockets to sign with the Sixers.
Redick did manage to outperform everyone’s expectations with the Sixers this season. He was 2nd on the team in scoring with 17 points a game, showing the impressive ability to hit tough contested threes which helped the Sixers space the floor. He ended up shooting 42 percent from deep this year.
Ersan Ilyasova and Marco Bellinelli started the season off with the Atlanta Hawks. Both players became huge contributing factors off the bench for the Sixers. Ilyasova ended up with 10.8 points and 6.7 rebounds a game while shooting 36 percent from three point range in 23 games. Marco Belinelli scored 13.6 points per game in 28 regular season games with the team. Belinelli was crucial in stretching out the floor as well hitting 38.5 percent of his three point shots.
They were all crucial to the Sixers 17 game winning streak to end the season. The ability of these shooters to help out the offense made them one of the best shooting teams in the league down the stretch. However the Celtics formed a game plan to take all of them away and then the flaws started to show. The Sixers had to play each one less and less as they tried to get tougher in the post. On the other side there are all poor defenders which hurt Philly as well.
The story ends with how much the scoring changed in the Celtics series. Reddick still had 16.4 points a game on 43 percent shooting from the field. It’s not that much worse than his regular numbers of 17.1 points and 46 percent from the field but there is still a drop off. Ilyasova had only 7.8 points per game down from 10.8 in the regular season after joining the Sixers. Meanwhile Belinelli averaged 9.2 points a game against the Celtics down from the 13.6 he had for the Sixers in the regular season.
Now the debate becomes who to bring back since all of their contracts are expiring. Ilyasova and Belinelli would be cheap but do you want to give the younger guys, or other possible free agents more playing time? And Reddick is the most important of the three but also the most expensive. What kind of contract do you sign him for this time around? There are a lot of decisions that need to be made with these three important cogs in mind.
“Last summer, Redick signed a 1 year deal for 23 million and I was kind of surprised that he was worth that much in the open market,” Darnell said, “As an unrestricted free agent it really comes down to what Redick wants to do at this stage of his career. If a deal for a reduced salary can be met, I think it’s a no brained for the Sixers to bring him back.”
McConnell still has another year left on his deal but it is unclear the role he’s going to have on the team next season. Ideally the Sixers would want him to maybe be the third point guard if Fultz and Simmons continue to develop but only time will tell on that front. McConell is definitely someone to keep around on the roster however given his smarts and overall team leadership.
Richaun Holmes and Timothe Luwawu Cabarrot
Both of these are interesting prospects for the team moving forward because of their youth and occasionally showing in the regular season. TLC was supposed to play a bigger part for the Sixers this season so maybe next year he pops and Richaun Holmes could be an effective backup power forward or center given his athletic ability. Really the only thing keeping them off the court is the log jam at talent so it will be interesting to see how Brett Brown utilizes these guys.
“The Sixers have money to spend in free agency and I think they should make a run at Paul George,” Darnell said, “They are lacking a player on the wing that can create their own shot and George will be the best available that fits that mold. Of course, the number one option should be LeBron James but there has to be a plan B in place as well. Depending on what San Antonio would want in return a trade for Kawhi Leonard would really put the Sixers over the top.”
“We need multiple two way players because in the end we’re going to have to go through the Celtics and Warriors,” Hill said, “Players like Kawhi and LeBron would be the dream. But right now, we just have players that shoot and don’t defend so we need two way players.”
Clearly the Sixers need another star to get over the hump and there are three available ones who fit their needs perfectly. Here is the outlook on those three and the likelihood they end up playing in Philadelphia next year.
Paul George told the Pacers that he wouldn’t resign with the team at the end of the 2016-2017 season. The market was very interested in the talented shooting guard and he ended up getting traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder. George did have good numbers with the Thunder averaging 21.9 points per game and 5.7 rebounds. He also was the best defender on the team and got 2 steals per game. Still the Thunder only won 48 games and were outed in the first round by the Utah Jazz in six games. George didn’t end with a high note shooting 2-16 from the field with 5 points in the deciding game 6.
George is now a free agent in this upcoming summer. Since George was on the Pacers, the Los Angeles Lakers were talked about as the team he wanted to play for. However with the Lakers missing the playoffs Philadelphia has been mentioned as a perfect spot for him. George is the exact kind of two way guard that the Sixers need but it’s unclear whether he would deny the chance to play for his childhood team to play for Philly.
Kawhi Leonard was in the running for MVP in 2016 but was injured against the Warriors which ended his postseason. Since then what has happened to one of the best two way players on the league is stunning. His relationship with the Spurs has quickly deteriorated into being not fixable in Kawhi’s eyes. After the Spurs were eliminated ths year Kawhi reportedly asked to be traded to a list of teams and the Sixers were one of them.
If the Sixers got a player like Kawhi that would be ideal. Add in the fact that they are known for being very careful with players who are injured and that is something Kawhi could appreciate. The best on ball defender in the league and an MVP level player when healthy his addition to the Sixers would make them contenders to win the Eastern conference. Still this would be tough because he is still signed with the Spurs it would take a lot for them to trade a superstar even a disgruntled one.
He is one of the greatest players of all time and the best player in the league right now. LeBron could be the MVP of the league each season and even at the age of 33 he’s been on the top of his game still to this point. Obviously every team in the league would love to have LeBron and it would change the Sixers trajectory as a team.
The only question is whether or not LeBron will actually leave the Cavs or not. With him being in the playoffs right now we can’t tell how the situation will turn out but clearly the Sixers would be championship contenders with LeBron James as most teams would be.
“Our chances at LeBron are great,” Hill said, “I don’t think he’ll go to the west because of the threat of the Warriors. Really on any one of the top four teams he went to in the East would be in the finals immediately. But with the pieces we have I don’t see why he wouldn’t sign with us.”