Fearless Forecast for the Sixers' 2017-18 season

Fearless Forecast for the Sixers' 2017-18 season

It’s time.

The Sixers are ready to tip off their 2017-18 season, and the group has made one goal very clear: reach the postseason.

Will they be able to accomplish the feat, and if so, how will they make it happen?

The real questions will begin to be answered on Wednesday night when the Sixers open the regular season on the road against the Washington Wizards (7 p.m. on ESPN — Sixers Pregame Live at 6:30 p.m. and Postgame Live after the game on NBCSP, NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the NBC Sports App).

With that said, let’s get to our season projections from Sixers insider Jessica Camerato, anchor/reporter Marshall Harris and producer/reporters Matt Haughton and Paul Hudrick.

The Sixers finish seventh in the Eastern Conference. This was my original prediction back in the summer and it hasn't changed, even with Joel Embiid's tighter minutes restriction to start the season and the uncertainty surrounding Markelle Fultz.

The competition in the East got significantly weaker this offseason with the departures of Carmelo Anthony, Jimmy Butler, Paul George and Paul Millsap to the West. The Bulls, Pacers and, following the trade of Dwight Howard, the Hawks have seemingly dropped from playoff contention. That leaves room for three new teams to move up into the top eight.

Last season, only a .500 record was required for a playoff berth and it may be the same this time around. The Sixers have an extremely challenging schedule to start the season, but the second half is Eastern Conference-heavy. That shift should give the Sixers the opportunity to make a push after the All-Star break and lock up a spot.

Projected record: 42-40 (seventh seed)

Remember January? It wasn't that long ago. If you've heard it once, you've heard it a thousand times. The Sixers went 10-5 in their best month and showed glimpses of what they could be once the team gelled and had Embiid driving the bus as he was cleared to play 28 minutes a game. 

I see this season starting off similarly to the last one in that this team could very easily start 4-10 with 10 of its first 14 games on the road. However, with nine of 10 at home following that opening stretch, things can turn in the Sixers' favor quickly.
Since JJ Redick was signed, I’ve said the Sixers are a team that would win 39 games and I'm going to stick to that. I know there will be fans that believe this team is winning 40-plus or even 50 games. I just can't see it. This team will take its lumps early. The number 39 is based largely on the understanding that Embiid may not get to that 28-minute mark until December. Brett Brown has said in the past he envisions Embiid playing 35 minutes a game at some point. That point doesn't appear to be coming anytime soon.
The reason the Sixers can still get to 39 games without the training wheels coming off Embiid? The Sixers’ second unit is basically the starting unit that won way more games than most thought it would last year. T.J. McConnell, Dario Saric, Timothe-Luwawu Cabarrot, Fultz, Justin Anderson and Amir Johnson should make up one of the better (not to mention energized) benches in the NBA. Outside of Fultz, they've all played starters’ minutes, with McConnell and Saric showing plenty of mettle last season.
Of course, if Embiid can play 65 or more games and average 28 or more minutes a game, then these expectations can all rise. But let's be pragmatic. Based on what we know, who really expects Embiid to play that much? Not me. But, hey, I'm just a "receiver of information."

Projected record: 39-43 (eighth seed)

I hear you, Sixers fans. This is the time you’ve been waiting for. 

All of the losing. All of the injuries. All of the players shuffling on and off the roster (whatever happened to what’s his name?). It’s over.

But this is the NBA and teams don’t just go from the basement to bathing in championship champagne overnight. This will be, for lack of a better word, a “process.”

Getting a healthy Embiid back on the floor was step No. 1. While he doesn’t exactly agree with his playing time to start the season, it’s crucial for him to be on the court. 

The Sixers need Embiid’s production and the attention he draws for others to thrive. That means Ben Simmons has a big man to dump the ball to down in the paint as he adjusts to being a full-time point guard, while Redick and Bayless get open looks off defensive helping/double-teams, and Fultz can ease his way into action off the bench, etc. The trickle-down effect all starts with Embiid.

But while the Sixers finally appear to be getting on the right track, their opponents having been sitting in silence. They have been working to improve as well, mainly the ones the Sixers face up to when the calendar flips to December (21 games). Of those 21 foes, 16 are playoff teams from a season ago.

I do think the Sixers overcome that uphill climb to start the new campaign and reach the playoffs, but it will be far from easy.

Projected record: 40-42 (eighth seed)

I see the Sixers finishing with 41 wins, which I think is good enough for them to earn the seventh seed.

The Sixers will have their struggles early on. There are so many new pieces that need to figure out how to gell. Fultz needs to get healthy and get acclimated to the NBA. Simmons needs to grow into a true NBA point guard. Embiid needs to stay healthy, of course.

With that said, the East is just so weak this season. Three playoff teams lost All-Star players. The Bulls and the Hawks will likely take significant steps backward this season.

The Sixers will get off to a slow start, but a strong finish to the season — including clinching a playoff berth — will build momentum for 2018-19 and beyond.

Projected record: 41-41 (seventh seed)

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

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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: 
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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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Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Sixers