At the time of this writing, the Philadelphia 76ers have a 39-26 record and sit sixth in the Eastern Conference. But what is the current 76ers team’s ceiling if the season were to resume?
At the beginning of the 2019-20 campaign, the Philadelphia 76ers were 5-0. The team had undergone an eventful offseason after losing Jimmy Butler in free agency and trading 2017 number one overall pick Markell Fultz. But to combat the departures, general manager Elton Brand brought in Josh Richardson and Al Horford. In addition to free agency, Brand drafted Naismith Defensive Player of the Year winner Matisse Thybule. The ceiling looked high for the Sixers.
From Nov. 17, to Dec. 15, the 76ers won 13 of their 15 games and their two losses came by a combined total of 11 points. However, that stretch of games would prove to be their most consistent stretch of the season. Since then, the club has been bombarded with trade rumors and questions surrounding Ben Simmons, Horford, and Joel Embiid.
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Which leads us to the question: What is the current Philadelphia 76ers team’s ceiling?
For starters, something to take into consideration is the location of where the season could return. Due to the unfortunate circumstances caused by COVID-19, Shams Charania reports that Disney World in Orlando is the current leader to host the NBA season. The reason this matters so much for the 76ers is their road splits are much different than their home splits.
When playing at Wells Fargo Center, they possessed an astounding record of 29-2. But when the team traveled away from Philadelphia, they were a disappointing 10-24. The only times they were bested at home were against at the time white-hot Miami Heat, and against the Dallas Mavericks who shot 42 percent from 3-point range that night.
With that said, it is impossible to predict how playing with no fans and at a neutral site would impact the team. So let’s look into something else that could hurt their ceiling, which is the injury bug.
As a team, 65 games were played before the season was suspended. But cornerstones Embiid and Simmons missed a respective 21 and 11 games. In fact, Tobias Harris is the only player who’s played in every game this season. Simmons specifically got injured on February 22nd in a game against the Milwaukee Bucks and is still working his way back. There’s no question that the 76ers are a top-heavy team, especially on the offensive end. And if another injury were to occur, the current 76ers team ceiling is lowered.
The fact that the team had the fifth-lowest scoring bench in the NBA is proof of that. Even if the team remains injury-free, the bench doesn’t offer a lot in terms of scoring. Thankfully for them, when they traded for Alec Burks at the deadline, they did get some offensive help off the bench.
Despite offensive limitations on the bench, the bench’s defense is the second-highest in defensive rating. In addition, there are young players who look to have a spot in the rotation for years to come. Shake Milton and Frank Kurkmoz for example have had breakout moments, and are young enough to keep growing. Meanwhile, Thybule has been a menace defensively, and will always have minutes awaiting him for that reason alone.
Clearly the calling card for this team is their defense. Simmons, Embiid, Horford, and Richardson are all incredible defenders. When it comes to rebounding, pressuring the ball, and shot-blocking, the 76ers are as good as you can ask of a team.
At the end of the day however, if you can’t score, your defense isn’t going to be enough to win in the playoffs. And this team’s offense remains limited due to spacing issues. Simmons has hit just two shots from beyond the arc in his entire career and is at his best when he’s attacking the paint and dishing to teammates. Another problem has been Horford and Embiid playing together. Horford was always a center before now, and he struggled on offense in his first year playing the stretch four.
Due to their elite defense and star power, this team can win their first-round series and compete for an Eastern Conference final berth. Unfortunately, they are a year away and an offseason addition or two away from advancing to the conference finals.
For the 76ers to exceed those expectations Horford is going to have to play much better alongside Embiid, and the 75.2 free throw percentage the team has needs to improve. Especially when you have a driver like Simmons as the point guard.