Publish date:

3 PHILADELPHIA 76ERS

Author:

A MODEST PROPOSAL ...

LET BEN SIMMONS RUN MORE

How much can the 76ers improve from their surprising 52-win campaign? If Joel Embiid can stay healthy and if Ben Simmons can round out his offensive game, they could reach 60 in a LeBron-less East. A subplot of this season, however, will be the push-and-pull between two styles: a deliberate one that favors Embiid, and a more up-tempo one that favors Simmons.

The Sixers were fantastic with both on the court last season: Emiid, Simmons, Robert Covington, J.J. Redick and Dario Šarić made up the league's best high-usage lineup. But when Embiid went down late with a left-eye injury Philadelphia started playing faster. Simmons's game took off—and so did the offense. In the 10 games after Embiid got hurt, the Sixers went 9--1 and scored 118.1 points per game.

Philly's ceiling is obviously higher when Embiid and Simmons are playing together. So Brett Brown needs to find a way to build in more time for Simmons to push the offense when Embiid is on the floor. That won't just let Simmons, his 6'10" point guard, shine; it could make the team a tougher out in the postseason. In the second round last year Boston did a great job of slowing the Sixers down, and they went out in five.

STARTING 5

COACH BRETT BROWN

2017--18 RECORD: 52--30

PREDICTION: Lose conference finals

PG BEN SIMMONS (26 [SI'S TOP 100 PLAYER RANKING])

8.2

APG

SG MARKELLE FULTZ

40.5

FG%

SF ROBERT COVINGTON (48 [SI'S TOP 100 PLAYER RANKING])

12.6

PPG

PF DARIO ŠARIĆ (54 [SI'S TOP 100 PLAYER RANKING])

39.3

3FG%

11.0

RPG

C JOEL EMBIID (9 [SI'S TOP 100 PLAYER RANKING])

In Embiid's first full season, the Sixers became the league's best team on the boards (47.4 per game). Philly was 23rd in rebounding in 2016--17.

BENCH

SG T.J. MCCONNELL

SG J.J. REDICK (62 [SI'S TOP 100 PLAYER RANKING])

PF AMIR JOHNSON

(#) SI'S TOP 100 PLAYER RANKING

ENEMY LINES

A RIVAL SCOUT SIZES UP PHILADELPHIA

I WONDER if BEN SIMMONS can take over a game offensively. They're pretty damn close to the top tier, it's just who's going to be that No. 2 guy behind Simmons if JOEL EMBIID gets into foul trouble or gets injured. They have a bunch of catch-and-shoot guys, but who can create his own shot? Ben is really good, but outside of creating catch-and-shoot opportunities, he has a lot of room to grow when you need to get a bucket. That's where Golden State and Boston are unique, they have a bunch of guys who can put it on the floor and shoot too ... That's where the Sixers need MARKELLE FULTZ, and you have no idea what's going to happen there. At Washington, he looked like he could be a damn good player. He had it all because he could score on all levels. Defensively, he was as lazy as could be.... I love stories like ROBERT COVINGTON—an undrafted guy from a small conference coming out of the G League and working himself into a player. He's a great three-point shooter, that's his bread and butter, but defensively he can guard a lot of positions, he's extremely long and athletic. He's a plug-and-play guy, where you throw him in with a lot of lineups and he'll make a positive impact.... DARIO ŠARIĆ took advantage of a bigger role in his second season and proved he belonged. There were questions if he was a three or a four. He's really settled into his role as a stretch four who battles on both ends. With their offense, he's going to get a lot of good looks from outside. He proved last season he can knock them down. Good passer for his position, sees the floor, another guy with a good future.