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As we all expected, Sixers have the best record in the East through nine games

NBA: Chicago Bulls at Philadelphia 76ers Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The Sixers have started off hot. Better than many expected. They sit in first place in the Eastern Conference at 7-2, having notched five straight wins. You’d be forgiven for doubting your Broad Street Bullies just a little bit here. The ongoing Ben Simmons situation may have cast a pall in the media (or on your text-chains with pals) but it doesn’t seem to have pervaded Doc Rivers’ locker room much through the early portion of the season.

On a per game basis Philadelphia leads the NBA in field goal percentage (49.3%), they rank 3rd overall in free throw percent (82.4%), 4th in blocks (6.1), and they’re 4th in plus-minus, outscoring teams by an impressive 8.4 points per outing.

Wins over egos

Oh and the vibes are right.

New addition Georges Niang spoke about the team’s early-season identity following the 109-98 victory over Detroit.

Niang, courtesy of Sixers’ Team Reporter Lauren Rosen:

“I mean we just have gritty guys that are here regardless of the circumstances, we’re gonna go out there and give it our all and compete to win. I think nobody on this team has egos, we’re here to win basketball games. And thats been our M.O. from the beginning since I been here and it’s a lot of fun grinding with these guys.”

When Minivan says “regardless of the circumstances,” he’s probably referring to the assortment of challenges the team has faced; from the void in the rotation left by Simmons’ absence, to any accompanying distraction that presents, to injuries, to some recent positive COVID tests.

“Next man up” is a cliche but it’s been especially relevant for this group.

Things to watch for on the rocky road ahead

Of course the worm could turn in a hurry. On the docket the Sixers have the Bulls, Knicks, Bucks, and Raptors (those teams possessing a combined record of 21-12) before a six-game road trip. It’s entirely possible the vibes will be as bad by turkey day as they are delightful today. We’ll soak up this feeling now while we can.

Some of the most intriguing questions include...

How for real are they without Simmons? Is it more likely the Australian point-forward returns to the lineup, sits out all season, or Daryl Morey eventually swings a blockbuster trade? Have any of the team’s role players enhanced their trade value enough to get themselves included in a larger deal? Does the Sixers hot start make the team any less enthusiastic to welcome back a player who may not want to be there in the first place? Do new rule changes aimed at reducing non-basketball moves make a defensive beast like Simmons more valuable in general?

MVBiid

Part of the hot start can be attributed to Joel Embiid’s improved playmaking. The 2021 runner up MVP hasn’t appeared quite healthy this year since slamming knees with Jonas Valančiūnas in the opener but he continues to make a monster impact and evolve his game.

The Process is averaging 4.9 dimes per 36, a full assist more than his previous career high in that department. The team has the top offensive rating in the league (115.0 OFFRTG), and without Simmons in the lineup it does seem like Joel’s distributing reads are a bit easier now.

The team’s playoff ceiling isn’t nearly as high without Simmons, but we have seen some positives offensively. If Simmons returns, they’ll want to stagger his and Embiid’s minutes the way former coach Brett Brown used to. If they make a trade, a full season of improved spacing could lead to even more development from Joel as a passer. If his midrange game regresses, or his knee improves, or both it could be scary.

Markets and odds

Team President Daryl Morey often talks about title and playoff probabilities. So enough vibes, can they win a chip?

We reached out to Kyle Newman of OddsChecker, who said the betting markets have not changed over the last week, despite the team’s quality play.

Per Newman the Sixers:

“Have seen their [preseason] odds hurt considerably. Prior to the Ben Simmons situation they were given +1200 odds to win the NBA title, those odds have now lengthened to +2200. They now have the same odds to win the NBA championship as the Miami Heat. That said, it’s still tied for the 3rd best odds in the East.”

As for Simmons, there was a slight change in odds about 10 days ago. Oddsmakers still don’t believe a trade is the likeliest outcome, but if a trade were to occur, here’s the odds:

Timberwolves: +300

Kings: +400

Spurs: +900

Trail Blazers: +900

Thunder: +1000

Raptors: +1200

It’s interesting oddsmakers don’t believe a trade is likely to happen at this point. The Timberwolves continue to be the most probable landing spot, a trend that’s mostly held for months now.

But let’s face it, few expected the Sixers to sit in first place through nine games. There are still so many questions surrounding this team. But if they can continue to eke out victories maybe some of the bigger dominoes will fall into place. Like Niang says, the team is about wins not egos.