For the last month of the 2020-21 regular season, here are five things to look at from the Philadelphia 76ers.
The end of the regular season can be a drag. With the best teams biding their time until the playoffs, and the worst ones mailing it in to maximize draft position, the last chunk of the calendar often feels like filler.
The Philadelphia 76ers fall in the former category. Back among the East’s beasts after a down year in 2020, the Sixers are championship contenders once again. Joel Embiid is having an MVP-level season, anchoring both the offense and defense like few players can. Helping him out are Ben Simmons, a Defensive Player of the Year candidate, and Tobias Harris, who is doing just enough in a secondary scoring role.
Danny Green and Seth Curry, the fourth and fifth starters, were simple adds that are paying huge dividends. By swapping out Al Horford and Josh Richardson, two guys who do their best on the inside, with Green and Curry, two shooters, everything opened up. Embiid and Harris can breathe in the space those two create, which has resulted in career years for each of them.
Behind them is a group of competent role players. This supporting cast doesn’t blow the doors off anyone, but is a breath of fresh air for Sixers fans. After all, this is the team that has historically procrastinated on acquiring depth: Marco Belinelli and Ersan Ilyasova were buyout additions in February of 2018, Mike Scott and James Ennis III were acquired at the 2019 trade deadline, and Alec Burks and Glenn Robinson III were deadline adds last year. Having an entrenched sixth man in Shake Milton and a viable backup center in Dwight Howard from day one is a relief. Matisse Thybulle and Furkan Korkmaz playing themselves into roles is a bonus.
But as Sixers fans know all too well, what you see now is rarely what you get in the playoffs. Simmons gets knocked down several pegs in that setting, and Embiid’s post game becomes easier to defend with the right opposing personnel. Other than a few months of Jimmy Butler, the Sixers haven’t had the perimeter scorer that virtually every good team has. The guy who can ad-lib offense when the going gets tough; the alchemist; the release valve.
How they remedy that weakness is among many things to look at over the next month. I’ll be focusing on five topics in particular, a quintet of questions that the Sixers will hopefully answer over these final five weeks.