The Philadelphia 76ers were very active leading up to and throughout the 2020 NBA Draft. In addition to making three draft picks in Tyrese Maxey, Isaiah Joe and Paul Reed, the Sixers dealt Josh Richardson for Seth Curry and Al Horford for Danny Green. But all this shuffling has had some Sixers fans asking: are they really better than they were last season? My answer to that inquiry is an unequivocal yes. Below are my five reasons why.
No. 1: Tobias Harris is moving back to his natural position
Folks have been down on Tobias Harris and I get why — hell, I’m one of them. But Tobias does bring something to this team, no matter how bloated his contract may be: Harris remains the only player on the Sixers who is willing to take difficult shots. (Josh Richardson doesn’t care to make a distinction between difficult and ill-advised.) That would remain true whether Al Horford is on the team or not.
The problem though was that with Harris playing the three, he only saw difficult looks. He doesn’t have the speed to get by perimeter defenders and it was tough to set up inside on a smaller mismatch given that the paint was already clogged with Horford and Joel Embiid (and Ben Simmons whenver he was off-ball). With Horford shipped off to OKC, Tobias can actually play his natural position at the four. This will allow him to set up inside when it’s appropriate, but also to take advantage of bigger fours by making them defend him faceup on the perimeter.
Some numbers to back up optimism for Harris at the four below.
The Sixers’ offense broken down to points per play last season, courtesy of NBA WOWY:
- With Tobias Harris and Joel Embiid on, Al Horford off: 1.110 with 55.7% true shooting.
- With Tobias Harris and Al Horford on, Joel Embiid off: 1.152 with 57.9% true shooting.
- With Tobias Harris, Joel Embiid and Al Horford on: 1.048 with 55.2% true shooting.
If Harris and Embiid’s numbers give you any cause for concern, looking back to Harris-Embiid minutes in 2018-19 might give you some peace of mind: 1.227 points per play to go along with 59.4% true shooting.
For Harris individually, his 52.7% true shooting mark in 2019-20 was his worst in a single season since 2014-2015, his age-22 season.
No. 2: Two of the NBA’s best three-point shooters are now Sixers
The Sixers clearly needed to fill the void created by JJ Redick’s departure. Embiid’s decision making and passing out of the post were bright spots at points last season, but without Redick’s gravity, Embiid wasn’t fully able to punish teams for doubling him. For Simmons, 3PT shooters are the best complementary pieces to his offensive game.
By trading for Danny Green, who is a career 40.0% shooter from 3PT on 3,205 attempts, and Seth Curry, who is a career 44.3% shooter from 3PT on 1,007 attempts, Philly is now home to arguably two of the top five/ten 3PT snipers in the NBA today. The Sixers also still have Shake Milton (43.1% 3PT last season) and Furkan Korkmaz (40.2% from 3PT) under contract. Yeah, that’ll fill a void alright.
No. 3: There’s an actual wing rotation in New Philadelphia
One of the Sixers’ playoff weaknesses over the last few seasons has been a lack of wing depth — players at the two and three (and four) that aren’t outright negatives when the stakes are high. Danny Green brings playoff experience to that area of need, with four rings on his hand, and Seth Curry’s +40% shooting from beyond the arc will always be a threat. But the Sixers didn’t stop there. Adding Tyrese Maxey and Isaiah Joe gives Philly two wing initiators/scorers that have the potential to develop into quality rotation players, maybe even a starter in the case of Maxey. These additions on top further development from Matisse Thybulle, Shake Milton and Furkan Korkmaz offers Doc Rivers a slew of options to place around the perimeter as Joel and Ben go to work. The tournament (for minutes on the a wing) formerly described as quiet is now very loud.
No. 4: Building away from needing to replicate style without Joel in the lineup
Ben Simmons wants to run in transition all day. That’s not sustainable for Joel Embiid. But there’s going to be anywhere from 12 to 16 minutes per game when Embiid is not on the floor. Rather than figure out how to tread water without Embiid out there, the Sixers so far appear to be planning to move very far away from the style of play they deploy when Embiid is on the floor. Right now, Philly’s center rotation is likely to be Embiid, Norvel Pelle and Mike Scott. If Paul Reed can contribute early, he makes a fourth member of the big roto.
Of course, free agency signings have yet to occur, but that rotation leaves really only one halfcourt plodding center on the roster. We’ve seen the thunderous oops between Pelle and Ben in transition already and as Mike Scott ages, his size and toughness should compensate for a loss in speed and fluidity as he slides to the five. The Sixers can go five out when Embiid needs a breather, bringing them up to speed with the rest of the league. Will they hemorrhage points defensively? Probably. But they’ve got time (and free agency) to figure that out should they need a defensive big and I have confidence in Morey to do exactly that. In the meantime, Ben Simmons gets to play to his abilities.
No. 5: The roster is constructed to complement the strengths of its two best players
The most important reason of all. Daryl Morey’s MO is clear: build to the strengths of our two stars.
For the last two years, the Sixers’ plan has been about seeking to add as much top-end talent as possible. There’s nothing wrong with that on it’s face, until of course, you let Jimmy Butler walk in free agency after giving up for him two players that were picture perfect fits with Embiid and Simmons. They replaced Butler with Josh Richardson and Al Horford, terrible fits and frankly a poor excuse of a sexy free agent move on the part of Horford. Not at all what people have in mind when they hear the term ‘star-hunting’.
With Morey in town, the Sixers are modernizing their roster by putting shooters around Ben and Jo, the absolute best way to make the duo work. Not asking what more can we have, but how much more can we give what we already have. It’s refreshing, if nothing else. And really, this doesn’t rule out making a move for James Harden, as one example, because the Sixers managed to retain young talent and limited their disposal of draft capital.
All indications from Daryl Morey are that Ben and Joel are here to stay, which I believe is the right approach.