The Sixers are scheduled to play their first game of the season’s restart on August 1st. We’ve learned a few things this week so let’s recap a few of them. Here’s a round up of some things we’ve learned, some opinions, some updates on potential opponents and more as we count down the days until basketball finally resumes.
1) Ben Simmons back-injury update
Let’s start with the biggest news of all. Back on May 5th, GM Elton Brand said he was optimistic regarding Ben’s back-injury situation. Per Brand via Philly CBS Local:
“We’ve taken our time, we’ve been methodical and thoughtful about his recovery and rehab, just to make sure, because we weren’t in a rush,” 76ers GM Elton Brand said Tuesday. “It’s hard to speculate. He’s been working hard and I know he’d be close or ready....
“I wouldn’t bet against him. He’s going to be ready and ramped up.”
And so most fans might have figured Ben would be closer to 100 percent five weeks later.
But Head Coach Brett Brown struck an alarmingly cautious tone by contrast on June 17th. Per Andrew Porter, WIP Radio:
“My opinion, and this is not confirmed yet, is that we are going to be able to inch him back into this,” Brown told Chris Mannix of SI.com. “Is he going to be 100-percent, I don’t expect that. But I think he is going to be available.”
But then we got some better news, per Derek Bodner of The Athletic:
Knowing this team we’ll get an update in two weeks that yes he’ll be 100 percent... but only for the 12 minutes per game he’s allowed to play per his intensive load-management-return-to-play program. But seriously, it’s great news that the Defensive Player of the Year candidate is feeling good again.
2) With improved health comes improved title odds
Perhaps in part because of the clean bill of health reported for the Sixers’ stars, 538’s projections have given the 76ers the biggest boost of any remaining team since the day the season was abruptly halted:
So Nate Silver’s model believes the Sixers have a 33 percent chance to make the finals. That’s an almost dead heat with the Buck’s 36 percent chance. Those odds are better than the odds of the Celtics, (21%) Raptors (9%), Heat (<1%) and Pacers (<1%) combined. There’s a lot more faith in the red, white and blue on 538 than any of the talking heads on cable TV seem to have.
3) Zach Lowe and John Hollinger did a podcast on ESPN radio and discussed the 76ers for about twenty minutes
They had plenty of interesting ideas. For example, both agreed the Sixers would benefit if they improved their playoff seed, currently at 6th.
“I think you move up….putting yourself in position where you have to beat the top 3 [Boston, Toronto, Milwaukee] seeds consecutively is too hard….You give yourself a much better shot at getting out of the first round.”
‘To me it’s a no-brainer, you get out of the Boston matchup and I don’t care that you play Boston well. Boston is a really good team, markedly better than the teams below them.”
Both were excited about the possibility of a first-round matchup between Jimmy Butler and the Heat vs. the Sixers. They talked about it a bit and both sounded like they thought the Sixers made a big mistake when they decided not to offer Jimmy Butler a 5-year max deal.
“They made an absolutely monumental decision to not bring [Jimmy Butler] back….
I think they anticipated... that they could compensate for the loss of the only thing on their team like a lead ball-handler and it has not happened yet. I do think they’d be better right now with Jimmy Butler…. those are the decisions that you can’t get back, that you lose sleep over for weeks and weeks because they really define your team…And this one was pretty close to that.”
“....Once you made those moves to go all in…to say you’re all in…then be unwilling to give Butler that 5th year, was kind of a little bit of a record-scratch maybe.”
4) Lowe acknowledged the team has been disappointing defensively this year but had an optimistic perspective on reaching another level moving forwards
“I think they can [turn it on defensively]. I think their best lineups have that profile already.… Joel Embiid healthy and engaged is the single biggest defensive force in the NBA and changes games on that end of the floor more than any other human alive….”
5) The Al Horford conundrum
At times throughout the season, Brett Brown has painted rosy pictures for us about how the playoffs may be a different animal from the regular season. The idea went from credible to questionable to comical at different points in the season, some meaningless campaign slogan aimed at masking the team’s biggest problem: the offense tends to stall when Simmons, Horford and Embiid share the floor.
Even this image below of Horford paired with a “built for the playoffs” message conjures up some ineffable mixture of regret and frustration. I can almost hear a trained public relations parrot squaking rah, built for playoffs as the shot clock expires without an attempt due to three people trying to post up at the same time.
Al Horford: "I believe that our group is built for the playoffs. ... I believe there's a second chance for us and a great opportunity." pic.twitter.com/DcB81SkpwM— Noah Levick (@NoahLevick) July 3, 2020
Well Brett didn’t feel like ignoring the elephant in the room the other day during his press-availability. Per Keith Pompey of The Inquirer:
“I think it’s true that we have learned a lot about some of the things that ... don’t work,” Brown said. ”And you really in your head and heart feel like, ‘I don’t care how much time we have. That’s probably going to be tough to pull off versus you know we need to do better.‘ ”
“There is kind of a Team Al and a Team Joel, and you figure out what that world is. And then there’s the integration of the two of them.”
The head coach sounds like he’s accepted the harsh reality that his front office let him down last summer. Hopefully, he can find a way to integrate Team Al and Team Joel before trade season offers other solutions to the Horford conundrum.
6) Matisse Thybulle on social justice and protest
Matisse Thybulle on why he wanted to take part in protests against racial injustice in Philly: pic.twitter.com/yh5sPOflb7— Tom West (@TomWestNBA) July 3, 2020
7) Thybulle on staying fit during a pandemic
Matisse Thybulle said he doesn't like running, but it was his only choice to help keep fit while he couldn't do basketball workouts. He feels like he's got back into really good shape over the last two weeks as well.— Tom West (@TomWestNBA) July 3, 2020
Man, sometimes I wonder if the Sixers were at a particular disadvantage during the break. Plenty of them live in Center City Philly, a crowded downtown area. I imagine there might have been less safe-feeling outdoor time for them than some players around the league were able to enjoy.
Goran Dragic’s quarantine in Miami doesn’t look so bad. From the Dragon’s Instagram:
Obviously few if any players will come back in peak game shape. And access to a little water-front soccer doesn’t mean you’re in better shape than the next guy. But I wonder if all that space and open air might go a long way in keeping workouts fun, help to reduce stress, maybe even help guys sleep better at night.
Remember, the Sixers were also one of the last teams to regain access to their practice facility. It’s too difficult to quantify this type of stuff but I’d sure rather have Dragic’s setup to one on 18th and Chestnut if I had to stay home for a few months.
8) Ben as roll man
In case you missed it, Simmons had some things to say about his role (pun intended) when hoops resumes:
“I love playing the pick-and-roll... Wherever you put me or whatever situation it is, I feel like my IQ is high enough to make plays.”— Tom West (@TomWestNBA) July 3, 2020
I wrote about Ben Simmons' approach to being used more as a roll man & how he can continue finding success in this role https://t.co/ogeeSgwTok
That would be great. In some games where he did a ton of rolling to the cup, like against Brooklyn, he looked like a true superstar. It will be fun to see what they come up with for August 1st.
9) The first game back is huge
Talk about jumping right into it. Tied for the 6th seed and currently not in possession of the tie-breaker, if the Sixers wanted to take Zach Lowe’s advice and avoid Boston in the first round, then they’ll really want to take the first match of their 8 game slate vs. Indy on August 1st. It looks like they might be favored in the match already, per some sports books:
10) Glen Robinson III on Coach Brown and Tobias Harris’ leadership
Glen Robinson III sounds different here from how he sounded just 6 games into joining the Sixers. You might recall how unhappy he seemed at being traded to a title-contender when he had had his sights set on maximizing his upcoming free agency pay day racking up L’s in the Bay Area. Hopefully, this means he’s gotten used to things and at least appreciates those around him.
(Above, Thybulle also had some glowing remarks for Tobias Harris as a leader of the team. It sounds like the Long Island native’s maturity, selflessness and sense of humor has been huge for chemistry during the year and since, given all of the racial tension and issues beyond the hardwood).
11) Gordon Hayward is planning on leaving the Bubble in September
New ESPN story: Gordon Hayward will leave the bubble, if Boston is still playing, for the birth of his fourth child in September. Story includes details on the procedures in place for a player leaving the bubble for an approved reason: https://t.co/h1EDjN4Uze— Tim Bontemps (@TimBontemps) July 3, 2020
The Sixers final regular season game is scheduled for mid August. So presumably, the first round of the playoffs would begin in mid-to-late August. Per ESPN’s Tim Bontemps:
“Robyn Hayward is due to give birth in September. With the Eastern Conference semifinals scheduled to begin no later than Aug. 30, and the East finals scheduled to begin no later than Sept. 15, Gordon Hayward would have to spend several days, at a minimum, away from his teammates during the playoffs.”
Babies don’t always come exactly when you expect them to so this could certainly come into play if the Sixers and Celtics met at some point during the playoffs. Missing Hayward for even a single playoff game could tip a close series.
12) Horford admits he wasn’t 100 percent this year
Al Horford, who doesn't get very descriptive about injuries, admits that he "probably wasn't where he wanted to be" health-wise during the season. Says the time off was beneficial for him there.— Rich Hofmann (@rich_hofmann) July 3, 2020
You have to feel for Horford a bit don’t you? It’s not his fault the team paid him so much money to play the same position as their superstar. It’s not his fault they overlooked the very obvious knee issues that plagued him for large chunks of the 2019 season and 2019 postseason.
And even though the experiment has gone poorly so far, Horford still exudes maturity:
"I do know for us to be successful I have to play with different lineups. I have to play with Joel sometimes. I have to play with different people. It really doesn’t matter." https://t.co/1Ezm3Gry0b— Keith Pompey (@PompeyOnSixers) July 3, 2020
He’s a strong dude. If Al is not the Sixers 3rd best player he’s probably their 4th best player. And you can’t win a title if you don’t find ways to integrate someone so high on your team’s talent totem pole. Maybe this extra long break can help him resolve those ongoing knee issues. He had a full summer off a year ago but it returned a few weeks into this season. Maybe he’s learned a little bit about how to ramp up accordingly.