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Sixers predictions: No Finals, but Joel Embiid will be NBA’s top defender, and Ben Simmons will sink three-pointers

The Sixers will have a tough time beating the Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Conference Finals without a veteran go-to offensive player off the bench.

The Sixers will carefully manage how many games center Joel Embiid will play. Expect it to be around 70 if he stays healthy.
The Sixers will carefully manage how many games center Joel Embiid will play. Expect it to be around 70 if he stays healthy.Read moreYONG KIM / Staff Photographer

The 76ers were stopped in the second round of the playoffs last season for the second consecutive time. They no longer have two of last season’s top players, and they have some unanswered questions.

Despite that, they are expected to make their deepest postseason run since advancing to the 2001 NBA Finals.

So here are predictions for the Sixers and the NBA for the 2019-20 season:

How Sixers will fare

Record: 57-25. Expectations are high for the Sixers after re-signing Tobias Harris, adding Al Horford in free agency, and acquiring Josh Richardson from Miami in the Jimmy Butler trade. Rookie reserve guard Matisse Thybulle has been a defensive stalwart in the preseason. The bench has improved. All those things lead to a six-game improvement over last season’s record.

Where they will finish in the East: Second.

Where they will finish in the Atlantic Division: They will win their first division title since the 2000-01 season.

Playoffs: They will lock up the Eastern Conference’s No. 2 seed, behind the Milwaukee Bucks, and advance out of the second round for the first time since that 2000-01 season. However, they will lose in seven games to the Bucks in the conference finals. But if Harris can develop into a bonafide closer and the team adds a veteran sharpshooter and/or Furkan Korkmaz blossoms into the sniper role ...

Double-doubles for Joel Embiid: 60. As long as he stays healthy, this shouldn’t be a problem. He had 58 in 64 games played last season.

Games played for Embiid: 68. This is two fewer than his target number. However, this could be a number Embiid and the team are both pleased with if his health doesn’t become an issue.

Triple-doubles for Ben Simmons: 17. He could surpass this number, but a lot will depend on how many fourth quarters he’ll play during lopsided victories.

Made three-pointers for Simmons: 21. This isn’t a bad number, considering he won’t be chucking three-pointers just for the sake of shooting them. This is something he’ll do mostly on wide-open, catch-and-shoot corner situations.

NBA crystal ball

Turnaround team: Keep an eye on the Los Angeles Lakers, who added some major pieces: Anthony Davis, Danny Green, Avery Bradley, and Dwight Howard. The Lakers will improve on last season’s 37-45 record and easily nab their first playoff berth since 2013.

Rookie of the year: Memphis Grizzlies point guard Ja Morant. New Orleans Pelicans forward Zion Williamson was going to win this award until news broke Monday that he’ll be sidelined 6-8 weeks after knee surgery. That’s a shame, because Williamson has the size, talent, and explosiveness to make an immediate impact. But I’m forced to give it to Morant over Williamson and Miami Heat guard Tyler Herro.

Defensive player of the year: Embiid. The Sixers’ defense is elevated to an elite status when he is on the floor. All he needs to do is stay healthy and voters will take notice.

MVP: Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo. He will, once again, put the Bucks on his back and carry them to the best record in the NBA and win his second straight MVP award.

Coach of the year: Quin Snyder, Utah Jazz. Snyder will have his team well-coached. With the addition of Mike Conley, he has the point guard needed to help the Jazz surpass 51 wins for the first time since 2009-10.


Atlantic: Sixers. Philly is loaded and has a towering starting lineup that is expected to give teams fits.

Central: Bucks. Milwaukee had the NBA’s best record (60-22), then imploded in the conference finals. The Bucks will be on a mission.

Southeast: Heat, in the NBA’s worst division. Miami acquired Butler and drafted Herro.

Northwest: Trail Blazers. Damian Lillard will be the difference-maker in what will be a closely contested division battle between Portland and the Denver Nuggets.

Pacific: Lakers. Their crosstown rivals, the Clippers, are receiving a lot of the hype. However, Clippers wings Kawhi Leonard (load management) and Paul George (shoulder) probably won’t be consistent factors in the regular season to outlast the Lakers.

Southwest: Rockets. Houston’s backcourt tandem of James Harden and Russell Westbrook will feast on the team’s mostly subpar division foes.

Eastern Conference final: Bucks over Sixers. I’m in the minority here. The Sixers will have a tough time getting out of the conference without a veteran go-to offensive player off the bench. But, hey, Jamal Crawford is still available.

Western Conference final: Lakers over Clippers. Leonard and George have been receiving a lot of hype as perhaps the best tandem. But the Lakers have two of the league’s top five players in James and Davis, and a bunch of solid role players who aren’t being talked about much.

NBA Finals: Lakers over Bucks. Let’s just call it the LeBron James factor.