Can the Sixers Win it All?

Chris Warren , Centurion Staff

A strong start and an impressive run of form without star-big-man Joel Embiid has Sixer fans feeling optimistic about the future of the franchise.

“I didn’t think we were going to be this good,” journalism major Xander Weinstein said. “Especially after how last season ended, we were humiliated in the first round and were left looking for a new head coach.”

This embodies how most fans were feeling last August. The bubble was not particularly kind to the Sixers, to say the least. After losing Ben Simmons via knee injury, the Sixers were swept 4-0 by the Boston Celtics in the first round of the playoffs. Head coach Brett Brown was promptly fired afterwards, and the potential replacements at the time were not intriguing.

The Sixers were embarrassed, banged up and financially tied up. Any improvements they wanted to make on the court and on the books were almost impossible. Luckily for Philadelphia, lightning struck twice when Daryl Morey and Doc Rivers came to town.

“If you had told me after we got swept by Boston that we would end up with Daryl Morey as our GM, and Doc Rivers as our head coach, I would’ve told you that the quarantining had gotten to your head,” said business major John DiVeronica.

Both moves were equally surprising, as Morey had recently claimed he was taking time off for personal reasons after stepping down as the general manager for the Houston Rockets.

Morey was responsible for the plethora of blockbuster trades the Rockets made throughout the 2010s that brought in players such as James Harden, Chris Paul, and Russell Westbrook — all future Hall of Famers.

Rivers, on the other hand, was fired as the head coach of the Los Angeles Clippers just one season after they signed Paul George and Kawhi Leonard. Although he never reached the NBA finals as the coach for the Clippers, he helped lead them to their most successful seasons in franchise history, and prior to that coached the NBA Championship winning Boston Celtics in 2007.

Both of these moves erased any doubt that “The Process” was going to fail, and it didn’t take long for them to make an impact on the Sixers franchise.

Morey made two moves on the night of the 2020 NBA Draft that changed the complexion of the team. First, he traded Al Horford — who is on maybe the worst contract in the history of the NBA — to the Oklahoma City Thunder for three-time NBA Champion and veteran three-and-D wing, Danny Green. On top of that, he traded starting guard Josh Richardson to the Mavericks for sharpshooter Seth Curry.

He also went on to sign future Hall of Fame big-man Dwight Howard in free agency, who was fresh off of winning an NBA Championship with Danny Green and the Los Angeles Lakers.

Throw these new additions in with Tobias Harris, who was coached by Rivers before being traded to Philly, as well as Simmons, Embiid, and a handful of young auspicious players in the second unit, Sixer fans were excited to see what this team could do.

Right from the opening tip, this team did not disappoint. Led by Embiid, the Sixers won seven of their first eight regular season games, and immediately established themselves as the team to beat in the Eastern Conference.

They’ve taken some losses here and there — every team does at one point or another — but the important thing is that they’ve stayed atop the conference for almost the entire season. They’ve also won key games against other contenders such as the Los Angeles Lakers and the Utah Jazz.

Throughout the past few seasons, the Sixers success was predicated upon the young duo of Embiid and Simmons. Under Rivers, we’re seeing more guys contribute on both sides of the ball. Tobias Harris has taken that next step towards becoming an all-star. Seth Curry and Danny Green have made clutch shots when the Sixers have needed them most.

What might end up being most important for this team’s future however is seeing our young studs like Matisse Thybulle, Shake Milton and Furkan Korkmaz make noticeable improvements on both offense and defense.

Thybulle especially has shown a growth in confidence lately, and his shooting numbers after the all-star break speak to it. Something else to keep an eye on is the fact that he is top 10 in the league in steals despite playing half as many minutes as everyone else above him.

If he can develop a consistent offensive arsenal: watch out. As long as he continues to improve, and continues to get more minutes, he has Kawhi Leonard level potential.

It wouldn’t truly be a Sixers season review however without mentioning how dominant Joel Embiid has been. Prior to his injury, he was averaging over 30 points a game, and established himself as the front runner in the MVP race. He also leads the league in 40 point, 10 rebound games this season with five. At the time of his injury, there were only four other 40 point, 10 rebound games throughout the rest of the league combined.

In seasons past, the Sixers have collapsed without Embiid, but this season has been different. The Sixers have won five of their six games since Embiid went down. While the Sixers are remaining cautious when it comes to bringing him back, the team’s recent run of form is making fans question how far this team can truly go.

“If they can stay healthy, I think there’s a good possibility that they can make the finals,” communications major Omar Santos said. “Embiid has to be healthy, he makes or breaks their postseason run.”

Whether or not this team can stay healthy will determine their ceiling. When fully fit, the starting lineup is one of the best in the league, having only lost a few times with all five starters healthy. Although almost every player in the current rotation has made the injury report at one point or another, the Sixers have been lucky enough to avoid any major injuries.

This team has been tough to beat in the regular season, and it’s hard to imagine it becoming any easier to beat this team four times in a seven game series. If the Sixers can stay healthy, they can absolutely win it all.