The Philadelphia 76ers are in the midst of their best stretch of basketball of the season. They are on a six-game winning streak, with Joel Embiid leading the way and putting himself in the middle of the MVP conversation. Embiid, during the winning streak, has averaged 33.2 points, 10.5 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game. The 76ers currently sit fifth in the Eastern Conference at 22-16. One of the more promising things to take away from the team's winning streak is their ability to handle the lesser competition (Rockets, Magic and Spurs over the last three games), something they struggled with earlier in the season.
In this edition of 76ers observations, I dive into Tobias Harris getting into a groove, the viability of the Embiid-Drummond lineup and much more.
Tobias Harris finding his rhythm
What a whirlwind week it has been for Tobias Harris. The week began with him struggling against the Houston Rockets on Monday and getting booed by the Philadelphia faithful. By the end of the week, all was good between Harris and the fans, and Harris put together two of the best games of his season.
Aggressiveness and being decisive are the two things Harris has struggled with the most this season. He often ends up being a ball stopper because of his indecisiveness. He has been a lot more decisive and quick with his decision-making over the last two games, and the results have been great.
"The only play call for Harris was the first play of the game. … Other than that, he’s got good rhythm right now," head coach Doc Rivers said after the win over the Spurs. "He’s playing fast. You don’t see the ball sticking in his hands; it’s quick decisions. When he does that, he’s really good."
He has scored 20-plus points in each of the previous two games, something he had not done since the first two games of this season. He was particularly aggressive and efficient on Friday against the Spurs, when he scored 23 points on 9-of-12 shooting. When he makes quick decisions and attacks what the defense gives him, he becomes the player the 76ers thought they were getting when they paid him a max contract.
Tobias Harris getting to work in the post 🤯
19 points on 8/9 shooting (29.5 fantasy points). pic.twitter.com/rPIGaMByx0
— NBA Fantasy (@NBAFantasy) January 8, 2022
Is the Embiid-Drummond lineup viable?
Rebounding, otherwise known as the 76ers' Achilles' heel. They rank dead last in the NBA, grabbing just 42.2 rebounds per game. The 76ers might have found one solution to this recurring issue.
Doc Rivers, on Wednesday against the Orlando Magic, experimented with the rotation, playing both Joel Embiid and Andre Drummond together for roughly four minutes towards the end of the third quarter. The results of this surprising move wound up being pretty good.
The #Sixers went with an Embiid-Drummond lineup for a few minutes in the third quarter. It was the turning point of the game, with the team outscoring Orlando 13-4 to retake the lead.
Pretty shocked that Doc Rivers went to this lineup and how successful it was.
— Matt Gregan (@Gregan_Sports) January 6, 2022
On paper, having the two big men on the floor together should greatly improve the team's rebounding. Drummond is a rebound fiend, averaging 9.2 rebounds in only 19.2 minutes per game. The 76ers out-rebounded Orlando 5-2 in the short stretch they had the pairing on the floor.
The Embiid-Drummond pairing should also work stylistically. Drummond, offensively, plays mostly in the paint and grabs offensive rebounds. Embiid has the skill set to be able to function well working around the perimeter, the mid-range and the post. Embiid's role in these minutes would be similar to the way Anthony Davis plays on the Lakers. Is it ideal? No, but the pairing can work and the benefits in rebounding and inside defense should make the lineup a viable option to go to in short spurts.
Seth Curry becoming a do-it-all player and the growing partnership with Embiid
Seth Curry has effectively turned himself into a more well-rounded player since being traded to the 76ers before the 2020-21 season. He is more than just a knockdown 3-point shooter. He has the ability to run the offense and has vastly expanded his scoring repertoire to include drives to the basket and pulling up from the mid-range.
Over the last three games (since Tyrese Maxey went in the NBA's health and safety protocols), Curry has averaged 19.3 points, 8.0 assists and 6.3 rebounds per game. That might be a small sample size, but Curry has been showing off his ability to run the offense all season. He is averaging a career-high 3.9 assists per game, and in 16 games since the beginning of December his assists are up to 5.7 per game.
The two-man game with Embiid and Curry has grown tremendously this season. For Embiid, it is the best two-man game he has had since JJ Redick was on the Sixers. The comfort level finally seems to be there, and it is proving to be a drastic problem for teams across the league.
"It’s nice just watching them grow," Rivers said after the game against the Spurs. "We ran it a lot last year, it was good, but not like this. We showed them film, we ran loop three times in a row against Orlando, and got three different results. All were scores. One Joel caught it and drove, one Seth got a 3, the next one Joel rolls and gets a layup. It’s nice when you start building the one action because then you can disguise what you’re doing. So it’s been good."
Plays like the two shown below are happening on a daily basis, and it is near impossible to stop when both of them are playing at such a high level.
— Philadelphia 76ers (@sixers) January 8, 2022
I definitely feel like some of Joel Embiid's screening has been better this year.
His two-man game with Seth Curry has always been effective, but Embiid is creating so much space with screens like this: pic.twitter.com/EzAgy0U6Y6
— Tom West (@TomWestNBA) January 8, 2022
The two-man game between Embiid and Curry should continue to flourish this season. Curry is having a career year, averaging 16.3 points and 3.9 assists while also taking a much larger role in the offense. He is shooting 51.4 percent from the field on a career-high 12.0 attempts per game to go with his still lethal 3-point shooting ability (41.1 percent from 3-point range this season).