Philadelphia 76ers
(Matt Slocum/Associated Press)

Less than six months ago, we watched the Philadelphia 76ers get swept in the first round of the 2020 Playoffs by the Boston Celtics. Sixers fans can only “trust the process” for so long. Is this the year they make a title run, or will this be the last ride for the Simmons-Embiid tandem?

Key Additions: Seth Curry, Danny Green, Dwight Howard, Tyrese Maxey, GM Daryl Morey, Head Coach Doc Rivers

As a playmaker with no jump shot, Ben Simmons needs shooters around him to be successful. General manager Daryl Morey came in and immediately filled that need by trading for Seth Curry. The younger Curry brother is the active leader in three-point percentage, converting over 44% of his attempts from beyond the arc.

Danny Green is another sharpshooter, at least on paper. His shooting struggles during last season’s playoffs were painfully obvious, but he is still a career 40% three-point shooter. Even if the shots don’t fall for him this season, Green is an excellent perimeter defender who will help fill any void left by Josh Richardson.

With Green, Dwight Howard brings a championship pedigree to Philadelphia after winning his first title with the Lakers last season. Although well out of his prime, Howard will provide valuable minutes off the bench as a veteran presence down low. He is still an excellent rebounder and finisher in the paint.

Philly selected Kentucky guard Tyrese Maxey with the 21st overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft. I graded this pick a C- at the time, raising concerns about Maxey’s shooting as well as his consistency on either end of the floor. It remains to be seen how he will carve out a role in the guard rotation this season.

The Philadelphia 76ers also welcome a new general manager and head coach to the franchise. GM Daryl Morey comes from a very successful tenure with the Rockets. Head Coach Doc Rivers joins from the Los Angeles Clippers with a 2008 Boston title to his name. These additions represent a very real effort from the Sixers to make the Simmons-Embiid duo finally work out.

Key Losses: Josh Richardson, Al Horford

Richardson is a great defender and athletic wing, so losing him would be rough if he wasn’t used to pick up Seth Curry. He was a nice piece for the Sixers, but they really needed shooters at the end of the day.

Al Horford is a key loss in that he’s a big name that averaged 11.9 points per game last season. However, his contract was one of the NBA’s worst in terms of value. It’s best for the Sixers that they parted ways.

Other than Richardson and Horford, there aren’t any departures Philadelphia 76ers supporters should really be concerned about. If you’re really that broken up about losing Zhaire Smith, I’m not sure what to tell you.

Starting Lineup: Ben Simmons, Seth Curry, Danny Green, Tobias Harris, Joel Embiid

Not many surprises here. Curry and Green enter the starting rotation and will help with the Sixers’ spacing. Simmons will once again take the majority of the playmaking responsibilities. It would be surprising if this rotation was not their most efficient by the time the season ends. Philadelphia’s bench lacks reliable shooters other than Furkan Korkmaz, so any time they need to play with Simmons, the team’s offensive efficiency will surely go down. Last season, Philadelphia finished right around the middle of the pack in offensive efficiency. Ideally, the addition of perimeter threats will help improve upon those issues.

Defensively, expect them to be excellent. Simmons and Green are both fantastic defensive talents. Matisse Thybulle adds his own defensive flair off the bench. The Sixers finished in the top 10 for defensive efficiency over the 2019-20 campaign. Look for that to continue.

Key Storylines

Will Philly Trade for James Harden?

Rumors have been flying about the potential landing spots for James Harden. Philadelphia is one team rumored to be targeting the star guard. It’s unclear right now whether Daryl Morey is shopping Ben Simmons or not. If this trade were to happen, it would be a drastic change to Philadelphia’s team and season outlook.

Will Ben Simmons Ever Learn How to Shoot?

You may think this is a joke or just roll your eyes at it, but I am 100% serious. Ben Simmons’ lack of a three-point shot drastically hurts this team. When opposing teams can ease off Simmons at the perimeter, that impacts not only his ability to make plays, but also the opportunities for his teammates to get open looks. Spacing is a necessity in today’s NBA. It would be different if Simmons was a 30% shooter from deep, but even that is apparently too much to ask.

Also, the narrative that his shot has been improving since his rookie season is a complete lie. His shooting has actually regressed. Over the last three years, Ben Simmons is taking progressively fewer shots from outside of ten feet and his percentage on those shots has also consistently decreased. Don’t believe me? Here’s a video that breaks it down really nicely.

Is This the Final Season of Simmons-Embiid?

Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid have been together for three seasons now. Lauded as one of the best duos in the NBA, they have yet to actually produce anything. They haven’t even made an Eastern Conference Finals appearance. Assuming Daryl Morey is being truthful about keeping Simmons around, this has to be the final year of testing the waters with this duo. There are no more excuses. Simmons has enough shooters around him to offset his lack of perimeter ability. When healthy, Embiid is a top-2 center in the NBA. The Philadelphia 76ers have a great GM and a winning head coach. It’s championship or bust.

Season Outlook and Prediction

The ceiling for this team is being the Eastern Conference representative in the NBA Finals. That shouldn’t be shocking to anyone. Sure, some things will need to break right for the Sixers in the playoffs, but it’s absolutely possible if they play their best basketball.

However, the floor for this team is probably the fifth or sixth seed in the Eastern Conference and a first-round playoff exit. The East is not as weak as it used to be. The Bucks and Nets are legit title contenders. Boston’s young core is still very dangerous. The Miami Heat were just in the NBA Finals. As a team with notable issues regarding chemistry and fit over the last few seasons, they need to put those problems far behind them if they ever want to succeed.

Assuming there are no major shakeups to the current roster, my prediction for this Philadelphia 76ers team is a finish somewhere around 4th place in the East with a very real chance of another first-round playoff exit. Simmons and Embiid have not been able to make it work thus far, and there’s not really any reason to believe this year will be different. However, if everything finally gels for this squad, the ceiling is a title.

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