The Philadelphia 76ers are fine.
Arguably last season’s biggest disappointment, the 76ers look much improved from last season. Meanwhile, as evidenced by a recent Tobias Harris quote, new head coach Doc Rivers seemingly has the team’s respect.
“I think it’s more what [Doc] gets out of the whole group,” Harris told the media after the 76ers’ 118-101 win over the Charlotte Hornets Monday night.
Currently 7-2 after their loss to the Brooklyn Nets, Philadelphia has posted a +8.2 net rating on the season. They’ve posted the best defensive rating in the entire league, while they’ve also improved to the seventh-best three-point shooting team by percentage (38.7%) and have played at the second-best pace in the league, behind only the Milwaukee Bucks, a major improvement on last season when they ranked 19th.
Predictably, they’re getting great production out of Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Tobias Harris, while newcomer Seth Curry — who recently tested positive for COVID-19,according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski — also hit the ground running in the City of Brotherly Love.
But the Nets, in the words of Philadelphia’s own Will Smith “put an end to that mess, real quick.” And they did so without Kevin Durant, who has missed time due to the NBA’s COVID-19 contact tracing protocol, Kyrie Irving, who was cited as having missed the game for “personal reasons,” and Spencer Dinwiddie, who’s expected to miss the rest of the season after knee surgery. Despite those missing stars, Philadelphia struggled to keep Brooklyn off their spots on the perimeter and did little to help themselves with 20 turnovers (which the Nets turned into 35 points).
So, while they may be fine — improved from a season ago, anyway — let’s examine the 76ers a bit more closely.
It’s no surprise that Brooklyn managed 35 points off turnovers on Thursday night; Philadelphia has turned it over more than any team, save for the Chicago Bulls and Miami HEAT. Further, and despite their size in the front court, they rank just 22nd in offensive rebounds. Prior to last night, they’d played only the NBA’s 12th toughest schedule, with wins against the New York Knicks, Toronto Raptors, Washington Wizards and Hornets. So while they are, in fact, 6-2, the 76ers record may prove a bit inflated by the competition.
Still, it’s not time to panic just yet. While they’ve played a light schedule early, there’s no question of the talent on Philadelphia’s roster, coached by one of the very best in the game. But they lack depth and, as the season goes on, that could be a big problem. Granted, “Trusting the Process” is a thing of the past, but the 76ers might want to try speeding up that process before they have to start an entirely new one.
Rumored to be interested in the Houston Rockets’ James Harden, the team knows that their roster is nowhere near complete. But, that said, Philadelphia, given the cost, may be better off investing in multiple players to fill out the roster rather than swinging for the fences with someone like Harden or the Wizards’ Bradley Beal. But which players could fit that mold?
The Versatile Four: Julius Randle, New York Knicks
Randle is a dynamic scorer that can absolutely bully his opponent down low. He’s averaged 23.1 points, 12 rebounds and 7.4 assists in eight games this season, while Knicks’ head coach Tom Thibodeau has him playing significantly better on the defensive end than in year’s past.
Randle would bulk up the 76ers’ front line and would add a much-needed scoring option to the league’s 10th best offensive in terms of points per game. He may not help them on the perimeter, but if they can acquire the 26-year-old on the cheap, Philadelphia should jump at the opportunity. Unfortunately, the $18.9 million Randle is due this season would make any deal a difficult endeavor — if they want to make it happen, a third team may need to get involved to get it done.
The Shooter: George Hill, Oklahoma City Thunder
Hill was the Bucks’ starting point guard last season while he led the league in three-point shooting (46%). He’s kept that up this season, as well, shooting 43.3% from distance. He’s also still a strong defender and he doesn’t need too many touches to be effective on offense.
Sounds perfect, right? Any team can take advantage of more shooters and spacing and, with how Curry has taken to the team and offense, expecting a similar bump from Hill wouldn’t be much of a stretch.
Further, Hill’s $9.5 million this season is certainly manageable — certainly easier to stomach than Randle’s $18.9 million. But what would it cost to get a deal done? It wouldn’t be a shock to see multiple teams interested in Hill at the trade deadline, so Philadelphia may have to add a bit of sweetener to any deal, even if they offer a first round pick.
The Former MVP: Derrick Rose, Detroit Pistons
Blake Griffin might be a nice target, too, but the money left on his deal would make any deal nearly impossible (much less desirable). Rose, on the other hand, would be a fine consolation and, on a relatively cheap (and expiring) $7.6 million deal, Rose would be one of the easier, more impactful additions Philadelphia could make this season.
Rose has, once again, posted strong numbers: 15.3 points and 5.4 assists in just 24.3 minutes per game. And, while he hasn’t converted his shots as efficiently as he’s done throughout his career, Rose has been more than capable of putting the ball in the basket, as evidenced by his 24 points in 24 minutes against the Bucks. He would instantly bolster the 76ers’ second unit, injecting some much-needed energy and bringing another leader onto the court when both Embiid and Simmons are out of the game.
Philadelphia deserves to see what its core of Embiid, Simmons and Harris can do at their best. But, to be their best, they need more, supplemental talent, around them. Unless Morey and Rivers decide, collectively, that they’d prefer to go in an entirely new direction, trading for a player like Randle, Hill or Rose might just get the team over the hump. Maybe they even go all in and add two or more such players.
Either way, if they want to truly push for the NBA Finals, the 76ers will have to do something to bolster their chances.
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