76ers

What Sixers need from each player when NBA returns at Disney

What Sixers need from each player when NBA returns at Disney

If the NBA resumes as planned, the Sixers will be headed to Disney World to start playing basketball again at the end of July.

The Sixers were the sixth seed in the East. While they do have a chance to move up with eight seeding games, figuring out how all the pieces fit will be much more important.

With that in mind, we look at what Brett Brown will need from every player on the roster for the Sixers to have the optimal result at the happiest place on Earth.

Joel Embiid
How far the Sixers go in the playoffs rests more on the health and fitness of Embiid than anything else. When Embiid is right, he’s one of the most dominant two-way forces in the NBA. The finger and shoulder injuries that plagued him before the stoppage should be healed, but will the eight seeding games be enough for Embiid to get in NBA playoff shape? 

The All-Star center said he’s working out six days a week to be ready. Brown has said he’d like to play Embiid around 38 minutes a game in the playoffs. We saw how much Embiid’s health affected the Sixers during last year’s playoffs. The healthier Embiid is, the better chance the Sixers have at a long stay at Disney World.

Ben Simmons
The primary concern with Simmons will be health. The nerve impingement in his lower back seems to be healed enough for him to be ready to play, but it’s important to note that Simmons hasn’t played an NBA game since Feb. 22. Unlike Embiid, Simmons seems like he’s always in peak shape … and it looks like maybe beyond that right now.

While many will ask if Simmons will come out firing jumpers, that’s not nearly as important as Simmons looking to attack the rim the way he did before the injury. Simmons was playing the best basketball of his NBA career. Over Simmons’ last 19 games before he got hurt in Milwaukee, he was averaging 21.3 points, 9.4 rebounds and 7.9 assists. More important than him launching threes or inefficient midrange jumpers, Simmons was markedly improved at the free throw line (73.4 percent over his last 12 games).

Tobias Harris
While Harris hasn’t quite performed like a near-max player, you could make the argument he’s been the Sixers’ most reliable player. He played in all 65 games this season and averaged 19.4 points a game.

Brown will have to get creative in finding ways to use Harris offensively as a three, but the biggest factor may be Harris simply knocking down open looks. After an 0-for-23 skid, Harris has hit over 39 percent of his threes — 43.1 percent on wide-open threes in that span. Those will be tougher to come by in the playoffs, but Embiid and Simmons should open up those opportunities.

It seems apparent that Harris is better suited to play the four, especially with the Sixers’ roster construction. While Harris has improved defensively this season, that will still be a bit of a concern when he’s asked to guard quicker wings. 

Josh Richardson
Stop me if you’ve heard this one … Richardson is another Sixer whose health will be paramount. Richardson missed 17 games because of multiple injuries. He’s on pace to have the worst three-point shooting season of his NBA career. Injuries seemed to play a part in that as Richardson would struggle with his shot after missing a few games.

A healthy Richardson produced two excellent stretches during the season where he carried the Sixers’ offense at times. Brown referred to Richardson as the “mortar” to keep the starting five together before the season because of his unique skill set. Richardson could very well be the Sixers’ biggest X-factor in Disney. 

Al Horford
For Horford, it might be as simple as making shots. It’s clear he hasn’t been comfortable offensively trying to space the floor and he’s on pace to have his worst three-point shooting season since 2014-15. Defensively, we’ve seen what Horford can do against the Sixers — and in flashes this season.

Hopefully the break did Horford some good. The 34-year-old has looked a step behind for most of the season.

Shake Milton
It’s crazy to think that Milton wasn’t even going to be a part of the Sixers’ rotation after the All-Star break. If Milton’s torrid shooting (60.4 percent from three over his last nine games) continues, he could be an ideal replacement for Horford in the starting lineup. Milton’s ability as a ball handler and shooter could unleash Simmons as a screener and roller.

Matisse Thybulle
The rookie was a disruptive off-ball and on-ball defender this season. The two biggest things Thybulle will have to do is stay disciplined and hit his open looks. If he keeps his fouls down and his three-point percentage up, Brown will have to find a place for him in the playoff rotation.

Furkan Korkmaz
When he got hot, Korkmaz’s shooting was game-changing. What you have to hope for is a couple similar performances without exposing him defensively — though he has improved on that end. Korkmaz is capable of stealing a game or two if he can get his shot off in the postseason.

Alec Burks
Burks is a player that can be instant offense off the bench and be used as a primary ball handler at times. The Sixers will need Burks to provide an occasional shot-creating spark and serve as a backup point guard if the moment proves too big for Milton.

Glenn Robinson III
Much like with Horford, it’s going to come down to making shots for Robinson. He was an above average 3-and-D option with the Warriors but has been up and down with the Sixers. The eight seeding games will be big for Robinson to prove he deserves a spot in Brown’s rotation.

Mike Scott
If Horford continues to start, Scott will easily be the team’s most battle-tested bench player. After a tough start to the season, Scott came on before the campaign was suspended. During last year’s postseason run, he hit big shots and added toughness. Those are invaluable things in the postseason.

Kyle O’Quinn, Raul Neto, Norvel Pelle
All three players are on the outside looking in at the rotation. We’ve all seen unheralded players be forced into duty and shine. It’ll be important for O’Quinn, Neto and Pelle to be ready at a moment’s notice.

Zhaire Smith
The reality is if Smith gets meaningful minutes then something has likely gone very wrong. The second-year player still needs development time.

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Sixers Talk podcast: How hot is head coach Brett Brown's seat getting?

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NBC Sports Philadelphia/USA Today Sports Images

Sixers Talk podcast: How hot is head coach Brett Brown's seat getting?

On the latest edition of NBC Sports Philadelphia's Sixers Talk podcast, the crew dives into Brett Brown's job security, the Sixers' playoff prospects down in the bubble, and much more.

(1:35) — Are the Sixers giving fans a reason to be optimistic?
(15:58) — Might be time to lower the playoff expectations
(29:35) — How hot is Brett Brown's seat getting?

Subscribe and rate Sixers Talk: 
Apple Podcasts / Google Play / Spotify | Stitcher | Art19 | YouTube

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Brett Brown thinks Sixers' fourth-quarter defense 'stinks,' so what are the answers?

Brett Brown thinks Sixers' fourth-quarter defense 'stinks,' so what are the answers?

The Sixers’ late-game defense in their first two seeding games has been subpar. They allowed 46 fourth-quarter points Saturday against the Pacers and escaped with a 132-130 win over the Spurs on Monday night despite conceding 43 points in the fourth. 

Brett Brown is, to put it mildly, not pleased. 

I think it stinks,” he said Monday in a video conference call. “I think it’s not anything that we are or believe in or talk about. We were very lucky to win tonight. … The good news is it is well within our reach immediately to flip the switch. We need to have an immediate paradigm shift and an admittance that we can’t afford to pick and choose. And in the last two games we have done that.

“I give credit to Indiana, and certainly the Spurs tonight — those guys scored. Their three scorers scored. But in general, it ain’t going to get it done. It’s not who we are and it needs to be fixed, and fixed it will be. And it needs to start with the mentality, and I know our players understand that. It’s not like that speech I just gave is a mystery. They’re smart enough to know it to be true.

With a 178.0 defensive rating in fourth quarters at Disney World, the Sixers are worst in that statistic by over 38 points. It would be stunning if their fourth-quarter defense remains anywhere near this poor. 

The team’s first two games in a “bubble” during a pandemic with assigned bench seating and virtual fans have been somewhat odd, as one might expect. Instead of labored, inefficient offense and solid defense, we’ve seen a team that’s scoring just fine but far from sturdy on the other side of the ball. One Sixer who hasn’t often resembled his pre-hiatus self is Ben Simmons, a strong First Team All-Defense candidate. 

Per NBA.com/Stats, opponents have shot 17 of 24 when defended by Simmons (70.8 percent) in Florida. He’d held opponents to 41.3 percent shooting before the NBA’s suspension, the lowest mark of any Sixers regular, and thrived against high-level scorers. T.J. Warren and DeMar DeRozan have had success against him.

Some of the answers to this problem for the Sixers should be simple. Simmons, who fouled out in 25 minutes Monday, has to show these were merely two games below his normal high standards. Collectively, the Sixers need to be stingier against dribble penetration and close out on shooters with greater urgency and effort.

A schematic tweak or two might be advisable down the line. It appeared early in the year that the Sixers would be significantly more willing to blitz the pick-and-roll and generally play aggressive defense under new de facto defensive coordinator Ime Udoka. The team’s default pick-and-roll coverage with Joel Embiid on the court remains having the guard try to work over the screen and Embiid dropping. (Al Horford often plays "up to touch," or a little higher up.) That’s the norm across the NBA, but perhaps the Sixers could be a bit more flexible in choosing when they deviate from it. 

“We’ve gotta do a better job defensively to be the best defensive team in the league,” Embiid said, “so we’ve just gotta take the challenge. … The last two games, we haven’t been able to keep our man in front of us. We’ve just gotta do a better job, and in those situations I’ve just gotta do a better job of protecting the paint and making sure I correct some mistakes.”

Ultimately, it’s improbable that the Sixers will make a deep playoff run unless the team’s defense in its opening seeding games ends up looking like an aberration. 

“One thing that we have to get to is understanding that we know we can score,” Tobias Harris said, “but at the end of the day we can make these games a whole lot easier if we lock in defensively and get stops and let that fuel our offense — it makes us more efficient.”

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