76ers Bubble Preview - Part 4

Bill Gorman, Sports Talk Philly Contributor

Note – this is the third in a four-part series to preview the 76ers return to NBA action, see part one here and part 2 here, and part 3 here

 We have now reached the final segment of our 76ers Bubble Preview. The first three parts featured Indiana, San Antonio, Washington, Orlando, Portland and Phoenix. This week we will be taking on the Toronto Raptors and the Houston Rockets

Toronto Raptors

Pre-stoppage record: 46-18 (2nd in East)
Key players: Pascal Siakam (23.5 PPG, 7.6 RPG, 3.6 APG) Kyle Lowry (20.0 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 7.6 APG), Fred VanVleet(17.5 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 6.7 APG), Serge Ibaka (15.8 PPG, 8.2 RPG, 1.4 APG) 

Toronto comes into the Orlando bubble as a legitimate title contender. Not just because they won the 2019 NBA title, but because they have an excellent roster and one of the best coaches in the NBA in Nick Nurse. Of the 76ers’ eight opponents in the seeding games in Orlando, these Raptors, along with the Houston Rockets, present the greatest test.

Offensively, the Raptors can really come at you in waves. Pascal Siakam, in his third year out of New Mexico, has taken the leap from “sturdy 3-and-D guy” to a legitimate offensive threat, replacing Kawhi Leonard as the team’s lead option. Kyle Lowry has always provided a steady hand in running the offense, and can be counted on to provide plenty of offense from the perimeter. Fred VanVleet, like Siakam, has flourished in an expanded role, providing playmaking and strong outside shooting. Nurse gives this team a variable offense that can adjust to its opponents’ defensive schemes, and though it relies a lot on three-pointers (7th in the league in attempts), the Raptors are really good at hitting them (6th in the league at 37.1%), with six of their regulars averaging 38% or better with at least 3.3 attempts a night.

All that said, where the Raptors really shine is on the defensive end, sitting 2nd in the NBA in defensive rating (105.2 points/100 possessions). Lowry and Siakam continue to be menaces on the perimeter while Marc Gasol is still one of the league’s better interior defenders. Nurse has been known as a particularly creative defensive coach since his time in the G-League, so it is no surprise to see how variable his teams are defensively, switching seamlessly between man and zone concepts depending on the opponents’ lineup. The Raptors are so good defensively that you might even see them change defensive concepts in mid-possession, and they are cohesive enough to pull that off.

Houston Rockets 

Pre-stoppage record: 40-24 (fourth in West) 

Key players: James Harden (34.6 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 7.4 APG), Russell Westbrook (27.5 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 7.0 APG), Robert Covington (12.8 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 1.5 SPG) 

This just might be the most interesting games for the Sixers out of their eight seeding games. It is going to be the clash of old school versus new school in terms of roster construction. 

At the trade deadline this year the Rockets decided to shock the NBA and trade away their starting center and pick up no big men to replace him. They run the smallest lineup in the league and base their game around playing fast and shooting a lot of three-pointers. It will be interesting to see this matchup of a super small lineup versus the Sixers' lineup of size of length. 

The Sixers are going to have their hands full in this game. Not only with trying to slow down the backcourt of Harden and Westbrook, but chasing around all of Houston's shooters on the perimeter. Guys like Josh Richardson, Matisse Thybulle, and Ben Simmons are really going to have to play strong on the outside on defense.

On the other side of the ball, this should be a big game for Joel Embiid. There is nobody on the Rockets' lineup with the size or strength to slow down Embiid at rim. Taking advantage of the size mismatch is going to be a huge key for the Sixers if they want to win this game.

It will be interesting to see if Joel Embiid will be able to stay on the floor defensively with the Rockets spending all their time on the perimeter, but he should be nothing but dominant on the offensive side of the ball. 

Whichever team controls the pace will most likely walk away with the win in this game. If the Rockets get off to the races and turn the game into a track meet and shootout the Sixers are going to struggle playing catch-up. But if the Sixers can keep the game at their pace and let Embiid do his work down low they should walk away with the win.

It is going to be old-school versus new-school in this game, should be an interesting and fun game to watch for basketball fans. 

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76ers Bubble Preview Part III

 

Bill Gorman, Sports Talk Philly Contributor

Note – this is the third in a four-part series to preview the 76ers return to NBA action, see part one here and part two here

 We have now reached the second half of our 76ers Bubble Preview. The first two parts featured Indiana, San Antonio, Washington and Orlando. This week we will be taking on the Phoenix Suns and Portland Trail Blazers.

Portland Trail Blazers

Pre-stoppage record: 29-37 (ninth in West) 

Key players: Damian Lillard (28.9 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 7.8 APG), CJ McCollum (22.5 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 4.3 APG), Carmelo Anthony (15.3 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 37.1 3P%) 

This game is going to be a good test for the Sixers. With Portland currently sitting in the ninth seed in their conference they are going to be bringing their all, and they have multiple threats to throw at the Sixers. 

Although the Sixers beat the Blazers when they faced off in the regular season, they will be seeing a much different Trail Blazers team this time around. In this time off the Trail Blazers were also able to get healthy, getting back starters Zach Collins and Jusuf Nurkic. 

One key area the Sixers are going to have to focus on in this game in finishing possessions on defense. Although the Blazers are near the bottom in the league in points per game, they are just outside the top ten in offensive rebounding. The Sixers need to make sure they finish all their possessions on defense down to the rebound and don't allow the Blazers to pick up easy points.  

A matchup like this will give the Sixers a chance to show just how strong they are on the defensive side of the ball. They are going to have their hands full on the perimeter with Lillard and McCollum, and will have to deal with the size of Nurkic and Collins in the frontcourt. 

When fully healthy the Trail Blazers are a very good basketball team. Although it does it seem with where they sit right now but you cannot forget that Portland was in the conference finals last year. This game has a chance to have playoff vibes to it and will give the Sixers an opportunity to show that they can stop a superstar talent when it matters.

Phoenix Suns

Pre-stoppage record: 26-39 (13th in West)

Key players: Devin Booker (26.1 pts /4.2 reb/6.6 ast), DeAndre Ayton (19/12/1.9),  Ricky Rubio (13.1/4.6/8.9)

Phoenix came into the season with the goal of reaching the playoffs for the first time since 2010 (where they lost the Western Conference Finals to the Lakers) or at least cracking the .500 mark since their surprising 2013-2014 season (48-34, but still finished 9th in a loaded conference). They brought in a new coach in former 76ers assistant Monty Williams and made some moves to upgrade the frontcourt, signing Aron Baynes and former 76er Dario Saric.

Unfortunately (that word keeps coming up in these previews), 2018 #1 overall pick DeAndre Ayton tested positive for a banned substance and was suspended for 25 games after playing on Opening Night. His absence left a large hole in the middle of the Phoenix lineup, and as competent as Baynes is he was not able to fill it.

The Suns had many issues this season, as is the case with most teams sporting a .400 winning percentage.  Defensively they allow 113.9 points per night, with rebounding being one of their larger problems on that end (22nd overall, 24th in defensive rebounding). That rebounding problem can be attributed some to the absence of Ayton, but it is alarming that a team that gives up the 6th-most three-point attempts per night is also that bad at rebounding misses.

Offensively, when you consider the combined efforts of Booker, Ayton and Kelly Oubre Jr (18.7 points per night but is out for the season with a knee injury), you would think that the Suns would put up better overall numbers. But despite the ninth-fastest pace in the league, they’re 14th in the league in points per night (112.6). Their offense is not helped by giving up the ball, with the ninth-most turnovers with 15.1 giveaways/game. Saric, who started the year struggling to get minutes, began to contribute more as his minutes increased just before the stoppage of play, averaging 14.5 points and 6.4 rebounds in the final eight games. If he remains a part of the rotation in the bubble he could help Phoenix surprise an opponent or two.

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76ers Bubble Preview - Part 2

Bill Gorman, Sports Talk Philly Contributor

Note – this is the second in a four-part series to preview the 76ers return to NBA action, see part one here

In Part one of our 76ers bubble preview we covered the team’s matchups with the Indiana Pacers and the San Antonio Spurs. In this edition, we will be tackling the Washington Wizards and the Orlando Magic.


Washington Wizards

Pre-stoppage record: 24-40 (ninth in East)
Key players: Rui Hachimura (13.4 pts/6.0 reb/1.7 ast, 47.8% FG), Ish Smith (10.5/3.2/4.8, 36.7% 3FG), Thomas Bryant (12.1/6.8/1.9, 59.9% FG)

The Wizards entered the 2019-2020 season with a roster that more closely resembled the process 76ers of old than the moderately successful Washington teams that had challenged for berths in the Eastern Conference Finals in recent memory. Bradley Beal surprisingly inked a two-year extension to stay in Washington, and even more surprisingly did not immediately demand a trade.

John Wall continued his absence due to a ruptured Achilles’ tendon suffered in February 2019. Dwight Howard, Tomas Satoransky, Bobby Portis and almost every other NBA-caliber player on the 2018-2019 version of the team was either traded, released or allowed to leave via free agency. The Wizards were expected to challenge for the #1 spot in the 2020 NBA Lottery.

Two important factors got in the way in their race to the bottom, however. First, they play in the East, home to five of the bottom seven teams in the NBA, and that would have been the bottom six had the Warriors still had Stephen Curry this season. Second, coach Scott Brooks implemented a system that created more wide-open threes (as opposed to the self-created, off the dribble variety the team tended to take in the past) and encouraged players to get shots up whenever they were available. As a result, the Wizards were third in the league in three-point percentage (led by Davis Bertans’s 42.4% on 8.7 attempts per night) and sixth in the league in points per game. Bradley Beal blossomed without Wall in the lineup, standing second in the league in scoring at 30.5 points per game while also dishing out 6.2 assists.

Defensively, however, they were 29th in points allowed per night, despite forcing the third most turnovers in the league, which in turn led to a 24-40 record and a firm spot outside of the playoffs when the season stopped in March.

It was a surprise to see Washington included in the NBA’s restart because they were so far behind the eighth-place Magic in the standings. Presumably, the league felt a need to include any team that COULD catch the eighth seed in their conference in eight games, so the Wizards were invited to Orlando.

Unfortunately for the Wizards, leading scorers Beal (torn rotator cuff) and Bertans (fear of re-injuring  twice-torn ACL prior to free agency), who combined for 45.9 points per night, will not be joining them in Disney.  This will leave the bulk of the scoring load on the young shoulders of Rui Hachimura (13.4 points per night on a decent 47.8% field goal percentage, especially when you consider he shot 27.4% from 3)). Jordan McCrae (12.8 ppg in 29 games), Thomas Bryant (12.1 points/6.8 rebounds) and Troy Brown (9.4 points) will also be expected to contribute more scoring.

Orlando Magic

Pre-stoppage record: 30-35 (eighth in East) 

Key players: Nikola Vucevic (19.5 PPG, 11.0 RPG, 3.7 APG), Evan Fournier (18.8 PPG, 3.2 APG, 40.6 3P%), Aaron Gordon (14.4 PPG, 7.6 RPG, 3.7 APG) 

The Magic gave the Sixers some issues this season. Although both were close games, the Magic picked up two wins over the Sixers. Sitting in the eighth seed the Magic are going to be playing hard in these seeding games to move up to avoid a first-round series against the Bucks. 

It's no surprise the Magic have been able to compete with the Sixers as they are one of the few teams with the size to match them. Led by All-Star center and former Sixer Nikola Vucevic and forward Aaron Gordon, the Magic have a roster full on length and athleticism. The Magic also have good shooting on their roster like Evan Fournier who is having a career year shooting the ball from deep.

The Magic have a few blasts from the past for the Sixers, biggest being former number one overall pick Markelle Fultz. Although things did not pan out in Philly, Fultz looks to be making the most of his new home. This season for the Magic he averaged 12.1 PPG, 3.3 RPG, and 5.2 APG while shooting just under 50% from the field.  

This game gives the Sixers another chance to rectify one of their biggest issues this season, dropping games to below average teams. Although the Magic currently sit in a playoff spot, there is no reason why the Sixers should drop this game when they face off. Facing off against a young athletic team like the Magic will give the Sixers a chance to see how their new lineup will look in a fast-paced game. 

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76ers Bubble - Part One Preview

Bill Gorman, Sports Talk Philly Contributor

Note – this will be the first in a four-part series to preview the 76ers return to NBA action

Your Philadelphia 76ers will be returning to the court on August 1st for an eight-game sprint to the end of the regular season. These eight games will help teams close out TV contracts that require 70 games to be broadcast locally, but will also determine playoff seeding (or, in the case of five of the Western Conference’s participants, playoff participation). The 76ers are one of twenty-two teams to gain entry into the NBA’s “bubble” in Orlando, FL.

The teams’ opponents were determined by taking their remaining games, eliminating teams that did not qualify for the bubble (New York, Atlanta, Charlotte, Chicago, Cleveland and Detroit from the East, Minnesota, Golden State from the West), and plotting the next eight games from there.

As a result, the 76ers will play the following teams – Indiana, San Antonio, Orlando, Washington, Portland, Phoenix, Toronto and Houston. Today, Kevin McCormick and I will preview the games against San Antonio and Indiana, respectively.

Indiana Pacers

Pre-stoppage record – 39-26 (t-5th in East)
Key players – Malcolm Brogdon (16.3 PPG/4.7 RPG/7.1 APG), Domantas Sabonis (18.5 PPG/12.4 RPG/5.0 APG ), TJ Warren (18.7 PPG/4.0 RPG/1.4 APG), Myles Turner (11.8 PPG/6.5 RPG/1.1 APG with 2.2 BPG)

The Pacers were off to a surprisingly good start, banking a 39-26 record before the season’s pause due to COVID-19.  That record was surprising mainly due to the absence of star guard Victor Oladipo, who missed 11 months thanks to a torn quadriceps tendon.

He was able to return for 13 games before the shutdown, looking a bit rusty both due to the lengthy rehab but also trying to reintegrate to a team that had replaced much of his play making with the combination of Malcolm Brogdon (FA signing from Milwaukee) and newly-minted All-Star Domantas Sabonis. The Pacers were able to frustrate opponents by slowing games down (23rd in the NBA in pace at 98.5 possessions per game) and with a solid defense (7th in defensive rating at 108.3 points allowed/100 possessions).

It must be pointed out, however, that while the Pacers were playing well, they did struggle mightily against teams who had winning records as of the league’s suspension. They were 10-15 in such games, 3-8 on the road.

In other bad news for Indiana, Oladipo (continuing rehab for his quad injury) and Jeremy Lamb (torn ACL) will not be making the trip to Orlando. They should be getting Brogdon back from a torn hip, helping to provide not only play making and solid defensive play but also spacing for a lineup that takes the fewest three-pointers in the league.

Indiana comes into Orlando tied with the 76ers for the 5th spot in the East but they will be facing a brutal close to their season, finishing with games against the Lakers, Heat (2x) and the Rockets.

San Antonio Spurs 

Pre-stoppage record: 27-36 (12th in West) 

Key players: DeMar DeRozan (22.2 PPG/5.6 RPG/ 5.6 APG) LaMarcus Aldridge (18.9 PPG/ 7.4 RPG/ 2.4 APG) Dejounte Murray (10.7 PPG/ 4.6 RPG/ 5.8 APG/ 1.7 SPG) 

For the first time in decades the Spurs find themselves on the outside looking in of the playoff picture as the season comes to an end. After years of consistency and success, the Spurs look like they might be heading into a rebuild. Although they have star talent in DeRozan and Aldridge, they have just not been enough to get the team into the playoff hunt. 

These two teams faced off against each other back in November. The Sixers would go on to beat the Spurs by a final score of 115-104. 

Offense has not be an issue for the Spurs this season, it has been their defense. San Antonio had a top ten offense in the NBA prior to the suspension scoring 113.2 PPG. Their struggle was slowing teams down, opponents were scoring 114.9 PPG against them which was 24th in the entire NBA. 

This should be a game where the Sixers should look to capitalize on their size. The Spurs do not have the kind of size to match Joel Embiid down low. All in all this is a matchup the Sixers should walk away with a win in. 

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How Will The NBA Playoffs Look?

The NBA appears to be poised to return, and it could happen as early as July.

There have been a number of proposals for how NBA teams will return, ranging from how many teams would be returning to which stage of the season they would be returning to.  The consensus is that all of the games would take place in a single location, likely Orlando, FL (though rumors of Las Vegas continue to swirl). Teams would have a local training camp, followed by a short camp at the games’ location.

For the most part, your Philadelphia 76ers are going to be locked in to an early series against the Boston Celtics, but there would be some interesting roads for them to reach the NBA Finals depending on how the brackets are set up.

https://www.nbcsports.com/washington/wizards/how-mark-cubans-proposed-regular-season-and-expanded-playoff-format-nbas-return-could

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has proposed a format that allows all 30 teams the opportunity to play five more regular season games, which would allow most franchises to fulfill their regional sports networks’ requirement of 70 games to guarantee full payment for the season.

After these five games are complete, the top 10 teams in each conference would be seeded 1-10. The 9th and 10th place teams would play in a do-or-die one-game matchup for the privilege of playing the 8th seed in a five-game series for the chance to play the conference’s top team (Milwaukee or the LA Lakers.)

Upside – Every fanbase will have an opportunity to see their teams on television a few more times. Teams will be able to fulfill some financial obligations.

Downside – The playoff setup is a bit clunky and would have 14 teams sitting on the sidelines while six are playing meaningful games

Verdict – I give credit to Cuban for coming up with something. But this simply is not novel enough to be that interesting, and it is pretty clunky. Thumbs down.

How it would affect the 76ers – Other than providing a five-game warmup, it provides a chance to break their tie with the Pacers for 5th in the East (both teams are currently 39-26). It would also provide a long-shot chance to pass the Miami Heat for 4th place, not that home-court advantage is something that teams will need in this environment.

The next idea was reported by Brian Windhorst on ESPN’s “Get Up” on Monday morning, and would have the league come back after their camps and immediately commence the playoffs. In this report, the 16 teams in playoff positions as of March 12th would be the teams that qualified. This would eliminate teams that were coming on strong like the New Orleans Pelicans and Portland Trail Blazers and allow the Memphis Grizzlies to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2017. It would also put an end to the record-tying streak of 22 consecutive seasons in the playoffs for the San Antonio Spurs.

The wrinkle in this particular plan is that all of the teams in the playoffs would be seeded 1-16, rather than the traditional 1-8 from each conference. This would create a few cross-conference matchups, such as #8 Miami vs. #9 Oklahoma City and #2 LA Lakers vs. #15 Brooklyn (an intriguing possibility if injured stars Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant returned).

Upside – Could provide a glimpse into the future of the NBA playoffs, as this playoff format has been one that Adam Silver reportedly prefers as a long-term solution.

Downside – For traditionalists, the elimination of conferences at any point is a sore spot.

Verdict – It is an interesting thought, and one that has been bandied about in some journalist’s dreams. That said it is unlikely to pass through a majority of Eastern Conference owners, who want the guarantee that one of their teams would be in the Finals, come hell or high water.

How it affects the 76ers – Not a lot. They would be playing the Celtics in the 5-12 matchup. Their road to the semi-finals would require a matchup with the LA Clippers rather than the Toronto Raptors, but that feels like a wash.

Next we have a proposal that was included in a survey sent to NBA owners last week. In this idea, the top 20 teams in the league, regardless of conference, would be organized into four groups in a fashion similar to the FIFA World Cup. How those teams would be selected is up for some debate (could be the top 4 teams selecting their opponents, though it more likely would be random selection).

The 20 teams would be split into five tiers, with no two teams from any tier playing against each other in a group. In this scenario, the top four teams (Milwaukee, LA Lakers, Toronto and LA Clippers) would be the top team in each group. Then teams 5-8 (Boston, Denver, Utah and Miami) would be placed, followed by 9-12 (which would include the 76ers), 13-16 and finally 17-20.  Once the groups are organized, each team plays the other teams in their group twice, with the top two teams in each group advancing to the quarterfinals. Ties would be broken by the teams’ regular-season win %.

I ran 500 scenarios of groups being drawn, and the consensus led me to the following groups

Group 1 – LA Clippers, Denver, Houston, Orlando, Portland
Group 2 – Toronto, Utah, Indiana, Memphis, San Antonio (this will heretofore be known as the NBA TV group, because I can’t think of anyone who wants to see many games between these teams)
Group 3 – LA Lakers, Miami, Oklahoma City, Brooklyn, Sacramento
Group 4 – Milwaukee, Boston, Philadelphia, Dallas, New Orleans

These groups do include some of the same matchups we’d see in a 1-16 scenario (Boston-Philly, Toronto-Memphis, LA-Brooklyn, Miami-OKC), but for the most part there’s a lot more novelty here. Another plus here is that the average first-round since the NBA went to 7-game series for every round has been 44 games and would max out at 56– the group concept guarantees you 80. That would be a minimum of 24 more chances to gamble on games!

Upside – It is certainly novel. Allows more teams to participate in more games. Generates more upset potential (seeds 1-3 are 78-12 in first-round series since the most-recent format change in 2003).

Downside – Questions about how the draft lottery would work still linger. Traditionalists would again be up in arms, despite the opportunity for nearly twice as many games in the first round.  Arguably clunkier than the Cuban proposal, but since this is essentially how every major international soccer tournament in the world operates, it is less of a mystery.

Verdict – This is my favorite proposal. It thinks outside of the box. It is not likely to be done again, even if it is a rousing success this season, simply because a group stage where teams are not all playing in the same city would be unworkable.

How it affects the 76ers – As shown above, they would still have to go through the Bucks and Celtics to get to the Finals, though in this case it would happen at the same time. From a fan perspective – the opportunity to get two more games against Luka Doncic and the chance to see Zion Williamson would be phenomenal.

The last proposal is for the top 8 teams in each conference to begin their playoffs in the standard format. It is by far the most boring proposal, but it is also the one most likely to occur. Because if there is one thing that NBA owners enjoy, it is doing the same thing over, and over, and over again.

Upside – This is what we know. Familiarity breeds a feeling of safety, and safety is a feeling many crave at this point.

Downside – This is exactly what we know. No novelty whatsoever.

Verdict – As stated above, this is the most likely scenario. It is not as fun as the other options, but any basketball at this point is preferable to what we have experienced since March 12.

How it affects the 76ers – Their playoff road would begin against the Celtics, then the winner of Raptors/Nets and presumably on to the Bucks or possibly the Heat.

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Grading the Sixers

By Bill Gorman, Sports Talk Philly Staff Writer

The 76ers entered the All-Star break in fifth place in the NBA Eastern Conference at 34-21, 12 ½ games behind Milwaukee for the top spot in the East and six games behind Toronto for the second seed. This is significantly behind what was expected, as many fans and media saw the offseason additions of Josh Richardson and Al Horford, and the retention of Tobias Harris as key elements to move into the NBA’s upper echelon and potentially earn a trip to the NBA Finals.

It’s difficult to pinpoint what has gone wrong and what has gone right. As poorly as things seemingly have gone this season, the 76ers are still on pace to win 50+ games, and have the league’s third-easiest remaining post-All-Star schedule. The sky, it seems, remains unfallen. With all of that said, let’s grade the players in their positional groups to see what improvements can be made.

(note – all statistics from basketball-reference.com unless otherwise specified)

(note 2 – Players no longer with the team were removed, so no grades for Trey Burke, James Ennis III or Jonah Bolden)

Ball Handlers

Ben Simmons 

Grade – A-

The good - A stat line of 19.5/8.9/8.3 over the last 28 games, attempting 2.5 more shots and 2.4 more free throws a night, plus 71% from the foul line over the last 12 games. He has clearly found an aggressiveness that eluded him early in the season. All-Defense level performance on the defensive end, leading the league in steals and being an all-around menace to ball-handlers and potential drivers alike. A second All-Star appearance. Not one, but TWO three-pointers made.

The maybe not-so-good – A stat line of 14.1/6.8/8.4 to start the year combined with 56% from the free throw line. His early season desire to concede shots and usage to Harris, Richardson and Horford may have cost the team a win or two along the way.

Raul Neto 

Grade – C-

The good – 19 points in one half against Golden State. And this was not a garbage-time performance either – this was “Ben Simmons isn’t coming back in for a few minutes because Neto is on fire.” Neto has been a calming presence on the offense, patiently working the team into its sets and providing spacing around the non-shooters.

The maybe not-so-good – Those 19 points accounts for 11% of Neto’s entire point output for this season. He’s committed 35 turnovers against just 64 assists, and while part of that can be chalked up to playing late-game minutes with lesser players, much has been attributable to difficulty adjusting to pressure. He also has not been the defensive pest the team envisioned when they signed him as a nominal TJ McConnell replacement.

Wings

Tobias Harris

Grade – B

The good – A fantastic stretch from mid-November through the new year where he averaged 20.6 points per game and shot nearly 40% from three. He has even made some strides defensively, putting in a ton of work to be able to stand up to bigger wings and traditional power forwards.

The maybe not-so-good – The first 11 games of the year, when he averaged 20% from deep (despite opening 6-11 in the first two games) and putting up just 12.3 points per night. Harris has also struggled to find his place with the ascendance of Simmons, passing up wide-open threes in favor of more contested mid-range two-point attempts.

Josh Richardson

Grade – B-

The good – Richardson has been an outstanding defender, helping Simmons lock down opposing guards and wings to great effect. He has been a competent ball handler, which has allowed Brown to push Neto to the bench and Burke to the street. And he has established a very solid mid-range game, shooting 57.5% from 16 feet out, despite shooting just 33.9% from three.

The maybe not-so-good – He has struggled to stay on the floor thanks to a nagging hamstring injury. He has been below-average from the three-point line (33.9%) and has turned the ball over more than he ever has in his career (13.4% turnover rate).

Mike Scott

Grade – F+

The good – It has been few and far between from Scott this year. He did put up 15 in the 76ers’ lone road win over a +.500 team this season (at Boston in December), so, you know, he’s got that going for him.

The absolutely not good – He has been poor defensively. He is shooting below the league average from 3 (34%) despite his range being the one skill that was supposed to keep him on the floor. Pretty much his entire season has been bad.

Matisse Thybulle

Grade – B

The good – Thybulle has been better than advertised on the defensive end of the floor, sitting at 21st in the league in steals per game despite playing just 20.9 minutes a night. He’s also among the league leaders in deflections and is third among all rookies in blocked shots. He has also been a viable floor spacer, shooting 37.3% from deep on 2.7 attempts a night.

The maybe not-so-good – He has struggled from time to time with foul trouble, which is expected for a rookie who’s aggressive on the defensive end. He has also disappeared on the offensive end for long stretches of games, which means if he’s not making a radical defensive impact…and players are starting to adjust to his defensive skill…he’s not much use on the floor.

Furkan Korkmaz

Grade – B-

The good – Back to back 30-point performances have highlighted Korkmaz’s breakout season, in which he has career highs in minutes (21.3), scoring (9.6) and three-point % (39.2). He has parlayed a solid World Cup performance into a regular role off the bench, attacking 2nd units from deep and showing some decent moves in the lane as well. Also, he HAS improved defensively.

The maybe not-so-good – He has been atrocious on the road (40% from the field, 33% from deep). His defense, which before this year was best described as “the chair in the Darko Milicic workout video” has gone up to “you might be better but we’re still coming after you on every possession.”

Shake Milton

Grade – C

The good – Milton has shown some flashes but is currently lost in the shuffle on the perimeter. Had a good game against the Lakers and was a standout in the loss to Atlanta five days later.

The maybe not-so-good – He has improved on the defensive end (there appears to be a pattern here), but he still has too many lapses in concentration on that end.

Zhaire Smith

Grade – Incomplete

Mariol Shayok

Grade – Incomplete

The glut of perimeter players in Philadelphia has left Shayok and Smith spending most of their time in Delaware this season.

Bigs

Joel Embiid

Grade – B+

The good – When Embiid is on, he is nearly impossible to stop. He has had his share of games where he was entirely unstoppable. For the most part, when he’s on the floor, the 76ers are a top five team in the league, both offensively and defensively.

The maybe not-so-good –Like with Simmons, Richardson and Harris before…he has struggled with decreased attention and trying to figure out just what his role is, which has led to a decrease in field goal and free throw attempts. As much as I hate to ask it because it’s an annoying topic…is Joel Embiid too injury-prone to be the #1 piece on a title team?

Al Horford

Grade – C-

The good – Horford has been a defensive stalwart despite some very difficult matchups. He has maintained a positive attitude throughout a difficult season and accepted his move out of the starting lineup with professionalism.

The maybe not-so-good – The fit alongside Embiid and Simmons has not been great. It’s been hard to watch from time to time. And like every other starter he struggled to find his role as well. Hopefully his move to the bench as more of a backup to Embiid will unlock something in both Horford and the Sixers’ offense

Norvel Pelle

Grade – B

The good – I just tried to shoot a piece of paper into my trash can…Pelle came out of nowhere and blocked it. I didn’t even know he was here. But in all seriousness – he has been a big energy guy who blocks shots coming from the weakside AND against opposing bigs. You will see one or the other in this league, but not often both in the current climate. He parlayed his performance into a conversion of his original two-way contract to a full NBA deal after the trade deadline.

The maybe not-so-good – There has been little to complain about with Pelle – he does what he is good at (blocking shots, tip dunks and alley-oops) and doesn’t do what he is bad at (shooting, ball handling). A backup big who really understands his role and plays to his strengths is hard to find.

Kyle O’Quinn

Grade – C

The good – O’Quinn has been a solid veteran presence in the locker room and a fan favorite when he has had the opportunity to play…

The maybe not-so-good – …the problem is that he has not had many opportunities to play this season, thanks to Horford’s presence as a nominal backup center and Pelle’s emergence as a major defensive talent. There have been rumblings that O’Quinn would like to be released or bought out prior to March 1st so he can explore signing with a contender.

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76ers Stats: A Foul Situation Brewing?

By Bill Gorman, Sports Talk Philly Staff Writer

(note – all statistics are from basketball-reference.com unless otherwise noted)

2019-20 was supposed to bring a new brand of basketball to Philadelphia. With the additions of Al Horford and Josh Richardson, the team’s size would overwhelm opponents on both the defensive and offensive ends of the floor. The defense, for the most part, has held up its end of the bargain, allowing just 102.6 points per 100 possessions, good for third in the league.

Offensively, things have been a bit more disjointed. The 76ers are just 17th in the NBA in offensive rating, at 107.3 points per 100 possessions. They are 14th in 3-point percentage (with a slight decrease in attempts from last year) and seventh in overall field goal percentage. Where they really have lagged behind, both against the league this season and against their past performance, is at the free-throw line. They are 17th in the NBA at getting to the line (23.1 attempts per night) and 22nd in free-throw percentage (74.8%).

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76ers Stats: Living and Dying by the 3-Point Shot

All statistics from Basketball-Reference unless otherwise noted.

By Bill Gorman, Sports Talk Philly Staff Writer

In the 2018-19 season, the Philadelphia 76ers were 19th in the NBA in 3-point field goal attempts at 30.2 per game and were 18th in 3-point attempt rate (percentage of the team’s total shots that were from 3-point range) at 34.2%. They finished the season 8th in efficiency from behind the arc, hitting 35.8% of their long-distance attempts. What all of this means is they were pretty good at hitting threes but were behind the league average in taking them.

How did general manager Elton Brand react to this minor imbalance? By trading (or allowing to leave via free agency) four of the top five Sixers in terms of 3-point attempts (JJ Redick, Landry Shamet, Jimmy Butler and Mike Muscala). They then signed, drafted or traded for Al Horford, Josh Richardson and Matisse Thybulle. The team also brought back Furkan Korkmaz to have an expanded role as a shooter off the bench.

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The 76ers Offense is Struggling: Are More Post-Ups the Answer?

By Bill Gorman, Sports Talk Philly Staff Writer

Bully ball. It has been a popular refrain among local media, 76ers fans and even the organization since general manager Elton Brand signed 6-foot-10 Al Horford, traded for 6-foot-6 Josh Richardson and brought back 6-foot-9 Tobias Harris to form the largest starting lineup in the NBA along with the 6-foot-10 Ben Simmons and 7-foot Joel Embiid.

Heading into this season, fans and analysts alike had visions of five defenders all with enough quickness and length to switch on any and every pick and roll or screen action. With defensive-minded reserves like rookie first-round pick Matisse Thybulle (6-foot-5 with a 7-foot wingspan), James Ennis III (6-foot-7 with a 6-foot-11 wingspan) and Kyle O’Quinn (6-foot-10 with a 7-foot-5 wingspan), predictions that Philadelphia would shut every opponent down and keep opponents from clearing the 100-point mark on a regular basis ran rampant among fans. Through nine games so far this season, the team is sixth in the league in defensive rating (points per 100 possessions) at 102.4: Things are going as expected on that end of the floor.

The 76ers offense this season was always going to present the larger question. Losing players who had accounted for 48% of the team’s 3-point attempts in 2018-19 presented a challenge the team will be facing all season. Making the floor spacing work with a lineup consisting of Simmons (a non-shooter), Richardson (career 3-point percentage in the mid-30s), Harris (the lone "shooter" in the starting lineup) and the twin-towers of Embiid and Horford was always going to be an issue for head coach Brett Brown to figure out. The hope is that, as the season goes along, the starting lineup will gel together and as a result floor spacing will not be as much of an issue.

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Potential or Production: The Looming 76ers Draft Question

By Bill Gorman, Sports Talk Philly Staff Writer

Over the past two seasons, the Philadelphia 76ers have made it an organizational priority to add defensive specialists through the draft. Head coach Brett Brown highly values players who can play defense, and the organization has surely made strides in adding players over the last two offseasons, beginning in the 2018 NBA Draft, that fit his defensive philosophy. 

The team selected Villanova forward Mikal Bridges with the 10th pick of the 2018 NBA Draft. Bridges was thought to be a potential three-and-D player with lockdown potential and the ability to shoot 40% from beyond the arc, all while also possessing enough ball handling skill to run a team’s offense in short spurts. He had also played three years of college basketball, meaning he was seen as a ready-made NBA prospect.

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