The NBA offseason is coming to an end which means that the season is right around the corner. In Philadelphia, the offseason consisted of your typical draft process, free agent signings, summer league, preseason, but no one could’ve predicted the ongoing Ben Simmons saga would be the talk of the entire NBA. With the season fast approaching, it’s time we evaluate what the upcoming 76ers season might look like. To do so, let’s look at some key points that I believe might summarize the fate of the Sixers in 2021-22.
Your New “Starting” Point Guard: Tyrese Maxey
Tyrese Maxey was the Sixers 2020 first round draft pick out of Kentucky. Maxey played in 61 of the teams 72 games last season and averaged eight points and two assists while averaging about 15 minutes per game. With Ben Simmons’ status with the team being up in the air, the responsibility of starting PG would fall right into Maxey’s lap. Tyrese was a solid piece off the bench, and he showed major improvement throughout the year. One of Doc Rivers’ biggest gripes was Maxey’s defense coming into the 2020-21 season. Maxey ended the year a much-improved defender and showed his ability to work on all aspects of his game (one thing Simmons has failed to do so far).
This year could be a breakout year for Tyrese as he will be given the opportunity to prove himself as a solid starting PG. In the eight games that he got the opportunity to start last season, Maxey averaged nearly 20 points, 4 rebounds and 4 assists. He also had a 39-point performance in his first start ever, the most points ever scored by a rookie in their first start. Maxey has done nothing but show that he is willing to work hard and give the game his all. This season, given Simmons’ absence, he can prove himself on the court and give the Sixers major upside moving forward.
Doc Rivers: Year 2
All in all, Doc Rivers was one of the best coaching additions in the NBA last season. In his first year with Philly, he led the Sixers to the top seed in the Eastern Conference. However, the Sixers still failed to lift the Larry O’Brien trophy in July. Most will blame Ben Simmons fully for the loss to the Atlanta Hawks, however, there’s a reason why Rivers has been known to miss the Conference Finals A LOT. In a Conference Semi-Finals series, your team should never be running an 11-man rotation. Teams like Milwaukee and Brooklyn keep their star players like Giannis, KD, Middleton, Harden, etc. on the floor basically the entire game in crucial series like that. Understandably, Ben Simmons was a shooting liability, but that’s an issue I’ll discuss later. Simmons shouldn’t be the excuse that George Hill is getting 21 minutes in a Game 7. Doc, the regular season and the playoffs are two different beasts. You can get the one seed every year, but you’ll fall flat on your face every single time if you do not decide to run with your lineup and keep guys on the floor. We want a championship in Philadelphia, not the consolation prize.
As if Joel Embiid couldn’t have proved himself anymore to Philadelphia fans, he went on an absolute TEAR in the 2020-21 season. Embiid finished the season averaging nearly 29 points, 11 rebounds, and 3 assists all while shooting just over 50% from FG. Joel also finished second in the MVP voting just behind Nikola Jokic making him the first Sixer to finish top two in MVP voting since Allen Iverson. Night in and night out Embiid would leave it all out on the floor, putting as much as he can into each game. Everyone saw how much he had improved and dominated with a bit more of a spaced floor and paint. One thing stuck with him, however, that wasn’t such an upside: his injuries. Embiid missed 21 games in the regular season after battling different soreness and injuries. In the playoffs, Embiid suffered from a slightly torn meniscus (which he ultimately decided to play through). Although Embiid is dominant on the court, the Sixers need him to be conditioned and ready to play.
In training camp, Embiid has said he feels like he’s 100% healthy and ready for another season. The 7-footer did not get surgery on the meniscus in the offseason but has been a full go since the beginning of training camp. Embiid’s teammates have been vocal about how much Joel has taken over his leadership role and shown he wants to win this year. Tyrese Maxey has said “When your franchise guys like…Joel have great spirit and great energy… that’s really good. When your top guys do it, it trickles all the way down.” Joel is proving to his teammates and the fans he’s ready to get back on the court and work. He’s here to work for now, not for the future. Embiid’s dominance isn’t over, so I’d keep an eye out for another MVP run in Philadelphia.
And Now Starring: The Sixers Supporting Cast!
The big part of a team is always who you surround your star players with. Joel Embiid and Tobias Harris (and Ben Simmons?) are on the highest level of basketball on the team; however, they’re surrounded by some solid pieces. The rest of the starting lineup will consist of Seth Curry, Danny Green, and, as previously mentioned, Tyrese Maxey (if Ben Simmons does not play). Seth Curry proved to be a reliable three-point shooter for Joel Embiid, similar to JJ Redick, as did two-time NBA champion Danny Green. Shooters were one of the biggest needs for the Sixers and to retain those two players was important. Off the bench the sixers have Matisse Thybulle, Furkan Korkmaz, Shake Milton, and one of the weirdest signings this NBA offseason, Andre Drummond. Korkmaz and Milton both provide decent shooting off the bench with both going on different hot streaks throughout the year. Matisse could elevate his game this season. Thybulle played in the Olympics for team Australia this offseason and showed glimpses of an offensive side to his already stellar defense. After the loss of Dwight Howard in the offseason (the best backup center in the Embiid era), the Sixers needed to make up some ground, Adding Andre Drummond did just that. The Sixers added the two-time all-star to provide great defense in the paint while Embiid rests up on the bench. If you think Howard was a great addition off the bench, get ready for Drummond.
The depth of a roster can prove who has a championship caliber team compared to just simply playoff caliber. Teams like the Heat, Celtics, and the reigning champion Bucks prove to be teams that can compete for a potential title. The Brooklyn Nets are in a league of their own. They have the best all-around starting lineup in the East; however, their bench pieces are weak. This is when the ability of KD, James Harden, and Kyrie being able to play 42 minutes of a game will whip out the need for the strongest bench in the league. The Sixers stack up right in the title race. They have all the pieces needed to have a complete team and make a strong push for the Finals. The East is stronger this year than last, but the Sixers supporting cast is ready to battle in the trenches.
The Ongoing Ben Simmons Saga
Ben Simmons has been arguably the most talked about player this NBA offseason. It’s hard not to hear what the next headline is of Simmons, or what his next opinion is on his situation. However, the question remains: Will Ben Simmons play with the Sixers this year? Earlier this week, talks started to heat up that Simmons would be returning to Philadelphia. Hours after that report, the three-time all-star showed up on the doorstep of the Wells Fargo Center asking for a COVID test due to NBA protocol. Then reports started to come out that Simmons was getting a physical to rejoin the team. Through all of this, however, it was still reported that the Sixers would be seeking a trade for Simmons. As much as I wish I could speculate what’s going to happen in the future with Simmons, the events of this past week have left me even more up in the air about everything that I have no clue about what will happen. Doc Rivers was reported saying “I’m assuming he’s going to play, but who knows. I can’t get into anyone’s head.” Based on this quote, I will also take Doc’s stance and assume that Simmons will play for the Sixers. Now, here’s where things can get even more complicated. There’s two ways I see Simmons playing in Philadelphia again:
Scenario 1: Simmons returns to the court in Philadelphia. He takes the criticism from the fans, improves his game, and the Sixers continue to win games. He understands his role in Philly, apologizes to his teammates, coaches, staff, etc. All is forgiven and Ben Simmons is a superstar.
Scenario 2: Ben Simmons is here for one reason and one reason only: he wants to be traded and not lose money. He’s returned to bring up his value and get out of Philadelphia midseason. He’ll help Philly while he is here but is still looking to leave ASAP.
Though the Simmons speculation is just as stated: SPECULATION, truthfully, only time will tell what the future holds for Simmons. As the headline states, this saga hasn’t come to an end, and it won’t anytime soon. Until we find out what is truly going on, nothing can really be figured out about Simmons and his Sixers future. Will Simmons be the starting point guard for the Sixers season opening game on October 20 in New Orleans? We’ll just have to wait and see.
The Sixers are lining up to have another solid season this year. Maxey’s improvement, Embiid’s leadership, and the Sixers supporting cast are all great pieces for Doc Rivers to build his team off. The time could not have come better for the team to be on the championship chase with it seeming that Embiid is near the prime of his career. Their biggest question continues to be Ben Simmons’ status with the team, but, regardless, even without Simmons, the team is looking to be a solid contender in the East. The Sixers season tips-off in New Orleans against the Pelicans on October 20. Their first home game is October 22 against the Brooklyn Nets.