10 Sixers Mid-Bubble Takeaways


Well, the Philadelphia 76ers certainly never make it easy for themselves.  After four games that saw TJ Warren go nuclear, Shake Milton play hero, and the team play down to two other inferior opponents, the 76ers are halfway through the seeding games.

Most unfortunately, Sixers Nation learned today that all-star forward Ben Simmons has been ruled out indefinitely after opting to undergo knee surgery to remove a loose body.

They are 3-1 midway through, but it certainly feels like 0-4.  Here are ten takeaways from Philadelphia’s bubble performance so far.

1) Joel Embiid

Joel Embiid was the best player on the floor in every game (you could argue TJ Warren’s 53 in the Indiana game as well, but Embiid put up 41/21).  He has certainly dominated from the post so far in the three-and-a-half seeding games.  While he may be the most gifted post scorer in the league, his passing out of double-teams may be his most important asset so far in Orlando.  Rather than force the issue and score through doubles, Embiid calmly kicks the ball outside for open three-point attempts.

The offense has been at its most effective with Embiid touching the ball in the post.  The team craters on the floor at times without him.  He is by far the most important player on the Sixers, and is carrying himself like the superstar that he is so far in Orlando.

2) Ben Simmons

We’ll make this quick so you don’t have to reach for a Kleenex.

One of the more disappointing trends so far in Orlando has been the defensive performance of Ben Simmons. After posting a first-team All-Defense caliber season before the hiatus, Simmons’ defensive effort was supposed to be a reliable tool. Instead, Simmons was torched by TJ Warren and lackadaisical defending DeMar DeRozan. He allowed DeRozan too much space, as he was able to pick and choose his spots. He was able to force Rui Hachimura into some mistakes, but his overall defensive performance has been poor.

Unfortunately, the bigger news is that Simmons exited the Wizards game after dislocating his knee cap. He’s likely lost for the season– a devastating blow to Philly’s playoff aspirations.

3) Shake Milton

After a poor start against Indiana, Shake Milton has acquitted himself quite well over the past three games.  Milton has dropped 16 and 14 points against the Spurs and Wizards respectively. He was more quiet scoring against the Magic, but Shake is showing that he is a willing three-point shooter and can attack the paint off the dribble.

Against the Pacers, he looked like a deer in headlights. Now, he looks like the player from before the break, and the reason for optimism with the new starting unit.  Oh yeah, he also won the San Antonio game with a last-second three.

4) 76ers’ Defense

The 76ers’ team defense was absolutely awful for the first two games of the restart. After allowing 127 points to the Indiana Pacers in the first game, they followed it up with 130 points allowed to San Antonio. Even more concerning were the defensive collapses in the 4th quarter of both games. Philadelphia has surrendered 46 and 43 points in the 4th their last two games respectively.

The Sixers were able to hold the Wizards to 98 points and 42.4% from the field, but Washington isn’t exactly the NBA’s cream of the crop.  Against the Magic — not exactly the most offensive-minded team — they allowed 101 points on 42% shooting.

The next four games against Portland, Phoenix, Toronto and Houston should really test this team defensively before the playoffs. It would not be shocking to see the defense revert back to the first two games based on the offenses they will face, especially without Ben Simmons. Philly will need to tighten it up on defense if they expect to make a deep postseason run.

5) Tobias Harris

After Embiid, Tobias Harris has been the second-best player for the 76ers so far in the bubble– minus the first half against the Wizards.  Harris lets the flow of the game come to him and hardly ever forces the issue.  He is also one of the few Sixers who willingly shoots threes whether they are dropping or not.  He is not the greatest defender, but the effort is always there.  Because of this, he was able to make a key defensive rotation to help sniff out San Antonio’s attempt at the rim to win the game.

6) Josh Richardson

Josh Richardson has been terrible so far in the bubble.  A handful of times over the last three games, Brett Brown had Richardson fill some of the back up point-guard minutes. Like the Indiana game, there is a mountain of evidence showing that Richardson is overtaxed as team’s primary facilitator. When he is the one commandeering the offense, Richardson has a tough time getting others involved and forces the issue.

When he was not running as the team’s point guard, however, Richardson made solid offensive contributions and hit a few threes as well. It would be really nice if more of Richardson’s shot attempts went to Milton or Alec Burks. Richardson has also been torched by opposing guards defensively, his supposed calling card. Heading into the year, Richardson was relied on to be a night in, night out, two-way contributor. Unfortunately, he is now a prime candidate to be moved during the offseason.

7) Al Horford

Al Horford has quietly turned in a solid bubble performance so far. It does not seem like the $109 million man is affecting the game at all, but these are the sneaky Al Horford performances that occurred frequently during his time in Boston. The hiatus provided Horford some valuable rest for the stretch run.

With Simmons now out indefinitely, Horford will once again be thrusted into the starting lineup.  The 76ers have actually performed well with both Horford and Embiid on the floor together, while Simmons rests. However, his most important role will still be to ensure the 76ers are not torched without Embiid on the floor. If he can’t make a positive contribution then, there is a good chance he is moved on from as well.

9) 76ers Coaching Change?

These four games have been incredible for the “Fire Brett Brown” crowd. Confusing offensive fits and collapsing without Embiid on the floor are issues that reflect poorly on Brown and his staff. Add in a pair of atrocious defensive performances with an unusual guard rotation, and more fuel is dumped onto the fire. These three games have not been great for Brett Brown’s job security. Some are even worried about Brown getting out-coached in a playoff series. He has done a great job guiding the organization through the lean years of the Process, but it may soon be time for a new voice in the room.

10) 76ers Front Office

This final takeaway cannot be overlooked. The 76ers’ front office has failed Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, and these bubble games have highlighted that.  Both players are other-worldly basketball talents that dominate close to the rim. So what does the front office do? They surround their two talents with average to below-average perimeter players. They squandered most of the valuable trade assets accumulated by Sam Hinkie and have an inept offensive team to show for it.

It is still inexcusable that Josh Harris and ownership decided to keep Bryan Colangelo’s entire staff in place after Burnergate. As much as everyone loves to blame Coach Brown, the 76ers’ failure to meet expectations also falls squarely on the front office. Hopefully Elton Brand and company do not use Simmons’ knee injury as an excuse this off-season. They need to reevaluate roster decisions that were made the past two years and address their wrongs.

With four games now in the books, the 76ers look ahead to a matchup with the Portland Trail Blazers Sunday evening.

Follow us on Twitter @SixersLead for the latest Lakers news and insight.

About Tim Andrews

Big Basketball Fan. Follow me on Twitter @TimAndrews_13. Contributing for @TLSportsMedia / @SixersLead / @TheBLAnalytics Trust the Process.

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