The 76ers had high hopes before the 2022-23 campaign, yet an 0-3 start curtailed the Philly faithful’s enthusiasm. A lot of things have been said, nonetheless the Eagles and Phillies have provided a big enough distraction from the 76ers’ emotional rollercoaster.
It is still way too early to project the team’s future success or lack thereof, however winning cures all and the Sixers are 3-1 in their last four games. The victory over Phoenix was a big step, and with some phenomenal all-around play by Joel Embiid, they put together back-to-back wins this past weekend, and have a modest overall record of 7-7. There are some points of interest and the good has to be accepted along with the areas of concern. Embiid was in and then out of the lineup because he was sick, and James Harden is nursing a foot injury. Tyrese Maxey is better than he was a year ago, and his consistency as an NBA point guard is going to be a work in progress. He is talented, and yet he is still learning to make the right decisions to lead this team while Harden is out for at least a month. De’Anthony Melton has proven to be a solid offseason addition, with his defense and ability to shoot. Maxey and Melton have played well together as the team will benefit from having them working off one another.
The main ingredient to the process was a lack of continuity. The franchise was a revolving door of personnel, and while the organization has turned things around, stability has yet to be established over consecutive seasons. The losses of Jimmy Butler and JJ Redick are difficult to recoup. Butler is exactly what any team would need, from playmaking, toughness, and leadership, not to mention how well he complemented Embiid. Redick was also a nice fit for the 76ers due to his high-level shooting, especially from beyond the arc. The championship-caliber teams make subtle changes to maintain their pedigree. They do not overhaul the roster from year-to-year, nor do they engage in drama that would make the tabloids green with envy.
Hindsight provides a perfect picture of what could have and possibly should have been done, nonetheless, the trade with Brooklyn, which boiled down to Ben Simmons for James Harden was not only necessary, it appears to have worked out for the 76ers. The Simmons debacle was a huge distraction, and eventually after enough silence from Simmons and finger pointing on all sides, there was too much damage to forge forward. That ordeal hindered the team and it has become another footnote in a season that ended a lot shorter than it had the potential to.
Harden came into training camp two months ago ready to silence the doubters and give the captivated audience a performance they were expecting all along. The fans and media alike would agree that the 76ers won the trade, however, there are some parts that can be filed as collateral damage. Seth Curry, Andre Drummond and two first-round picks might not look like much on the surface, nevertheless, Curry filled the void left by Redick, and Drummond was a superb backup to Embiid. They provided the Sixers with depth, rebounding, and a scoring punch either off the bench or as a solid third or fourth option if the play broke down.
Good things take time, and with the tweaks, trades, and changes, the expectation of automatic success is unrealistic. Fast-forward to the present day 76ers and you have a team that has earned enough respect to give them a little more time to gel as well as get back on the floor from injury. Georges Niang knows his role, and against the Suns, he made the defense pay for not knowing where he was on the floor at certain points. Outside of that, he hustled hard and played a nice two-man game with Joel Embiid, who made a triumphant return from an illness.
It’s not surprising that the 76ers play up to their potential with a healthy Embiid in the mix. He drew double-teams in the post against the Suns, Hawks and Jazz while finding the open man. He swung the ball, so the offense would move, and he made the opposition work by being active on the both ends of the floor. He is the catalyst for the 76ers’ success. Harden is a game manager, who distributes the ball like no one else on the team. He can also call his own number to put big points on the board. When he comes back, the hope is that the Sixers have found the balance they need to put together a full 48 minutes with sound defensive decision-making and an inside/out offensive attack.
The best way forward is with Embiid playing more like he did against Phoenix. He pulled down 10 boards, with seven coming on the offensive end, and he shot a perfect 16-for-16 from the charity stripe. He took four attempts from the three-point line (1 of 4), however his five assists were one of the reasons why the fans went home happy afterward. He also had a few hockey assists to ensure the victory. Not many people can stand toe-to-toe with the big man and when he makes up his mind to get everyone involved and control the things he can control the 76ers tend to walk away with positive results. The numbers he posted against the Jazz are MVP-worthy (59 points, 11 rebounds, 8 assists, 7 blocks, 1 steal) and the addition of James Harden will lighten the offensive burden from Embiid’s shoulders.
More team ball will equal more consistency. More consistency will mean more wins.