In the first half of the season the Sixers were:— Shake Milton Better (@TrillBroDude) March 4, 2021
23-7 in games that Embiid played
19-4 when Ben, Embiid and Tobias all played
16-3 when their usual starting five played
We’ve reached the halfway point of the NBA season and the Sixers hold a half-game lead on the juggernaut Brooklyn Nets. Philly enjoyed perhaps their best win of the season last night over the team with the league’s best record, the Utah Jazz. At least the game is right up there with the Sixers’ victory over the Lakers back in January. And now, as the players enjoy some time off and some much-needed rest (Doc if you’re reading this please, as All-Star Coach, do not play Joel Embiid or Ben Simmons much if possible, save their legs for the stretch run) the front office in Daryl Morey and Elton Brand along with Doc’s coaching staff can put their heads together and think about what the heck they need to land this Process Plane. They appear to be legit title contenders. But there are some major roadblocks ahead.
The two best wins of the year
If I were Daryl, Elton, and Doc I’d place plenty of focus on these two games, against the Lakers and Jazz, as they provide not only a blueprint for how the Sixers should play against elite teams, but also provide a lens through which they may view weaknesses.
Some notes from the two best wins of the year:
- Joel Embiid took 13 free throws and scored at least 28 points (28 vs. LAL and 40 vs. the Jazz).
- Anthony Davis, who was mentioned as a potential Defensive Player of the Year Candidate at the time had his hands full with Joel who outplayed him. Embiid was an efficient 28 points on 18 shots, with 4 dimes. Davis was no match for The Process.
- Last night, Joel boosted Ben Simmons’ Defensive Player of the Year Campaign by absolutely roasting Ben’s top comp in Rudy Gobert. With 40 points and 3 dimes on just 27 shots, Joel left Rudy as just another victim of the game’s current best player. Yeah I said it.
- Meanwhile, Ben held Donovan Mitchell to 33 points on 34 shots and left him feeling ejected and upset. Ben’s case for DPOY got stronger last night.
- In both the Lakers and Jazz victories, it was Tobias Harris who operated as the closer, hitting the game-winner vs. the Lakers, and completely dominating in overtime against Utah. The team desperately needs another way to score in the halfcourt against an elite team besides Joel, and when Harris finishes games like he did last night, look out.
Huge overtime for Tobias Harris yesterday.— Tom West (@TomWestNBA) March 4, 2021
11 points (4/5 FG, 3/3 FT) with 3 rebounds. He did a great job using his strength to get to the rim and working in the post. pic.twitter.com/kBEneVmZ1f
Commonalities from #Sixers 2 biggest wins of the year vs. Lakers and Jazz:— DaveEarly (@DavidEarly) March 4, 2021
*Joel takes 13 free throws and abuses one of the best defensive bigs in the League ✔️
*Ben, DPOY caliber play, with efficient offense and distribution ✔️
*Tobias delivers the coup de grâce ✔️ pic.twitter.com/BdQbg0wML9
So in order to win the biggest games of the year, they’re probably going to need all of that stuff to happen. They need Joel to perhaps be the best player on the court, they need dominant two-way play from Ben Simmons, and they need Harris to help them find alternative ways to score when the game slows down to a halfcourt pace.
Oh and here's something we might want to see more of moving forward, Shake Milton on the floor for crunch time! Shake didn’t shoot well but he played a crucial role in penetrating and getting to the line and making good things happen yesterday:
not 100% sold on curry being locked into this lineup, but last night's closing group has been outrageous pic.twitter.com/SHAIoiUUBR— Ben Detrick (@bdetrick) March 4, 2021
A realistic look ahead
And while things have gone almost as well as Sixer fans could have imagined thus far, all is not as rosy as it feels. Unlike a season ago, a dreaded superteam exists. I hate those things.
- Things have gone swimmingly for the Sixers. They’ve avoided a major injury, they’re in first place, they have a top 3 player if not the best player, and two more All-Star caliber dudes in Ben and Tobias. Yet, they’re only half a game up on the Nets, who’ve been without Kevin Durant since Valentine’s Day!!
- If these teams met at full strength, even if the Sixers had home court and a few thousand fans in the arena, it wouldn’t go well for the Sixers, who are far too reliant on Embiid making difficult jump shots to win games. At least I wouldn’t bet on it.
- If you put Ben Simmons on Kevin Durant, KD is still capable of going nuclear, then it leaves you fully vulnerable against James Harden and Kyrie Irving. It’s almost silly.
- The Jazz shot 44 triples and connected on nearly 50 percent last night. The Sixers had trouble getting around screens or switching and it left players like Donovan Mitchell, Joe Ingles, and Mike Conley with excellent looks from deep. Philly struggles against teams with multiple perimeter threats and they’ll likely continue to.
Help on the way?
So the Sixers can sure use some help on the perimeter defensively and they may even need an All-Star worthy guard to break down halfcourt defenses to win a chip.
Our Harrison Grimm delivered a deep dive on many of the possibilities. And he didn’t even focus on one of my absolute favorite trade targets in Lonzo Ball:
Friends of Liberty Ballers, Porter and Marty ran down almost every scenario imaginable from Zach LaVine all the way down to targets like David Nwaba or Rajon Rondo for the team’s “James Ennis Trade Exception” in this pod. Give it a listen, they really know their stuff:
Fresh episode— Shake Milton Better (@TrillBroDude) March 1, 2021
Sixers pre trade deadline special w/ @mwteller!
Kyle Lowry rumors
Why this deadline is important for the Sixers future
Oladipo, Eric Gordon, Fournier or Lonzo?
Apple -> https://t.co/ez8BAoq0rg
Spotify -> https://t.co/w5kxWWpxmY
The week’s toughest questions
To win an NBA title you have to think really big, and you have to think a few moves (or years) ahead. Do the Sixers need a backup point guard like Patty Mills, Delon Wright, or George Hill? Do they need a stretch big like Nemanja Bjelica? What would it cost to acquire two of those names? Would it be enough to move the needle if they did? Are moves like that the bare minimum they’d need to win the chip this year or would they need an All-Star caliber guard/wing? What’s their all-in-trade package (Tyrese Maxey and 4 picks?) and what could it get them this month or this coming off-season?
If they utilized precious assets on peripheral roster moves, might they cost themselves the needed ammo to win a bidding war for the next star to become available? If they don’t acquire a high-caliber player (e.g. Bradley Beal, Zach LaVine, Kyle Lowry, Lonzo Ball, Victor Oladipo, Evan Fournier on a sliding scale) at this deadline can they after the season? With luxury tax bills looming (ones management has repeatedly vowed to pay but not yet paid), how much emphasis might the front office place on acquiring a player’s Bird Rights so that they may exceed the salary cap in order to retain him long term?
Daryl Morey has won along the margins (like when he acquired Kyle Lowry as a backup from Memphis in 2009) and he’s won big, (like when he traded Lowry and more to build the ultimate trade bundle he used to land James Harden). I don’t know which direction the team will go, but I hope they’re thinking very big. The Nets may only get scarier after the buyout market as ring-chasing vets look to bandwagon onto the Brooklyn superteam.
PS: How much would it hurt for Daryl to lose in the Conference Finals to a James Harden led team, by the way? That might be the ultimate motivation for him to avoid such a fate.