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Sixers are still behind Bucks, Nets, Celtics, Heat and Raptors in Eastern Conference | Mailbag

The Sixers have added much-needed shooting in Seth Curry and Danny Green. However, they still lack a perimeter player who’s an established go-to scorer.

The Bucks, and a number of other teams, remain ahead of the Sixers in the East.
The Bucks, and a number of other teams, remain ahead of the Sixers in the East.Read moreMorry Gash / AP

This is the 37th edition of the weekly 76ers mailbag. Each week, followers may submit questions to be answered.

Missed out on the party this week? No worries. Submit questions for next time by following me on Twitter @PompeyOnSixers and tweeting your inquiry with the hashtag #PompeysMailbagFlow.

Question: With all the offseason acquisitions and player movement in the Eastern Conference, where do you predict the Sixers will finish the season seeding wise? — @DaRealQuick

A: Hello, Verness. I hope you are well. I have a question for you: Why are you putting a brother on the spot? Nah, it’s all good. It’s actually a great question.

With the current roster, I see the Sixers as the sixth seed. As you pointed out, there has been player movement in the Eastern Conference. The most notable movement actually occurred during the 2019 free-agency period when the Brooklyn Nets added Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and DeAndre Jordan. Durant missed last season. Irving only played in 20 games. Jordan played in 56, but didn’t accompany the team in the NBA restart. Now, they’re all back and will have the Brooklyn Nets battling the Milwaukee Bucks for conference supremacy.

The Boston Celtics and Miami Heat are also in the conversation for that top spot. Meanwhile, the Toronto Raptors lost Marc Gasol (Los Angeles Lakers) and Serge Ibaka (Clippers) in free agency. But they were role players on a Raptors squad that returns All-Stars Kyle Lowry and Pascal Siakam while re-signing standout guard Fred VanVleet. Toronto also signed former Celtics center Aaron Baynes, who had success against center Joel Embiid.

I know the Sixers have added much-needed shooting in Seth Curry and Danny Green to provide spacing for Embiid and Ben Simmons. However, the Sixers still lack a perimeter player who’s an established go-to scorer. As a wrote before, they need someone who can finish isolation plays by taking opponents off the dribble or burying a three-pointer. They need someone who can strike fear in defenders while making things easier for Embiid.

I just think Shake Milton could thrive as a go-to scorer off the bench. The Sixers could put the ball in his hands and say “go to work.” That wouldn’t happen in the starting lineup alongside Simmons, Embiid and Harris. Simmons needs and should have the ball in that scenario. But on the second unit, Milton could thrive in this role. Doc Rivers feels the same way. So you have to assume that he’ll be the sixth or seventh man.

Meanwhile, I think Curry fits in nicely alongside Simmons and Embiid. He will create the spacing needed. The attention Simmons, Embiid and Tobias Harris will attract could lead to plenty of three-point opportunities. And things will open for them when he’s knocking down threes.

I don’t see the Sixers being able to finish ahead of Milwaukee, Brooklyn, Boston, Miami or Toronto unless they make that addition.

Q: What are the chances of keeping Joel down low to become a beast on the block? Kareem and Hakeem … Need I say more! — @UkeeWashington

A: What’s good, Ukee? Let’s me say that it’s an honor and a privilege to answer one of your questions in this mailbag. I must add that it’s the $1-million question/statement.

A lot of traditionalists will argue that Embiid should stay in the low post, and the Sixers should continually pound him the ball. The new-wave basketball people will argue the game has changed and Embiid needs a break, once in a while, from all that pounding.

The problem is Embiid, as dominating as he is on the block, has spent too much time away from there even though he’s the league’s best post scorer.

One can argue that he was less effective when roaming outside of the paint. The Sixers’ 108-101 victory over the Orlando Magic on Aug. 7 during the NBA restart is a prime example. Embiid had 18 field-goal attempts in that game. He went 7-for-7 on shots inside the paint, and 0-for-11 outside of it.

This past season, Embiid was 236-for-387 on shots from nine feet or closer (60.9%) and 180-for-488 (36.8%) on shots from 10 feet and out.

Now, I do expect Embiid to be more down low than he was last season. I’m just not sure if it will be a drastic difference.

There were times last season when he stepped outside for what he felt was a necessity. He received a lot of double- and triple-teams since the Sixers do not have consistent perimeter three-point shooting.

The additions of Green and Curry will help that out. But let’s not get it twisted. Embiid also gravitated to the perimeter, at times, due to being fatigued. And let’s face it, he likes shooting from the outside.

Embiid attempted more three-pointers with sharpshooter JJ Redick on the team in 2018-19 (4.1 per game) than he did this past season (3.4). So you can’t always say he shot more to take up the slack left by Redick’s loss.

He believes big men need to be able to do everything on the court. That’s what he’s trying to do as a way to change the narrative around big men.

Question: Every great team has the ‘guy’ who you want taking the last shot — who would you want on the Sixers taking that shot? — @everyman411

Answer: What’s good, Everyman? Great question. As much as it’s not ideal to make a center your go-to player in the clutch, I would have to say that person on this current roster has to be Embiid. Now, that could change if someone grows into that role. You would preferably have a go-to perimeter guy in the starting lineup. However, the Sixers never replaced that person when Jimmy Butler left for a sign-and-trade deal with the Miami Heat in July, 2019.

So that leaves Embiid as the Sixers’ go-to guy down the stretch. While the three-time All-Star is undoubtedly the team’s best player, it’s tough to always go to him in clutch situations. That’s because everything — from his positioning, to the entry pass, and everything in between — has to go mostly right.

With a perimeter player, all a team has to do is inbound him the ball and spread the floor.

Tobias Harris would be my second option on the Sixers. Now, he’s athletic and can create his own shot.

The power forward thrived as the go-to guy with the Clippers before becoming the headliner of a multiplayer trade with the Sixers in February 2019. Harris had career highs in scoring average (20.9 points) and three-point percentage (43.4 percent) in his 55 games played with the Clippers that season. He was snubbed for an All-Star berth. Now that he reunites with coach Doc Rivers, who coached him in L.A., we will see how he’ll be used in clutch situations.

But Embiid’s name is the first person that comes to mind. Milton has proven that he can score, but I would have to go with Embiid and Harris over him.

Q: I would like to know are we any closer to knowing what the starting lineup would look like at this point, or at least who’s in the starting guard next to Ben Simmons? — @kleer1729keith

A: What’s up, Keith? I see we share the best first name in the world, bruh. I asked Rivers on Tuesday if we can assume that Green, Harris, Embiid, Curry, and Simmons will be his starting lineup.

“You can make that assumption, but it doesn’t mean it won’t change,” he said in a playful tone. “But it sounds like a good lineup. I may use that one.”

I believe that will be the starting lineup. It’s actually the one that makes the most sense, considering that Green is a three-and-D and glue guy. Curry is also a great addition to the starting lineup. Embiid is already talking about wanting to duplicate the on-and-off-the-court relationship he had with Redick with Curry. He and Green will provide the much-needed spacing so Simmons and Embiid can coexist better.

Q: There are a lot of different reports about the way the guys in the locker room interact with one another. Although Ben and Joel are the stars of the team, neither is known for being the guy rallying the troops in the locker room. Who would you say is the “leader” of this team? — @NnsWhy

A: Hello, Kasey. How’s Norfolk treating you? I had an internship at The Virginian-Pilot back in the day. I really enjoyed my time down there. In regards to your question, I’m looking at Green as being the leader of this team. Harris also will continue to be a leader like he was last season. However, Green has a championship pedigree. He won back-to-back titles with the Lakers (this past season) and Toronto Raptors (2018-19) in addition to winning a third with the San Antonio Spurs (2013-14). He also played alongside all-time greats in Hall of Famer Tim Duncan and future Hall of Famer LeBron James. So he knows what it takes to win an NBA title. He’s also seen up close the work needed to be on a Hall of Fame track.

He’s someone players should and will listen to. He’s also talking about pushing Simmons to shoot more and helping teammates in regards to defending pick-and-rolls, pindowns, etc. So he’s already being the team leader in less than a week with the team.