In case you missed it, Philadelphia 76ers fans, this happened this week:
If it wasn’t already, it’s probably safe to say that the Sixers hype train is pulling into Suburban Station. That’s the closest regional station to the Wells Fargo Center. It’s possible that train is fueled by our own Kevin Rice’s excitement and adrenaline that may or may not be related to increased Jonah Bolden minutes.
Before the season, that same train was stopping at every station on the line. After the Sixers traded for Jimmy Butler, maybe some stops were skipped for increased momentum. Then, the Tobias Harris trade happened, and, now we’ve got a full-blown express on the tracks.
The Sixers have a Sports Illustrated cover (the team’s first since the Allen Iverson era) featuring all five starters. There have been nicknames created for the team. The “Phantastic Phive” was floated for maybe 48 hours before the hammer was slammed on that nonsense both quickly and emphatically.
(A little thing about nicknames in this town. They don’t end well. Remember the Philadelphia Eagles “Dream Team”? Remember the “F.E.D.S.” – a nickname I still defend to this day because the notion of telling the NBA the Sixers are “sending in the FEDS” was something fun I could get behind. Nicknames don’t have a good track record. Don’t do it to this team. They’re the Sixers. That’s it.)
(Also, let’s stop with the “ph” as the “f”. That stopped being cute and/or cool years ago.)
I know. I know. This is an accurate photo of me after those two statements.
Even without Joel Embiid available, the Sixers kicked off their post-All-Star season with a win last night against the Miami Heat. Fans are excited, and rightfully so. The team is fourth in the Eastern Conference with a 38-21 record, ahead of last year’s win pace when they came out of the All-Star break.
We’re now a team that features two All-Stars (Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons), one former All-Star (Jimmy Butler), and one fringe All-Star (Tobias Harris). JJ Redick is still shooting nearly 40 percent from three and is averaging a career high 18.5 points per game. The Sixers also have Boban Marjanović, who’s just a character that kind of fits the fun void left after the Jimmy Butler/Robert Covington/Dario Šarić trade. That may be blasphemy to some, and we haven’t seen prime T.J./Bobi/Tobi content, yet, but Boban’s Instagram feed is good enough for now.
National basketball media has given the Sixers more of a shot to make the NBA Finals. At the time of the trade, Nick Wright of FOX Sports said that the Harris trade was a “coup” after saying the Sixers were his pick to go to the NBA Finals. (Can someone check the tapes on that?)
To quote Lil’ Wayne: “Tha block is hot. Tha block is hot. Ha, ha-ha!”
There’s always the flip side, and I know what some detractors will say.
Yes, the Sixers are a combined 1-7 against the Toronto Raptors, Milwaukee Bucks, and Boston Celtics. Those are qualitatively the top three teams in the East, and being that futile against them is … I’ll just say “not good”. The Sixers don’t get another shot at those teams until March when they face the Bucks and Celtics in a span of four days (March 17-20). with the Hornets sprinkled in-between.
There will be plenty of tune-ups before that, and the schedule is very favorable the rest of the way. Coming out of the All-Star break, the Sixers had the eighth easiest schedule in the league through the rest of the season. If that sounds familiar, it should, because it’s the same track that was played last year. The Sixers also finished an insane 12-game stretch where they went 7-5 in a grouping of teams that included the Celtics, Raptors, Golden State Warriors, and two games against the Denver Nuggets and Houston Rockets.
(Does anyone else find it weird that the Sixers have fared better against the top teams in the WEST versus the top teams in the East? That’s weird, right?)
Ben Simmons still hasn’t made a 3-point shot in a regular season game, prompting merchandise like this.
There’s a more clever one using a Ben Simmons shot chart, and I’ll give points for using one on a T-shirt. A few years ago, I would have said this wouldn’t happen because folks aren’t completely down the NBA advanced stats rabbit hole, yet. Now, respect and shout out to Kirk Goldsberry.
Everyone knows the story. Ben Simmons needs a jump shot. Ben Simmons can’t evolve without a jump shot. Ben Simmons will die unless he gets a jump shot. The last part is made up, obviously, but is anyone else tired of this, yet? This year, Simmons is averaging 16.8 ppg, 9.0 rpg, and 7.8 apg. He has a .584 TS% (up from .557 last year). Remember when folks said Giannis Antetokounmpo needed a jump shot to evolve. He still doesn’t have a CONSISTENT jump shot, and the guy is an MVP candidate this year.
Everyone just calm down on the jump shot thing. Plus, does Simmons really need a jump shot when he can pass to one of four guys (Embiid, Harris, Butler, Redick) who has a more consistent jump shot?
Here’s a little last dig at the Boston fans who invented the “shoot a 3, you coward” shirts and memes. Guys, maybe you should focus on your next shirt design. You know? The one that mentions how your general manager, Danny Ainge, stockpiled all these assets and draft picks, didn’t get Kevin Love, didn’t get LeBron, or Kawhi, or Paul George, got Kyrie Irving (who might just leave you), and may not get Anthony Davis.
I have an idea for you. Danny Ainge standing next to every other NBA GM in a wedding-style picture with one or many other NBA GMs with a simple description: “Always the bridesmaid. Never the bride.”
(Now that I’ve gotten that off my chest…)
The Sixers don’t have much of a bench. I’ll grant that, but at the same time, the cupboard isn’t AS BARE as it was immediately after the Butler trade. T.J. McConnell gets a lot of grief, sometimes, and the Simmons/T.J. lineups still make me scratch my head. James Ennis, Jonathon Simmons, and Marjanović are slightly better than what the team had before.
That’s not a knock on Jonah Bolden, Shake Milton, or Furkan Korkmaz, but it’s just the truth.
The most recent hot take about the Sixers is that the team got literally nothing out of a former first overall pick. To which I say at this point: “so what?” Is it highly disappointing that Markelle Fultz didn’t pan out the way we all hoped and dreamed? Yes, that definitely sucked. Did it ultimately HURT the Sixers when you look at their roster? Not … really. The Sixers have the best starting five in the Eastern Conference and thanks to various trades, they don’t have a completely barren asset chest.
Clearing Fultz’s contract saved the team around $10 million, which the team can use to try and keep Embiid, Simmons, Butler, and Harris together, or choose between Butler/Harris and rebuild the bench this coming offseason.
Call that a wash if you want to be optimistic.
Hype is always fun when it comes to a team. It can be dangerous if that team doesn’t live up to the hype, and the Sixers not-so-good performance against the top teams in the East is a cause for concern. There’s a lot to be hype for in spite of all that:
The last 23 games.
The playoffs – where hopefully the Sixers finally whoop some Celtic arse.
Another fun offseason.
Stay hype out there. If anyone needs me, I’ll be in the bar car of this train knocking back shots of Tullamore Dew.