The 76ers are intent on reaching the NBA Finals for the first time since 2001 after falling in the conference semifinals the last two seasons.
They’ve made several changes coming off their Game 7 loss to Toronto in May. Gone from the starting lineup are Jimmy Butler and JJ Redick. In are Al Horford and Josh Richardson. But that’s just where it starts.
Here’s a look at the Sixers’ rebuilt roster for the 2019-20 season:
Ben Simmons (6-10, 230), Josh Richardson (6-6, 200)
Defense: This might be the best defensive backcourt in the NBA. Richardson was acquired in a sign-and-trade deal with Miami for Butler. While Butler had a reputation as a top defender, there were several times in the playoffs when he didn’t appear up to par. Meanwhile, Richardson has the ability to be an All-Defensive Team player. He will be the primary defender of point guards. It’s an important role because the Sixers’ next best defender against point guards would likely be Simmons, and he will have a major responsibility running the offense.
That said, Simmons said in the preseason that he wants to be the best defensive player on the Sixers. That’s a high bar on this team, but Simmons took his defense up a level in the playoffs, spending a lot of time on Kawhi Leonard. While nobody stopped Leonard, Simmons made him work the hardest for his shots.
Offense: Richardson quietly averaged a career-high 16.6 points last year, and he is a solid offensive player. It will be key that he is proficient from three-point range because with Simmons drawing multiple defenders, he will get open looks.
Simmons, amazingly, became an NBA All-Star last year without a jump shot. He created a nationwide buzz when making his first three-pointer as a pro in the Sixers’ first preseason game. Simmons has insisted he is a better perimeter shooter. He doesn’t even need to take many threes, but he has to shoot that open 10- to 14-footer that teams are going to give him.
The Sixers can win 60 games with him not shooting much from the perimeter. In the playoffs, it’s a much different story.
Simmons’ passing ability is spellbinding, and don’t be surprised if he averages double-digit assists.
Joel Embiid (7-foot, 250)
Defense: Embiid says he wants to be Defensive Player of the Year (and MVP). He does so much on the interior, even when he doesn’t block shots, he alters them. He can cover up a lot of defensive mistakes.
Offense: Simply put, Embiid is the best low-post option in the NBA. In a league that has gone away from low-post play, he has proved that teams can still win with this option. Embiid also shot 30 percent from three-point range last year. Banging inside is hard and takes a lot out of him, so he often strolls to the perimeter. Embiid will have to be in better shape to go down low more, where he is much more effective.
Al Horford (6-10, 245), Tobias Harris (6-9, 235)
Defense: Horford plays a key dual role as a power forward, where he will start, and backup center. At 33, he remains among the most versatile defensive players in the NBA. He has had great success guarding Embiid, but he can also defend power forwards.
Harris is the weak link of the defense, but he has made it a point during the offseason and preseason to improve in that area. He is on a team where players like Embiid and Horford can cover up somewhat for his defensive deficiencies
Offense: Horford is as versatile on offense as he is on defense. He is a .368 career three-point shooter but can also work inside. In the preseason, he was getting used to spacing and finding his most effective part on the floor.
Harris wants to be a go-to player on offense and he could get his chance, especially when Embiid isn’t on the court. He has the size to shoot over many of the small forwards and is good at shooting off the dribble or from a stand-still position. Harris had a disappointing postseason but part of that was dealing with injury, which was one of the reasons he declined to play for USA Basketball this summer in the FIBA World Cup.
Mike Scott (6-8, 237) should be the top reserve and, in games when Embiid or Horford are not in the lineup, he could be a starter. Scott gives the Sixers tremendous toughness and had the team’s best three-point percentage (.412) in the 27 games he played after being acquired from the Los Angeles Clippers. Scott can also play the center position if the Sixers decided to go with a small lineup.
James Ennis (6-7, 210) is a defensive-minded player who should also see sufficient time. Ennis said improving his three-point shooting has been an emphasis. He shot .306 from three-point range in 18 games after being acquired from Houston.
First-round rookie Matisse Thybulle (6-5, 200) has been the talk of the preseason and should be a rotation fixture. He was the national defensive player of the year as a senior at Washington. His long arms, great anticipation, and quick hands make him one of the top defensive players on the team, which is no small feat. His offense, including three-point shooting, remains a work in progress.
Veterans Trey Burke (6-1, 175) and Raul Neto (6-1, 179) have been battling for the backup point-guard spot, although second-year player Shake Milton (6-6, 207) could also be in the mix. Burke is a scorer while Neto is more of a distributor, and Milton is by far the better defender among the three. All three candidates could be surpassed by Richardson, who impressed as a point guard during the preseason.
Kyle O’Quinn (6-10, 250) could be an important figure as a backup center. He is a good high-post passer with a high IQ and provides great interior toughness.
Second-year forward-center Jonah Bolden (6-10, 220) is an outstanding athlete who shot .354 from three-point range in limited duty. If the Sixers need a perimeter threat, he could fit in that role.
Furkan Korkmaz (6-7, 190) will get playing time if the Sixers need three-point shooting, but he will have to improve on his .323 three-point percentage during his first two seasons to stay on the court because he isn’t a plus on defense. Last year’s first-round addition, Zhaire Smith (6-4, 199), is known for his defense, but he appears to have fallen behind Thybulle for that backup shooting-guard spot.
Best defensive lineup: Simmons, Richardson, Embiid, Horford, Thybulle