This is the 17th edition of the weekly 76ers mailbag.
Each week, Inquirer.com followers may submit questions to be answered on Friday.
Missed out on the party this week? No worries. Submit question(s) for next time by following me on Twitter @PompeyOnSixers and tweeting your inquiry with the hashtag #PompeysMailbagFlow.
Question: If/when the season returns, with the team having the time off, honestly, honestly, honestly, do you feel any optimism about a championship push like we all had prior to the start of this season? Second part of this, how many threes will Ben knock down in this soon to be historic run? —@joeyknecht
Answer: Thanks for asking a question, Joey. Like I wrote Wednesday, it will all depend on Joel Embiid. The Sixers’ three-time All-Star center must report back to the team after the shutdown in optimum shape, something he rarely does, in order for them to make a championship push. Folks are excited about Ben Simmons’ expected return from what the team labeled as a lower-back pinched nerve. One has to assume the Sixers coaching staff is trying to figure out ways to better utilize Al Horford while playing alongside Simmons and Embiid. And perhaps the Sixers have a better sense of their rotation since the season was shut down on March 11.
But let’s keep it real. They’re not going to make a serious championship push unless Embiid is in shape and healthy. So I will only have optimism if he’s in shape.
In regards to your second question, why are you trying to put a brother on the spot? Back in October, I predicted Simmons would make 21 three-pointers this regular season. I thought that was a realistic number. However, he’s only attempted five and made two before the shutdown. Talk about a huge miscalculation on my part. So I think I’ll leave the Simmons’ made three-pointer predictions alone. Heck, I don’t even think Nostradamus would predict how many threes he’ll knock down once play resumes.
Q: What’s your best guess on the starting lineup upon resumption of season/playoffs? Does coach Brett Brown stick with Horford off the bench and Shake [Milton] in his place, or mix it up? — @Ktweetson
A: Thanks for the question, Kevin. I’m leaning toward Brown sticking to Horford coming off the bench. That’s because his pairing with Embiid and Simmons on the floor together has been a failure. The team basically admitted that when Horford was demoted to the bench before the Feb. 11 home contest with Los Angeles Clippers. He returned to the starting lineup three games later only because Simmons was sidelined with the pinched nerve in his lower back.
Horford and Embiid did have a solid pairing while starting together again in a blowout victory over the Detroit Pistons on March 11 moments before the league shut down.
Embiid had a team-high 30 points to go with a game-high 14 rebounds after missing the previous five games with a left shoulder sprain. Horford had 20 points, 10 rebounds, 6 assists, and 2 blocks. In addition to serving as the starting power forward, Horford also was Embiid’s backup at center. So the two weren’t always on the court at the same time.
But one can argue the spacing wasn’t an issue only because Simmons was sidelined. That’s why I have Horford going back to being Embiid’s backup. Simmons will be listed as the point guard, but could actually be a point forward while Milton plays point guard.
Q: Why is Brett Brown still coaching this team? — @Primalscott
A: What’s up, Scott? Thanks for the question. It seems like I’ve been answering questions about Brown since I started this mailbag. Like Brown said recently, his evaluation process is incomplete. We all know he was on the hot seat last season. He was expected to lose his gig if the Sixers didn’t reach the Eastern Conference finals. Despite falling short of that, Brown was able to retain his job, in part due to the heartbreaking way Philly concluded its season. The Toronto Raptors defeated the Sixers, 92-90, in Game 7 of the semifinals. Kawhi Leonard’s 21-foot, fadeaway jumper at the buzzer that bounced four times on the rim before dropping through the net.
So that defeat, basically, just bought him some time. The expectation is a deep playoff run could help him save his gig.
Right now, this team has underachieved, being in sixth place in the conference and having a 10-24 road record. But the Sixers keep saying this team is built for the playoffs. We’ll find out if that’s true and if he can keep his job.