On a recent “Talking About Podcast” with host Sean Kennedy, Sean and I made some predictions for the season. Definitely give that a listen if you haven’t already.
I think on most of the points we happened to disagree upon, Sean made the more persuasive arguments. He comes off a bit more glass half full than I did too. He even has himself worried with how optimistic he is for this coming season.
I’m going to explain a little bit about why I a) took the Sixers under 50.5 wins, b) only had Joel Embiid finishing seventh in MVP voting, and c) why I picked Tyrese Maxey, and not James Harden to make the All-Star team. If you wanted to call any of those bold predictions I suppose all of those could fit. The first two could be seen as Debbie Downer picks, and the third could for Harden, at least.
I’m used to being wrong on this stuff, so keep that in mind. But here we go.
Why I took the under on 50.5 games, and had Embiid not finishing top-five for MVP
Joel has made clear he isn’t solely focused on individual awards this year. That’s the biggest thing for his MVP chances.
If healthy all year, the Sixers will easily win more than 50 games. I wouldn’t crown this team better than the 2019 Jimmy Butler Sixers yet, but it does look like the most talented and deepest team Embiid has had since then. And he’s improved a ton since then too. Our Tom West called for wing depth, and Harden’s pay cut allowed Daryl Morey to deliver. Now the Sixers’ age old weakness looks like a strength.
But among true title contenders, the Sixers appear to have a pretty high injury risk profile. You could, of course, say the same about the Denver Nuggets, the Brooklyn Nets, the Los Angeles Clippers, and a couple others. There are also the teams that are pretty fragile, like the Dallas Mavericks, since they have a whole carton of eggs in one sensational Slovenian basket, for example.
Between Embiid’s injury history and play style, Harden’s two-year hamstring issue, and P.J. Tucker’s age, plus recent knee procedure, the Sixers rate on the higher end among some of these top teams for risk profile. They’re going to have to embrace true, formulaic Adam Silver and some fans will whine, load management, the type that the title-winning Spurs and Raptors embraced. If not, they may have to deal with some key absences.
Each key player comes with his own risks.
Here's the play where PJ Tucker hurt his left knee. You can see him grab at it after closing out on Horford. And we clearly limited for the remainder of the first half. pic.twitter.com/I63ng8lHbf— Wes Goldberg (@wcgoldberg) May 20, 2022
PJ Tucker walking off slowly after Joel Embiid hit the deck and took him out on the way by. Looked like he might have grazed his knee on the way by.— Kyle Neubeck (@KyleNeubeck) October 13, 2022
Sixers need to have a training session to teach all their players how to avoid Embiid when he falls to the floor 50 times a game. I’m serious.— Tom Tobin (@tobes975) October 13, 2022
Can someone, anyone please learn to throw a post entry or hi-low pass? My goodness this is terrible, also Embiid should let that one go. To make matters worse the Heat find Strus for the transition three. pic.twitter.com/qHjmBnBIEJ— Mo Dakhil (@MoDakhil_NBA) May 10, 2022
On Mar. 25 Doc Rivers admitted Harden’s hamstring “was still not there,” but then played him 38 mpg over the next 8 games, Despite him visibly holding at the hammy on occasion (Phx). For a guy w/ his history it was an ultra aggressive strategy that (predictably) didn’t work out. https://t.co/G5w1PfmSGU— DaveEarly (@DavidEarly) September 6, 2022
When last we saw Embiid play a playoff game, commentators noted he’d fallen to the floor around ten times in the first half alone! He took out Danny Green on one of those falls. A few nights ago, he had a scary collision with Tucker’s not-yet-100 percent knee that necessitated attention.
Tucker says the knee that had offseason surgery has been pretty good thru camp+preseason.— Austin Krell (@NBAKrell) October 16, 2022
"Every week, just trying to get better, get stronger. It's not 100 percent yet, but it's a working progression to get there. But, it's been good. Training staff has been helping me a lot."
Embiid is one of the five best players in the sport, but we all understand he takes a lot of spills, many of course, strategically.
After watching the few possessions we saw of the Sixers this preseason, it seems there will be some validity to the idea Embiid is placing a bit more of an emphasis on defense, and less on the scoring burden.
Terry Rozier strips Harden but Embiid chases him down and swats it out of bounds pic.twitter.com/DipYikla1I— hoops bot (@hoops_bot) October 13, 2022
That’s great news. Still, there will be some spills that leave his biggest fans a bit nervous.
As diehard fans of Embiid know, the two scariest moments watching him play are when he 1.) accelerates and leaps for a dunk, especially in traffic. Several of his injuries and worst falls have come that way. And 2.) when he goes hard for a block on the move.
Notice the couple times Joel tries to block Garland from preseason above. He has a little trouble sticking the landings. The more of those we get in a season, the more likely a guy is to pick up some bumps and bruises along the way.
Nobody wants Joel to lose what makes him special. But he has already evolved his game tremendously to add Eurosteps, short shots, deceleration, and touch to reduce risk while still playing his best ball. He’s going to have to continue with that.
If he’s gonna put more emphasis on defense this season, he may have to be a little bit more cognizant to land in the same place that he jumped from, going straight up and down so that he’s less likely to land on someone else. You’re less likely to pick up fouls that way too.
Here, a 40-year-old Tim Duncan totally dominates a playoff game on the defensive end without putting himself in harm’s way, (and all with about 75 percent less athleticism than our current MVP-caliber Embiid). Tiny jumps, landing where he jumped from.
“Scorecasting” once highlighted data that showed simply contesting a shot then securing the rebound was often more valuable than a block anyway.
So the way I see it, if Embiid continues to evolve in the way he plays, he may continue to reduce the bumps and bruises he picks up.
Still, between the chances the Sixers limit Joel’s games played, or the chances they don’t, the odds he gets banged up, I’m taking the under on the win total, (I said they’ll win 50 on the nose) and have him finishing just seventh in MVP voting.
The latter is probably too low, cause he’s sensational. Even if he sits 20 games on purpose, his per game averages when fresh may get him to fifth. But it was my spur of the moment pick on our podcast, so here I am explaining my rationale.
That was a two for one.
Maxey makes anAll-Star Game, James Harden doesn’t
Harden makes the All-Star game every year. And Maxey would have to bump a few ridiculously talented guards. So this may be bold, like picking the Sixers under 51 wins. He won’t have the G-F designation that would help a player like Jayson Tatum or Luka Doncic. He’ll have to outplay newcomers to the East like Donovan Mitchell or Jalen Brunson (who may be the total focal point of the Knicks and put up numbers, earning key votes). Bradley Beal may be quite a bit healthier. Competition will be fierce.
It won’t be easy. But if Harden is load managed, or a step slow, if Embiid is load managed or misses time, then there may be a world where the Sixers are leaning on Tyrese Maxey for points heavily in the first half of the season. And if they’re a top seed, he’ll be hard to ignore.
That’s my thesis, and I’m going with it. Dude barely missed in the preseason.