Sixers could be NBA’s biggest team and they could dominate, but many adjustments are ahead
Size alone won’t win them an NBA championship. It's Brett Brown's job to put all the pieces together.
The 76ers have one of the all-time biggest starting lineups in the NBA.
At 6-foot-6, Josh Richardson is the shortest of the ballyhooed lineup. The others -- Tobias Harris (6-9), Ben Simmons (6-10), Al Horford (6-10) and Joel Embiid (7-2) -- are all 6-9 and above.
Coach Brett Brown has said on numerous occasions, they’ll play “smash-mouth offense” and “bully-ball defense."
But size alone won’t win them an NBA championship. Being arguably the league’s biggest team won’t even guarantee them a trip out of the second round of the playoffs.
» READ MORE: Our 2019-20 Sixers season preview
So how will these pieces fit?
This isn’t the first time Horford was part of a dominating starting lineup on a team with title aspirations.
As an Atlanta Hawk in the 2014-15 season, he and then-teammates Paul Millsap, Jeff Teague, and Kyle Korver were Eastern Conference All-Star reserves. That team went on to finish 60-22 before eventually losing to the LeBron James-led Cleveland Cavaliers in the conference finals.
Horford thinks the Sixers’ starting lineup has the potential to be as balanced as that Hawks starting lineup, which also featured DeMarre Carroll.
“I can already see that we have that potential,” Horford said. “It’s just about making sure that we are committed to doing what coach wants us to do, all of us. That’s our mindset. That’s the way that we are thinking.”
Brown wants his starters to buy into winning with defense and being unselfish on the offensive end. To their credit, all of the starters appear to feel the same way.
“Whoever’s hot, we really got to ride that hot hand,” Richardson said. “We have a lot of guys on this team that can really hurt you. So it’s just whoever’s rolling that day is probably going to go.”
But it might not be that simple, at least not at the beginning of the season.
The 2010-11 Miami Heat team that featured future Hall of Famers Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, and Chris Bosh, was dominant, but it had to battle through an adjustment period. The Heat had a 9-8 record through the first 17 games of what concluded as a 58-win regular season. That squad went on to lose to the Dallas Mavericks in the NBA Finals before winning back-to-back championships in 2012 and 2013.
This season, the Sixers are among the favorites to win the NBA title.
Yet it will take time for them to establish their roles.
Richardson was a scorer with the Heat prior to the Sixers acquiring him in a trade for Jimmy Butler in July.
Horford was a facilitator with the Boston Celtics before signing with the Sixers in free agency that same month. The Celtics played a lot of their offense through him in the high post. But Simmons will be more of the facilitator with the Sixers than Horford. So that will be an adjustment for the five-time All-Star. He’ll also have to guard power forward where he was guarding center before.
And somebody in the starting lineup has to be the go-to guy at the end of the game, the way Butler filled that role last season. And right now, they don’t have that player.
Embiid is the Sixers’ best player, but he can always be double-teamed. So although the Sixers can get him in better position to be that guy, ideally Harris has to step into the Butler role. He has the offensive repertoire from the wing positions to create and score.
While he downplays it, Brown desperately needs to develop or add a three-point specialist to make up for the loss of JJ Redick.
In the preseason, the 76ers ranked 23rd in three-point percentage at 31.6%. As in Friday’s exhibition-finale loss to the Washington Wizards, teams are forcing the Sixers to beat them from the perimeter. They responded by missing 13 of their first 14 three-point attempts en route to shooting 25.9% (7-for-27) from that distance.
On Friday, Simmons missed his second consecutive game with lower-back tightness. But one can only imagine how frequently teams will try to resort to zone defensive once he returns.
The point guard, who has yet to make a regular-season three-pointer, received a lot of attention after videos of him sinking threes this summer surfaced. Even if he’s an improved three-point shooter, teams are going to want him to take that shot because his shooting limits the other guys from touching the ball.
Right now, the Sixers’ best bet might be feeding the post.
Brown will have to find a way to make Horford and Embiid effective together. He also must get the best use out of Richardson, try to elevate Harris’ overall game, and find contributors off the bench.
Another question mark is their transition defense: Will their big lineup have a hard time getting back? Wednesday’s season opener against the smaller and athletic Boston Celtics will be a good test for that.
But regardless of how the Sixers fit together, they are still one of the NBA’s elite teams. They’re still going to win 50-plus games for the third consecutive season. They should terrorize opponents defensively in the halfcourt with their length.
“A championship-contending team, they are right there,” Wizards coach Scott Brooks said. “The last couple of years, they have been right there. This year is another step.
"They are going to be there at the end. They have everything.”