In case you weren't aware of what the Philadelphia 76ers are aiming for this NBA season, General Manager Elton Brand is not pulling punches. 'We have Championship aspirations....we want to win the title' Brand said during a recent press conference at the Sixers state of the art practice facility.
Last season, the team watched on in agony as former Raptor Kawhi Leonard broke their collective hearts. The eventual champs ending the 76ers season with Kawhi's game 7 buzzer beater – hitting the rim four times, no less – in the Eastern Conference semi finals. Star centre Joel Embiid held his head in his hands, shedding despairing tears as the Canadian club celebrated wildly.
For the new season, there is new focus.
Embiid, in particular, has made a renewed (some would say belated) focus on his body and conditioning. Gone are the Chick-Fil-A double orders, and with it around 20 pounds. Embiid, listed at 265 pounds last season, has never played in more that 64 games a season through his career. His frame may have contributed to the array of knee, back and foot complaints that the big Cameroonian has endured.
A force on both end, to the tune of 27.5 points, 13.6 boards, 3.7 assists and 1.9 blocks, Embiid has been the single highest usage centre in the league since his rookie year. His 1.05 points per post-up lead the league amongst players with at least 3 post ups per game. However, Embiid has fallen in love with his below average 3 point shot, shooting 30% on over 4 attempts per game last season. It's hoped that a fit and motivated Embiid will feast down low without resorting to the bailout long jumper.
Ben Simmons is the other pillar that this Sixers team rests upon. The multi-positional Australian has averaged close to a triple-double with almost two steals and a block per game thrown in through his young career. But for all of Simmons transcendent play making, smothering defense and rollicking drives to the bucket, he has one rather obvious flaw – the man just cannot shoot the rock!
Despite actually shooting a three in the preseason, nobody is going to believe that he can be a threat from deep until he starts taking and making them in competitive games. There is a train of thought that Embiid's 3 point fetish was at least in part to help space the floor for the non-shooting Simmons' drives to the basket. Let's reverse that – Simmons being able to at least occupy a defender on the perimeter will open up space for Embiid to monster fools inside.
The rest of the Sixers starting unit is, well.....huge! Al Horford, Josh Richardson and the returning Tobias Harris mean that Philly will roll out a starting unit standing 6'5”, 6'9”, 6'10”, 6'10” and 7'0”. That length and athleticism, coach Brett Brown hopes, will simply envelope teams on the perimeter, and smother and interior attempts.
The acquisitions of Al Horford from Boston (via free agency) and Josh Richardson (traded for Jimmy Butler) give the team a couple of high end complimentary pieces. Horford might be the best defender of Embiid in the league - simply having him as Embiid's teammate is a boon for the club. His ability to stretch the floor and create on offense will compliment Embiid, and his anchoring the defense when Embiid sits, makes Horford a game changing addition.
Richardson was overstretched as the #1 option in Miami, but is overqualified as the 4th or 5th option here. Expect him to revert to his high efficiency numbers (46% fg, 38% from deep) from two seasons ago, whilst being the main defender of opposition point guards.