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November 06, 2019

Sixers power rankings roundup: Hot start propels Philly to the top

27_Harris_Richardson_Sixers_76ers_KateFrese.jpg Kate Frese/Kate Frese

Tobias Harris (12) passes the ball to Josh Richardson (0) during the Philadelphia 76ers game against the Boston Celtics at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia on October 23, 2019. (Kate Frese/PhillyVoice)

The Sixers may have suffered their first defeat on Monday night, but luckily for them, most of the people who do power rankings turned them in before considering the Phoenix game. Though the campaign for 82-0 might be over, the Sixers' hot start has caught the attention of basketball writers all over the country, and that has them sitting high atop power rankings for outlet after outlet.

Philadelphia's schedule hasn't necessarily been difficult in terms of opponent strength, but they have been forced to go on the road for most of their early games, and emerging with a 5-1 record during that time is nothing to sneeze at. They have a pair of road games left to come on Wednesday and Friday night, and then it's back to the friendly confines of the Wells Fargo Center, where they'll look to build on their best start since the 2000-01 season.

To the rankings!

John Schuhmann, — 1st

Who's in front of them? Nobody

Brett Brown said before the season that Joel Embiid would be his go-to guy down the stretch of games with the departure of Jimmy Butler. And with the score tied in the final seconds in Atlanta on Monday, the Sixers did something you don't see often on a last-second possession. They ran a designed duck-in for Embiid, who drew a foul on John Collins (after a terrific entry pass from Al Horford) and won the game at the line. 

With Embiid serving the first game of his two-game suspension on Saturday, the game-winner in Portland - Furkan Korkmaz out of the corner - was a little more conventional, though a step forward in Brown's quest to "grow a bomber." That Atlanta game was Exhibit A for those making the case that the Sixers don't have enough offensively, but 84 points in the paint in Portland (tied for the most in a game in the last eight seasons) was evidence that this team can score without prolific perimeter shooting. 

This week's schedule provides a few more tests of the league's only perfect record. []

Kyle says: Well, so much for that whole perfect record thing, but Philadelphia's late-game execution has been one of the nice surprises to start the year. As John notes above, even when Al Horford hasn't been the guy making the shot, he has been involved in some form or fashion to get the Sixers a good look — it was his pass in Atlanta that got Embiid to the free-throw line, and his screen in Portland that freed up Korkmaz for the biggest shot of his Sixers career.

Horford's play without Embiid should excite everyone for when they have Embiid in the lineup, and they get him back from suspension for a date with the Utah Jazz on Wednesday.

Grant Hughes, Bleacher Report — 2nd

Who's in front of them? Lakers

Down by as many as 21 points in the first game of Joel Embiid's suspension, the Sixers surged back to steal a 129-128 road win in Portland on Saturday. The usual suspects, Raul Neto and Furkan Korkmaz, keyed the win. 

Wait, what? Yes, Al Horford led the way with 25 points, Tobias Harris hit clutch treys late, and Ben Simmons calmly knocked down a pair of vital free throws in the fourth quarter. But Neto presided over a thrilling run that bridged the third and fourth quarters and got Philly back into the game, and Korkmaz buried the game-winning three from the right corner on a play that looked awfully similar to the confetti shot Marco Belinelli hit to send Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals to overtime in 2018. 

The Sixers defense continues to look overpowering in long stretches, and their offense is just outside the top 10—a respectable position for a group with some spacing challenges even when Embiid doesn't play. [Bleacher Report]

Kyle says: Yes, the spacing challenges are real, as much as it would make everyone feel better to ignore that for the foreseeable future. As long as the team is built around a post-up center, a player who avoids the three-point line, and a long line of average-ish shooters around them, it'll be a potential concern.

The good news is the defense, which has been otherworldly with Embiid on the floor.

Colin Ward-Henninger, CBS Sports — 1st

Who's in front of them? Nobody

When you come back from 21 points down on the road and win on a pirouette 3-pointer from Furkan Korkmaz, you start to think it might be a special season. Not to mention the Sixers did all this against a solid Portland team despite no Joel Embiid. As expected, Philly is swarming opponents on defense and the offense is clicking faster than some thought. Al Horford has been phenomenal early, particularly in the games without Embiid. They're the only undefeated team in the league for a reason. [CBS]

Kyle says: 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.

Bobby Marks, ESPN — 1st

Who's in front of them? Nobody

A quick note — Marks is not responsible for the actual rankings, just the write-up here. The rankings are compiled at ESPN based on a panel ESPN voters. On to the write-up:

The 76ers used the next-man-up approach in their road win at Portland. Without Joel Embiid -- the big man was suspended two games for the altercation with Karl-Anthony Towns -- the 76ers would get a combined 48 points from Tobias Harris and Al Horford, plus 43 points from their bench, including the game-winning shot by Furkan Korkmaz. 

The bench production is a result of four players on minimum contracts -- James Ennis III, Kyle O'Quinn, Raul Neto, Korkmaz -- and a fifth, Mike Scott, signed to the $4.8 million room mid-level exception. While much has been made about their starting five, GM Elton Brand went bargain shopping for reserves, and it has resulted in early season success. [ESPN]

Kyle says: We'll see if that bench production holds up, particularly for Furkan Korkmaz, but it has indeed been a great start for almost everyone in Philly.

Michael Shapiro, the hollowed-out corpse of Sports Illustrated — 1st

Who's in front of them? Nobody 

The Sixers’ size is overwhelming and the metrics back up the eye test early. Philadelphia is fourth in defensive rating while allowing the fewest rebounds and fewest assists. Only one team has allowed fewer threes. It’s hard to get a clean shot off against Philadelphia, especially from beyond the arc. The Sixers’ length is unmatched. [THOCOSI]

Kyle says: This has been a book report on the Philadelphia 76ers. 

Zach Harper, The Athletic — 2nd

Who's in front of them? Clippers

A lot of what we see out of Philadelphia is making things ugly night in and night out. The Sixers’ offensive efficiency is boosted immensely by their offensive rebounding. They rebound nearly one-third of their own misses. Brooklyn is the only other team that grabs at least 30 percent of its own misses. The Sixers are just bullies on the floor, like many of us projected going into this season. Some of that was reinforced when Joel Embiid instigated the hugging sessions with Karl-Anthony Towns and then just worked the crowd while Ben Simmons had Towns on the ground. 

The Sixers are one of six teams with a defensive rating under 100.0 points per 100 possessions allowed. They’re the only team grabbing 80 percent of available defensive rebounds. Their size is just too much for their opponents to deal with right now, and I’m not sure what can be done about it. Teams will have to capitalize on turnover issues (26th) and run their big men off the floor. Once Embiid comes back from the suspension, the Sixers will continue to establish him early and often. We’re waiting for someone to stand up to the bully and smack it in the mouth. Towns tried that and it didn’t really register until some social media stuff. But you can’t win basketball games with social media. [The Athletic]

Kyle says: Brett Brown promised the Sixers would play smash-mouth basketball before the season began, and boy have they lived up to that claim. The Sixers are posting up a bit too much at times, and they're going to have to diversify their offense when they run up against the league's elite teams, but they have size mismatches to exploit early and often in games.

I don't think teams are going to be capable of running Philly's big men off of the floor, frankly, as Embiid and Horford are two of the best defensive bigs in the league. We'll see how well they hold up with extended time together on the floor, of course.

Tommy Beer, RotoWorld — 1st

Who's in front of them? Nobody

The Sixers are the only team left in the NBA without a blemish on their record, but they'll put to the test this week. They finish off a four-game road swing by taking on the surprising Suns on Monday, and then travel to Utah and Denver on Wednesday and Friday.[RotoWorld]

Kyle says: Narrator: They were no longer the only team left in the NBA without a blemish on their record.

However, the Sixers have asserted themselves at or near the top of the food chain to start the season, and they've done it while playing a lot of their games on the road. That bodes well when the schedule begins to ease up a bit.

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