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Fixing the Milwaukee Bucks

The Milwaukee Bucks have been awful this year, but the future is bright. Here are several things they need to do as they rebuild

John Zitzler

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The 2013-14 season may hasn’t gone how the Milwaukee Bucks had hoped, but the season full of losses might have been exactly what the team needed. Unlike the Philadelphia Sixers, the Bucks went into this year hoping to fight for one of the final playoff seeds in the weak Eastern Conference. They brought in veteran players such as O.J. Mayo, Gary Neal, Caron Butler, Carlos Delfino, Zaza Pachulia and Luke Ridnour to help bring stability and leadership to an otherwise young group, with aspirations of a surprising season.

However, it didn’t take long to see that even with the team’s offseason additions, they weren’t going to win many games. The Bucks rolled into the All-Star break with a paltry record of 9-43. It was evident to even the most optimistic fan that despite being in the very down Eastern Conference, this season was not going to end with a playoff berth.

The team unloaded a few of the veteran players brought in just a few months prior, trading Ridnour and Neal to the Charlotte Bobcats for Ramon Sessions and Jeff Adrien, and also waiving Caron Butler, who would go on to sign with the Oklahoma City Thunder. These moves were a step in the right direction and will give the Bucks increased flexibility going into this offseason. There is still a lot of work to be done for the Bucks to return to playoff contention, but if they play their cards right that time could come sooner than later.

Build Around Giannis Antetokounmpo

When discussing the Bucks’ future, the conversation starts and ends with Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Bucks hit a home run in last year’s draft, stealing the young Greek with the 15th overall pick. Bucks general manager John Hammond and his staff have to be commended for taking such a big risk on somewhat of an unknown player. Antetokounmpo has paid dividends for the Bucks much earlier than expected. It was anticipated that due to his age and lack of experience against high level competition that Antetokounmpo would not offer much in terms of production during his rookie campaign, but it quickly became apparent that he was much better than expected. Even with his surprising play, there remains plenty of room for growth – growth that will play a major factor in the Bucks’ success going forward.

Antetokounmpo was able to carve out a nice role for himself as a rookie, playing 24.3 minutes per game and even starting in 22 contests. He showed he is capable of contributing in a number of different ways, averaging 6.9 points, 4.4 rebounds, 1.9 assists and .8 blocks. While his numbers may not seem incredible, some of the highlight reel plays he has made this year certainly have been. On a number of occasions, he has swatted a shot off the backboard and followed the rejection with a dunk on the other end. It’s these glimpses of brilliance on both ends that have fans in Milwaukee so excited. Antetokounmpo seemingly has one of these moments every few games, making plays that leave your jaw on the floor. There is no doubt the talent is there.

With the his first NBA offseason approaching, the franchise must now focus on harnessing and developing Antetokounmpo into a player that will be a difference maker for years to come. His shooting has been spotty but encouraging for such a young player, shooting 31.8 percent from three and 41.7 percent overall from the field. He has shown he is more than capable from beyond the arc and has looked especially comfortable shooting from the wing.

If Antetokounmpo can work to develop a more consistent jump shot this offseason, it will really allow for him to become more efficient on the offensive end. At the same time, he must work hard to add some muscle to his slight frame, as added strength would help him in many aspects of his game, especially finishing around the rim, playing defense and rebounding the ball. Bucks fans should be very excited to see what the future holds for Antetokounmpo, and the Greek Freak should be viewed as a cornerstone piece for the franchise going forward.

Develop the “Other” Young Players

Even though the team brought in some veterans last offseason, the Bucks still have a nice crop of young players outside of Antetokounmpo to work with. Development of Antetokoumpo should be a major priority, but there are some other good prospects on this roster as well. John Henson, Brandon Knight, Khris Middleton and Nate Wolters are all under the age of 24.

Henson, who had his third-year option picked up by the team in October, must focus on adding strength and continuing to develop his inconsistent mid-range jumper. He has proven that he can deter and block shots (1.8 per game) around the rim, but does sometimes get out muscled by bigger players. Right now, it is tough to play Henson and Larry Sanders together, as both players score primarily at the rim. This clogs up the lane, making it difficult for the guards to penetrate the paint and create. If Henson can get to the point where he is confidently knocking shots from the baseline and inside the arc on the wing, it would give the Bucks some increased flexibility with their frontcourt rotations and also add some needed versatility to his game.

In his first season in Milwaukee, Knight has become a focal point offensively and has been the team’s most consistent threat on that end of the court throughout the season. He leads the team in scoring (17.5 PPG) and has the highest Usage Percentage at 26.9 percent. The big question for Knight is should he be the one running the offense or is he best suited playing off the ball? Knight does lead the team in assists per game (4.9), but can have trouble when the play breaks down creating for teammates. If Knight wants to be the point guard of the future for the Bucks, he will have to become a better playmaker. He must also work to become more efficient from three-point range. He leads the team in attempts from deep at 294 but is only shooting a meager 33 percent.

Middleton, who came over to Milwaukee from Detroit as part of the Brandon Jennings trade, has been a very pleasant surprise. He has shown that he can be very dangerous threat from outside. Middleton has been the most consistent shooter on the team, leading in three pointers made (106) and three point percentage (42.2 percent). Though his sample size is somewhat limited, it appears Middleton will be a very capable shooter from deep. At times his game can be a little one dimensional. Middleton’s 2014-15 salary is non-guaranteed, but Milwaukee will almost certainly keep him and then extend a qualifying offer to him the following summer to make him a restricted free agent. While Middleton may never be star, he will be solid contributor as long as he can continue to shoot the ball efficiently, one the Bucks should look to keep around.

Wolters was selected in the second round of last year’s draft and, like Middleton, has been somewhat of a revelation. In 58 games, including 31 starts, before recently injuring his hand, he showed that he can be a steady option at point guard. He does a great job protecting the ball and rarely turns it over. He does need to work on his outside shot, but has a chance to be solid backup at point guard for years to come.

Make the Right Draft Pick

This June, thanks to their less than stellar season, the Bucks will have the chance bring in some young talent via the draft. Depending on how the ping pong balls bounce, the Bucks could pick as high as one and most likely no lower than fourth. Luckily for the Bucks, this draft has a number of very intriguing prospects including Joel Embiid, Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins, Marcus Smart and Dante Exum among others. Jeff Goodman of ESPN.com has stated that “sources indicate” that Hammond favors Joel Embiid with the Bucks’ first pick. Once the Bucks know exactly where they will be choosing on draft day, it should make it easier to pinpoint exactly who the team will target but for now it looks as if Embiid tops the team’s wish list.

The Bucks need to target the best player available regardless of their current roster make up. The team can’t afford to pass on a potential All-Star and possible superstar, even if it may unbalance roster. Embiid, Parker and Wiggins are all very highly regarded and could change the course of the franchise if they play up to expectations. Hammond has a very important decision to make, one that will have a major impact on the future of the team.

One area in which Hammond has really excelled is finding solid players in the second round. Some of his second-round picks include Nate Wolters (2013), Doron Lamb (2012), Jon Leuer (2011) and Jodie Meeks (2009), all players contributing for NBA teams this season. The Bucks will have three picks in the second round of this coming draft and it will be another great opportunity to add youth and depth to the roster. Following the draft, the team should have a very good core group of young players to build around.

Resurgence of O.J. Mayo and Larry Sanders

In the short-term, the quickest way for the Bucks to get better is with increased production from their two highest paid players. Larry Sanders and O.J. Mayo both had disappointing years and their missing production certainly played a part in the team’s poor season.

Mayo was signed to a three-year, $24 million contract last summer, with the expectation that he would be the starting two guard. He was given the job to begin the season, but never really settled in. Mayo has only ended up starting 25 games. Even when Mayo was playing starter’s minutes, he rarely seemed to assert himself on offense. He tended to be very stagnate and lethargic, often waiting for the ball to swing around to him for a three rather than aggressively working for a better look. He can be a prolific three-point shooter, but can be all too willing to float around the perimeter waiting for the ball to find him. This may be one of the last opportunities Mayo has to prove that he’s an NBA starter. If he can bounce back with a strong year, it would go a long way in helping the Bucks improve.

Sanders made a name for himself during the 2012-13 season for his intimidating play in the paint. He was a shot blocking machine, sending back just under three shots a game. The Bucks rewarded Sanders by signing him to a four-year, $44 million contract last summer. It’s safe to say things haven’t turned out exactly as the Bucks had planned since signing Sanders to an extension. Sanders missed 25 games to start the season after being involved in a nightclub altercation in which he injured his thumb. Sanders did return in late December, but struggled to replicate his production from a season ago. The rough stretch for Sanders continued as he fractured his orbital bone in early February and has since been declared out for the season.

Having Sanders anchor the defense is a must for the Bucks if the goal is to win as soon as possible. Sanders has proven that he can be an elite rim protector and if he can stay out of foul trouble, he can really influence a game. Sanders’ ability to return to 2012-13 form will be a major factor for the Bucks next season because when he’s on top of his game, there are few players who can singlehandedly elevate a defense the way he can.

This is John's second year with Basketball Insiders, after spending last season working as an intern. Based out of Milwaukee, he covers the NBA with a focus on the Milwaukee Bucks and the Central Division.

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NBA Daily: With Harden in Tow, it’s Championship or Bust for Brooklyn

Adding another former MVP to an already talented Nets team means higher expectations in Kings County. Drew Maresca identifies the major challenges remaining for the Brooklyn Nets.

Drew Maresca

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Unless you’re living under a rock, you already know that the Brooklyn Nets pulled off what will go down as the blockbuster deal of 2020-21. Just last week, the Nets added James Harden for Caris LeVert, Jarrett Allen and future draft swaps and picks. While the deal was more complicated than even that sounds, the fact of the matter is that the Nets added another superstar– and you know what they say, the team that gives up the star rarely wins the trade.

With Harden in tow, the Nets are now equipped to compete with anyone in the NBA thanks to its newly-minted big three. But there is a downside to the Harden deal, too. The Nets entered the season with incredible depth. But after losing Spencer Dinwiddie to a knee injury and trading away LeVert, Rodions Kurucs and Allen, they’ve thinned out, probably too much, for their own comfort.

The Nets’ depth is an issue that will be challenging to solve. What’s more, how will they arrange Kyrie Irving and Harden to get the most production out of them? And how does rookie head coach Steve Nash respond to the first-time challenges of overseeing a championship-caliber team?

Regardless, our first look at the Nets was pretty darn impressive. Brooklyn beat the Orlando Magic on Saturday, getting 42 points from Kevin Durant and a 30-point triple-double from Harden that also included 14 assists. The Nets will boast one of the league’s most talented starting lineups once Irving returns– which could happen as soon as today – but don’t be fooled, there are still challenges on the horizon, and they’re all internal.

How do Irving and Harden fit together?

Harden might look like a shooting guard and Irving is obviously a point guard, but that doesn’t mean that they fit together. Harden is at his best initiating the offense, and since joining Houston in 2012-13, he hasn’t posted a usage rate lower than 27.8 but has gotten as high as 40.5 (2018-19). Further, he’s averaged 9.5 assists or more in each of the last five seasons, tallying at least 10 assists per game in three of the last five. While his style is clearly isolation-heavy, it looks like he’s finally willing to take a bit of a backseat now that he’s playing alongside his buddy and former-MVP in Durant.

Irving is another player high-usage player, with a usage rate of 30 or more in four of the past five seasons. While he looks more like a traditional point guard than Harden, his career totals don’t necessarily back that up. Unlike Harden, Irving has never averaged 10 assists per game. He averages only 5.7 assists per game for his career with a high of 6.9 in Boston during 2018-19.

Maybe the solution is letting Irving play off the ball. But there’s a problem with that initiative, will Irving accept it? Irving hasn’t been heard from since leaving the team for personal reasons following the Jan. 6 event in Washington D.C. Has his absence been a social commentary? Was it a power play forcing Brooklyn’s hand to trade for Harden? Or maybe it’s all enigmatic of a bigger personal problem with which Irving is dealing? Only time will tell, but Brooklyn can’t be too comfortable – unless they already know the answer.

Lack of depth is a problem

Obviously, the Nets are more than Durant, Harden and Irving. But do they have enough to get over the hump? After all, fair or not, it’s championship or bust. Yes, the Nets also have Joe Harris, Jeff Green and DeAndre Jordan. And, sure, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot has been a great surprise, while lots will be expected of Landry Shamet. But that’s it.

There’s also Nic Claxton, but there are two main problems with expecting significant contributions from him – Nash said he isn’t expected back soon and he’s extremely untested. Sure, Claxton is talented, having drawn comparisons to Chris Bosh, but he only appeared in 15 games during his rookie season, averaging just 4.4 points and 2.9 rebounds over 12.5 minutes of action.

But the idea that the Nets are undermanned is about more than a missing piece. Firstly, the Nets don’t have a reliable scorer in the second unit. If Dinwiddie were healthy, they’d be in significantly better shape with him anchoring the second team. Granted, if managed correctly and everyone stays healthy, one of Irving, Durant and Harden will be on the floor at all times. But it’s impossible to ensure that health will prevail and Irving hasn’t even rejoined the team yet, so there is deeper uncertainty around their rotation and the fit for now.

Focusing on health for a moment, we’re still dead smack in the middle of a pandemic. And in 2020-21, teams can’t operate under traditional norms. Losing a player to COVID would do the Nets a huge disservice, losing two or three nearly renders them unable to play. But more importantly, losing any one of their big three hurts badly and changes the entire makeup of the team. The Nets are incredibly top-heavy and once they establish chemistry amongst their three stars, proceeding without one would of them will be a major hindrance. Losing two of them would be a death blow.

Nash’s first rodeo

On top of all of the team’s issues, Nash is in his first season as a head coach – or even being a part of any coaching staff whatsoever.

Throughout his 18-year career, Nash developed a reputation as an extremely high-IQ player – but how will that convert to leading a team from the sideline with such high expectations? Granted, he knew exactly what was expected of the Nets when he accepted the position – but the Harden trade comes even more pressure.

As of the deal, the Nets became easily the most polarizing team in the association. Even before adding another former MVP, the Nets did their best to better position Nash by adding two-tie Coach of the Year Mike D’Antoni to their bench, which already featured an experienced assistant in Jacque Vaughn. But while the team may have a disproportionately accomplished coaching staff, all of the questions will be directed squarely at Nash come the playoffs and beyond.

For what it is worth, rookie coaches have fared pretty well of late. While it might not affect the Nets directly, three of the nine rookie coaches to go on to win a championship in their first season did so in the past six seasons –  Steve Kerr, Ty Lue and Nick Nurse. While no two coaches are the same, the fact that rookie coaches have been so successful of late speaks to the idea that teams are doing a better job of identifying raw coaching talent – and Nash is as raw as it comes.

It’s hard to find fault in Brooklyn’s desire to add Harden and the fact that they just added another top-five player to an already insanely-talented roster is flat-out unfair. But now the bar has forever changed: anything less than an NBA Finals’ appearance will be judged as a failure, even that could be deemed an underperformance. While greater expectations mean you’re closer to success in the NBA, the team also ponied up its future through 2026.

Good luck, Brooklyn, no pressure.

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NBA Daily: First Time All-Star Watch

From Christian Wood to Jaylen Brown, these are the breakout players reaching for their first-ever All-Star appearances.

Dylan Thayer

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In this feature for Basketball Insiders, we will take a look at players who have started hot out of the gate, and have vastly improved. The article will touch upon new faces in new roles, as well as players who have expanded their previous roles with their teams. The league has a pretty good amount of guys who have earned All-Star appearances previously in their careers, but the players in this article are ready to add their name to the list 𑁋 so without further ado 𑁋 let’s take a look at five players who are cementing their names around the league. 

Christian Wood

To the casual fan, Christian Wood is having a huge surprise season. But for the people who had him on their radar, and knew he could succeed with more minutes and a larger role, you were right. The 25-year-old began his journeyman career with the Philadelphia 76ers as an undrafted free agent out of UNLV. He then played for the Charlotte Hornets, Milwaukee Bucks, New Orleans Pelicans, Detroit Pistons and now the Houston Rockets. In his first 10 games this year, he is putting up 23.2 points per game to go along with 10.9 rebounds per game and 1.9 blocks per game, per NBA.com. This is a major improvement for a guy who only averaged 13.1 points and 6.3 rebounds per game last year as a rotational player for the Pistons. Wood’s remarkable season thus far has put the league on notice and shown he is the clear frontrunner for the Most Improved Player award.

Julius Randle

In his seventh season, Julius Randle has finally become a star in the Big Apple for the New York Knicks. Randle spent the first five seasons of his career with the Los Angeles Lakers and New Orleans Pelicans, before signing with the Knicks before the 2019-20 season. This year, Randle has taken the lead role on the team becoming an above-average facilitator, while also raising his shooting percentages and totals.

According to Basketball-Reference, Randle is having a career-best season so far averaging 23.2 points per game, 10.5 rebounds per game, and 6.7 assists per game along with shooting 50.2 percent from the field, 35.3 percent from three and 78.2 percent from the free-throw line 𑁋 all career highs. Randle’s play helped the Knicks get off to a 5-3 start before a recent five-game losing skid. Randle’s ascension as a player, as well as providing Knicks fans with a glimmer of hope, make him a good bet to represent the Eastern Conference in the All-Star Game this season if there is such an event.

CJ McCollum

Yes, CJ is the well-known sidekick to Damian Lillard for the Portland Trail Blazers, but this season has seen him steal some of the spotlights. Through the first 12 games of the season, McCollum has three 30-point games –including a 44-point and 8-assist performance against the Rockets – plus another 37-point outing to boot. His per-game numbers increased in points, assists, steals and three-point percentage, thus resulting in a very impressive 27.6 PPG, 5.3 APG, 1.4 SPG and 43.4 percent from deep. 

McCollum has done enough as a player to this point to establish himself as an above-average player in the NBA – but with the way he’s playing this year, he could be in line for his first All-Star selection. The lethal backcourt of Lillard and McCollum has led to a hot start this year – but the injury bug continues to haunt the team again this year. Already, they’ve lost Jusuf Nurkic for eight weeks and potentially now McCollum with a left foot sprain too, per Chris Haynes.

Jerami Grant

The Detroit Pistons made a really good decision to bring in free agent Jerami Grant on a three-year deal. The 6-foot-8 small forward has been putting up career-best numbers and his play for the Denver Nuggets during their Western Conference Finals run at the bubble helped get him this deservedly big contract. In the team’s first 12 games this season, Grant is averaging 24.8 points per game and 6.1 rebounds per game, while also improving his free throw percentage and shot-creating opportunities. Unfortunately, it’s likely that he’ll miss out on any real All-Star chatter, given his place on one of the worst teams in the league – but the all-around improvement is there. 

Jaylen Brown

Jaylen Brown, the former third overall pick out of California, has molded himself into a star this season for the Boston Celtics. Brown’s improvement has been no secret around the league, especially after an Eastern Conference Finals run this past season – but this year he looks like he belongs up there with the best. Brown has been relentless in taking the ball to the rim and using his body to create contact when going up. He has also boosted his points per game from 20.3 to 25.8, while also adding more assists to his game with 3.9 per game. Brown should be a first-time All-Star this season with the Celtics currently sitting atop the conference. 

These players are all having breakout seasons and have well-earned consideration for their first All-Star appearances this year. Of course, the game is not happening this year with the pandemic, but the players will still be recognized and added to the history books for their achievements, so the honor remains large all the same. Whether they make it or not is yet to be determined – but with the sample size of games played to date, they’re right in the conversation.  

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NBA Daily: Are the 76ers a Legit Contender?

Do the Philadelphia 76ers have the roster necessary to compete for a title? Basketball Insiders’ Quinn Davis goes in-depth on one of the league’s most polarizing teams.

Quinn Davis

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Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons are no strangers to a spirited discussion at their expense. In each of the last three seasons, fans and pundits alike have wrangled over their potential as a championship-winning duo. Different sects have formed, sometimes resembling political parties in their rigid viewpoints.

The arguments branch off into granular takes on things like the viability of an offensive engine that can’t run a pick-and-roll, but they center around a simple question — can Embiid and Simmons be the two best players on a championship team?

Since their partnership came to be, the Philadelphia 76ers have been a playoff lock, but they have yet to make it to the Eastern Conference Finals. Their 2018-19 iteration was one Kawhi Leonard shot away from the third round (and potentially more), but that team featured Jimmy Butler who handled much of the team’s offensive burden.

Their fourth season together may bring the most clarity on that all-important question. General Manager Daryl Morey used the short offseason to reconfigure the roster, finding shooters and drafting a ball-handler to maximize the duo’s strengths while mitigating their weaknesses. And the early returns have been promising; the team is off to a solid 9-5 start, with two of those losses coming with half of the roster out due to the league’s COVID-19 health and safety protocols. In fact, the team is undefeated when all five of the usual starters are active, albeit against a weak schedule.

Still, many question whether the current roster can compete when defenses tighten in the postseason. The obvious comparison is the 2017-18 version of the 76ers when Simmons and Embiid were surrounded solely by shooters like JJ Redick, Marco Bellinelli and Robert Covington. That team went on a 16-game winning streak to end the regular season but faltered in the second round of playoffs, as the lack of ball-handling outside of Simmons led to the team’s demise.

A few of those doubters might even exist within Philadelphia’s front office. The team was reportedly very close to sending Simmons and other assets to the Houston Rockets for James Harden. The aggressiveness pursuing the star guard would seem to confirm the reservations about the team’s current duo.

But, with Harden now playing for a fellow Eastern Conference contender, those reservations no longer matter. And the road to a title is now just a bit harder.

All of this leads to the important question: is Philadelphia, as currently constructed, a true title contender? With the evidence we have available — or lack thereof — the answer would have to be no. There is just too much uncertainty to place the 76ers into the inner circle alongside the Los Angeles Lakers, Milwaukee Bucks, Brooklyn Nets and maybe even the Los Angeles Clippers.

That said, this team can join that group. And some early-season trends foster hope for a leap to true contention.

The success of the starting lineup has come largely on the back of Embiid’s dominance this season. The big man’s efficiency is way up — so far, he’s shot at a career-high mark from every area of the court. His 39 percent three-point shooting in particular has been a major addition to his all-around game.

Outside of the hot shooting, Embiid looks fit and motivated as well. He’s taken on a huge role offensively while still managing to anchor one of the NBA’s top defenses. Philadelphia has crushed teams when he’s on the court — and nearly collapses whenever he rests.

Embiid has also significantly improved his passing. While his assist numbers are mostly stagnant, it is clear on tape that Embiid has lost little sweat over a constant stream of double teams. Meanwhile, the shooting around him has given Embiid space inside and the confidence that a pass out will not only reach it’s intended target, but could lead to the best possible outcome for the team.

It’s still early, so whether he can keep it up remains to be seen. That said, if the 76ers are now led by an MVP candidate rather than another run-of-the-mill All-Star, it would bode well for this group to advance further than ever before.

Similarly encouraging has been the play of Shake Milton. Milton has provided a huge boost off the bench, scoring 17 points per game on 62 percent true shooting.

If Milton is truly a sixth man of the year candidate — and, right now, he is — it could solve one of Phialdelphia’s biggest question marks; the lack of a secondary creator around Embiid. The team is currently posting a robust 1.17 points per possession when Milton handles the ball in a pick-and-roll, per NBA.com. That number falls in the 90th percentile league-wide.

While many had hoped that Simmons would evolve into a player who could create offense in crunch-time situations, his game has yet to allow for that dimension. That isn’t to say that the 76ers would be better off trading Simmons for the first decent guard they can find, though; Simmons is still extremely valuable and someone who can drive winning basketball even if it’s in unconventional ways.

The best role for Simmons is that of a supercharged Draymond Green. In the half-court he would mostly be tasked with setting screens and cutting rather than serving as on offensive initiator, ceding that duty to Milton or perhaps the hot-shot rookie, Tyrese Maxey. It would avoid Simmons’ biggest weaknesses, but it would still allow him to leave his mark on the game by dominating on the defensive end, rampaging down the court in transition and zipping passes to open shooters.

In fact, having Simmons initiate less of the offense has already paid dividends. When Milton has played with the starters in the place of Danny Green, Philadelphia has outscored opponents by 60 points per 100 possessions, posting on an offensive rating of 143.1, per Cleaning the Glass. Those numbers are clearly unsustainable — that lineup has played just 65 possessions together — but it’s a sign that having a pick-and-roll creator alongside Simmons and Embiid may work wonders for an offense that could struggle against a set defense, particularly in the playoffs.

If the team doesn’t want to bank on the internal improvement of Embiid and Milton, then it may still look to improve the roster via trade.

Of course, Harden would have been their best bet, but a name to watch here might be the newest Rocket: Victor Oladipo. A solid defender with some serious pick-and-roll prowess, Oladipo could be a perfect fit alongside the nominal starters. It’s unclear whether Houston would be open to moving Oladipo, who is 29-years-old and on an expiring contract with no promise of staying with the team long-term. If he isn’t a part of the Rockets’ plan for the future, Philadelphia could certainly offer an interesting package to try and bring him in.

Bigger names could also become available. Bradley Beal’s name will continue to be mentioned as long as the Washington Wizards continue to struggle. Kyle Lowry could be another option if the Toronto Raptors can’t right the ship and decide their run is over. Both of those are highly unlikely but, in a league where circumstances change by the hour, anything is possible.

The 76ers have flaws to figure out. The play of Simmons has been somewhat concerning thus far. But, when everyone has been available, the team has looked elite.

And, while that small-sample size isn’t enough to lump them in with the best of the best, Philadelphia’s potential paths to get to the top of the NBA are more plentiful and plausible than they were six months ago.

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