The good, the bad and Cavaliers as Sixers trek toward postseason

The good, the bad and Cavaliers as Sixers trek toward postseason

The Sixers bounced back nicely Tuesday in Charlotte. The Hornets are far from a great team. However, after the turnover-fest, debacle in Milwaukee on Sunday, it was a nice page-turner. So, as we take a little inventory as to where this team stands with just 19 games to play, there's a tug of war between the wonderment of how far this team has come and the reality of what lies ahead.

If the playoffs started today, the Sixers would be the sixth seed and take on the third-seeded Cavaliers in the first round. A lot could change between now and the close of the season.

The Sixers are just two games out of the third spot occupied by Cleveland, but for our purposes, let’s go with the premise they finish sixth.

Here are the pros and the cons as they head into the postseason.

The good
Joel Embiid is a force on both ends. He flat-out takes games over with his ability to enforce his will on the block and his touch from the outside. He also alters not just opponents shots but thought processes when it comes to going to the rack.

Ben Simmons is poised beyond his years and even without the benefit of a jump shot, can affect games in so many ways. Scoring, passing, rebounding. Sixers shooters get remarkably clean looks when he kicks it out on a drive.

They now have a cadre of shooters with the additions of Marco Belinelli and Ersan Ilyasova to go along with JJ Redick. Those add also bring big-time pop to the bench. And you know night in and night out, Dario Saric will give you everything he has.      

The Sixers are 20-10 at home, first in rebounds per game and third in assists. They’re 10th in scoring and 14th in points given up per game. They also have seven players scoring in double figures.

The not-so-good
Turnovers. Did I mention turnovers? The Sixers give the ball away like it’s candy on Halloween night — 17.2 per game, which leads the NBA. Yes, they're young, but that has to be at least curbed. They are 15-18 on the road, tied for the lowest winning percentage of any team in the top eight in the East.

The Cavs have beaten the Sixers twice in three meetings this season. But the Sixers knocked off LeBron James' squad last week in the only meeting since Cleveland overhauled its roster.

The Cavaliers are a tough team to handicap. On one hand, they have James, who is all-world, capable of carrying bad teams by himself to great heights, and perennially gets his teams to the finals. And they'll be getting Kevin Love back soon. But they’ve been a mess all season, hence the trades. They’ve played uninspired, disinterested, defenseless basketball for long stretches. And Kyrie Irving is not walking through that door anytime soon.

Then there’s the specter of James bolting once again after the season ends. All that said, it’s not impossible to think the Sixers could upset them. 

Regardless of how the playoffs shake out, it’s remarkable how far the Sixers have come in a year’s time.

Interesting new odds on LeBron James' free agency destination, next season's Rookie of the Year

AP Images

Interesting new odds on LeBron James' free agency destination, next season's Rookie of the Year

Brett Brown is "star hunting." He's not naming names, but it's clear that LeBron James is at the top of his (and everybody's) list.

Until free agency officially starts on July 1, there's going to be plenty of speculation about whether the Sixers can actually land James. Bovada's latest odds on which team James will be playing for in Game 1 of the 2018-19 season don't give the Sixers a great shot.

The Lakers are now strong favorites, at 4/13. That's presumably because Spurs star Kawhi Leonard reportedly wants out of San Antonio and would like to return to his hometown of Los Angeles, specifically with the Lakers. Though the Spurs have said they want to keep Leonard if possible and reports are they don't want to trade him to a team in the Western Conference, the Lakers would definitely be a much more enticing option for James if they managed to get Leonard. 

The Sixers have the fourth-best odds, which are listed in full below.

What team will LeBron James play for Game 1 of the 2018-2019 Season?
Los Angeles Lakers                   4/13
Cleveland Cavaliers                   13/4
Houston Rockets                      15/2
Philadelphia 76ers                     10/1
Boston Celtics                          18/1
San Antonio Spurs                    20/1
Los Angeles Clippers                25/1                                           
New York Knicks                       30/1
Miami Heat                                40/1

Very early 2018-19 Rookie of the Year Odds

This season's Rookie of the Year hasn't even been announced yet. We'll know Monday night whether Ben Simmons brings home the award. But the odds for next season's Rookie of the Year are already out, and one of the newest Sixers, first-round pick Zhaire Smith, appears on Bovada's odds.

Unsurprisingly, Smith, who has a lot of room to grow (see story), is a long shot. The No. 16 selection has 45/1 odds to win. No. 1 pick Deandre Ayton has the best odds at 13/5, followed by the Mavs' Luka Doncic and the Kings' Marvin Bagley III. Mikal Bridges has 22/1 odds, while fellow Villanova product and new Milwaukee Buck Donte DiVincenzo makes an appearance at 40/1.

The complete odds are below.

2018-2019 NBA Rookie of the Year – Odds to Win
Deandre Ayton                          13/5
Luka Doncic                              3/1
Marvin Bagley                           9/2
Trae Young                               7/1
Jaren Jackson Jr                       9/1
Mohamed Bamba                      11/1
Kevin Knox                               15/1
Michael Porter Jr                       15/1
Mikal Bridges                            22/1
Collin Sexton                            22/1
Miles Bridges                            28/1
Wendell Carter Jr                       28/1
Donte DiVincenzo                     40/1
Shai Gilgeous-Alexansder          40/1
Zhaire Smith                              45/1
Lonnie Walker                           50/1
Robert Williams                         50/1

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With Bryan Colangelo saga in rearview, Sixers use draft as 1st step in repairing image

With Bryan Colangelo saga in rearview, Sixers use draft as 1st step in repairing image

Even Brett Brown had to admit just how much of a whirlwind this month has been for him.

“This has been a really different June,” he said after the 2018 NBA draft.

That’s certainly an understatement.

In a matter of weeks, Brown went from drawing up plays during the postseason to orchestrating his first draft as interim general manager. And there’s no time to take a breath with free agency barreling down the calendar on July 1.

While Brown has been tasked with running the Sixers’ front office operations for the time being (see story), he has also been put in charge of an even bigger challenge: reshaping the team’s image.

No matter your feelings on the Bryan Colangelo saga, there is no denying it was a black eye for the Sixers. One the franchise could ill afford heading into such an important summer.

So Brown set out to show that the Sixers are truly all about the player-friendly, tight-knit and development culture they have cultivated throughout “the process.” The reinforcement started with grabbing a pair of players in the draft with not only first-round talent, but first-rate character.

“When you look at sort of the values that were most important to us as we decided how to grow this team and select our players, there were none more important than just good people and character,” Brown said Friday of first-rounders Zhaire Smith and Landry Shamet. “Personally, when you would see me work the players out and then intermittently we would call people into my office, there was a connection and a comfort level that I had just talking to them as people.”

Of course talent trumps everything and Brown admitted the duo was ultimately snagged because of basketball ability above all else. However, it’s no coincidence that both players are soft-spoken and eager to grind for whatever minutes come their way on the court.

“I just want to come in here, put my work in and let it play out,” Smith said.

“At the end of the day, I just want to be a player that’s known to do whatever a coach needs me to do,” Shamet said. “Whatever the staff or my team needs me to do, that’s what I’m going to be. … Coming in and working hard and doing what I can on a day-to-day basis.”

What’s a little competition between family?

Oh, make no mistake, the Sixers see the program they’ve constructed as a family. And now that the branch of the tree that tends to talk way too much on social media is gone, Brown wants every draft pick that enters the building (and superstar that is willing to listen) to know this organization is a place you want to be.

“We’d like to welcome Zhaire’s family, we’d like to welcome Landry’s family to our home,” Brown said. “As I told these two young players, [they have] the ability to walk into this building and look up behind us and recognize the true history of this organization. To be able to look around and see the backyard that they now have and see sports science, and see a strength and conditioning program, and see an analytics department, and seeing the medical staff, and seeing the video area, and looking at our kitchen, which we kind of designed almost like a college atmosphere where we all go up as a team, as a family, an organization and spend time. This is their backyard where they’re going to get better.”

Now Brown hopes the franchise is stable enough again to add a high-profile name to the family by the time the July 4 BBQ rolls around.

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