As much as it pains me to say this as a Boston Celtics fan, the Philadelphia 76ers are extremely well-positioned to win the Eastern Conference this season. So much so that I am putting my foot forth and declaring them my team to watch this upcoming NBA season.
Last season, the Sixers won 50 games, despite re-making their team twice in one season. They came within a few bounces of the ball from the conference finals after Kawhi Leonard hit one of the most clutch shots in NBA history.
Now, they re-constructed again, adding Al Horford from the Boston Celtics in free agency and Justin Richardson in a trade that sent Jimmy Butler to the Miami Heat. They are starting to form a culture in Philly, one without the walking headache that is Butler and one in the image of general manager Elton Brand. We are past the “Trust the Process” days of the 76ers buffering their way to a top-three pick, now it’s time for them to load.
How will they do it, you ask? Well they aren’t without questions, as they have a weakness in the shooting department. However, they are like a 15-man forest full of Whomping Willows from “Harry Potter,” with their enormous heights and long arms to swoop away their opponents’ offense. This team has 11—yes, 11—players over 6-foot-8 on their 19-man training camp roster.
With their astounding height and arm span, they will be able to clog the lane and force other teams into a shooting-heavy strategy. Other Eastern Conference teams with smaller guards, like Kemba Walker and Trae Young, feed the ball to their centers or opt to shoot longer 3-point attempts. If they feed their inside man, they will be met by three or four giants swatting at the ball. If they jack longer 3-pointers, they have a lower chance to go in and could give the 76ers a transition opportunity.
Philadelphia already ranked No. 4 in the NBA in assist per field goals made, with .644 per field goal. Then they added Al Horford. Last season in Boston, Horford dished 4.2 assists per game, good for third among all centers behind Nikola Jokic and Marc Gasol. Add that to Joel Embiid, who was no slouch when it came to tossing dimes last year, and you have the best passing frontcourt in the game.
Having a free-flowing, team-oriented offense will put the Sixers in position to score early and often. Even without the benefit of J.J. Redick’s shooting abilities on the perimeter, they can salvage enough 3-point shooting to keep opposing defenses on their toes. Despite no standout shooter on the team, they have a good amount of players capable of hitting one or two a game. If they somehow gave Rookie of the Year Ben Simmons a jump shot, he could be even more dangerous, despite shooting with the wrong hand.
If they can develop chemistry and quell their shooting concerns, this team will be dangerous. Like, title dangerous.
At this point, just a handful of teams in the East stand in their way. Most of the teams that do get worse this off-season, though.
The Toronto Raptors are a borderline playoff team, despite winning the title last season, with the losses of Leonard and Danny Green. They are an old team surviving on the last legs of Kyle Lowry and Marc Gasol’s careers.
The Milwaukee Bucks lost combo guard Malcolm Brogdon to the Indiana Pacers, but will return essentially the same team otherwise. However, the Bucks do not have the size in the frontcourt to stop a team like the Sixers. Brook and Robin Lopez are no match for Embiid, Horford and Simmons.
The Celtics lost Horford to the Sixers and Kyrie Irving to the Nets, completely altering the direction of their franchise. They will do just fine in the East, but the defensive capabilities of Enes Kanter, their No. 1 center, pales in comparison to what they will need to stop the land of the trees.
The Pacers improved their guard situation and still have the likes of Myles Turner, so they could be a formidable opponent for the Sixers. Especially considering they are getting a healthy Victor Oladipo and Brogdon to captain their offense. Their one issue is their age—this is a young Pacers team with little veteran leadership. That could be the deciding factor should these teams face off in a post-season series.
This is Philadelphia’s year to go to the promised land. They must find a way to mix in enough shooting so they can score at will around the basket. If they can do that, they will run this conference. Hey, maybe Ben Simmons can even win another Rookie of the Year.
Mike Mavredakis is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at email@example.com. He tweets @mmavredakis.