Overview of last season
Where do we begin?
For most of last season, the Philadelphia 76ers were knee-deep in drama. It started even before tipoff when Ben Simmons refused to attend official team functions in the offseason. It then spilled over into the regular season when the Sixers’ playmaker refused to suit up and play for the team. His holdout lasted until February 2022 when the team traded away Simmons to the Brooklyn Nets in exchange for another unhappy All-Star, James Harden.
Harden was supposed to pair with Joel Embiid as the most devastating inside-outside combination since Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant. That just never materialized. Harden wasn’t at full capacity. He played well but not well enough to vault the Sixers into the title contention they envisioned when they traded for him.
All those issues the team faced with Simmons and Harden overshadowed an MVP-level year from Embiid and a breakout season for Tyrese Maxey. The product on the court was never given the full focus it needed and because of that, Philadelphia once again fell short of expectations.
What’s new this season?
Do you hear that? Exactly. Nothing.
Nothing is being said about the Sixers heading into next season. And that’s actually a sigh of relief for the team. They’d much rather go into next season with no noise, no buzz, no hype, no undue expectations, and most importantly, no drama.
Embiid will be building on last season’s incredible success and is out to prove that he is the premiere big man in the league. Maxey tore it up in the preseason and is looking like a fringe All-Star out in the East. Harden looks like he’s in shape and has fully bought into the team system.
Philly is going into next season focused on how well they can perform on the court, not on trade machine scenarios.
The answer to this is simple. It’s Joel Embiid. He’s the unquestioned leader of the team. The more interesting conversation is about who should be playing like THE guy for the Sixers. The only correct answer to that is James Harden.
Harden is coming off a down year where he averaged only 22 points on 41 percent shooting. Sure, he still dished out 10 assists and grabbed seven rebounds per game, but those numbers are just the chocolate sauce and sprinkles. Where’s the sundae?
Harden’s scoring is so important for the Sixers. At his best, Harden was one of the most assertive scorers in the NBA. He got to the line at an annoying rate because he also attacked the basket aggressively. He used unusual but effective moves to get his points. Because of that, defenses were always on the back foot, never knowing what he would do. That, in turn, opened up several opportunities for the rest of his team.
Now, imagine all the open looks Embiid would have gotten with another MVP on the floor with him. Then imagine how open the perimeter would be for Harden with Embiid occupying space in the middle. That’s the kind of dilemma defenses have to face if both Harden and Embiid are playing at the top of their games.
That’s why Philly needs Embiid to stay as THE guy for the team. More importantly, they need Harden to also remember how it was to be THE guy.
Sneaky fun guy
It seems like all Doc Rivers-run teams have that one pesky bulldog defender they can deploy to lock up the opposing player. While Matisse Thybulle is an excellent defender, he just doesn’t have that annoying quality. That’s where De’Anthony Melton comes in.
Check the stats. Melton averaged 1.4 steals and 0.5 blocks per game last season. He also had a 104.8 defensive rating, lower than the league average of 112 last season. There were several games last season where Melton led his team in blocks. What’s even more impressive is that he tallied those numbers while standing at only 6’2”.
That’s the kind of bulldog mentality that Rivers needs on the team. He needs a player that goes after the ball with reckless abandon. That guy could be Melton next season.
It’s Eastern Conference Finals or bust for the Sixers next season.
They have an MVP beast, a prolific playmaker, a young scorer, champion role players, and an experienced coach. They also subtracted several distractions heading into next season. That’s a formula for success. There are few teams with the talent that they have on their roster.
That’s why another early playoff exit won’t do anymore. Embiid, Harden, and Rivers have to lead this team to a deep playoff run next season. There are no more excuses for them.