It wasn’t too long ago that the Philadelphia 76ers were a team of desperation and had lost hope coming off the bad end of a playoff sweep. Seriously, it’s been just over six months since the team was stuck in salary cap hell, with an assortment of bad-fitting talent next to franchise cornerstones Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. Hard to believe, right?
The team has done a complete 180 since Daryl Morey’s arrival in the City of Brotherly Love. What once was a team running a 1990’s offense with triple post-ups turned into a distant memory in what was a very short offseason.
With the recent non-stop MVP/award talk, it’s not hard to simply lose focus on how far the Sixers have come in such little time. Think about it — the Sixers were a six-seed with no clear direction and very little cap flexibility just over a year ago. They now find themselves leading a top-heavy Eastern Conference and may finish with the best record in the East for the first time since the 2000-01 season. This type of turnaround doesn’t happen often in the NBA, and the Sixers’ new front office deserves an immense amount of credit.
The 2020-21 Philadelphia 76ers are a completely contrasting image to the nearly unwatchable team of 2019-20. Enjoyable basketball, growth, and positive storylines can be found in nearly every corner of their roster.
When discussing the Sixers you have to put a massive spotlight on Joel Embiid, who has taken a massive leap in his seventh year in the NBA. Embiid had a down year last season, as he simply didn’t have much (if any) floor spacing with which to work. Criticism was very vocal just a year ago, and Embiid has responded by putting together an MVP-caliber season. He’s added a dribble pull-up midrange jumper to his offensive arsenal that is almost automatic, along with a much more reliable 3-point shot.
Embiid has also helped anchor the second-best defense in the entire NBA, along with a terrific perimeter defensive core in Ben Simmons, Matisse Thybulle, and Danny Green. Watching Joel Embiid play basketball this year has been an absolute thing of beauty, and his dominance should not be taken for granted.
Speaking of Ben Simmons, he has become a legitimate Defensive Player of the Year candidate this season. Simmons has always been a good defender at the NBA level, but he’s taken a step in his respective game as well. He’s voluntarily guarded some of the best that the NBA has to offer on a night in and night out basis, something that is definitely not commonly found within the league. While a lot of people will point to his lack of shooting and offensive growth, nothing can take away from the fact that he’s been one of the prime reasons for the Sixers’ success this season as a defensive juggernaut and elite playmaker.
Just watch Ben Simmons on this possession. Absolutely putting his defensive imprint everywhere: pic.twitter.com/L84qDwxnZY— Harrison Grimm (@Harrison_Grimm) April 17, 2021
The final player of the Sixers’ “big three”, Tobias Harris, has put together his best season to date. We’ve seen a completely new version of Harris where he’s decisive, shooting without hesitation, and being very good on the offensive end of the ball. We’ve seen his fadeaway jumpers and downhill lay-ups become automatic this season. He’s on the brink of possibly joining the 50/40/90 club — showcasing efficient shooting and productive offense. The Sixers haven’t gotten “Clippers’ Tobias Harris”, they’ve received an even better version of him.
The Sixers’ new front office has done a tremendous job at surrounding their core players with well-fitting players — with Danny Green, Seth Curry, and newly acquired George Hill joining the team. All of the players above have been and/or will be crucial to the Sixers’ success on the season, as they’ve provided the necessary floor spacing for Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons to be the best versions of themselves.
Danny Green has been an excellent addition to the Sixers both on and off of the court as a “glue guy”. He’s converted over 41 percent of his 3s on a career-high 6.3 attempts per game. Daryl Morey deserves an immense amount of credit for not only getting off of Horford’s hideous contract, but also bringing in a perfect fit with Green in the same move. He’s been a huge part of the Sixers’ success.
Speaking of being a glue guy, Dwight Howard has also been a huge part of the roster. We’ve seen many videos and stories of him being a great veteran with valuable NBA experience. One of my favorite things about Dwight Howard being a Sixer has been watching him work with everyone on the roster — you can see him giving advice to a wide range of players from Joel Embiid to some of the Sixers’ two-way players.
The Sixers have done an exceptional job of bringing in veterans that can be helpful on and off of the court — something that has usually been one or the other in seasons past.
It would also be a disservice to leave Seth Curry out of any praise. Curry’s career and growth have been remarkable to see over the past few years — going from a D-League player gaining a handful of 10-day contracts, to becoming a viable rotation piece, to now being a crucial floor spacer on the a contending NBA team.
The Sixers’ homegrown talent of Shake Milton, Furkan Korkmaz, and Matisse Thybulle haven’t disappointed either, with all of them building on their prior success and growing within their respective areas.
Milton, in particular, has been a great storyline yet again. While his 3-point shooting has had a down year, he’s had great growth in many different areas. He’s become a great finisher around the rim, and has all the qualities to become a qualified three-level scorer given some more time. For what has been his “first real full season” in the NBA, Shake has found success as the Sixers’ sixth man and spark plug off the bench.
Furkan Korkmaz started off the season slow, but has aged well as the season has progressed. We know he’s a capable shooter, but I’ve been amazed to see his growth as a passer and on the defensive end of the floor. He’s been the secondary ball handler within the bench unit, and has produced quietly well in the role. We’ve seen Furkan also approach a new level defensively within the past few weeks — surpassing his career-high in steals against OKC with five. He’s in for a big payday this summer if he can continue this high level of play on both ends of the floor.
Matisse Thybulle is another example of a Sixer that started off the season slow and has since picked up with time, maybe with an even more drastic of an improvement than Korkmaz. Thybulle went from being out of the rotation to having a valid case for an All-Defensive team selection. While his shooting consistency still needs some work, he’s been having a historic defensive season in limited time. Do not take Matisse Thybulle for granted.
Great storylines can even be found with some of the Sixers’ younger developing players. Tyrese Maxey, Isaiah Joe, and Paul Reed have all had flashes of greatness at one point or another within the season. We saw Maxey score 39 points in his first career start. We’ve seen Isaiah Joe show impressive defensive flashes along with a great-looking jumper. We’ve even seen Paul Reed, the 58th pick in the past year’s draft, go from an unknown name to being a fan favorite and G League MVP in an incredibly short time span. The Sixers have a lot to build upon with this draft class.
It’s important that we all take a moment and appreciate the Sixers’ season for what it is. The new front office, players, and staff have done well in putting together a quality season that has been flat out fun to watch. Regardless of how the regular season awards go, there’s a lot of positivity to be found within this team — and that should be the main focus as we come to the finish line of the 2020-21 season.