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February 11, 2019

What they're saying: 'Stacked' Sixers are climbing power rankings and striking fear in rest of East

Sixers NBA
021118_Tobias-Harris_usat Bill Streicher/USA TODAY Sports

Philadelphia 76ers forward Tobias Harris.

One of the first things being said about the Sixers last week when they traded for Tobias Harris ahead of the trade deadline was that his addition gave Philly the best starting five in the Eastern Conference. Well, two games (and two wins) later, and it appears everyone is buying in on the Sixers.

On Friday night, with a near nonexistent Joel Embiid who was still recovering from a stomach bug, the Sixers took care of the Nuggets, who have the second-best record in the West. On Sunday, they routed LeBron James and the Lakers in front of a star-studded crowd at the Wells Fargo Center. 

If nothing else, the Sixers' hot start only confirmed those beliefs that the Sixers are now the class of the East. And this hype train is not slowing down. 

Over at Bleacher Report, they ranked every team in the NBA by starting five. And the Sixers are exactly where you'd expect them to be — if you're a Philly fan, that is. They have the Sixers' starting lineup of Ben Simmons, JJ Redick, Jimmy Butler, Tobias Harris, and Joel Embiid ranked second behind, you guessed it, the Golden State Warriors. The Raptors and Bucks rank third and fourth, respectively, followed by the Rockets in fifth.

2. Philadelphia 76ers 

It may take some time to jell, but Philadelphia now has the most talented starting lineup in the Eastern Conference.

Embiid, Simmons and Redick won a playoff round by themselves a season ago. Imagine what adding Butler and Harris will do.

The four-man unit of Simmons, Embiid, Butler and Redick is posting a net rating of plus-14.1 this season, and they just added a 20-point-per-game power forward who's shooting 43.4 percent from deep and is phenomenal in the pick-and-roll...

The 76ers have all five starters capable of putting up 20 points on any given night. Embiid and Butler are elite defenders, and Simmons has the potential to turn into one.  [bleacherreport.com]

They're hardly the only outlet impressed with the first two games of the Tobias Harris Era in Philadelphia. Take a look at what the local and national media think about the Sixers in our latest edition of What They're Saying... 

Movin' on up

Staff | ESPN.com

In ESPN's final power rankings before the All-Star break, which came out Monday morning, the Sixers have moved up to the fifth spot after blowing out the Lakers on Sunday, jumping the Nuggets (now 6th) and the Celtics (7th). They're still third in the East according to ESPN, but they've certainly closed the gap between the Bucks, Raptors and themselves. 

The four teams ranked ahead of the Sixers are:

1. Warriors
2. Bucks
3. Raptors
4. Thunder

This is also our first look at one of the two god awful nicknames ESPN is trying to force on the world. We'll get to the other, much worse one a little later, but for now, here's what they had to say about the Sixers' new-look starting lineup — a.k.a. "The Philly Phive."

Pardon me while I go vomit.

5. Philadelphia 76ers

Whether you believe the Sixers gave up too many assets or you believe the moment is now, no team had a more impactful deadline than Philadelphia. The new Philly Phive lineup with newcomer Tobias Harris outscored the Lakers and Nuggets 85-68 in his inaugural week with the Sixers. After a slow start, JJ Redick has been sizzling from beyond the arc in 2019 -- 45 percent on 8.6 attempts per game. If he can sustain it, he has a chance to finish above 40 percent for the fifth consecutive season. -- Arnovitz  [espn.com]

Rising in the East

Noah Levick | NBC Sports Philadelphia

Over at NBC Sports, they published their Eastern Conference power rankings on Saturday, before the Sixers routed the Lakers, but one game with Tobias Harris was enough to convince Noah Levick that Philly belongs above Toronto. At least for now.

1. Bucks (41-13) Last week: 1 

The Bucks still have the best record in the East and made a big move before the deadline, adding Nikola Mirotic. They’re at the top until results suggest otherwise.

2. Sixers (35-20) Last week: 4

We got a glimpse last night of how “scary” good this new Sixers team can be. Tobias Harris is the rare 20-point scorer who doesn’t need to see a ton of the ball to thrive, and all five players the Sixers added are average or better defenders. It might take time for all the pieces to work in perfect harmony, but the Sixers have a big, versatile team that can adapt to just about any opponent.

3. Raptors (40-16) Last week: 2 

There’s a very strong case for having the Raptors at No. 2. Perhaps the best reason to do so would be that Toronto still matches up well against the Sixers. Their pre-deadline win Tuesday in Philadelphia, despite 37 points from Joel Embiid, was convincing. Yet the Sixers improved more through their trades than the Raptors did through their acquistion of Marc Gasol. Though Gasol is a quality addition, Jonas Valanciunas, Delon Wright and C.J. Miles is not an insignificant trio to give up.  [nbcsports.com]

Harris trade a huge win

Haley O'Shaughnessy | The Ringer

This one had to hurt Bill Simmons. Even on the website run by one of the biggest Celtics fans out there, they're singing the Sixers' praises. 

Here's Haley O'Shaughnessy on what she saw in their first two games with Tobias Harris, which she calls "Butler-and-Ben-proofing," and the rest of the newly added players.

Even before they traded for Butler in mid-November, the Sixers offense needed someone other than JJ Redick who could spread the floor. Butler can do many things well, but he hasn’t shot well from 3 over his career and he takes fewer 3s than Brett Brown would like. Simmons put up the first 3-point shot of his career that wasn’t caused by a dwindling shot clock on Sunday, which is a start, but his reluctance to shoot shrinks the court. Throughout Sunday’s game, you could find LeBron James “guarding” Simmons by standing in the paint and daring his young Klutch Sports counterpart to do something about it. Harris is basically Butler-and-Ben-proofing. The 26-year-old wing is shooting a career-high 44 percent from 3 this season, and he’s just as proficient on pull-ups (48.6 percent) as he is off the catch (41.2). If the defense wants to sag off Simmons and protect against one of his trademark thunderous dunks, Simmons now has the option of kicking it out to two of the deadliest shooters at their positions. Harris can set screens for Butler, or, eventually, be the one handling the ball some. Harris is the skeleton key for the Sixers offense. Even Embiid stepped into three 3-pointers with confidence and drilled two of them.

With Harris, the Sixers essentially have four All-Stars. (I’m choosing to believe Butler would’ve been voted in had it not been for his off-court antics, and Harris most likely would’ve made it had he played in the East all season.) The number of teams with that amount of high-end talent in recent history is a very short list. It’s the formula the Warriors have been working with for the past three seasons, and the Hawks managed to get four players into the 2015 All-Star Game en route to a 60-win season. It cost the Sixers a lot to get to this point, but it’s hard to argue with the results so far.  [theringer.com]

A more dangerous Embiid?

Kirk Goldsberry | ESPN.com

The addition of Tobias Harris doesn't just make life easier for Ben Simmons. His presence will also open up the floor for Joel Embiid. Not that the big man needed the help — he was doing just fine before Harris' arrival — but now the Sixers boast one of the most dominant frontcourts in the entire NBA according to Kirk Goldsberry of ESPN.com.

[Note: Remember I said there were two terrible nicknames out there for the Sixers? Well, this story has the other one, but I intentionally didn't include that part because the name is so bad I'd rather it not appear on this website at all.]

Nobody should be happier about the Harris acquisition than Embiid, whose new frontcourt mate -- and the threat of his jumper -- will thin out defenses and open up the paint for Philly's centerpiece.

Embiid not only remains the most valuable player on this team, he is beginning to look like the most valuable big man on the planet. Sorry, Brow, but Embiid is the best two-way big in the league, and the numbers prove it.

Even after the massive trades, Embiid is far and away the Sixers' most dominant scorer. Only one Sixer is averaging more than 21 points per game, and it's Embiid. His 27 PPG is unheard of for a center in the time of pace, space and small ball. The last center to hit that number was Shaquille O'Neal ... more than 15 years ago! ...

Pairing Harris with Embiid immediately creates one of the best frontcourts in the whole league. Both dudes threaten opponents on and off the ball. Harris can act as a quintessential stretch-4 or take turns quarterbacking sets, while Embiid's youthful interior dominance manifests as a post threat and as a putback machine. Embiid already leads the league in tip-ins, and if Harris starts drawing opposing bigs farther from the rim, Embiid's putback game will get even more dangerous.  [espn.com]

'A stacked team'

Dave Zeitlin | Associated Press

Magic Johnson and LeBron James know just a little bit about basketball — and about winning. And they were left impressed by the Sixers.

It's also worth noting that this AP story appeared on Boston.com this morning, meaning Celtics fans were waking up to this on Monday. 

“The East better watch out,” said Johnson, the Lakers president who made the trip to Philly for the game. “This is a stacked team.” ...

James was facing Philadelphia for the first time since the Sixers made a big push to sign the superstar as a free agent last summer. He and Kuzma both missed the last matchup with Philly on Jan. 29, which the Sixers won 121-105.

“I thought they were going to be very good anyway before they made any moves, before the season even started,” James said. “And they’ve made a bunch of moves to improve their club.”  [boston.com]

Backup plan

Nate Scott | For The Win

The Sixers may have the best starting five in the East, but their ability to mix and match players will give them a considerable advantage against opponent's second units on a nightly basis. It's essentially going to be a non-stop matchup problem for the other team. And that's going to help the Sixers win some games against the rare team that matches up well against their starting five. 

Having four legitimate game changers on a team is fantastic when they’re all on the court together, but it’s arguably just as dangerous when you can stagger minutes and let them thrive against an opponent’s second unit.

Having Harris gives the 76ers all sorts of options to throw stuff at an opposing team. They can go bully ball with Simmons and Embiid working their 1-2 game down low. They can give Butler the keys for a while and let him go at guys in isolation sets.

They can do the same with Harris, or let Butler and Harris run a nightmarish little pick-and-pop game that’s only going to get better as the two get more comfortable playing with each other. They can just run Harris out of the post if he gets a size advantage over his defender.

These are all legit options against an opponent’s first team. Against a bench unit having these tools is unfair.  [ftw.usatoday.com]

On Tuesday, the Sixers will get their first test against an Eastern Conference rival when they take on the Celtics. 

Follow Matt on Twitter: @matt_mullin

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