As the off-season continues to progress, the need amongst the fanbase is to get our hopes up again. And this time, lucky us, it’s not about looking for a certain player to return with a fixed jumpshot (actually it is. Matisse, it’s now or never.) …or hoping that another star could be made available. Because, even if we know that our sneaky Daryl Morey is always ready to make a big hit, chances are that the team’s core is settled. And we should be excited, there are many unknowns, but we can honestly ask ourselves, is this the best team the franchise has built around Joel Embiid?
Immediately after hearing that question, we all think of Jimmy Butler’s short-but-memorable tenure as a Sixer in 2019.
Besides that iconic cover, this excellent starting-five brought us the closest to win a title, but the lack of a correct back-up center was simply crushing. Shockingly visible by the impact-metrics stats, this hole in the roster’s finalization probably cost us the title. Joel Embiid has also improved and matured a lot since that run.
Now if we look at stats and standing, the remodeled 2020-2021 squad was the most dominant. Powered by an MVP-caliber campaign from his Cameroonian-native superstar, the Sixers finished the regular season on top of the East. Embiid had the best net rating of his career while they also maintained a positive rating with him off the floor. In spite of this promising regular season, the lack of perimeter creation and offensive variety outside of Embiid’s dominance ended up being fatal, as Ben Simmons turned into an exclusively facilitating point-guard. Doc Rivers forgetting Dwight Howard wasn’t the one he faced in 2009 and 2010 anymore surely didn’t help either.
In 2018, the team was too inexperienced or Simmons-reliant to compete, no need to remind anyone of the nightmarish 2019-2020 season and last year, the lack of synergy along with other elements, like injuries or having no real depth led to another underwhelming, but this time predictable, playoff-exit.
The mix of things that make a team great is constantly discussed and despite attempts to quantify it, the way a group of players will mesh is never totally predictable. But ahead of the 9th season of a successful but trophy-less cooperation, Joel Embiid and the Sixers may actually be in front of their best chance to put a ring on this marriage.
Even if he probably won’t reach the standards he set in Houston, James Harden is still the best player the Sixers ever had to take care of the ball-handling duties. Rarely have they also had such promising options at the back-up center spot like the young Paul Reed, Charles Bassey or even P.J. Tucker as a small-ball five. Maxey continues to grow as an excellent complement and ceiling-riser, and with the newest additions of De’anthony Melton, Danuel House Jr. and already mentionned P.J. Tucker, the Sixers also added depth and toughness, two key components to win a title that they missed at times.
This team may look defensively less convincing than previous teams did. However, last year, the Sixers had the 12th rated defense in the league, which isn’t awful at all and this off-season, they added positive defenders where needed. The hope is also that having a lighter burden to carry on offense will allow Embiid to fully unlock his defensive player of the year upside. Baring potential injuries, my expectations are that they will be solid enough defensively to carry their contention plans and offensively, this is probably the most complementary and diversified the Sixers ever were around the five times all-star center.
Winning a championship requires merit and a bit of luck. In addition to the share of hazard that still has to go their way, it’s likely that, by privileging some continuity with this adjusted and experienced roster to start the 2022-2023 season, the Sixers are in the best shape to make the partnership between them and Joel Embiid even more significant, by crowning it with a title for Philly, and against everybody.
Photo via Kim Yong/Philadelphia Inquirer.
Sports Illustrated cover via Sports Illustrated.