The 76ers flat out disappointed this regular season. Not only did they not improve, but they got worse.
When the season started Philadelphia had very high expectations.
So what can the team do to turn what is currently viewed as a failed season, into a successful one?
Before the 2019-2020 NBA season started, the 76ers had the second-best odds to make the NBA Finals from the Eastern Conference, and the fifth-best odds to win the NBA Finals.
Currently, the Sixers sit in sixth place in the Eastern Conference, are tied for the fourth-best odds to make the Finals from the East, and tied for the eighth-best odds to win the Finals.
Prior to this season starting, Philly was expected to make the Eastern Conference Finals. Now, the Sixers may go into the first round of the playoffs as underdogs.
There are a bunch of factors that explain why the 76ers are at the place that they are right now.
1) The Dr. Jekyll and MR. Hyde Relationship Between Home Games and Road Games
The 76ers have a home winning percentage of .935 (best in the league) and a road winning percentage of .294. That is a difference of .641, by far the highest differential in the league.
The next highest team does not even come close, with Miami being 2nd with a difference of .328.
2) The Poor Fit of Al Horford
Many people were skeptical of the Horford signing, wondering how he would fit alongside Joel Embiid, a fellow big-man. Most thought they would be able to figure it out by now, but they still have not. Horford was clear that he preferred playing the Power Forward position rather than the Center position he had been playing for all his career.
It is clear that despite Horford’s preference, he is not suited to be a Power Forward and is much more valuable when playing the Center position.
3) The Surprise Success of the Toronto Raptors and Miami Heat
The Raptors and Heat were expected to be fringe playoff teams at the start of the season, but they currently find themselves in the 2nd (Toronto) and 4th (Miami) seeds of the Eastern Conference.
4) Slightly Underwhelming Seasons From Joel Embiid and Tobias Harris
Do not get it twisted, Embiid is still a top ten player in the NBA, but he took a step back in production compared to last season. Harris was also expected to assume a bigger role for the team with the absence of Jimmy Butler but has only improved his points per game by 1 compared to when he was the fourth option behind Embiid, Butler, and Ben Simmons.
Injuries are a problem for every team, and for the 76ers it can not be used as an excuse. With that being said, injuries have certainly not helped the Sixers’ cause. Three of the five starters for Philly have missed over ten games each. Simmons with 11 missed games, Embiid with 21 missed games, and Josh Richardson with 17 missed games.
While Embiid and Simmons missing time was an obvious negative for the Sixers, Richardson’s missed games are also extremely hurtful for the team. Richardson is in his first year with Philadelphia, so while Embiid and Simmons are already ingrained in the system, Richardson has not been able to get comfortable while playing with the team, which has to lead him to be very inconsistent. He looks extremely good on some nights, and other nights he struggles a lot.
How the 76ers Can Turn Their Season Into a Successful One
In the two seasons that Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons have played together, the 76ers have ended the season as the third seed in the East, won their first-round match-up in five games, and lost in the second round in the playoffs. That means that making the second round of the playoffs is the bare minimum for this season to even be considered close to success.
If the Sixers lose in the first round of the playoffs, it is undisputedly a failure of a season. Do not be surprised if Head Coach Brett Brown is fired in that scenario. And, depending on where you look and who you ask, the 76ers might be projected to lose in the first round.
Now the question is, would making the second round of the playoffs be a success for the 76ers?
Philly has lost in the second round of the playoffs in two straight years.
Last year was especially heartbreaking. Losing to the eventual NBA Champion Toronto Raptors in Game 7 to one of the wildest buzzer-beaters of all time. Last year’s scenario is as close as possible to making the Eastern Conference Finals without actually making them. Let’s say the same exact thing happened this season. That would mean the 76ers did not improve at all this season. Let’s say Game 7 goes to overtime and we still lose. It still is not good enough. The team has to make progress.
Losing in the second round for the third straight year is a failure of a season and a sign that something needs to be changed in order to advance farther. This season was supposed to be the year to compete in the East. LeBron James is in the West now, Kawhi Leonard is in the West now, Kevin Durant is injured in the East, the Warriors are completely injured. If all of that still does not lead to the 76ers making the Eastern Conference Finals, we could see major overhauls in the Philadelphia organization. With the most likely changes being the firing of Brett Brown and the trading of Al Horford, a failed and expensive experiment.
So for Philadelphia to be able to look back at this season as successful and a sign of progress, they have to at least make the Eastern Conference Finals. I think it goes without saying that making the NBA Finals is a success, and of course, winning the NBA Finals is a success.
Now we just have to see what the Sixers can do.
Featured Image: Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images