October 20, 2021
With so much focus on the seemingly never-ending Ben Simmons saga unfolding in Philly, it's easy to forget that the Sixers play a real, meaningful regular season basketball game on Wednesday night in New Orleans.
That's right, it's the season opener for the 76ers, who had to wait an extra night with the official NBA season opening night taking place on Tuesday. They'll open against the New Orlean Pelicans, and while it's already been revealed that Ben Simmons won't play for the Sixers — he was suspended for one game for conduct detrimental to the team after being kicked out of practice — there are plenty of other storylines and players to watch, including last year's MVP runner-up in Joel Embiid, All-Star hopeful Tobias Harris and other key players like Seth Curry, Danny Green and Tyrese Maxey, who is expected to start at point guard in place of Simmons.
And while there's still rightfully plenty of attention being paid to Simmons, we figured you probably not only needed a break from that, but you're also probably wondering what the outlook is for Philly now that it's beginning to feel more and more like the 25-year-old guard has played his last game in a Sixers uniform. With that in mind, let's take a trip around the internet and look at some predictions — from season awards to final records and playoff runs to, yes, even some thoughts on how this Simmons drama will eventually play out...
(For our own predictions, take a look at our Sixers beat writer Kyle Neubeck's seven predictions for the upcoming season.)
The folks over at SI.com seem to be a little higher on the Sixers big man's chances at winning the award that narrowly slipped through his fingers last season. Without Simmons, perhaps the national audience will get a better appreciation of just how dominant he can be. While it was rare to find an Embiid MVP vote on most outlets, two of Sports Illustrated's writers think the All-Star center will win the league's top individual award...
Howard Beck: Joel Embiid, 76ers
If not for an injury, Embiid might have seized the MVP award last season, instead of finishing a distant second. And yes, we know, if not for an injury is a sad staple of Embiid’s bio. But let's be clear: Embiid (ahem, when healthy) is the most dominant two-way center in the league, with wonderfully versatile scoring skills and the mobility to anchor a top-five defense. If he can power the Sixers to another top-four finish—despite the needless Ben Simmons drama—he’ll again be a leading MVP candidate. And he can win it. He just needs to stay on the court.
Chris Herring: Joel Embiid, 76ers
From a durability standpoint alone, Embiid may not seem like a logical choice. He might be as talented and skilled as anyone in the league, but can he stay as healthy as he is productive? It’s an open question. But after watching Nikola Jokić be in fantastic shape to earn the award and watching 36-year-old Chris Paul stay healthy all regular season for Phoenix, why can’t Embiid do the same for Philly? If he can do those things and power the Sixers through the Simmons distractions, there’s a good chance Embiid will win. [si.com]
It's also worth noting that Beck believes Matisse Thybulle will win Defensive Player of the Year.
Over at The Athletic, Derek Bodner and Rich Hofmann offered up their predictions for the Sixers, who currently have the eighth best NBA Finals odds. And neither believes the team will hit their projected win total of 50.5 games. Here's more from Bodner:
... I’ve mostly maintained that Embiid, if he’s healthy, gets you in the vicinity of 50 wins (over the course of an 82-game season), a mark the Sixers have met with relative ease in three of these four seasons. But can they do that if Ben Simmons is giving 50 percent effort? If Maxey isn’t ready? And who the heck are they trading Simmons for, and when?
I do like how most of the pieces fit around Embiid, even if I have concerns about Maxey being ready and Simmons being mentally present. So I don’t think this falls completely off the rails. But it feels like there is very little margin for error here in the early going, especially if Embiid spends any time out of the lineup. I do think they slightly underachieve given expectations, though. Vegas has the over/under at 50.5 and I’ll take the under and say 49 wins. [theathletic.com]
And that was before Simmons was kicked out of practice for not wanting to participate in drills. At this point 50 percent effort seems like a unrealistic expectation.
For what it's worth, Bodner is only slightly higher on the Sixers than his partner in crime, Rich Hofmann, who has them winning 48 games and finishing as the fifth or sixth seed. But perhaps their most interesting prediction has to do with the biggest storyline surrounding the team at the moment, Simmons.
Ben Simmons isn’t traded in 2021
... We sit here now with the season about to start, waiting for mostly external forces to change the equation on the Simmons trade front. There’s a small chance that could happen in the near future if a team stumbles out of the gate or an injury happens. Maybe Simmons is such a disruptive force now that he’s back in Philadelphia that he successfully drops Morey’s asking price.
If we had to guess, we’re in for a bumpy few months and this thing drags on into 2022. [theathletic.com]
That might seem impossible given the events that unfolded on Tuesday at the team's practice facility in Camden, but it does still look like this thing could continue for some time.
Sixers' approach on a trade has remained steadfast: They won't move Simmons for role players -- only a player who'll help keep them a championship contender. That hasn't changed. For now, no one should expect a speedy resolution on Simmons' future in Philadelphia. https://t.co/YUdkseUZOo— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) October 19, 2021
We'll have more on Simmons in just a bit.
Keeping it local for a second, let's take a look at how the staff over at Liberty Ballers sees this season ending for the Sixers. You'll have to click over to see their individual record predictions, but here's a look at how far they see Doc Rivers' team advancing this season.
How will the Sixers’ 2021-2022 season end?
Emily [Connell]: I’m going to be optimistic and say with a trip to the ECF.
Tyler [Monahan]: The pessimist in me wants to say the season ends with more second-round pain, but the optimist in me says the Sixers find a way to break through and at least make the Eastern Conference Finals. I’m still holding out hope that Damian Lillard comes to his senses and requests a trade to Philly during the season, and with him running the offense, I think it could be done.
Steve [Lipman]: Joel Embiid and Damian Lillard lead the Sixers to the NBA Finals.
Sean [Kennedy], Shamus [Clancy], Dave [Early], Dan [Volpone]: Second-round exit. [libertyballers.com]
Depending on who you believe it could either be a very fun or a very depressing year in Philly. Based on recent history, where you putting your money?
Tim Bontemps broke the Eastern conference down into three tiers, and despite the turmoil surrounding the team, it shouldn't be any surprise that they check in among the contenders. But even in his analysis, it seems like there's a group within this group that Bontemps thinks has a legit chance to win the conference, and the Sixers are just outside.
1. Brooklyn Nets: 58-24
2. Milwaukee Bucks: 57-25
3. Philadelphia 76ers: 50-32
4. Miami Heat: 49-33
5. Atlanta Hawks: 47-35
6. Boston Celtics: 45-37
The days of the Eastern Conference being seen as a step below the West are over.
As we prepare to kick off the 2021-22 NBA season, the top of the East can more than hold its own. In fact, the two teams that finished atop the conference in ESPN's preseason forecast -- the Nets and Bucks -- have the two-highest projected win totals in the league entering the campaign. [...]
It is after those two juggernauts where things get a lot more interesting, as the teams listed Nos. 3 to 6 in the forecast -- the 76ers, Heat, Hawks and Celtics -- are separated by a combined five games in our projected standings. [espn.com]
As other have pointed out, NBA.com's John Schuhmann correctly writes that projecting the Sixers' season without any kind of resolution on Simmons is a fool's errand. But sometimes we can't help ourselves. Here's how he sees things going down in Philly...
Predicting the Sixers’ win total without knowing what happens with Simmons (or when it happens) is an impossible task. If they play without Simmons as they pursue a trade, they won’t be as good as they were last season. And there’s a slim chance that a trade return would be an All-Star level talent that fits well. Still, Embiid is one of the best players in the league, a force on both ends of the floor. Given the perimeter talent around him, this is still one of the four or five best teams in the Eastern Conference. Predicted finish: 48-34. [nba.com]
We already took a look at how the local beats at The Athletic see the season playing out for the Sixers. Now, let's take a quick look at what John Hollinger thinks, which unsurprisingly again depends on what happens with Simmons. And while he thinks they should be OK even without Simmons, he does appear to think they're once again a team built for the regular season — of course, that could change depending on what the team gets back in a potential Simmons trade.
This is hard team to project because we don’t really know if the team’s second-best player is going to be here, or for how long, or how his presence will impact everything else. On paper, this should again be one of the best teams in basketball. Keeping up with Milwaukee and Brooklyn in the East will be tough, but 60 or so games played from Embiid would likely be enough to ensure a high playoff seed.
In the worst-case scenario, the non-Simmons version of the Sixers lack passing and transition potency, but there is still a fair amount of quality here. Harris is a nice third option. Curry is a phenomenal shooter who needs a little devil in his ear yelling, “shoot it!” The young guards are coming along nicely, and Niang is going to be a plus for the second unit.
So pardon me if I end this preview where I began it: by ignoring the elephant in the room. Yes, the Simmons situation is going to be the season’s biggest story, and his presence (or absence) has a big impact on the Sixers’ championship aspirations. But in terms of the regular season, the Sixers are going to be a strong team regardless — just not quite as strong as the two heavyweights that figure to dominate the East this year.
Prediction: 54-28, third in Eastern Conference [theathletic.com]
There wasn't any kind of writeup about the Sixers here, but they did have eight different writers predict the division winners, final conference standings and playoff winners. And while none of them picked the Sixers to win their division, let alone their conference, two people have them finishing third in the East, including Philly-based Michael Kaskey-Blomain. One person has Philly finishing fourth, another fifth, and the remaining four have the team finishing sixth in the conference.
That's an average finish of 4.875, which would suggest they wouldn't have home court in the first round of the playoffs. Given that, it likely goes without saying that none picked the Sixers to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals.
Here's another projected finish — this one from Benyam Kidane of the Sporting News — that has the Sixers playing on the road in the first round of the playoffs, this time in Boston. That would certainly be something. But, as continues to be the case throughout these rankings, a lot depends on Simmons...
Eastern Conference playoff teams
1. Brooklyn Nets
2. Milwaukee Bucks
3. Miami Heat
4. Boston Celtics
5. Philadelphia 76ers
6. Atlanta Hawks
7. Indiana Pacers*
8. New York Knicks*
9. Chicago Bulls*
10. Toronto Raptors*
— The 76ers are perhaps the single-biggest wild card. Remember, it was the 76ers — not the Bucks or Nets — who finished with the East's best record last season. Will Ben Simmons play? What will Philly get back if they trade him? Can Joel Embiid stay healthy? Lots of unknowns for the Sixers. [sportingnews.com]
Over at The Sixer Sense, Christopher Kline offered up five bold predictions for the Sixers, ranging from Simmons' future to Embiid's season to some other potential breakout candidates. Here's what he had to say about the season as a whole, which is more optimistic than some we've seen so far, but not quite as bold as some of his other predictions, that's for sure.
Sixers bold predictions: Top-3 seed
The Sixers will still finish top-3 in the East. A lot of this is riding on Embiid’s health (obviously) and the engagement level of Simmons and his likely successor(s). When healthy, however, Embiid is a truly elite regular season player. We can debate whether his game has held up entirely in the playoffs (it has, for the most part), but when in the regular season, very few players can raise a team’s floor like Embiid. He’s not only a walking top-10 defense, but he’s now an absurdly gifted offensive engine whose sheer dominance elevates the teammates stationed around him...
Let me take this a step further. Ben Simmons will contribute to this top-3 finish. He may not finish the season in Philly (in fact, he probably won’t), but the Sixers will get reasonable contributions from him as previously noted. Harris might not score as much, but he will still be present in the offense. The supporting cast is drastically improved, with Maxey and Joe on the rise, Georges Niang replacing Mike Scott, and Andre Drummond set to fill in whenever Embiid misses time. [thesixersense.com]
OK, maybe that last part about Simmons contributing is. Speaking of Simmons...
This would have appeared in the first section under award watch, but no one picked Embiid to win MVP. However, one person (Chris Ryan — homer) has Thybulle as DPOY. We decided it would be better to include them here, since the first question in their 2021-22 NBA Entrance Survey revolved around the local team...
Whose situation will be resolved first: Kyrie Irving’s or Ben Simmons’s?
Rob Mahoney: Simmons. Precarious as the Sixers’ negotiating position may be when it comes to trading their second-best player, working out transactional logistics just doesn’t compare to changing the heart and mind of an unreachable player. Irving is set in his ways with tortuous logic. If he’s going to get the vaccine this season, he’ll have to untangle himself from what he sees as a principled stand and the basis for it—something that can come only in Irving’s own time.
Jonathan Tjarks: Irving. Hasn’t the situation already been resolved? Unless he changes his mind again. And there’s no way to predict that.
Dan Devine: I’ll say Irving. I don’t necessarily expect Kyrie to reverse-pivot off of his principles tomorrow, but I think it’s more likely that he has a change of heart soon-ish for one reason or another than it is that Daryl Morey either suddenly locates the superstar deal he’s spent months searching for, or suddenly finds the Simmons situation so untenable that he feels compelled to pull the trigger inside the first 10 or 15 games. It feels like a lot of minds would have to change for a Simmons deal to hit the fast track; in Kyrie’s case, though, maybe only one mind does.
Logan Murdock: You can make the argument Irving’s situation is resolved: He hasn’t gotten the vaccine so he won’t play. No matter what he decides, the Nets will be title contenders with KD and Harden on the roster. Simmons’s situation is also pretty tricky, in that all parties involved were more concerned about leverage than actually putting together a deal. That being said, I think Simmons gets moved when either Dame or Bradley Beal becomes available. ... [theringer.com]
But perhaps Zach Kram offered the best response...
"I don’t know, but I hope they’re both resolved soon so the basketball world can move on to talking about the other 28 teams and dozens of interesting story lines around the league! "
Finally, we get to Yaron Weitzman's list of 75 (!) predictions for the 2021-22 NBA season, which also happens to be the league's 75th. That's a weird coincidence.
Anyway, seven of his predictions involved the Sixers — and perhaps we shouldn't be surprised that all of them had to do with Simmons. That's because no matter what happens with the All-Star guard, there will be ripple effects up and down the roster and throughout the organization.
3. Ben Simmons doesn’t play a single game for the Philadelphia 76ers.
4. Yet Sixers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey still holds off on trading Simmons — until around early December, when he’s forced to settle.
5. Morey is forced to make a deal because the Sixers struggle to start the season, and the Eastern Conference turns out to be stacked, and no superstar players become available.
6. Simmons is traded to … well, I have no idea. The Sacramento Kings for Tyrese Haliburton and Buddy Hield? The Minnesota Timberwolves for Malik Beasley, D'Angelo Russell and some picks? A mystery team? Let’s go with the Kings.
7. Morey also makes the Kings (or whichever team he ends up trading Simmons to) take Andre Drummond, just to get Doc Rivers to stop with the five-man bench units.
8. And also because Joel Embiid makes him. [foxsports.com]
There you have it. A bunch of predictions about the Sixers that all say more or less the same thing — ask me again when the Ben Simmons situation is resolved. And at this point, no one seems to have any idea when that's going to be, let alone how it's going to play out.
Stay tuned, this is going to be an interesting Sixers season, for far more reasons than just what's going to happen on the court. Although that should be plenty interesting in its own right...
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