On Tuesday, I tweeted this:
It's time for another episode of "Justin solicits responses from Twitter for a @Liberty_Ballers article."— Justin Carter (@juscarts) March 26, 2019
From the Sixers perspective, what are /you/ most worried about come playoff time?
The responses came pouring in, and most of them seemed serious, so I’ve taken all of those serious responses, ranked them by how much I agree with those worries, and offered some commentary on the worries. Let’s get started. Here are 12 of the things people said to me, ranked.
12. The Nets in the first round
I have another NBA writing gig where I write about the Nets, so I’ve watched a ton of Nets games this year. The Nets are a good, young team, but I don’t see them being a team that wins a playoff series against one of the East’s top teams.
D’Angelo Russell is good...but he struggles to get to the rim or to the free throw line. Jarrett Allen is very good at blocking shots, but he’s not stopping Joel Embiid in a seven-game series. The Nets also have a huge hole at the four, where they’re currently relying on rookie Rodions Kurucs. The Nets also end with a tough schedule, so I’m not sure they’ll even be in a position to play the Sixers in the 3/6 matchup.
11. Weird rotation choices by Brett Brown
I am not super worried about this one just because, well...it’s the playoffs, and in the playoffs the bench shortens, and while you’ll see later in this article that I am worried about that bench depth, I think Brett Brown’s actual playoff rotations will be fine, mostly
10. Brett Brown getting fired as a scapegoat
There’s this growing sentiment around these parts that the Liberty Ballers staff is much more pro-Brett than the rest of the Sixers fanbase is. That is...probably true, and I’m not going to get into any of the “should Brett get fired” discussions right now, but I think there are three ways that the playoffs could go for Brett Brown. One is that this team can perform up to expectations, either losing a tough second round series or making the Eastern Conference Finals, and in that case Brett Brown is back next year. Another is that this team loses to the Celtics in the first round and after a lot of soul searching, the team opts to give Brown one more chance. The other one is that this team could lose to whoever the sixth seed is, and in that case, I could see the team moving on from Brown. But if this team loses to someone like the Pistons in a playoff series, moving on from Brown probably wouldn’t be the most terrible idea. I don’t see a scenario where he’s fired as a scapegoat, because I don’t see him getting fired in any scenario other than the one where you might actually be able to blame him.
9. The takes if the Sixers lose
A round one exit? Yeah, the hot takes will suck. A second round exit? The takes will suck less. Either way, don’t worry too much about the takes, unless those takes are from Celtics fans on Twitter after a first round loss to the Celtics. (This was a hard one to rank. I’d put any second round loss takes as the thing to worry the least about and a Celtics loss close to the top, so I’ve split the difference and ranked it 10th.)
8. Defense, but not pick-and-roll defense
I get where this concern is coming from! I’ll talk a little more about defense of the pick-and-roll variety below and how I’m worried about this team having to switch those pick-and-rolls, but other defensive situations? Ehh. In terms of points per possession, Philly ranks third in defending in transition and seventh in defending spot ups. They aren’t a great isolation team,
7. Third quarters
Yeah, we all know how bad third quarters have been at times for this team. The Sixers are 20th in the NBA in third quarter net rating and 11th in overall net rating, so there’s statistical data to back up all of the “SIXERS THIRD QUARTERS ARE TERRIBLE” takes. The playoffs also tend to be a microcosm of the overall season, so this team is bound to have some third quarter struggles. I probably have this one ranked too low.
6. JJ Redick
Redick hasn’t shot above 35.5% from three in his last three postseason appearances plus his shot’s been off more this year than before. He ranks in just the 58th percentile in spot up scoring this season and his defensive numbers aren’t good. There is reason to worry about Redick, especially when this team isn’t the deepest in the league and needs him to be a positive contributor.
Turnovers are a problem in the playoffs. The Sixers turn the ball over the fourth-most in the NBA. Yes, that is a problem. I have nothing else to say about this point except that the Warriors were fifth in the NBA in turnovers last season and they won an NBA title. You can overcome turnover problems.
4. Pick-and-roll defense
Philly is tied for 20th with Houston in PPP against pick-and-roll ball handlers. Meanwhile, offensively the Bucks and Celtics rank in the top 10 in PPP for that playtype, the Raptors rank in the top 15, and I have concerns about this team having the speed to effectively defend pick-and-rolls against some of the other top teams in the East.
To zoom in even more, here are where some of the guys who’ll be on the floor the most for the Sixers rank in defending against pick-and-roll ball handlers:
Jimmy Butler: 26th percentile
Tobias Harris: 44th percentile
JJ Redick: 50th percentile
Ben Simmons: 72nd percentile
So, yeah, I am concerned about Butler and Harris in particular in these situations. If they’re guarding the ball handler, they might not have the speed to keep up and cut off drives, and since the top teams in the East all have some good, quick guards (Kyrie Irving, Kyle Lowry, Eric Bledsoe), this is not ideal. Teams that are good in pick-and-rolls can exploit this team’s weaknesses and, well...that’s not good!
3. Toronto in round two
Assuming this team holds onto the three seed, Toronto is the most likely matchup in the second round. Let’s see how the Sixers have fared against the Raptors this year:
Now, the good news is that that 1-3 record all came from games before the Tobias Harris trade. The bad news is that the Raptors also improved on something since then, which is grabbing Marc Gasol from the Grizzlies and having an actual center who can cause some issues for Embiid. Plus, while Kawhi Leonard might not be KAWHI LEONARD this year, he still ranks in the 88th percentile defensively in points per possession when in man defense. Opposing players are shooting 37.5% from the floor against Leonard.
2. The bench
Yeah...this one concerns me a lot. The Sixers went really, really in to get Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris, so you’ve got guys like Mike Scott (good!), James Ennis (probably not good!), and Jonathon Simmons (also probably not good!) on this bench. Your backup big men are Boban Marjanovic, Jonah Bolden, and Amir Johnson.
The good news is that playoff rotations are shorter and this starting unit is really, really good, so the bench can’t kill you as much as it could in the regular season, right? Right?
But injuries or foul trouble can strike at any moment, and this team doesn’t have much ammunition to survive those kind of things. Remember a couple of years ago when the Rockets were dealing with playoff injuries and Mike D’Antoni went with a very, very short rotation in a playoff series against the Spurs, which led to tired legs and losing a series where Houston was the better team? That’s the danger of a weak bench in the playoffs; the coaching staff chooses to just play the starters too much to keep some of those low floor guys off the court, and then suddenly a 58-year-old Manu Ginobili is blocking your best player’s shot attempts in the closing seconds.
1. Playing the Celtics in the first round
Yeah, don’t let this happen. I know the Sixers just beat the Celtics, but this is still the worst case scenario and the one way I see this team not making the second round. (They could! I’m not saying that this matchup would spell utter doom for this team, but you’d much, much rather play a team that doesn’t have the upside of the Celtics!)
Also, remember point nine about the takes if the Sixers lose? This is the one scenario where those takes become unbearable. This team has to keep winning, hold onto that three seed, and play Detroit or Brooklyn to open the playoffs up. Let Indiana and Boston battle it out in round one.