MILWAUKEE – By now, folks are aware of the 76ers’ recent roster moves.
But new acquisitions Glenn Robinson III and Alec Burks won’t determine the team’s fate in the upcoming postseason. Nor will it have anything to do with the Sixers’ demoting of Al Horford.
The trade with the Golden State Warriors may be roster upgrades. Robinson made his second consecutive start at small forward in Saturday night’s 119-98 loss in Milwaukee. Burks, a combo guard, was one of the Sixers’ key reserves. And Horford coming off the bench for the third straight game had more to do with the team admitting he doesn’t fit in the starting lineup than bolstering its bench.
Those moves do nothing in regards to helping the Sixers advance to their firstNBA Finals appearance since 2001. All that will ultimately depend on Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons.
Embiid declared himself the world’s best player on Thursday. Well, the 7-foot-2 and 280-plus-pound center better play close to that level for the Sixers to win an NBA title or at least reach the Finals. He’ll need to dominate everyone in his path.
Simmons must also find a way to dominate. That hasn’t been the case, offensively, in second-round exits in each of the past two postseasons.
The Boston Celtics (in 2018) and the Toronto Raptors (2019) both found ways to exploit Simmons’ hesitancy to take perimeter shots. So unless his approach changes, it might be tougher for him to dominate.
The point guard, coming off his second consecutive All-Star Game appearance, thrives in transition. However, things slow down in the playoffs where the games are mostly played in the half court.
Sixers coach Brett Brown is aware of that, which is why he’s been playing the 6-10, 240-pounder at various positions over the past couple of months.
The Sixers would be better suited using Simmons as a screen-setting point forward, at least during certain stretches, in the postseason.
But that would require them figuring out who would be best suited to play point guard during those stretches. Unless the Sixers quickly sign one in free agency, the leading candidates are shooting guard Josh Richardson, Burks and reserve combo guard Shake Milton. (And Milton’s not even a lock to be inthe postseason rotation.)
The selected player would have to run offense and know who to get the ball to. Simmons, meanwhile, would be the secondary distributor. He wouldn’t be the one making the first pass. Instead, Simmons would, more often that not, receive the first pass in the post. Then the team would play through him.
Philly had success playing that way this season, and it might be the best way for Simmons and Embiid to co-exist moving forward.
Meanwhile, Embiid is a matchup problem for teams when he is motivated and healthy. And he’s been both lately.
He averaged 31 points, 13.3 rebounds and 2.3 blocks in the Sixers’ last three games heading into Saturday night’s matchup against the Bucks. Embiid had a season-high 39 points to go with 16 rebounds, two steals and two blocks in Thursday’s 112-104 overtime victory versus the Brooklyn Nets.
It was Embiid’s ninth game back after having surgery to repair a torn ligament in his left ring finger. It also marked the first regular-season game without a splint on his hand since the surgery. Embiid didn’t don the splint in the All-Star Game in Chicago.
In addition to regaining his health, Embiid has his edge back.
That was evident with Thursday night’s postgame comment: “I’m here, just being the best player in the world."
Embiid knows that the team’s postseason fate starts with him.
Burks will continue to be solid coming off the bench, because he can score. The Sixers can also feature him a little more when Embiid is not in the game.
Robinson is another solid player, one who will make contributions without having to run plays for him.
The problem is that both acquisitions will need substantial playing time to be effective. But will they get that opportunity in the postseason when the rotation shrinks? The playoffs are when you want your best players on the floor more.
The Sixers will also have to decide how much they’ll play Horford. He’s still one of their best players. And in the postseason, teams usually find ways to get their best players on the floor together.
But more than bolstering their bench, his not starting says the Sixers made a mistake in signing him. He received a four-year, $109 million deal, with $97 million guaranteed. Horford was a starter up until Feb. 11. So the team has determined the five-time All-Star is not a good fit with Embiid.