The Philadelphia 76ers don’t care for small ball. They’re going against the grain.
Joel Embiid. Al Horford. Tobias Harris. Josh Richardson. Ben Simmons. That’s the Philadelphia 76ers‘ projected starting five for next season. The shortest player in that group is Richardson, who’s listed at 6-foot-6 with a 6-foot-10 wingspan.
As the league gets smaller, the Sixers are getting bigger. While it appears the initial goal this summer was to run it back, Jimmy Butler‘s decision to join the Miami Heat was a curveball — on Elton Brand hit out of the park.
There are definite concerns about the Sixers’ new roster. While Harris and Richardson can create shots in the halfcourt, the Sixers still lack a dynamic, go-to option late in games. It will take considerable growth on Tobias’ end to fill Butler’s void, with Richardson pitching in whenever possible.
Horford’s contract is also a risky commitment. He’s 33 and will be 37 when his final year expires. For over $25 million per season, it’s reasonable to question whether or not Horford’s production will stand the test of time.
Imperfection is prevalent on every NBA team, though. All franchises deal with roster inconsistencies and limited skill sets. The Sixers have the tools to overcome those weaknesses, and it starts on the defensive end.
The Sixers struggled to maintain a switch-everything scheme last season due to pieces who didn’t fit. Both J.J. Redick and T.J. McConnell were overwhelming weak points, while Boban Marjanovic and Amir Johnson were less-than-stellar options behind Embiid.
Now the Sixers have plugged those holes. The second unit is incomplete, but the Sixers will introduce Zhaire Smith and Matisse Thybulle to the fold next season. Richardson covers for Redick and then some.
As presently constructed, Philadelphia will have five starters — plus Smith, Thybulle and Mike Scott in reserve — who can comfortably switch screens against multiple positions. Even Joel Embiid has the lateral quickness to stick with guards when necessary.
Brett Brown has long predicated his teams’ success on defense and effort. The Sixers will throw length at every position, smothering the opposing offense. Embiid and Horford can wall off the paint, while Simmons and Richardson are both above-average defenders on the perimeter.
Even Harris, the weakest point in the starting group, is an athletic 6-foot-9 who can defend the post and move on the perimeter. He has lapses and isn’t an elite athlete, but the competitive spirit and physical tools are there. If he’s the weakest link, the Sixers are in a good spot.
Barring serious injuries or a lack of desire, the Sixers have a chance to become the NBA’s best defense next season. Embiid and Horford, while natural centers, have enough versatility to complement one another. Simmons is a legitimate five-position defender who flashed All-Defense potential in the postseason.
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The Sixers can switch screens, blitz ball handlers and disrupt passing lanes with endless wingspans. It’s the Jay Bilas dream team — a group of smart, athletic players who won’t give up size to any team. The Sixers will, from top to bottom, have the league’s biggest starting five next season.
We haven’t seen too many teams pivot toward tall ball in recent seasons. The Raptors did briefly in the postseason as a direct response to Philadelphia’s size, unleashing Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka and Pascal Siakam in unison.
Perhaps the closest we’ve seen to the current Sixers group in recent NBA history is the #DoItBig Pelicans, who started DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday. Even that lineup had glaring differences. Cousins wasn’t near the defender Embiid is.
While there’s a chance smaller, more dynamic offenses can get the better of Philadelphia, the overarching length and size Philadelphia wields — in addition to a handful of tough, physical defenders — is enough to throw most teams off rhythm. The Sixers will make it extremely difficult for opposing teams to comfortably find space and get open looks.
The Sixers have been an elite defense with Embiid on the floor over the past three seasons. Now he’s surrounded by two All-Defensive talents and a budding 3-and-D wing. Smith and Thybulle project as useful defenders as well, though it’s unclear how often they’ll be used next season.
Elton Brand has been unafraid to make big, transformative changes during his brief tenure as GM. The Sixers missed out on Butler and Brand made a bold transition, leaning even more into the Sixers’ unmatched physical advantage. It should yield benefits next season.
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