Questions Surrounding Philly’s Future Remain


The first week of 76ers basketball is in the books!

Opening the season with a victory, Philadelphia followed up by splitting their weekend slate to cap off their first week of 2020-21 regular season basketball.

A 2-1 start is a solid way to open the season, but games against inferior east teams did leave a lot left to be desired from this Sixers team.

Following their first week back, here are the five most pressing questions for the franchise if they want to make it out of East this season.

After all this change, why do things still feel the same?

The franchise brought in Daryl Morey to establish a clear power structure in the front office. New Head Coach Doc Rivers and a revamped coaching staff were provide this core with a fresh start. Players acquired in the offseason were brought in to complement the two stars in Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons.

On paper things would seem to be much different this time around, as Morey answered everyone’s prayers by providing Simmons and Embiid with more spacing. But the eye test, however, tells a different story.

The season opener saw the Sixers struggle to create offense throughout the game until Embiid decided to impose his will against the Wizards.

The following game against the Knicks showcased some more cohesion between the starting group, but ultimately it was against an inferior New York team.

Embiid/Simmons Sixers teams will always have this clunky feel to them as much of their skill sets will overlap each other, but it is disappointing to see the feel of this team hasn’t changed much even with more shooters and spacing. It takes them a long time to get in their sets and still struggle to create easy looks.

Then as in years past, the Sixers failed to show any life without Embiid in the lineup on Sunday

Simmons with shooters and complimentary role players has had success in the past, but Sunday night against the Cavs things didn’t go the Sixers’ way.

This year there are many new faces in Philadelphia, so why do things still feel eerily similar to the Sixers of old? 

Can Embiid elevate to a Top Player in this league?

Joel Embiid has started the season out strong, averaging 28.0 points, 12.0 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game with a true-shooting percentage of 63.6%. But a last-minute scratch due to back stiffness kept Embiid out of the Sixers’ second-night-of-a-back-to-back against Cleveland.

The most paramount skill any top-player can have is being available for their team. For Embiid it’s never been about the talent or ability. It’s whether or not he can more than 85% of his team’s games (something Embiid has yet to accomplish).

The two games Joel was active for, he did showcase the dominant player he can be.

Saturday night against the Knicks he scored 20 points in the first half and led an impressive 3rd quarter surge to put the game out of reach, but Wednesday night’s season opener against the Wizards was the kind of night Embiid displayed his dominance.

Due to an ugly 3rd quarter, the Sixers opened the fourth with a 10-point deficit. Rivers realizing Embiid needed to enforce himself upon the game, deployed a Embiid + four-shooters lineup. The big man rewarded his new coach with a monster stretch where he was responsible for 16 of the Sixers’ first 18 points to start the quarter. Bullying the opposing the defense and running the offense through him, Embiid single handedly secured a victory for Philadelphia.

Whether it has been injuries, physical conditioning or clunky roster construction surrounding him, Embiid has yet to ascend to that top-tier status. He has all the talent and physicals to be that kind of player. Staying on the floor will be Embiid’s greatest challenge in attaining that status. Was the Sunday night’s a fluke or a sign of more absences to come?

When will Ben Simmons turn the corner?

Heading into the season, Coach Rivers didn’t seem to be too concerned with Simmons’ offensive game, as he said “I don’t care about Ben’s shooting as much as so many other seem to care about it… I care that he’s a great player, and I’m gonna let him play. I mean, give him the keys and let him be free and play.”

Simmons’ early-season offensive production is down across the board and once again has come into another season showing nothing new on the offensive side of the floor. In a game without Embiid, Simmons failed to take the reigns.

From the second he stepped on an NBA court, Simmons has been a special and was immediately ready to make an impact. But now in his fourth year, one would be hard pressed to find anything offensively that Simmons has improved upon during his time in the league.

Yes, the criticism mostly lies with his perimeter shooting (or lack thereof), but the more concerning problems are those involving his finishing. For someone with great physicals, Simmons doesn’t finish through contact enough and often settles for touch shots to middling success.

In order for Simmons to truly solidify himself as a top-15 player in this league he needs to show some kind of offensive improvement. Will Doc Rivers eventually ask more of his young star, pushing him to become a better finisher, or will Simmons’ best role in the halfcourt continue to be him in the dunker spot?

Can Doc Rivers salvage Tobias Harris?

As a Sixer, Harris has been criticized for his indecisive decision making, even prompting his former and now current head coach to address the issue

For Tobias, Wednesday night’s opener was no different, having easily one of the worst games of his 76ers career. He shot 3-13 from the field, missed all of his 3 point attempts (0-4), and didn’t provide much impact elsewhere.

The following games against the Knicks and Cavs, Tobias picked up his pace of play. After three games, however, Tobias is averaging less than 15 points– well below the standards of the highest-paid player on an NBA team.

He doesn’t have a quick trigger and often turns down open 3s for contested 2s. He’s not an elite passer or creator, so he needs to find what valuable trait he can bring to this team. Luckily, Tobias played his best basketball under Coach Rivers in his previous stint with the Clippers.

The 76ers franchise believes in the player he can be. Now it’s up to Doc to revitalize the once-promising play that he cultivated back in 2018. Rivers has made a point to put him in more pick-and-rolls as the ball handler similar to his days in LA. But Tobias’ lack of quick decision making usually results in a contested mid-range jumper rather than creating an easy basket in the paint or from the outside.

The 76ers’ first week clearly showed that Tobias will not be the focal point of this offense, so how does the highest-paid Sixer make a valuable impact on this team moving forward?

Do the 76ers ultimately pull the trigger on the Harden trade?

Reminiscent of the 2017-18 Philly squad, this team should be fun and exciting with shooters around Simmons and Embiid but may ultimately be destined for a early playoff exit.

Even three years later, the question remains: Who is the Sixers’ primary creator?  

  • Embiid can be dominant but is reluctant to pass out of the double, and struggles to make quick decisions out of the post.
  • Simmons is an exciting open-court talent but is limited in the halfcourt until proven otherwise.
  • Shake Milton has shown flashes as a lead creator but still is an unproven NBA player.
  • Tobias has clearly regressed since his Clipper days and struggles to be comfortable in the Sixers’ system.

Here is where James Harden comes in. The disgruntled Rockets star clearly wants out of Houston, and Philadelphia has been the most rumored destination.

As of Monday, the NBA fined Daryl Morey $50K for anti-tampering violations involving his former Houston superstar.

In any Harden deal, Daryl Morey will surely have to include Ben Simmons as the centerpiece, meaning an end to the Process era in Philly.

Daryl has made clear he doesn’t plan to trade Simmons and that the franchise duo can make it work. But without assets or cap flexibility to add another significant impact player anytime soon, the opportunity to pair Embiid with a generation offensive talent in Harden might be too good to pass up.

Regardless of how special Simmons can be for years to come, a Harden/Embiid pairing is tantalizing to say the least. 

Unless the Sixers tear through the regular season, the most pressing question surrounding the 76ers will be whether or not Morey decides to make a championship run with the stars he has or a familiar superstar from his past.

Follow us on Twitter @SixersLead for the latest 76ers news and insight. 

About Jeff Moran

NBA fan since the dark days of the early 2000's. Favorite player growing up was Allen Iverson. Self-loathing 76ers fan ever since. Argue with anyone, anywhere that MJ is the GOAT.

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