76ers

Who has the brighter future — Sixers or Celtics?

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USA Today Images

Who has the brighter future — Sixers or Celtics?

Without Joel Embiid and T.J. McConnell, the Sixers won't be at full strength tonight against the Celtics. Then again, the Celtics haven't been at full strength all season, playing every game without $30 million man Gordon Hayward. Boston has managed to go 18-4 to lead the NBA so far without him, which serves as just another example of how well constructed the Celtics' roster is.

The teams are on two different timelines, but outside of the Warriors, there are few if any teams built better to both win now and win in the future than the Sixers and Celtics.

Which invites the question: Which team is in the better situation moving forward with players, cap space, flexibility and draft picks — Sixers or Celtics?

Jessica Camerato — Sixers
The Celtics are ahead of the Sixers in their progress toward contention, but the Sixers have the pieces to catch up and even surpass them. The Celtics have designed their roster to compete now with All-Stars like Kyrie Irving, Al Horford and Hayward (pre-injury) while developing their potential future in Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. They face questions about the makeup of their team, though, following next season when both Irving and Horford have player options for 2019-20. 

The Sixers, on the other hand, are just beginning to lay the foundation of a bright future. Embiid and Robert Covington are locked up for five seasons. The team is being extremely methodical with its cap space to have room available when it comes time to talk contract with Ben Simmons and also be able to make a run at top-level free agents in upcoming offseasons.

While the Celtics are running the East this season, the Sixers' combination of Embiid, Covington and Simmons is the group of assets I would rather have moving forward.

Corey Seidman — Sixers (by a 51-49 margin)
I'd also take the Sixers' situation, even though I genuinely believe the Celtics can win a championship at some point in the next three years if the Warriors suffer even one key, late-season injury. 

Kyrie is one of the best ball-handlers of all-time and one of the most clutch players of the last 25 years. The Sixers don't have a player like him — nobody does. But the Celtics don't have a player like Simmons or Embiid — nobody does.

One thing that could shift my opinion with this is if Jayson Tatum takes a quick leap to stardom at some point in the next two or three seasons. Aside from Simmons, he looks like by far the best rookie in this class. There's just so little hesitation with Tatum. Most rookies defer early in their careers and pass up an open look for an even better look because they think that's what a good NBA teammate does. Tatum takes those open shots and takes advantage of open driving lanes. It makes sense for Utah's Donovan Mitchell to do it because he has so little scoring help around him. But Tatum does have a lot around him and still is confident enough in himself to drive the car when he needs to.

Markelle Fultz hasn't scratched the surface of what he might be able to do in the NBA, but it's difficult for me to envision him making more of an impact — offensively and defensively, at the rim or beyond the arc — than Tatum will over the course of his career.

But for me, the Tatum > Fultz thing isn't enough to offset the unique, superduperstar upside of the Sixers' top two players. 

The Celtics are built to win 55-ish games for the foreseeable future. But does anyone really remember a 57-win season? The Sixers are built to — if they add one more star — have one of those crazy, 66-win seasons that don't come along often.

Paul Hudrick — Celtics
This is tough.

It's hard to dispute that the team with the best record in the NBA — that also happens to be missing its prize free agent — has the better roster going forward, but there is certainly a case to be made for the Sixers. 

Embiid and Simmons have the potential to be more dominant than any player on the Celtics' roster. Fultz is the obvious questions mark. Can he live up to the billing of being the No. 1 overall pick? I believe he can. Once he gets healthy and regains his confidence, I expect an elite scorer to emerge.

For most, the comparison of Fultz and Tatum will be the key to determining this question. For me, it's Fultz vs. Jaylen Brown. Brown has already shown flashes of being an elite defender and unstoppable in the open floor. He's also hitting 41 percent of his threes on over four attempts a game. 

The Sixers and Celtics both have dynamic duos. Will Fultz or Brown become a star first to make it a trio? For now, because of his NBA track record, my money is on Brown and the Celtics.

But Fultz's presence could easily change that assessment.

Rob Ellis — Split-decision: Celtics
I love the fact that we are even discussing which organization has a brighter future. It's been too long since the Sixers could even be considered in a debate like this. While there's no question the Celtics are certainly built for now in terms of contending in the East, I believe the Sixers' rise to compete with the big boys will be quicker than some anticipate. That said, this is very difficult. I actually think both teams will win at least one title and be really good for close to a decade. 

But in terms of which team has the brighter future, certainly who and what Fultz is or will become could be a swing vote one way or the other, especially considering how well Tatum has played in his rookie season in Boston. Another unknown on the Celtics' side is Hayward and how he will respond from a pretty horrific injury suffered in his first game in green.  

I view the Sixers' core five as Simmons, Fultz, Covington, Dario Saric and Embiid. Versus the Celtics' five of Irving, Brown, Tatum, Hayward, and Horford.

With the exception of Horford, these two teams are scary young and talented. While I think the upside of Simmons and Embiid is greater than any combo of two on the Celtics' roster, I have to lean toward Boston. Brown projects higher for me than Covington and maybe it's just recency bias on my part but I'll go Tatum over Fultz. If Fultz is who the Sixers thought he was when moving up to one to draft him, or if Hayward is not the same player we saw in Utah pre-injury, the nod goes to the Sixers.

What Sixers need more and less of in second half

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What Sixers need more and less of in second half

Now that the dust has settled on the NBA's All-Star festivities, the Sixers will reconvene this week and turn their attention back to the playoff push.

With 27 games remaining in the regular season over a 49-day stretch, it will be a sprint to the finish.

So how can the Sixers capture their first postseason berth in six seasons? Let's take a look at what the team needs more and less of down the stretch.

More: Healthy Embiid
What injury? Joel Embiid shook off right ankle soreness to participate in three events during All-Star weekend as a shining representation of the up-and-coming Sixers.

"There was never really a thought about missing out on any of these events," Embiid said Friday after the Mtn Dew Kickstart Rising Stars game. "It's my first time, so I'm going to have fun."

The big man is always about having fun, but now it's time to get down to business. Even though the Sixers' competition appears to lighten up after the break, the schedule does not (27 games with six back-to-back sets).

The Sixers are 27-17 when Embiid plays and just 3-8 when he doesn't suit up. They need the center healthy and on the court.

Less: Turnovers
Way less, actually. 

As you know by now, the Sixers have a bit of an issue holding onto the basketball. They simply don't respect each possession enough, evidenced by their 17.5 turnovers per game. That's good enough for dead last in the NBA and it's a full 1.5 turnovers more than the closest team (Los Angeles Lakers).

And it's not just the miscues. Teams are capitalizing, too — the Sixers also rank 30th in opponents' points off turnovers (19.4).

Of the "Four Factors" statistic on the offensive end, which breaks down weighted factors that help a team win a game — shooting (40 percent), turnovers (25 percent), rebounding (20 percent) and free throws (15 percent) — the only category that the Sixers rank outside of the NBA's top 10 in is turnovers.

If they can cut down on the giveaways just a little, it will go a long way toward their goal.

More: Early execution
However, not all of those possessions end up with the Sixers running back on defense after a turnover.

With more legit scoring options on the roster this season than any previous time during Brett Brown's tenure, they have shown the ability to execute a play to perfection for a bucket.

It's a stark contrast to the days when they couldn't even get the ball in on an inbounds play.

That level of scoring punch has been particularly evident at the start of games. The Sixers are tied with the Cleveland Cavaliers for fourth in the league in first-quarter points per game (28.7) and are even with the L.A. Clippers for seventh in first-half points a night (55.2).

The Sixers must continue to apply that pressure on teams at the outset of games, especially if their woes finishing off opponents is going to persist.

Less: Bad Covington
Ah, the curious case of Robert Covington.

Has any player in NBA history ever looked like they could make a push for an All-Star spot for two months only to appear as if they belong in the G League the next few months?

Covington has always been a streaky shooter, but this season has been extreme. He shot 44.7 percent from the field and 43.1 percent from three-point range in October and November to help secure his multiyear extension. 

Since that point, the swingman has connected on just 37.6 percent from the field and 32.4 percent from long distance.

Whether it's the weight of the big contract or the nasty spill he took against the Cavs in December, Covington hasn't looked the same on the floor in several months. The team needs him to get it together and the sooner the better.

More: Killer D's
While Embiid's presence on both ends and Ben Simmons' wizardry at the point have put the Sixers in position to snag a playoff bid, the team didn't really hit its stride until a certain pairing found its footing: Dario Saric and defense.

Much like his rookie season, Saric struggled to find his role at the start. But that's long in the rearview mirror now. The second-year forward has increased his production each month and has been rolling so far in February (18.6 points, 51.7 percent field goals, 46.3 percent threes, 6.9 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game).

That surge has coincided with the Sixers' tightened grip on defense. In seven games this month, they've allowed 96.1 points per game on 41.4 percent shooting.

The type of balance Saric offers offensively and the overall lockdown defense won't only make the Sixers a postseason team, it will also make them a tough out. 

Less: Fultz speculation
This is a big deal that the Sixers could make very small with a clear decision on the No. 1 pick's immediate future.

Markelle Fultz reportedly continues to ramp up his rehab workouts for his ailing shoulder, even after team president Bryan Colangelo said earlier this month that the guard could return soon or be shut down for the season.

The franchise should obviously give Fultz every chance to come back and contribute, but that ruling should be made at the first opportunity.

It's after the All-Star break and having that type of deliberation hovering over the team isn't exactly fair to the other players. Not to mention, for a guy that has apparently dealt with questions regarding his confidence, possibly dropping him into the thick of a playoff race doesn't really do him any favors either.

Our NBA All-Star challenge — describe Embiid in one word

Our NBA All-Star challenge — describe Embiid in one word

LOS ANGELES —  From trash talking on the court to expressing himself on social media, Joel Embiid is a player of many (many) words. So if his fellow All-Stars had to describe him in just one, what would it be? 

Draymond Green: "'Funny.' He's hilarious. The stuff he says, he goes on TV talking about (Kevin Durant's) burner account, he's talking how he's a savage. His Instagram locations, pretty funny. He's a good guy." 

Andre Drummond: "I’d probably say 'charismatic,' 'funny,' 'savage.' He don’t care, he just does what he wants to.”

Paul George: “Personality,' in all caps."

(Why all caps?)

“Because he’s a big dude.”

John Wall: "He's just 'himself.' He's very confident."

Anthony Davis: “'Savage.' Cool dude, he lives by his own rules. He’s just enjoying life and having fun.”

Jimmy Butler: "'Remarkable' in the fact that his game on the court is insane. Then the way he's always saying something to somebody on social media is really 'remarkable.'"

Bradley Beal: “'Wild.' He has no filter, he doesn’t care. That’s my boy, but he just has no remorse, doesn’t care."

LaMarcus Aldridge: “'Entertaining,' because he’s always on TV expressing how he feels. So, entertaining.”