In a season featuring so many decidedly not-fun storylines including the lack of fans, risks to player health and constant uncertainty about the league being able to complete a fair and even competition, Philadelphia’s team may be the most enjoyable iteration the city has had in years. Below are the 5 most fun aspects of the 2021 Sixers season so far.

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5. The Roster Finally Makes Sense

Sixers fans spent last season watching, or enduring, one of the most nonsensical lineups put out by any contender in recent NBA history. Philadelphia trotted out a starting 5 featuring four players over 6’10” in an era where the rest of the league had been going smaller for several years.

This season the front office has rectified previous mistakes and exchanged some of the more ill-fitting parts of last year’s team for players whose skill sets compliment the core of Joel Embiid, Tobias Harris and Ben Simmons.

Shooters like Seth Curry and to a lesser extent Danny Green have drawn defenders away from the key and allowed Joel Embiid more space to work closer to the basket. Philadelphia is still undefeated in games where all 5 starters play.

Allowing Shake Milton to move into a bench role has also made a difference for the Sixers with Milton and rookie Tyrese Maxey providing an offensive spark for the second unit. While Dwight Howard may not be having a great season statistically, at this stage in his career he knows where to be defensively and on offense his screens have allowed Milton and Maxey to get into the middle of the floor and create plays.

4. Tobias Harris’ All-Star Push

At the start of this season Tobias Harris’ contract looked like one of the worst in the league. Philadelphia’s front office seemingly chose Harris over Jimmy Butler, giving the former a max contract while allowing the latter to leave. By the end of the season Harris had very few supporters and it seemed as though the Sixers were going to have to throw in a first round pick to trade him and his hefty contract.

Harris played the best basketball of his career with the Los Angeles Clippers and with his former Clippers coach Doc Rivers joining the Sixers this season Harris has started to look like the player Philadelphia originally traded for. After being miscast as a spot up shooter in Brett Brown’s offense, Rivers has Tobias back to doing what he does best as a Pick and Roll ball handler.

Working with Joel Embiid in the Pick and Roll game with shooters surrounding them has enabled Harris to get into good positions before help defenders have time to collapse in on him. Rivers’ edict to get Harris making quick decisions with the ball has paid dividends so far this season and has Tobias on the brink of his first All-Star selection.

Harris is already being paid like an All-Star and with the way he is playing he may well justify it after all.

Photo: Bill Streicher/ USA Today Sports

3. Team Chemistry

Another stark contrast to last season, the 2021 Sixers appear to legitimately enjoy playing together. Winning obviously cures everything and covers up a lot of issues but even away from the court Sixers players are praising one another in interviews, standing up for teammates on Twitter and celebrating the success of others.

Players now know and accept their roles and with Health and Safety Protocols along with the compressed schedule everyone is getting their chance to play. Rivers’ game style and ability to connect to his players is also having a visible impact.

In this COVID impacted season players are going to be stuck with each other more so than ever before because of the restrictions on what they can do away from the court. Team chemistry may prove vital to success as the year goes on.

2. The Youth Movement

Ben Simmons is only 24 years old and is obviously a future, if not current, superstar of the league. It is the other young Sixers that have shown exciting signs in the early part of the season though. Shake Milton (24), Matisse Thybulle (23) and Tyrese Maxey (20) have all excelled in their well defined roles.

Milton has developed into the team’s third scoring option and has carried the scoring load at times off the bench.

As a late first round pick, few would have expected Tyrese Maxey to make an impact off the bench. Coming into the season back up point guard projected to be a position of weakness for Philadelphia but Maxey has stepped up and made it his own. After scoring 39 points in just his 10th NBA game Tyrese made himself untouchable in trade talks, both by fans and the Sixers’ front office.

To start the year Matisse Thybulle found himself out of the rotation entirely after missing the pre-season with an injury. After getting back to full fitness Thybulle had to fight for his spot and after a season of freelancing on defense he had developed some bad habits. Doc Rivers challenged Thybulle and in turn Matisse has improved as a team defender while maintaining his ability to make plays on that side of the ball with opportunistic blocks and steals.

Furkan Korkmaz and Isaiah Joe have also contributed as floor spacing shooters.

All of the aforementioned young players still have significant flaws and it may be difficult to keep them around once their rookie deals expire but if all goes well this current group of role players could play a part in extending the Sixers’ title window for years to come.

Photo: USA Today Sports

1. Joel Embiid’s MVP Campaign

Honourable mentions to Ben Simmons’ defensive play and Doc Rivers’ coaching but Joel Embiid realising his almost limitless potential is the most fun storyline of this Sixers season.

Embiid came into this season in better shape and more motivated than ever before and it is paying off. Rivers’ game plan and the complimentary role players have helped immensely but credit must be given to Embiid for taking it upon himself to improve after a disappointing end to last year’s campaign.

There is no center in the league at the moment that can guard Embiid in single coverage and his passing out of double teams has improved considerably.

Joel now has multiple ways to dominate on offense, he can put his opponent under the basket in a deep post up, face up and sink mid range jumpers with ease, drive past slower centers or work as the roll man in pick and rolls with Tobias Harris or hand offs with Seth Curry.

After hyper extending his knee early in the second quarter against Portland, Embiid could hardly jump and was essentially on one leg yet he still managed to drop 25 points in the quarter. Ben Simmons was sorely missed in that game but Embiid being unable to jump had even more impact on the result. Joel finished the game with only 5 rebounds and a block leading to the Sixers being dominated on the boards and giving up 40+ points in a quarter to a Blazers team without their two leading scorers.

No player in the league impacts their team’s success more than Joel Embiid and Philadelphia will go as far as their big man can take them. Regardless of if Embiid wins the MVP award or not this season may go down as the most dominant by a center since Shaquille O’Neal in 2001. What could be more fun than that?

Featured image: Mitchell Leff/ Getty Images

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