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July 04, 2017

Here's why the Sixers are going to make the playoffs this season

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We're just a few days removed from the Sixers signing J.J. Redick and Amir Johnson to one-year deals – and just over a week removed from them selecting Markelle Fultz with the No. 1-overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft – and there's already no shortage of people willing to throw that “P” word around.

No, not “process.” I’m not even talking about “practice.”

That’s right, “playoffs.”

Even before these two most recent signings were made, there was already talk around this city of the Sixers making the playoffs this season for the first time in six years, a flame that was only fanned by Vegas bookmakers, who actually have the Sixers favored to make the postseason. 

As should be expected, @OldTakesExposed has been saving all these scorching hot takes for future reference.


The only problem is, the person running that account is wasting his or her time saving up these Sixers predictions. You can add this post to your collection too – not that it will matter come next May – because I’m here to go on record as saying the Sixers will make the playoffs this season. Furthermore, I believed that to be the case before the team added Redick on Saturday.

Luckily, I’ve got more than 140 characters worth of space to explain my reasoning. Let’s get into it.

WHY THEY’LL MAKE IT

•  THEIR ROSTER: Last season, the Sixers were a completely different team with Joel Embiid on the court. This season, we expect to see more of him, but that's hardly the only reason for optimism. They'll also have three new starters, including a pair of No. 1 overall picks, in Markelle Fultz, Ben Simmons and J.J. Redick.  They've made enough additions, in fact, Dario Saric, the runner-up for Rookie of the Year, will likely be coming off the bench. That's a great role for him, given his style of play and the fact that he can provide a spark while essentially still playing starter minutes. 

It's strange to say, but that might be where the Sixers do their most damage next season – with their second unit. Because of Embiid's lengthy absence last year, the Sixers essentially have four new starters. And while I could write quite a bit about how each of them is an upgrade over their 2016-17 counterpart, it's the guys they're replacing, some of whom were clearly outmatched in a starting role but are now on Brett Brown's bench that could quietly have a big impact. They have experience playing together and have gained confidence from that experience. 

It doesn't sound like a lot, but the fact that Saric, T.J. McConnell, Nik Stauskas, Jahlil Okafor, Jerryd Bayless, Richaun Holmes – basically the guys who started down the stretch last season – will all be coming off the bench is going to help them greatly. And if that's not enough to convince you, don't forget that there was talk of a playoff push last season before Embiid went down. Who knows what would've happened had he stayed healthy... 

•  THEIR COMPETITION: While the Sixers were busy improving their roster last month, it seemed like the rest of the East was doing the opposite. 

Just look around their conference. How many teams do you see that are guaranteed to finish with a better record than the Sixers? Three? Four? That's not to say they'll finish in the top half of the playoffs, but beyond the Cavaliers, the Celtics, the Raptors and the Wizards, there isn't much else.

•  THEIR COACH: It's almost hard to believe now, but a year ago this time, people were questioning whether or not Brett Brown was the right man to lead the Sixers into the next stage of their rebuild, seemingly willing to forget that he was working with a roster of mostly bench players. They would rip his late-game decision-making, unaware of whether or not the play his team ran was actually the one Brown called or if it had broken down at some point because – let's be honest – they didn't have a go-to guy for those situations.

Then something funny happened. Suddenly, the Sixers started pulling out some of those close games. And, just as suddenly, everyone was back on board with Brown.

It's hard not to be impressed with the job Brown has down in the face of overwhelming adversity, from the way he's grown as a coach to the way he's handled his players (and even the way in which he's conducted himself). People like to talk about how a losing culture can be contagious, and sometimes that may be true. But for others, it can have a different effect. See, familiarity breeds contempt. And since he arrived in 2013, after more than a decade as a Spurs assistant in which he won four rings, Brown's become quite familiar with losing.

That changes this season.

•  THEIR HUNGER: Speaking of culture... The Sixers have done a lot of losing over the last couple years. And despite the roster turnover the team has undergone, many of the current players have lived through more than one season of such losing. They're going to want to win as many games as possible. This is probably the point at which you say, "But, Matt, these guys are professionals; they all want to win every game." And then I reply, "Have you watched the first half of a mid-December NBA game between the Sixers and the Jazz?"

One of the big criticisms levied against the NBA is that team's don't try their hardest until the second half of games, or the second half of the season when the games "matter more."

Guess what? They don't matter more. A win in December counts the same as one that comes on the last day of the season. And to a team that has lost 190 games over the last three season, every chance to #RaiseTheCat is going to mean something. If you don't think they'll be playing with a massive chip on their collective shoulder this season, you're poorly mistaken. They're going to beat some teams during the regular season – teams that might roll through them should they meet in the postseason – simply because they want it more. 

•  THEIR AGE: The Sixers are YOUNG. According to Basketball.RealGM.com, they have the youngest roster in the league (in terms of average age of players). At 24.2 years, they're just ahead of the Warriors (24.3, and dear God that's terrifying) and are one of just three teams with an average age below 25; the Kings (24.6) are the other.

Why is that beneficial? Overall, it means they're less likely to break down as the season progresses – although last season's medical cluster[bleep] wasn't a promising sign on this front. It also means they're going to be fresher down the stretch. It's a small thing, but it's important nonetheless. 

WHAT CAN STOP THEM

Of course, there's no way to guarantee that the Sixers make it to the playoffs. A lot can happen in the next nine months. Here's a look at two things that could give them trouble...

•  THEIR AGE:  Yes, this is the same thing I just listed as a positive. Specifically, there's a lack of experience when it comes to the two primary ball handlers, Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz. Point guard is historically one of the positions where rookies struggle the most, so there's a little cause for concern there. That being said, Brown's system seems pretty point guard friendly given what T.J. McConnell was able to do. And if Embiid can stay healthy, he'll help make up for a lot of those potential problems by drawing so much attention to himself.

Overall, their age shouldn't be an issue, but with young guys, you never quite know how they're going to mesh. The returning Sixers players already seem to be quite close, and assuming that extends to their newest additions – we don't see any reason why it won't – they should be just fine in this department.

•  THEIR HEALTH: Anyone who has watched this team over the past few years was probably wondering how and when I was going to address the elephant in the room, specifically the 7-foot-2 elephant who managed to appear in just 31 games last season. We still don't know what kind of restrictions will be placed on Embiid, who didn't play in the second half of back-to-backs and was kept to a 28-minute limit when he did play last season, and what kind of impact that will have on his health throughout the season.

Then there's Ben Simmons, who missed his entire rookie season with a broken foot. Once it's fully healed, that injury should no longer be an issue, but seeing the former top pick start the season with a minutes restriction of his own isn't out of the question either. Markelle Fultz also missed time with a knee injury last year. Robert Covington, like Embiid, is also coming off meniscus surgery. And Jahlil Okafor seemed to still be struggling with knee pain last season after having his meniscus repaired the year before.

Keep your fingers crossed.


Follow Matt on Twitter: @matt_mullin

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