We made it — the summer is over, training camp and preseason have passed, and the regular season is just days away. It’s time for some predictions.
Prediction #1: The Sixers push for 60 wins, but fall in the high-50s
The most recent Vegas Over/Under I have seen for the Sixers is 55. I’m taking the over on that.
I wanted to write that this team would win 60 games, but there were two factors that swayed me into settling in the high-50s. The first is...
Prediction #2: The Sixers carefully manage Joel Embiid’s regular season workload, and for the first time he enters the playoffs at full strength. While this will do some damage to the team’s regular season record, and could very well cost them a chance at the top seed in the Eastern Conference, it’s something that has to be done. The second reason is...
Prediction #3: The Sixers have a noticeably slow start to the season on offense
The caveat here is that it will be a slow start relative to what we are used to. After the Jimmy Butler trade, the Sixers were a top five regular season offense during the regular season last year. I think that for a noteworthy portion of the early part of the season, this team will be around average. The talent may simply be too strong for this prediction to hold up for more than a few games, but with all of the wonky fits and the key departures of Butler and JJ Redick, I’m anticipating a slow start on offense.
Prediction #4: Josh Richardson wins the backup point guard job
On Media Day, it sounded like this positional battle would come down to Raul Neto and Trey Burke. And if it does still come down to these two, my money is on Neto. But the Sixers have gone to Richardson as a point guard frequently in the preseason, and it seems as if he is being groomed to back up Ben Simmons. If Richardson can hold down this spot with some success, it makes Brett Brown’s job significantly easier — obviously, it adds shot creation to the floor. But it also opens up wing minutes, where another player can be slid into the rotation. And that leads me to...
Prediction #5: Furkan Korkmaz is a legitimate bench contributor
If Richardson is the backup point guard, it allows for another wing to enter the rotation. While we all would have guessed that Zhaire Smith would play early on, it seems as if that wing is going to be Furkan Korkmaz. Korkmaz impressed me in the preseason — he was much more active defensively, seemed more comfortable with the ball in his hands and made good decisions. All of this to go with the potential of his three-point shot has me ready to Pop The Kork.
Prediction #6: Jonah Bolden is on a new team at the end of the year
I want to be clear that I am not out on Bolden as a player. But when looking at this roster, he is the easiest to justify moving when the time comes to bolster this team with midseason acquisitions. I do think there is a world where Bolden cuts down on mental mistakes and becomes a viable backup big — preferably at the four, where he has been better throughout his career. But it’s hard to see this team not trying to improve through trades in a few months, and he makes the most sense to be dealt. As for a specific deal...
Prediction #7: The Sixers trade Jonah Bolden, Trey Burke and a second-round pick to the New York Knicks for Reggie Bullock
The Sixers don’t have much ability to trade for players with medium-sized salaries. So when the time comes to look to improve their bench at the Trade Deadline, they will be focused on players with small salaries. Bullock is only making $4 million this year and barely more next year, and that 20-21 salary is only partially guaranteed ($1 million of $4.2 million is guaranteed). Bullock is a fantastic shooter, both on spot-ups and off movement. He makes a ton of sense for this team, especially if the offense experiences some buffering as I predicted earlier. A trade for a wing like Bullock would also make it more likely that...
Prediction #8: James Ennis III’s role nearly or entirely dissipates by the end of the season
James Ennis III was legitimately good for seven games against the Raptors, and I don’t think he gets enough credit for that. He was obviously playable in a high-level playoff series, and that’s no easy task. But I have a feeling that he won’t be relied on by the end of the year. I’m not necessarily saying he will be getting DNPs, but with the emergence of Matisse Thybulle, tempting potential of Smith, shooting ability of Korkmaz and a potential trade, there is definitely a path for his workload to drop off dramatically.
Prediction #9: Joel Embiid and Al Horford barely play together during the regular season
Across two and a half games playing together in the preseason, Embiid and Horford only shared the floor for two stints that were not the first five to six minutes of the game. After tracking the substitution patterns during each game, it is clear that there is a hard stagger of those two, perhaps even more strict than we anticipated.
Prediction #10: If a third Sixer makes the All-Star Game, it is Al Horford
Obviously, I’m assuming the first two All-Stars are Simmons and Embiid. The Sixers getting three representatives is very much in play given what will likely be an impressive win-loss record as well as being in the East. I’m banking on it being Horford and not Tobias Harris. I have to say, it is at least a little alarming to me that Harris has not shot the ball well from beyond the arc since January when he was with the Clippers. I would be surprised if Harris didn't return to being a clearly very good three-point shooter, as he has a long track record of being that leading up to his time in Philly. But I’m not sure we are going to see anything close to the 43.5 percent clip from deep Harris flashed in 55 games for the Clippers last season.
Prediction #11: The Sixers have the best defense in the league, and nobody comes close
I’ve been sitting on this one for months. Every time I think about it, I try to imagine how teams are going to score with consistency against this absolute monstrosity of a starting lineup. And every time, I come up empty. If this team wins the East or wins the championship, it will be because of their defense. The foursome of Richardson, Simmons, Horford and Embiid and the ability to have one of the two elite bigs patrolling the paint at all times lead me to believe that this defense will be unreal, and as a result...
Prediction #12: Four Sixers will be strongly considered for All-Defense Teams
Embiid and Horford will receive votes no matter what based on their track records as elite defensive players. But if this defense is as lethal as I speculate it is capable of being, there is no way Simmons and Richardson, both proud defenders with strong reputations, will not at the very least get votes. That’s how good this defense might be. Speaking of awards...
Prediction #13: Joel Embiid does not contend for MVP because of games played
As great as Embiid is, I just can’t sell myself on an MVP push when he probably will not play more than 65 to 70 games. It will also not help his case if...
Prediction #14: Al Horford fixes the Sixers’ problems with Joel Embiid off the floor
Let me be clear: when I say Horford will fix their problems when Embiid is off the floor, I do not mean they will be as dominant as when they have the man Brett Brown calls the “crown jewel.” But in years past, they have been incompetent when Embiid was off the floor. And on nights when Embiid is off, I’m not worried about sliding Horford up to the five. Obviously there will be some drop off, but I don’t think it’s possible for a team with Al Horford at center to be even close to as bad as some of the Embiid-less lineups the Sixers have tried over the last few years. Even Kyle O’Quinn, who will not be relied upon a ton, would probably be the best backup Embiid has ever had.
Prediction #15: Matisse Thybulle makes an All-Rookie Team
I didn't want to make a Thybulle prediction because it feels as if everyone is assuming he is going to make an instant impact. But after the preseason he just had, how could I not? He has been truly unbelievable at times. Even after watching a lot of his tape at Washington, it is jarring to see how often he makes disruptive plays on the defensive end. His combination of athleticism and long arms is useful enough as a defender — when paired with his elite defensive instincts, you now have a world-class defensive player on your hands.
Prediction #16: The Sixers cruise to the Conference Finals with little challenge
The Sixers have had a doozy of a second-round opponent two years in a row. First a Celtics team that was one awful three-point shooting performance away from the NBA Finals, and then the eventual champion Raptors. I’m not anticipating any sort of stress in round two this year. Teams like Boston, Toronto, Miami and Brooklyn will be good, but nowhere close to great. That takes us to Sixers-Bucks...
Prediction #17: The Sixers lose to the Bucks in the Eastern Conference Finals
I’m sorry. Please don’t get mad at me. After going back and forth on it literally dozens of times since July, I am settling on Milwaukee as my pick to win the Eastern Conference and the championship. I do have some questions about the Bucks, but I find comfort in not just knowing how they will look and play, but that it has worked before to the tune of a monster 60+ win season. Yes, I’m concerned about Eric Bledsoe becoming a shell of himself again. I’m not even particularly confident in Khris Middleton being the second-best player on a championship team. This is why it was so tough for me to make a pick — so, again, PLEASE DON’T GET MAD AT ME! This is far from a stone-cold lock, and I am far from confident in the prediction. But after writing all of these words, I felt obligated to make a call — and this is it.