The Process is over. Four sub 30 win seasons have been replaced by consecutive conference semifinal appearances. The Philadelphia 76ers have a different set of problems to worry about now. Minimum contracts and lottery picks have been replaced by max contacts and superstars. After adding Al Horford and subtracting Jimmy Butler, its time for the rubber to hit the road.
The Sixers had one of the more intriguing off-seasons this summer. In a move that no one saw coming, Al Horford signed with them on a four year $109 million deal. Jimmy Butler’s sign and trade to Miami was equally shocking. But in a positive for Philly they returned Josh Richardson in this deal. This means they now have an elite defensive starting five.
Though they lost JJ Redick and Butler’s shot creation, their starting five is better equipped for the playoffs. Josh Richardson is a bulldog on the perimeter, and is a better shooter from three than Butler. Horford is one of the best passing bigs in the league, he also shot 38% from three in Boston. Horford will form an elite defensive frontcourt with Embiid. Bringing back Tobias Harris on a five year $180 million contract was also key for the Sixers. Their only elite shooter on the perimeter, he can have he ball in his hands more with Richardson and Horford comfortable playing off it.
The bench upgrades have been encouraging for the 76ers. Fan favorite TJ McConnell has sadly left for Indiana. He was replaced by Raul Neto from the Utah Jazz. Not only is Neto making half what McConnell is this season, he is also a better defender and three point shooter. Jonathan Simmons and Amir Johnson barely played last season, and have been replaced by Matisse Thybulle and Kyle O’Quinn. Thybulle is an exciting rookie out of Washington while O’Quinn is a younger version of Johnson that can still play rotation minutes. Zhaire Smith is returning after a serious injury, and 22 year old shooter Furkan Korkmaz re-signed in July for two years. These young players along with last years second round pick Jonah Bolden will be relied on for bench depth.
Ben Simmons is the piece that can take the 76ers over the top. A transcendent talent at 6’10, he can pass, score and defend. Simmons just inked a five year $170 million that will kick in next summer. This is a designated veteran extension, so his contract can increase by making an All-NBA team next season.
The elephant in the room is his jump-shot. Simmons inability to hit any shot away from the rim is a major concern. As he doesn’t have a strong floater game and is only shooting free throws at 60% he limits his teams ceiling in the playoffs. An NBA executive said that Simmons didn’t want to change his hand placement on the ball. This might not seem like a big deal, but if you are in the bottom 5% of free throw shooters at your position then form changes should be made. Simmons may start the season shooting from mid range and taking the odd three with the clock winding down. This would be a massive win in terms of getting game reps in. 76ers management will no doubt be having these conversations in the hope that he can develop a three point shot.
Defensively the 76ers will want to jack up the intensity this year. Last year they had plenty of defensive pieces but didn’t play the lock-down defense the group was capable of. With the additions of Horford and Richardson they should be able to improve on last year’s 15th ranked defense. Management have already made it clear they will have one of Embiid or Horford on the court at all times.
Offensively they should run a lot more pick and pop or pick and roll this coming season. In an ideal world they would frequently run both. It could either be Horford popping out for three or looking for Embiid on dives to the rim. Simmons is a great cutter, Horford will find him or shooters Richardson and Harris. Harris is now free to run pick and roll with Embiid, this could produce devastating results.
Which ever way you look at it, the 76ers have more depth and flexibility across the roster. If they are healthy they are a contender in the eastern conference. Going one step further, if any of their starters take a jump this year, they could be championship contenders. Now the process is over, its time to trust the roster and the young pieces it has in it.