2019-20 76ers

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Sixers are better today than they were in May

Dave Uram
July 12, 2019 - 2:36 pm
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Within the last nine months, the Philadelphia 76ers held two of the most unique press conference setups in recent memory—even more so than when Bryan Colangelo sat on a stool with a wireless mic and started asking one of the infamous 2017 draft picks to describe himself for the assembled media.

Related: Tobias Harris: Ben Simmons' jumper looks really good

Last November when introducing Jimmy Butler, they built a big stage on one of their practice courts, surrounded by balloons and two large television screens playing a loop of Butler highlights. On top of that, they were serving doughnuts with Butler’s picture designed into the icing. 

Think big or go home, right? 

Fast forward to mid July, they put together a dais featuring eight chairs, the most I can think of ever at one of these media gatherings, for six newly signed or re-signed players (the seventh—Mike Scott—wasn’t able to make it), as well as Managing Partner Josh Harris and General Manager Elton Brand. Harris put himself through a workout during his opening statement trying to find each player to deliver a public greeting to that person. 

While there were no balloons, big screens or doughnuts with a player’s likeness on it, the idea of welcoming new players to the team, again, brought to mind this most important question—are the Sixers better today than they were when the starting five of Butler, Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Tobias Harris and JJ Redick watched Kawhi Leonard’s buzzer beater slowly rim in to end their season? 

Butler and Redick are gone, but after getting dizzy trying to keep up with all the guys available for the media Friday morning, there’s no question the Sixers are better now than they were in May. 

Sixers Are Much Deeper Where It Matters Most 

Despite mentioning that Butler ended up “in a place he wanted to be,” Brand dodged the question about whether bringing Butler back was a priority. Better roster or not, the truth is losing Butler was significant, and that’s something Brand can’t deny. 

“I’d make that trade again. He gave us a great playoff run last year,” Brand said before emphasizing how parting ways with Butler allowed them to bring in Josh Richardson, who Brand considers one of the best two-way players in the game, as well as Al Horford. 

The void Butler left was large, but Brand was spot on when highlighting the additions of Horford and Richardson. Neither can score like Butler or drill a three like Redick, but they bring a consistent defensive presence that Butler and Redick did not. At the same time, Horford’s proven he can still score in big moments (i.e. most of his history playing against Embiid) and Richardson is a developing player who averaged 16 points per game last season. He’s no slouch. 

Most importantly, this team is deeper than they were in the postseason, notably in the big man category. Horford, and fellow new guy Kyle O’Quinn, will get to spell Embiid at the five, which will do wonders for the franchise’s “crown jewel.” 

“It was a huge deficit last year, as we know, and we corrected that” Brand said. “The versatility of this lineup is what’s important. (Al) can play the four, he can play the five. We have many players that can play multiple positions.” 

Regardless of whether or not you liked what the Sixers did in free agency, it’s undeniable who the essential players are on this team—Embiid and Simmons, in that order. If those two perform to their capabilities, the 76ers should win the East. If Embiid can stay healthy and get optimal rest, that should help him avoid long stretches of missing time due to injury, which should allow him to stay in shape, which should allow him to dominate in May and June. It’s a domino effect, which starts with Horford’s presence.

Maybe the Sixers could’ve parted ways with Harris and given big contracts to Butler and Horford, but then they don’t get Richardson. And whether you’re a fan of Harris or not, he’s still a developing player who proved with the Clippers that he can be a dominant scorer in this league.

This Team Is About Defense, But They’ll Still Find Ways To Score

That leads to a big question mark about this team—offense. 

Brand knows the foundation of the roster he put together is defense. Brett Brown often called that aspect of the sport “king.” It’s what he drives his program on. This team, as constructed today, should be phenomenal defensively—much better than it was in 2018-19. 

But, how will they score the ball? How will they spread the floor with no Redick and such a tall starting five, no shorter than Richardson at 6-foot-6? 

“I look forward to training camp,” Brand said. “Figure all that out. Defensively, of course, that’s when we’re going to wear our hat. We should be one of the top defensive teams in the league, in my opinion. We’ll figure out the spacing. We have a lot of versatility. Al Horford can space. Joel Embiid can space. Ben is working on his game. Josh is a high level scorer. Tobias is a high level shooter and scorer also. So, we’re looking forward to making that work in training camp. But, it’s going to take some time. It should take some time.”

Again, it starts with Embiid and Simmons, but as mentioned, Richardson has averaged double figures and Tobias Harris has proven to be an elite playmaker with Los Angeles. 

“I know last year when you come over from a trade and with the talent level in the group, obviously I had to sacrifice for the unit,” Tobias Harris said. “But, I know my game. I know how I continue to improve year after year, and I look to come into next year with that type of energy, that type of fire to improve my game and to just show different parts of my game too.”

James Ennis III and Mike Scott are able to hit three’s off the bench, as can Matisse Thybulle and Zhaire Smith.

And in the end, scoring won’t be a problem if they’re holding teams to the low 100’s or less a night.

If Simmons Can Start Making Three’s….

You’ll be hard pressed to find someone who doesn’t think Simmons needs to develop at least a 15-foot jump shot for his in-game repertoire. Simmons is about to turn 23 and can do just about everything else required of a superstar basketball player, except shoot in games.

Recently you might’ve seen social media pictures of Simmons and Tobias Harris working out on the west coast. Turns out, Simmons took a couple of long jumpers during these sessions, and made them.

“Everybody was trying to figure out whey I was guarding him at the three-point line,” Tobias Harris said. “It was really because he hit two of them. I dared him to shoot two of them. He hit two in a row.” 

Harris said Simmons’ jump shot is looking "really good." We’ve seen Simmons make jumpers before in shoot around, warmup settings, but rarely in a game. 

If he adds that to his in-game arsenal, watch out.

To Sum Things Up…

This roster is balanced and stacked, beyond the defensively strong starting five. Depth was an issue at many points a season ago. Right now, I see five, maybe even six or seven, guys Brown can go to off his bench. Horford’s age may be concerning, but in terms of this season, he’s still a borderline All-Star. The Sixers immediate goal is to win a championship this season. Brand and Josh Harris used terms like “championship DNA” and “serious winning” Friday morning. Despite losing Butler and Redick, those phrases are relevant, and even more so with the group they’ve assembled for 2019-20.​

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