The Philadelphia 76ers Are the NBA’s Most Confusing Team

Wed 12th February 2020

Is a hard-fought, Game 7 loss in the Eastern Conference semi-finals really what the pinnacle of the infamous “Process” was supposed to look like? Is this mismatched, hodge-podge, oversized, offensively-stunted team really what 76ers fans waited almost a decade to see play every night at Wells Fargo Center?

Because, if Philadelphia’s 33-21 record at the All-Star break and failure to improve any facet of their roster at the recent NBA trade deadline is anything go by, the answer to both of those questions is a resounding “YES”.

No one stat sums up the 76ers’ struggles better than the fact that a team that was supposed to be – at the very least – representing the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals is currently 9-19 on the road and sitting 5th overall in the playoff standings. Consider this; the 76ers win 92% of their games at home and just 32% when they’re not at Wells Fargo Center. 

Philadelphia have won one game all year on the road against a team with a winning record. They’ve found a way to lose in Phoenix, Atlanta and Washington, to name but a few. The Knicks – yes those Knicks – have an equivalent record as an away team this season.

This is not the hallmark of a good team. In fact, it’s the hallmark of a very, very bad team.

The problems are obvious. They start and end with the fact that the starting five of Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Josh Richardson, Tobias Harris and Al Horford simply don’t fit together, with each individual piece seemingly making the others worse.

Take Horford, for example; a 13-year vet with outstanding career in Atlanta and Boston who just signed a four-year, $109M deal with the Sixers in free agency. Horford’s fit with Embiid is awful, and it’s resulted in career-lows (or at least long-term lows) across the board in shooting percentage (.451), points per game (12.5) and 3-point shooting (.321), to name just a few.

Richardson was signed from the Miami Heat with the intention that he replace the outside shooting of JJ Redick, or at least the shot creation of Jimmy Butler. He has done neither, and consequently the Philadelphia starting unit can at times look completely impotent on the offensive end. It is, needless to say, not a coincidence that the Sixers are ranked 20th in offensive rating among all teams in the league, behind the likes of the Pistons, Grizzlies and Spurs.

Since the beginning of January the Sixers are 26th in points per 100 possessions and 28th in three-point accuracy. Yikes.

While the additions of Alec Burks and Glenn Robinson III at the deadline are logical – in the sense they provide at least a semblance of the shooting this team is sorely lacking – neither is going to give the the 76ers the push they need to make a deep playoff run.

With news emerging that Horford is set to be moved to the bench for the near future, it’s clear that this is now “Break Glass in Case of Emergency” time in Philly.

But, should it be? At home, the 76ers have beaten the likes of Milwaukee (on Christmas), Los Angeles (both teams), Boston, Miami, Toronto, Denver, Utah… the list goes on.

Last season – the same season which may well end up being the pinnacle of the Process – they went just 20-21 on the road. These struggles are clearly not unique to this season, and perhaps they’re not indicative of how good this team really is.

While Embiid perhaps hasn’t quite lived up to his All-NBA capabilities, he’s still – arguably at least – the most dominant centre in the NBA when operating at full tilt. Simmons is having the best season of his young career, making a case for All-NBA honors and perhaps even a few votes in the Defensive Player of the Year standings. Harris has recovered from a dismal beginning to the season to put up respectable numbers, and the struggles faced by Horford and Richardson could perhaps be attributed to both injury and trouble assimilating in to a new system.

There’s also the fact that whilst the trade deadline may not have held all the answers, there’s always the buyout market; a time of year which has been extremely fruitful for the Sixers in the past – Marco Belinelli and Ersan Ilyasova both arrived as buyout acquisitions two seasons ago, and became invaluable playoff contributors. This year’s targets may not be as appealing as previous years, but guys like Isaiah Thomas or even Dion Waiters may be just the spark the team needs.

After a thumping home win against the Los Angeles Clippers to lead in to the All-Star break, the only thing we know about the 76ers for certain is that no one really knows anything.

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