It’s only a couple of weeks into the 2020-21 NBA season but things are looking good for the Philadelphia 76ers ranking. They’ve won six of their first seven for the best record so far in the NBA.
76ers Dominance Is No Fluke
Led by new coach Doc Rivers, the Sixers have shown more versatility and resilience in the early going. However, the books are still pricing them outside the top tier of the Eastern Conference. While no worse than fifth on the three major futures markets, they are significantly trailing Brooklyn and Milwaukee, the preseason favorites to win the conference.
We’ll see the first match-up between the Sixers and the Nets on Thursday night in Brooklyn. This will be the first meeting to include Kyrie Irving, who pestered the Sixers while in Boston, and Kevin Durant.
Can the team keep up this strong start? Here are some positive signs:
One of the major questions floating around the Delaware Valley has been “When will Joel Embiid start taking things seriously and start playing dominant consistently?” Looks like this season might be the breakthrough.
So place your bets ASAP!
In the six games he’s played so far (all wins), Embiid has averaged 23.2 points and 12.3 rebounds. He leads the team in those categories, along with PER at 27.69.
The stats have spoken to his dominance. However, watching the games, he seems like a more focused, determined player. Not a lot of teams can match his inside prowess. Late in games, he’s been a hammer. For a guy who models his game after HOFer Hakeem Olajuwon, he’s starting to fit that mold in a time where that style of play is more impactful.
He’s also been able to kick the ball out of the post to open shooters. His 1.2 assist/turnover ratio is a good sign.
Can he keep up the physical play? He missed the game in Cleveland with back issues, a common plague for big men. If he can stay healthy, avoid going too HAM with Chipotle and Shirley Temples, he can play his best against Giannis and the other big men in the league and make the Sixers a very tough match-up.
Supporting Cast Actually Supports
We’re gonna regret the Jimmy Butler trade for decades in Philadelphia. However, replacing Al Horford and Jason Richardson with Danny Green and Seth Curry looks to be paying early dividends for the Sixers.
The Sixers are top-10 in rebounding and assists among the league so far. There’s more balance to the offense with more reliable shooters. Curry’s third on the team in scoring with over 15 points per game.
While the Sixers are in the bottom half of the three-point shooting categories, the ability to get good looks for Curry, Tobias Harris, and others takes some of the burden off the inside game. Teams collapsing on Embiid and Ben Simmons’ drive need to watch for the kick-out to the perimeter.
Ball in Brooklyn.
— Philadelphia 76ers (@sixers) January 7, 2021
Rivers seems to be doing a better job working the rotation. Shake Milton has excelled in the early going, along with rookie Tyrese Maxey. While he’s averaging just under 14 minutes a game (much of that when he started for Embiid in Cleveland), Dwight Howard’s ability to give Joel a breather and play with the second unit will do a lot to preserve the superstar in a tighter regular season for the playoff grind.
Howard also has been spotted leading post-game shootarounds for the bench players. That speaks a lot to his leadership and helps build a stronger team. When sharpshooter Furkan Korkmaz returns from injury, he’ll be another weapon in the arsenal.
Shutdown Defense – 76ers ranking at the top
Remember when the Sixers would have those shutdown third quarters and turn small halftime leads into major advantages entering the fourth quarter? Yeah, that was fun. Looks like the team’s Revolutionary-inspired snake logo might be a boa constrictor again.
The Sixers rank second in the league in defense, allowing 101.7 points against in the first seven games. The team is second in points differential, field goal percentage differential, and fifth in rebounding differential.
Instead of running out to early leads and letting weaker teams hang around, the Sixers have dispatched early opponents quickly and kept the lid on the comebacks. Having a confident second unit that can eat minutes and keep leads helps with this.
When the team has trailed, they’ve engineered gritty comebacks. Take the signature win against Toronto on the 29th. The Sixers allowed 56 points in the first half but only 37 in the second. The ice-cold outside shooting turned around late as the team focused on inside play.
Normally the Sixers would concede when trailing later. Toronto took a 85-78 lead inside nine minutes remaining. The Sixers ended the game on a 22-8 run. This team has some intestinal fortitude.
Right now, in an Atlantic Division where teams are struggling to find their play, the Sixers seem the most composed and prepared outlet. This also keeps GM Daryl Morey’s finger off the trigger for a blockbuster deal, likely for James Harden. Despite being $35 million over the cap, expect the team to find another role player before the trade deadline. If the success continues, moving Simmons or other mainstays becomes less likely.