How Do the New Sixers Affect Philly’s Celtics Problems?

I’ve always rationalized last year’s embarrassing 2nd round loss to the Celtics as the product of rookie mistakes, and had a few key things happened differently it could have been a victory if not at least a competitive series.

And I still believe that, to be extremely frank with you. I think that series really was a turnover, a Belinelli foot being an inch further back, and a Covington 3 or so from being a win. But with all of that said, the Celtics are still, despite all of their drama and struggles, one of the most difficult matchups for the Sixers in the league (result of tonight’s game notwithstanding). It’s not an uncommon take to say that the Sixers would probably be better off against Milwaukee than Boston in a 7-game series.

First things first, though. Let’s talk about why this is. One thing that is clear from this year so far is that the Sixers tend to struggle against teams with guard depth. Brooklyn is a perfect example of this. D’Angelo Russell looks like Steph Curry against them. Spencer Dinwiddie looks like he’s ready for a starting job. Why is this?

I think the Sixers’ guard problems can be traced back to the fact that Simmons is not a traditional point guard (obviously). For as strong and switchable as he is, certain smaller guards, particularly those with good handles and mobility, can give him trouble. Specifically, Kemba Walker, Kyrie Irving, and players in that vein. I have a feeling Iverson would destroy Simmons. This isn’t counter-intuitive, either: it’s easier to move a 6’1 body than a 6’10 body.

So in that regard, the Sixers are already starting defense mismatched, which leaves some question marks for the rest of the squad. Is Butler better suited for small guards? Is Simmons capable of hanging with true small forwards in Butler’s absence? All of this uncertainty arises from the mismatch created by particularly crafty and slippery guards.

But that isn’t all that works in Boston’s favor over Philly. Big men who can play the perimeter more and drag Embiid out from under the hoop also present a defensive problem. Bigs who can shoot, specifically like Horford, Baynes, and others like Aldridge, weaken Embiid’s incredible ability to protect the rim and abuse his physicality. This displacement of Embiid makes life easier for those small guards, as well, providing them more room to drive and collapse the defense on to them.

So, teams with bigs who can shoot and small, handl-y guards give them trouble historically. But how do the recent acquisitions impact that? For starters, Tobias Harris is a more athletic player than Wilson Chandler, so he’s an upgrade defensively purely from a physical standpoint. However, his pure 3-point shot makes the offense lethal, as you simply account for both Redick and Harris while properly handling Embiid or Simmons down-low. Butler, of course, can kind of play anywhere in between, as well, with great post skills and a respectable jumper.

Underrated, however, is the impact that the new role men in the rotation impact their matchup favor-ability. In last year’s playoffs, the Sixers simply had too many guys who could only hang on one end of the floor. Belinelli could shoot the lights out, but he makes Redick look like a lock-down defender. Covington could handle anyone at the perimeter on D, but went ice-cold from 3. Players were too easy to circumvent on any one side of the court.

However, the new Sixers, such as James Ennis, Mike Scott, and John Simmons, all have the basics covered on both ends of the floor. Simmons has shot poorly as of late, but he at least has that in his arsenal. Scott and Ennis both play hard and physical, and make you work to get your shot off from the arc. Harris is no different, mind you. He is a passable defender and a pivotal offensive piece.

Tonight’s game was an interesting case study into this idea. For one thing, Harris went 0-6 for 3. That’s…not good. But obviously, things like that are in part due to chance. Embiid had two 3-pointers rattle around inside and bounce out. Things like that just suck when the team was already struggling offensively.

Some of the teams’ struggles were Boston’s defense, like how Horford gets away with murder against Embiid. But some things, like Korkmaz and Harris missing open looks, and Redick having an off night, are just shit luck.

I’m not going to try and justify this outcome as frustrated as I am by another loss to Boston on the season, but man would this have felt good. How Sixers-y is it that Harris goes cold the one night we really need him not to? Or, among other things, the refs blowing calls and Butler missing 2 free throws late in the game? All of these things aside, I think the matchup was about as we expected. Players like Horford and Morris drew the front-court away from the rim, and Al Horford is just more mobile than Embiid. And he’s certainly more mobile than Boban.

The likelihood of the Sixers and Celtics meeting in the postseason is low, save for the Eastern Conference Finals, or, if Indiana keeps playing well, in the first round. Neither of which are likely, as the odds that the Pacers outplace both the Sixers and Celtics are pretty low, despite having a one game advantage right now. And moreover, I think the Raptors or Bucks would beat the Celtics in round 2, as Boston struggles on the road and neither have answers for Milwaukee’s system or the Raptors size and strength. So, for the sake of my heart health, it’s probably good that the two won’t meet up.

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Life Post-Trade Deadline: So Far, So Good

In possibly the most explosive game since the trade deadline last Thursday, the new look Philadelphia 76ers absolutely imposed their will upon the Lakers (boy does that feel good to say). Despite Kyle Kuzma’s 39 points, the Sixers won 143-120.

The Lakers, who are often touted as a strong defensive team, gave up 34 points in the 4th Quarter, and 33 minimum for each quarter.

LeBron James looked like he’s still working his way back in after the longest absence in his career.

Life with Tobias Harris has gone great thus far, he posted 22 points including 3 3-balls and on 9-14 from the field.

Embiid was the man of the night, with 37 points, 14 rebounds, and a steal. He posted his career high in points last season against the Lakers. The Lakers situation is dire at best, as Javale McGee still plays well within his limited minutes, and Tyson Chandler is lacking offensively when he takes over for McGee. As such, it’s not surprising that Embiid was able to beast on this Lakers squad.

One underrated aspect of this game was how well the Sixers shared and moved the ball. Butler had a good game with 15 points, as well as doing some great on ball defense on players like Brandon Ingram, who it seemed to be easy for Butler to force into errors or poor shot selection. Ingram had 19 points but was a -8 on BP/M.

JJ Redick had 15 points on only 3 3-point makes, which was that absolutely insane and-1 shot from nearly behind the backboard in the corner.

Ben Simmons struggled tonight, which isn’t all that surprising: he seemed a little bit passive and unsure immediately after the Butler trade, but found his rhythm again just before the Harris trade. However, Simmons was operating on no shortage of aggression this time. He took his very first pull up 3-pointer, which was an unlucky rattle away from going in. He also took many more shots from outside of the paint, and was intent on hitting turn-around jumpers out of the post. Nonetheless, it wouldn’t surprise me if Simmons looks a little uncertain in the near future, as this team clearly still has to figure out effective ways to share the ball with as many high-usage threats in their starting 5.

Simmons was a +6 on BP/M, despite having no double digits on the stat-line. He did, however, play some fantastic defense, including one impressive block down-low against LeBron James.

While wins over a strong Denver team and a LeBron led clown-fest feels good, the Sixers’ true test post-deadline comes Tuesday at home against Boston. They lost the first game of the season against Boston, and lost a close OT game against Boston Christmas Day, both of which were away. The Sixers are great at home, but Boston has historically been a bane for Philly. Although it’s important to note, this is not the same Philadelphia squad as was seen in either the first nor second meeting between the two. Boston is also in a shaky place culturally, after their crazy comeback lost to the Sixers-er, I mean the Clippers’ own Landry Shamet. Man, that will never stop hurting to say.

Trade Deadline Thoughts: Elton Brand Has Balls of Steel

This trade deadline was expected to be a relatively quiet one with the exception of Anthony Davis likely being on the move. Davis is still in New Orleans, and many other very surprising moves happened in addition.

Many teams seemed to be waiting for the AD dust to settle to do anything, and once it became clear that a Lakers/Pelicans deal was unlikely, the trades started flowing. Among the most active teams at the deadline was one Philadelphia team, who easily created some of the most remarkable trade headlines this year.

In addition to the Butler trade at the beginning of the year which made waves, the Sixers started this week out hot by making a surprise move for Tobias Harris, Mike Scott, and Boban Marjanovic. The Sixers essentially gave up two players who would get destroyed in the playoffs, Landry Shamet, and 2 first round picks, only one of our own.

Harris being on the move was one of the biggest surprises of this trade deadline, and his destination even more so.

As sad as I am to see Shamet go, we essentially gave up one real player and one real pick for 2 valuable rotation guys and a near all-star. My first reaction was that it felt like a minor overpay, but considering the fact that we didn’t lose a pick in the Butler trade, it all sort of evened out.

Then today, just in time for the deadline, the news many Sixers fans have been hoping for came: we finally dealt Markelle Fultz. Let me preface this: I really wanted Markelle to succeed here, and I really hope that Orlando helps him and that he can get back to being a functional NBA player. But to have this off of our backs, and to get picks AND a functional rotation player in return? Godlike.

We essentially traded a warm bench seat for a guy who can play reasonable minutes right now, and a Thunder first rounder, as well as a Cleveland second round pick. While the Thunder pick won’t be incredible, it will essentially offset the fact that the Sixers gave up their own first for 2020 in the Clippers trade. There’s not much reason to believe the Thunder’s odds will be much worse than the Sixers, so essentially the Heat 2021 pick is the major piece in that deal, in addition to Shamet.

Finally, the Sixers made two moves for cash considerations. One to Toronto in exchange for Malachi Richardson, and one to Houston for James Ennis. Richardson was immediately waved to make room for Ennis on the roster.

As crazy as a week as it has been, and as risky as both the Harris and Butler trades were, I’m starting to build excitement for this. Harris, while an incredible player in his own right, was essentially insurance in case things go south with Butler, or he simply leaves this summer. Harris and Boban both seem very excited to come to Philly, so keeping both of them would be a huge bonus.

The Fultz trade is more about simply having that drama and attention off of our backs. They can finally just take the players they have and move in the direction of a team with a full and complete roster, no asterisks attached.

Additionally, the James Ennis pickup was very solid. Ennis, unlike some current players on the Sixers roster, is an actual NBA player in the current year.

So what does this mean for the Sixers play? For one thing, this team is big. And I mean BIG. This team’s starting 5 has one player under 6’4 and it’s our shooting guard who wasn’t stopping anyone anyway. Other than that, this 5 has 4 big, mostly switchable and defensively sound players. Harris is the exception, but he’s not a defensive liability, at least. He’s league average, probably has his good and bad nights like most any other player.

Meanwhile, the offense is going to be insane. So many of the problems this team suffered from are alleviated by bringing Harris into the fold. Not only does he shoot well, which fixes some of the spacing issues the Sixers had, but he facilitates other offensive maneuvers like capitalizing off of Embiid getting doubled, Simmons drive and kick, and Embiid-Redick DHO’s.

Another underrated aspect of this trade is that it reduces some of the bench depth issues. We essentially gave up 1 for 3 in terms of real functional players who aren’t one dimensional. Boban will be a great backup center for big lineups, whereas Bolden can fill in for smaller teams. Mike Scott is a playable wing rotation guy, who will probably gravitate towards the 4 a la Mike Muscala, and of course Harris raises the floor of the whole team.

Not only did the bench get better in this trade, but the flexibility of lineups with the bench got significantly better, too. Essentially, Chandler had to be played with any 2 of Simmons, Butler, or Embiid on the floor. Now, Brett Brown can throw a ton of different looks at people. One very obvious concern is managing the shot count for 5 players who need shots, but this will only really matter in the first minutes and sometimes last minutes of a game. Brown can pull Butler or Embiid early, and give Harris and Simmons some run together. Really any combination will be better, as it will require fewer minutes for the guys who need rest, in addition giving Harris, Butler, and Embiid all plenty of room to work as the high usage guys.

This trade deadline said to me one thing, and one thing only. Elton Brand isn’t here to fuck around. He made moves that sacrificed some long-term stability, but raised the floor of this team significantly, and over the 3 major trades, things evened out so that nothing was really over-payed for, not even moving on from Fultz. Hinkie was too concerned with the future (can’t blame him given the roster at the time), Colangelo was scared to make any big moves and drafted like a bitch. This administration essentially traded Mikal Bridges and a first for Tobias Harris, and fixed the wrongdoing of the previous regime while getting a pick back. It’s still early yet; we still haven’t seen any of these new guys play yet. But one thing is for sure: Elton Brand is here to make moves.

A Busy Night in the NBA, Broken Down

Yesterday had an unprecedented amount of noteworthy things occur, in a variety of ways. LeBron came back somewhat unexpectedly, the Sixers man-handled the Warriors on the low, and of course, the Knicks dealt the best player they’ve drafted in a generation for a low-tier point guard and cap space. Without any more introduction, here is each of those stories in more depth.

A King’s Return

LeBron James returned from the longest absence of his career in last night’s game against the Clippers, an overtime game in which James played 40 minutes for 24 points, 14 rebounds, and 9 assists. One question, though: How irresponsible can the Lakers be? LeBron is coming off the most significant injury of his long career, at a point in his life where he’s up against Father Time now more than ever. LeBron is 34, and there’s more reason for precaution now than there has been so far.

Look around. Dwyane Wade is on his final year, and is a shell of himself. Carmelo Anthony wasn’t even good enough for the Bulls to keep him. LeBron can’t be looking at the people around him from his own draft class and think that it’s no big deal. Nick Collison is having his jersey retired. Chris Paul, who was drafted two years later but is only a year younger, can barely stay on the court for more than a month at a time, and was injured for the most important game in his career. Sure, LeBron is superhuman, but he is human. For a team that has aspirations to trade for Anthony Davis, they can’t mess around like this.

What happens if they trade all of the young players for AD and LeBron pulls a hammy? All you’ve got left Rajon Rondo, Michael Beasley, Javale McGee, and Lance Stephenson. That’s your supporting cast for Anthony Davis.

Maybe LeBron was further along in his recovery than previously thought, but even so, if you have to lose one game against the Clippers to ease him back in, then so be it. While the Lakers won this game, they could have probably still done it if LeBron played just over 30. And even if they did lose, what’s the matter with that? The Clippers are a fine loss compared to some of the teams the Lakers lost to while LeBron was out. Maybe they needed to stop the bleeding, ASAP, but LeBron is going to need to be healthy for the playoffs, and 40 minutes a night on his first game back from the most severe injury he’s ever had, at age 34, is simply not worth it. This ended up pretty preachy, but who the hell cares. The Lakers are a very poorly run team at the moment and they need to wise up or risk being mediocre again with an injured LeBron, AD, and a gang of nobodies around them.

Mr. Brown’s Wild Ride

In the Sixers’ 113-104 win against the Golden State Warriors, Ben Simmons played what HC Brett Brown referred to as his best game in the NBA thus far. While he had a game that was undoubtedly fantastic, it was a pretty uncharacteristic stat line. We tend to imagine good Simmons games as 20+/10+/10+ since he’s so proficient at the various responsibilities he has, but Simmons had a fantastic scoring game, himself, while still initiating for others as he went for 26/8/6. Simmons and Embiid had 26 points each, and Curry and Durant combined for 66.

One extremely noticeable aspect of this game was Jimmy Butler’s struggle offensively. Nevertheless, he had a huge impact on the game down the stretch, making strong defensive plays and exploiting the gravity he creates on the court to dime up others.

Another very palpable facet of this game, as an individual observer and Sixers fan/writer, was how hard Brett Brown out-coached Steve Kerr. The lineups, as well as the elevated play of the whole bench, made life consistently difficult for nearly everyone on the court besides Steph Curry, and even he struggled in the 4th quarter.

Playing through your center is hard late in the game, and Brown’s recognition of the mismatches down low and playing Klay Thompson’s absence allowed Embiid plenty more room to work than he normally is allowed. He was fed the ball, allowed to take Cousins to work, and continued to get fouled which helped the Sixers keep the Warriors at arms length.

As I said, the role players really stepped up tonight, but Brett Brown’s ability to put out lineups that gave Embiid and Simmons rest (keeping them fresh in the final 5 minutes), without sacrificing defense or scoring, was an integral part of this win for the Sixers. Brown got to ring the bell after the game, as even the players recognized the impact his decisions had last night.

The Knicks Fucked Up

I really don’t have a clever title for this one. The Knicks fucked up, plain and simple. They gave up the best player they’ve had since Patrick Ewing who was still young and capable of improving for Dennis Smith Jr., a mid-tier point guard even within his own draft class, and salary matching contracts who they don’t even intend on keeping. All of this in hopes of establishing enough cap room to potentially sign two max free agents this summer. There’s only one problem, and that’s the fact that no free agents probably want to touch that shit-show of an organization with a 10-foot pole.

Sure, maybe the Knicks draft Zion, and sure Kyrie Irving could change his mind about staying in Boston, and sure if Golden State somehow doesn’t win the title this year KD might leave, but I’m saying right now: none of that is worth it. First of all, the Knicks might not get the no.1 overall pick. Second of all, Kyrie isn’t good attractive enough to attract other FAs to follow him if he goes. Third, GSW is most likely going to win the title, meaning KD is most likely staying the fuck in place.

Think about the kind of stuff that has to happen for the Knicks to have justified this trade. Golden State has to lose in the post-season (LOL), Kyrie has to decide he wants to leave a franchise that gave him so much free reign, AND the Knicks have to win the lottery. And even if KD does decide to leave (again, extremely unlikely if GSW wins) what makes NY think that KD would be interested in playing there? They’re such a mismanaged team it’s unbelievable. He wants to go somewhere he can keep contending for titles, and while the East is weaker, there is absolutely no reason to believe that Kyrie, KD, and a bunch of goons is any more prepared to win a title than Toronto, Milwaukee, Boston, or Philly.

Long story short, the Knicks need to get rid of that entire front office if this doesn’t work out. If your name isn’t Zion Williamson, David Fizdale, or whatever free agent ends up going there (if any) you should be on the chopping block. There is absolutely no reason for this team to keep the daydream of cap space alive just because they’re New York. Brooklyn is a team that can capitalize off of a big market. The Knicks are so shitty that being in New York basically doesn’t mean anything anymore. Just think about that.

Anyways, this became a longer, more rant-y piece than I originally intended. But hey, when a lot of stupid teams do stupid things while the Sixers are turning up, I guess I have a lot to talk about.