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Liberty Ballers 2020-21 NBA Playoff Roundtable

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Our staff at Liberty Ballers answered some pressing questions as we get ready for the playoffs.

NBA: Orlando Magic at Philadelphia 76ers Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

To put it simply, this season has been awesome. After the drudge that was last year, actually being able to enjoy watching games again is a nice change of pace. With the Sixers atop the Eastern Conference standings as the playoffs roll around, now seems like the perfect time for some of our staff to answer some questions.

What are your overall thoughts on the season as a whole?

Steve Lipman: It’s gone great! The Sixers have secured the number 1 seed in the East, which is an outcome far beyond my most hopeful projection entering the season. Also — nearly just as importantly — barring a catastrophe, the Sixers will also enter the playoffs fully healthy. You really can’t overvalue that, especially for this team and for Joel Embiid, who is about to wrap up one of the greatest individual seasons in Sixers history. The caveat remaining is the odd wrinkle of this year that saw the Sixers play very few contending teams at full strength. They never played the full Brooklyn team, the Bucks never played the full Sixers team, so on and so forth. But you play who’s on the schedule, and the Sixers beat up on their schedule better than any other team in the conference. Hats off.

Daniel Olinger: It’s surpassed those 2017-18 and 2011-12 seasons as my absolute favorite that I’ve enjoyed in my time as a Sixers fan. Before the year, I thought it was optimistic to think the Sixers could grab the 4 seed with a bounce back year from Embiid and the swap of Josh Richardson and Al Horford for Seth Curry and Danny Green. Instead we got what likely would have been an MVP season from Embiid had he not landed awkwardly that night in Washington, Tobias Harris transforming from a vastly overpaid top-100 player into a top-40 and maybe even top-30 player who is worth that hefty check, two of the best perimeter defenders in the league in Ben Simmons and Matisse Thybulle, and a team that was determined to get that 1 seed. Just a gigantic success.

Jackson Frank: I’ve been really impressed. I thought the roster improvements they made this offseason would have them in contention for a top-3/4 seed. I didn’t expect them to be a clear-cut top-3 team and hold the No. 1 seed for most of the year. They beat most of the teams they were supposed to and when healthy, competed well with other top dogs around the league.

Tyler Monahan: It has been so awesome. Everything about this team is incredibly fun. Even if they weren’t as good as they are, I’d love them for their personalities alone. Everyone is doing their part and for the first time in a long time it feels like every single member of the roster is locked in and looking to prove that last year’s disaster was a blip on the radar.

Which Sixer has impressed you the most this season?

Adio Royster: The easy answer is Tobias Harris because his numbers are up across the board. I’m gonna go with Furkan Korkmaz, though. The Sixers have Danny Green and Seth Curry in the starting lineup to chuck bombs, but Shake Milton had a bit of an up and down season shooting wise. Korkmaz has always kinda hung around and been there. He takes the third most three-point attempts (4.9) and connects on 37.5 percent of them. Korkmaz averages 1.247 points per possession on spot up jump shots, per Synergy Sports (1.479 when he’s unguarded, and the better roster construction has allowed for A LOT of uncontested threes). He’s the steady bench bomber, and that’s been big for the team when Green or Curry need a breather.

Dan Volpone: Embiid. The jump from fringe top-10 player to top-3 player is enormous, and while I always knew he had it in him, it’s been so impressive to watch. I love him.

Jackson Frank: It’s gotta be Tobias Harris for me. There are many ways you can answer this question, but Tobias’ rise has been central to the Sixers’ success. He’s struggled mightily in his first two playoff runs as a Sixer. If that version returns, the Sixers will encounter significant hurdles. He must remain a proficient half-court shot creator and shrewd decision-maker, particularly in lineups without Embiid.

Daniel Olinger: Embiid is the obvious answer, considering it’s hard not to be impressed by a top-5 player in the league. Harris likewise has been very impressive in his ascension, but I’ll give some Thybulle some shine here. We already knew Tobias and Joel could have success in this league, albeit not to this extent. It was still a question as to whether Thybulle was going to work out heading into this season given both his poor play in the bubble and in the first few weeks of this season. Now, he’s on track to join a very exclusive list of players to make an All-Defensive team within their first two seasons, despite playing fewer minutes than all of them. Incredible.

Heading into the playoffs, which play-in teams do you most and least want to see the Sixers play?

Daniel Olinger: Ranking from bottom to top like I’m Steve Jones on the Dunker Spot, I’d least want to play the Wizards given their recent hot stretch of play and the way in which they relentlessly attack defenses with rim pressure. After that it’s the Pacers, even though they’ve had a catastrophic season and only beat the Sixers with an absent Embiid, I still don’t enjoy playing a team that just came out with a win over you. For a while I didn’t want to play the Celtics, but I’ve turned. Bring it on, this is revenge, and sweeping them in four will be absolutely delicious (though the Hornets are the top choice because they’re fun as heck and super beatable).

Steve Lipman: I think I’d most like the Sixers to play Charlotte. They’ve got a bunch of fun guys that I like, but I think the Sixers could roll them pretty easily. None of the four options are particularly daunting, in my opinion. I’d rather play all of them than the 12th-seeded Raptors, that’s for sure. I guess if I had to choose one to avoid it would be the Celtics, if only because another playoff exit at the hands of a depleted Boston team would be utterly crushing for me, personally.

Dan Volpone: I most want to play the Celtics because I think we’d beat them badly, and that would be so much fun. I’d say at this point I least want to play the Wizards. They’ve been hot, and Russell Westbrook and Bradley Beal can be frustrating to play against.

Outside of the obvious answer in MVP candidate Joel Embiid, which Sixer do you think is going to be the X-Factor during the playoffs?

Tyler Monahan: I think the player that is going to be a much bigger factor in the playoffs than he was in the regular season is Seth Curry. It cannot be understated how important it is to be able to put shooters around Ben Simmons especially when the pace slows down in the playoffs, and having a guard next to Simmons who can shoot AND dribble (who knew they were allowed to do both?) is really nice. We saw glimpses of Spicy Curry in the regular season, and I think we’re gonna see a lot more of it in this playoff run.

Adio Royster: Matisse Thybulle. After shooting 38 percent from three in March, Thybulle cooled a bit last month shooting 27 percent. He’s at 30 percent from three so far in May. Thybulle is going to see a fair amount of minutes against teams with several wings/guards like Boston, Atlanta, Milwaukee and especially Brooklyn. If he’s not helping the Sixers too much offensively from the perimeter and making it so the Sixers are playing 4-on-5 or 3-on-5 with Ben Simmons on the floor, it’s going to be very hard to keep him on the floor and either Green, Curry or Korkmaz will have to be used more for spacing purposes while sacrificing defensive intensity.

Steve Lipman: Ben Simmons, and it’s not particularly close, in my opinion. Beyond the first (and maybe second, depending how the bracket breaks) round, the Sixers just cannot sustain an offensively-inactive Ben Simmons. I don’t expect him to take jump shots (I never will), but I don’t think it’s too much for the Sixers to demand that he assert himself on offense. He must roll to the rim, attack the basket, play through contact, get out in transition, all of it. If the Sixers want to make it out of the East and through Brooklyn or Milwaukee, Simmons is going to have to be a factor, offensively. While I have zero doubt that he will be his best self, defensively, when it matters most, I’m skeptical that he will be the same on the other side of the ball. I’d sure love to see it.

Brooklyn Nets v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

How does this Sixers season end?

Adio Royster: At the beginning of the season, I had the Sixers losing in six games to the Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Conference Finals. With the Sixers having the 1-seed, it benefits the team significantly — especially since it was announced that the city of Philadelphia will allow for 10,000 fans for their first playoff game and possibly full capacity by June 11. All of that said, I think this is the year... that the Sixers GO to the NBA Finals with a legit shot to win the whole thing due to the injuries that are hurting top teams in the West (Donovan Mitchell in Utah, Jamal Murray in Denver). The Suns (inexperience) and the Clippers (lack of size) would be fun matchups, but I think the Sixers win both of those series. If it’s the Los Angeles Lakers, it depends on the overall health of LeBron James, but even then, I’m not entirely sure the Lakers have the firepower.

Daniel Olinger: I’m a very skeptical and pessimistic person, so it’s no shock that I’m calling for a loss in the Conference Finals as the final outcome. I’d pick both the Nets and the Bucks over Philly in the ECF, both in around 6 or 7 games, as I think they both have more off-the-dribble scoring utility and diversity throughout their rosters that will give them the edge over the Sixers that they need. I’d be very happy to be proven wrong, though!

Jackson Frank: Lose in 5 to the Nets in the Eastern Conference Finals. I’m a big proponent of this Nets team, bolstered with star-power and competent depth. But an ECF run, after the slog of last season, should not be dismissed, especially with the Sixers’ core — players, coaches and front office — in place for the long haul. This season will not be an outlier and can be a replicable benchmark.