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Sixers Christmas Wish List: Closing games, Joel Embiid’s happiness, and more

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Indiana Pacers v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

The 2019-20 NBA season has been an interesting one for the Philadelphia 76ers so far. There have been some ups and downs (mainly on offense), and the Sixers have a strong 22-10 record and the 5th seed in the Eastern Conference to show for it.

Now that Christmas is just hours away, I joined a few other members of the Liberty Ballers team to look at what we’d like from the Sixers for Christmas and the new year.

Tyler Monahan (Follow on Twitter @TMon_19): Closing games earlier

I think people are forgetting just how good the Sixers have been so far this year. They are one of the better teams in the Eastern Conference and have a legitimate shot at making it to the Finals if they clean up some issues. While they have been solid this year I would enjoy it if they learned how to close out opponents earlier in the game when given the chance instead of letting them linger.

Yes, a win is a win, but if the Sixers are able to really step on a team’s throat earlier in a game, it will give the fanbase a much more enjoyable watching experience. Besides the fans’ perspective, giving players who log heavy minutes like Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons some extra rest can only be beneficial. Sometimes boring fourth quarters are nice when you lead by 20 points. Maybe the Sixers can find that out for themselves in the new year.

Sean Kennedy (Follow on Twitter @PhillyFastBreak): Thybulle’s role

Assuming the Sixers’ Rookie Curse hasn’t felled him for more than a few weeks, my wish is for Matisse Thybulle to have his place in the postseason rotation set in stone. I know the caveats: the playoff rotation shrinks, coaches trust veterans more in big games, Matisse’s smile might be considered an illegal performance-enhancing drug. But I still think it would be a mistake for Brett Brown to park Thybulle on the end of the bench in those seven-game series.

The Sixers are going to need to surround both Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons with as much shooting as possible. Matisse is shooting 46.3 percent from 3 in his rookie season, and the form looks smooth and eminently repeatable. Granted, his shot creation ability is still a work-in-progress, but in the postseason, Thybulle will always be out there with multiple starters. He will only need to spot up and knock down shots.

Defensively, though, is where the Sixers could most use Thybulle on the floor in the postseason. We’ve seen in past playoffs how teams are able to target and exploit the defensive deficiencies of everyone from JJ Redick to Marco Belinelli. Thybulle’s ability to defend across multiple positions at a high level will help ensure there are no weak links in the Sixers’ defensive armor.

Moreover, things tend to slow down to more of a half-court game in the postseason. The Sixers are notoriously poor at scoring in the half court. How do you create more transition opportunities? Disruptive defensive plays, which are exactly Thybulle’s specialty. Among players who had logged at least 200 minutes as of December 22, Matisse is second in the league to Kris Dunn in steals per 36 minutes (2.9), second among guards in blocks per 36 minutes (1.5), and deflections per 36 minutes (5.0). Throw Thybulle on the floor, let him wreak havoc, and reap the rewards in the form of easy transition points.

The Sixers have a guy who perfectly fits a role on offense, while being exactly what a playoff team needs defensively. Rookie or not, Thybulle needs to be in the postseason rotation. Fans will be stuffing their stockings this week, and if he is given the opportunity, Matisse will be stuffing the stat sheet come spring.

Dan Volpone (Follow on Twitter @dan_volpone): Embiid’s happiness

All I want for Christmas is Joel Embiid to start smiling again. With Matisse Thybulle (rookie curse) out indefinitely, the Sixers are sorely lacking for smiles on the court. They need Joel Embiid to pick up the pace.

Embiid is an awkward on-court fit with the current group of Sixers, and management let a few of his favorite teammates walk this summer. There have been times Embiid seemed to be sulking this season. Besides affecting his play, it breaks my heart to see. Embiid loves this city, and I want to see him consistently enjoy himself out there. It makes the game more fun, and it’s necessary for him to (in his words) dominate.

Dave Early (Follow on Twitter @DavidEarly)

For this Sixers Holiday season, I’d like to ask for something a bit ambitious. I’d like the team to add a proven voice to their front office. I think the the biggest mistake the Sixers have made over the last four years or so (post-Process) has been their front office structure. The decision to bring on the Colangelos was just the beginning. But then after that backfired, they didn’t really prove to us that they learned from their mistakes by hiring a great GM. Instead, they largely promoted Colangelo’s executive team to work and “collaborate” with rookie GM Elton Brand. They talked about how “plug-and-play” their situation was. And if 52 wins and the second round was the goal they were probably right. But fans want a parade.

The Clippers were savvy enough to target Jerry West after he played such a vital role in turning around one of the worst franchises in the entire NBA at the time, the Warriors. He’s off to a good start in L.A. He’s the perfect advisor and unavailable but there are others worth pursuing. What would be more comforting this holiday season than sitting around the fire knowing that four years after bringing on Jerry Colangelo, the team was bringing on someone with a proven track record of smart decisions? This front office rostered five centers a year ago and Greg Monroe played two minutes in their final game seven. The team was outscored by nine points in that span. You know how it ended. With trade deadlines and buyout markets looming, how comfy should we be something like that will never happen again?

Tom West (Follow on Twitter @TomWestNBA): Three-point volume

As someone who is only a Sixers writer rather than a fan, I may come at this with a slightly different perspective. What I’d like to see from the Sixers this Christmas is simple: be confident from three-point range.

In terms of efficiency alone, Philly are shooting well this season — they rank a solid 10th in three-point percentage at 36.2. The issue is that their volume is much further down the NBA pecking order, as they rank just 26th in attempts per game at 29.8. This was always going to be the case to an extent after losing JJ Redick in the starting lineup and adding another big man in Al Horford. Nevertheless, there’s room for improvement.

Horford deserves credit for his career-high 4 three-point attempts per game and he’ll look better when some positive regression breaks him out of his recent slump (20.7 percent over the last seven games). But there are still times when he’s passing up good looks that he needs to take to maximize spacing alongside Embiid. Josh Richardson is another player who needs to be a bit more trigger happy. As the Sixers faced a host of zone defense last week, there were times Richardson passed up clear looks as the zone shifted out of place. Against any kind of defense, man or zone, Richardson has to be a player who can punish teams when they leave him open.

Tobias Harris is included in this, too. The Sixers need him to be a gunner from deep, ideally attempting around 6-7 threes per game. As good as he’s been overall and as well as he’s been scoring at the rim (he may have his best season yet when factoring in his improved defense along with the rest of his production), his three-point rate is a weakness. His 6.2 attempts per 100 possessions is lower than each of the last two seasons. He needs to keep embracing the mindset he’s had over the last two games (13 three-point attempts with 7 makes) and consistently be aggressive when he finds any breathing room at the arc. There’s no way he shouldn’t be leading the team in attempts (he’s currently second behind Richardson).

It’s a simple change and there’s only so much you can expect players to shift their mindset. Even still, more three-point confidence is one way the Sixers’ offense can improve. They need as much space and three-point respect from opponents as they can get.