HOUSTON – Are the 76ers really built for the postseason?
The team’s managing partner Josh Harris thinks that. So does general manager Elton Brand and coach Brett Brown.
From a strictly individual talent standpoint or fantasy basketball standpoint, one could see where they’re coming from. But from a team standpoint, the Sixers (23-14) would be hard-pressed to get out of the second round right about now. Heck, they would even suffer a first-round exit depending on the matchup.
The team has lost four straight and seven of their last 10 games. A squad favored to contend for the Eastern Conference title is fifth in the standings. The Sixers would face the Toronto Raptors in a first-round matchup if the regular season concluded Saturday. And that wouldn’t be an easy task for a squad that loss to the defending NBA champion Raptors in seven game during last season’s second-round playoff series meeting.
Yes, the Sixers have superior individual pieces in the starting lineup. But they’re not put together the way they should be.
Al Horford and Joel Embiid don’t fit together in the frontcourt. Tobias Harris loses a lot of his effectiveness when he’s relegated to the corner. And it appears this team relies too heavily on analytics when feel-of-the-game adjustments would work better.
But those aren’t the reasons why the reeling Sixers aren’t built for the playoffs.
The first reason has to do with a lack of consistent shooting. Secondly, they lack a consistent impact player off the bench, something that most good teams have. A third reason is a hard time winning on the road. And another one is they don’t have a designated closer at this time.
But lack of shooting in the biggest thing. That’s because you’ll need that to be successful in the playoffs.
The postseason is a half-court game. The tempo slows down. Opposing teams will be able to pack it in with Ben Simmons on the floor shying away from shooting the ball. They will be able to double-team Embiid to take away his effectiveness. The Sixers will also face a lot of zone defense.
So far, the Sixers haven’t proven that they can effectively shoot the ball and overcome any of those scenarios.
Some will point to their making 21 three-pointers in 44 attempts to tie a team record in the Christmas Day home victory over the Milwaukee Bucks. However, they followed that up by making a combined 32 of 115 attempts or 27.8% over consecutive road losses to the Orlando Magic (Dec. 27), Heat (Dec. 28), Indiana Pacers (Tuesday) and the Houston Rockets (Friday).
As a team, the Sixers ranked 13th in the NBA in three-point shooting at 35.9% as of Friday. However, one could argue that’s misleading due to ranking 26th out of 30 teams in attempts per game (30.1). So while that percentage is fine, it’s coming via a small sample size. Would their shooting percentage be as high if they attempted more shots?
The same can be said about reserves Matisse Thybulle (31 of 67 or 46.3%), Trey Burke (13 of 29 or 44.8%) and Raul Neto (16 of 38 or 42.1%).
More so than that, the Sixers don’t have a knock-down shooter in the starting lineup. And that could become a major problem in the postseason where the starters’ minutes will increase and the bench’s will decrease.
That’s where the Sixers are really going to miss a player like sharpshooter JJ Redick, who signed a free-agent deal with the New Orleans Pelicans in July.
The Sixers also lack an impact player off the bench.
The Clippers have two in Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell. The Celtics have Marcus Smart. All three are starter-type players, who consistently make a difference while on the floor.
Thybulle is the Sixers’ most impactful reserve.
Yet, he’s a rookie, and the level of play elevates in the postseason. Time will tell if he’ll be able to adjust. But the Sixers might have to acquire an impact player off the bench in a trade or via the free-agent market like they did with Ersan Ilyasova and Marco Belinelli two seasons ago. To their credit, the team will search for a sharpshooter with play-making ability.
For now, however, the Sixers lack a veteran that can consistently make major offensive contributions off the bench.
Outside of Thybulle, Burke and Furkan Korkmaz are currently the Sixers’ top go-to reserves. However, Burke’s minutes and production are inconsistent. Meanwhile, Korkmaz has also been inconsistent. Plus, teams will make a point to target his defensive shortcomings in the postseason.
Perhaps the Sixers’ most head-scratching reason for not being built for the playoffs is a woeful road record.
Their 7-12 road record is the worst among the Top 8 teams in the conference standings.
The Sixers might need to get mentally tougher on the road. At home, they have the fans to help them. On the road, the fans are against them. The opponent is playing at their comfortable place.
Will the Sixers have the mental toughness to overcome that in the postseason when the intensity is heightened, considering their regular-season road woes?
As their conference’s sixth-best team, the Sixers would have to win at least one road game to get out the first round of the playoffs. Right now, there’s no guarantee that they could do that.
And lastly, who’s the closer?
Jimmy Butler fulfilled that role last season before the Sixers sent him to the Miami Heat in July via sign-and-trade.
In the playoffs, the Sixers are going to need one.
One would assume Harris would take that role. However, there are times when he’s relegated to the corner instead of having the ball. Plus, he needs to be more aggressive at times.
Coach Brett Brown will tell you All-Star center Embiid is the team’s best player, but 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.
So the team still doesn’t have a designated, dependable go-to guy.