February 24, 2023
There's something different about this year's Sixers, and it was clear after Thursday night's epic comeback over the Memphis Grizzlies, 110-105.
As our own Kyle Neubeck wrote, they're tougher, they're more resilient, and if one thing's not going right, they'll find another way to pull out the win.
Where does the difference lie?
For Georges Niang, who joined The John Kincade Show on 97.5 The Fanatic alongside team broadcaster Kate Scott Friday morning, a big part of it is Joel Embiid's adaptability on defense when his offensive game isn't completely on. Another part of it is having a full year with James Harden and all the attention he commands from opponents, the continued emergence of Tyrese Maxey as another scoring threat, and the presence of other guys like De'Anhonty Melton who can't be left ignored.
Then there was the elephant in the room from this season compared to last.
"Well, Ben Simmons kind of handicapped us at the beginning of last year," Niang said to the gratification of the show's cast.
He went on to explain:
"No, like, you look at you're building rosters, I'm talking from a general manager standpoint, I don't know how much he makes, but it's a max contract, so you immediately take that off the books, 'I'm not playing.' Now you have to figure it out, where other role players have to step up and replace the passing, dribbling, rebounding, defense.
"So you know, to have to do that...People don't understand, the team aspect is very important, and I think Doc Rivers does a very good job of buying into the team. So when you don't know who you're gonna have night in and night out – 'Is he coming back? Is he this?' – I feel like the updates that we were getting about him were like when I turn on my TV, I was listening to Stephen A Smith like 'He's gonna be at practice tomorrow!' And I'm like 'Welp, well there he isn't.' So last year was difficult because you didn't know who you had, right? And then the trade deadline's coming up and everybody's walking in like 'Well, who's being attached to him that's going in?' It's just like you had that uneasy feeling.
"Now it's like, alright, yes, we did trade [Matisse Thybulle] and now we got [Jalen McDaniels], but you know who you're going into war with every single night, and I feel comfortable with the pieces that we have because we do have some great players in this locker room." [97.5 The Fanatic]
As Sixers fans know all too well by now, the relationship between the team and Simmons crumbled after his passed-up dunk in Game 7 against the Hawks two summers ago. Another playoff run hit a wall in the second round and the former first-overall pick would never suit up for the Sixers again, choosing to sit out until he was traded, which eventually brought in Harden from Brooklyn at last year's deadline.
The Sixers never outwardly acknowledged how badly the situation weighed on them last season, but their play of late – and of course Niang finally saying the quiet part out loud – paints the picture of a much lighter atmosphere around the team.
The Sixers are 39-19 after Thursday night's win and gunning after Milwaukee and Boston for the top seed in the East.
Simmons, meanwhile, isn't even in the Nets' rotation at the moment.
"Well, that ain't none of my business," Niang told the show.
Check out the full interview below:
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