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October 23, 2019

Sixers power rankings round up: Philly ranks high heading into 2019-20 season

The NBA season begins in earnest on Wednesday night, which means it's time to argue about a bunch of rankings from people who don't actually like doing them but know fans can't resist yelling about lists. Huzzah!

Here's what a sampling of people think about the Sixers compared to the rest of the league heading into their first game against the Boston Celtics.

John Schuhmann, — 4th

Who's in front of them? Bucks, Clippers, Nuggets

With rookie Matisse Thybulle seemingly earning a spot in the rotation, the Sixers might be even better defensively than originally projected. Among 342 players that played at least 50 minutes, the 20th pick led the preseason with 4.9 steals per 36 minutes and ranked 13th with 2.6 blocks per 36.

But, though Ben Simmons led the league in 3-point percentage, the Sixers' offense is a work in progress and looked positively brutal in the preseason finale against Washington. 

With the departure of Jimmy Butler and J.J. Redick (along with the absence of Simmons or Joel Embiid in three of the five games), Tobias Harris' usage rate in the preseason (21.8%) was only slightly higher than it was in his 27 games with the Sixers last season (20.8%). After hosting the Celtics on Wednesday, the Sixers will play nine of their next 12 games on the road. []

Even at the league-wide level, no one can resist the allure of Thybulle. I got swept up in the preseason fever myself, which was reflected in my predictions heading into the season, though I share John's concerns about Philadelphia's offense this year.

Kevin O'Connor, The Ringer — 3rd

Who's in front of them? Lakers, Clippers

The Sixers can play with jumbo-sized lineups: Embiid, Horford, Simmons, Harris, and Richardson. Or they can be more versatile with Thybulle in the game over Horford or Embiid. Heck, they can even go small with Simmons at center. Brown will be able to dictate matchups with his defense against most teams in the East. In a potential series against the Bucks, Brown has plenty of defenders to throw at Giannis in the half court, and the bodies to build a wall to contain his scary transition attacks. 

The elephant in the room is the shooting. Embiid isn’t an outside threat and Simmons shoots with the wrong hand. The reserves have a lot to prove, whether it’s Thybulle and Ennis, or Zhaire Smith and Shake Milton. Harris, Richardson, and Horford will need to shoot the lights out. We’re about to find out how much size actually matters on offense. The Sixers could theoretically bully-ball opponents in the post. Brown could even get creative and run double-big pick-and-rolls close to the rim, which we’ve seen the Bucks do with Giannis. Philadelphia will almost always have a size advantage, which means Simmons will have to beat guys smaller than him, and Embiid will need to make quick reads when double-teams come. [The Ringer]

Bigger has almost always been better in a sport played 10 feet in the air, but the Sixers' roster construction is unique with how the game is played in 2019. The best teams around the league have an army of versatile wings who can take on different assignments at different times — just look at the Los Angeles Clippers, for example — and the Sixers are betting they can get by with a completely different strategy.

But hey, if there's a player worth betting on as a counter to the way the league is going, it's Joel Embiid.

Colin Ward-Henninger, CBS Sports — 3rd

Who's in front of them? Lakers, Clippers

The CBS crew is a little more focused on the short-term in their rankings, rather than using them as a big-picture exercise:

Ben Simmons missed the team's final two preseason games with back tightness, but he appears ready to go for the season opener on Wednesday against the Celtics. With Simmons out, Brett Brown got a good look at Josh Richardson at point guard, a position he'll have to play a lot this season due to the Sixers' lack of depth. [CBS]

I think the Sixers are going to have to figure out a non-Richardson option at backup point guard, frankly, but we'll see how that goes to start the year.

Tim Bontemps, ESPN — 3rd

Who's in front of them? Clippers, Bucks

A quick note — Bontemps is not responsible for the actual rankings, just the write-up here. The rankings are compiled at ESPN based on 40 ESPN voters, made up of, "reporters, insiders and editors" according to their NBA preview. On to the write-up:

BPI's best-case scenario (61-21) and how they get there 

Let's start with Joel Embiid staying healthy, playing more than 70 games and fulfilling his stated goal of winning both the MVP and Defensive Player of the Year this season. Add in Simmons taking another step forward and becoming a clear-cut All-NBA selection, Harris continuing to round out his game, avoiding issues with Horford's knee -- which bothered him at times last season in Boston -- and slotting Josh Richardson seamlessly into Philadelphia's system. That starting five also could easily be the best defensive unit in the NBA. If the Sixers win anywhere near 61 games, it likely will be. 

One big question: Who's the closer in Philly? 

A year ago, people were asking the same question -- and the Sixers responded by trading for Butler. With him gone, where will the ball go in the final minutes of a close game? Embiid is the best player, but historically it is tough to put that responsibility on a player who needs someone else to get him the ball. Can Simmons expand his shooting range to be that player himself? Can Harris, fresh off earning that massive new contract, take yet another step forward? Will the Sixers make another in-season deal to solve the problem? For Philadelphia to reach its championship potential, a solution will, in theory, have to emerge somewhere along the way. [ESPN]

My default response to Tim's big question is that responsibility will ultimately fall on the team's best player, who we agree is Joel Embiid. That is going to be problematic on several levels — post offense is historically inefficient, reliant on someone getting the big fella the ball, and then Embiid has to actually produce in those spots, which has been hit-or-miss so far in his career.

But do you trust anyone else there? I'm not sure I do. Harris is the logical choice, and we're still waiting for his three-point shooting to reemerge, which is a pretty big part of the crunch-time arsenal. They don't have an option who is a good scorer and a good playmaker, which I suspect will cause this debate to drag on for a while.

Kurt Helin, Pro Basketball Talk — 3rd

Who's in front of them? Bucks, Nuggets

Philadelphia is my pick to come out of the East and make the NBA Finals, but the start of this season will see them still trying to figure the offense out. Fortunately, an elite defense anchored by Joel Embiid — he can be in the mix for Defensive Player of the Year — will carry them to wins while we wait to see if Ben Simmons and Tobias Harris can step up and carry the late-game load. Look for a strong season from Josh Richardson, this is a great fit for him. [Pro Basketball Talk]

Any situation where Josh Richardson is your fourth or fifth most important player is a good one, that's for sure.

Tommy Beer, RotoWorld — 4th

Who's in front of them? Clippers, Nuggets, Bucks

The Sixers were a top-8 offensive team last season but struggled on the defensive end. They finished the year ranked 15th in Defensive Efficiency, allowing 109 points per 100 possesions. By signing underrated big man Al Horford, trading for Josh Richardson, and drafting defensive dynamo Matisse Thybulle, Philly should be much improved on that end of the floor in 2019-20. [RotoWorld]

Here's the big takeaway from all of this: it's not just the locals who are high on the Sixers this year. Respect is coming from all across the basketball universe, and it's up to them to live up to the hype. Not like we have any recent examples of Philadelphia sports teams underwhelming after a lot of good preseason press, right?


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