After making the playoffs and winning a series last season for the first time since 2011-12, what's next for the Sixers? NBC Sports Philadelphia's Paul Hudrick, Noah Levick and Matt Haughton give their predictions for the 2018-19 Sixers and the NBA Finals in this Give and Go.
The Sixers are an improved basketball team from the one that won 52 games and a playoff series last season.
The acquisitions of Wilson Chandler and Mike Muscala — though both players will likely start the season on the shelf — make the Sixers’ bench better. They’re more versatile and better defenders than the departed Marco Belinelli and Ersan Ilyasova.
You also have to factor in the development of Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Dario Saric and the triumphant return of Markelle Fultz. Also, the re-signing of JJ Redick will give him another year of cohesion with his teammates and a better routine for his commute from Brooklyn.
There’s no greater teacher than experience. Expect the Sixers to continue their progress by winning 56 games, securing the No. 2 seed, and reaching the Eastern Conference Finals. Sure, the East is better, but so are the Sixers.
NBA Finals prediction
This will likely be the popular pick but for good reason.
I can’t see anyone in the West challenging the Warriors and, unfortunately, I think the Sixers may be another year away from seriously challenging the Celtics.
Golden State takes it in six games over Boston.
There won't be many games where it’s easy to pick against the Sixers. I have them winning 57 games and taking the No. 3 seed in the East.
The team should have two All-Stars in Simmons and Embiid, one of the best shooters in the NBA (still) in Redick, and a top-three defense.
Brett Brown expects some growing pains as the Sixers shift to a defensive scheme that places greater responsibility on Embiid. Still, Simmons has the physical ability to be a great defender, and he’s focused on being that this season. Brown thinks he can make an All-Defensive team. Chandler, once he’s healthy, is an upgrade over Belinelli defensively.
Two of the big questions are how Simmons plays together with Fultz, and whether Fultz continues to have the confidence to take and make jumpers. The good thing is this team doesn’t need Fultz to be an incredible shooter. If he remains in the starting lineup, though, he needs to be a dynamic playmaker, a committed defender and a willing shooter. He’s capable of checking all those boxes.
Chances are the Sixers will face a difficult opponent in the second round of the playoffs, either Boston or Toronto. I think the Sixers edge the Raptors in a seven-game series.
In the conference finals, I have the Celtics beating the Sixers in six games. The Sixers will be a better team this season, but so will Boston — Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving are pretty solid additions for a team that won 55 games and was one game away from the NBA Finals last season.
NBA Finals prediction
The Warriors can play so much worse than their peak level and still win series.
The Western Conference Finals again won’t be a breeze against an excellent Houston team, and the Finals won’t be either vs. the Celtics.
Still, Golden State has four All-Stars and Andre Iguodala. Oh, and they’ll have DeMarcus Cousins at some point too. Warriors in six over Boston.
After proving they had the goods on the court last season, this campaign will be more of a mental test for the Sixers. Have they learned from their mistakes in 2017-18? Are they prepared to take opposing teams' best shot every night?
I’m inclined to answer yes to those questions. And when there are breakdowns, the Sixers have enough talent to overcome any issues.
We already know the Sixers can score the ball (top 10 a season ago in points per game, field goal percentage and three-point percentage), but defense will be their backbone now. Once the team masters the new scheme, Embiid will serve as the trunk of a tree with long, flailing limbs of athletic players smothering foes.
The improved defense and what I expect to be a smoothing of the kinks from experience should result in at least the No. 3 seed again. However, I’ll say the Sixers have a few breaks go their way and reach No. 2 with 55 wins.
Still, they’re another year (and likely another player) away from seriously challenging the Celtics as they will fall in the Eastern Conference Finals.
NBA Finals prediction
Much like my colleagues above, I see the Warriors and Celtics meeting in the NBA Finals. The only thing I believe will be different is the competitiveness of the series.
Golden State is just on a different level, one the C’s can’t reach quite yet. Warriors win in five for the three-peat.