The Sixers had five players on ESPN’s ranking of the top 100 NBA players heading into the 2019-20 season. Al Horford was an obvious inclusion on ESPN’s list, coming in at No. 37.
Horford does not appear in the top 100 this year, a sign of how quickly things can change in the NBA and also how much the 34-year’s poor fit with the Sixers dented his perception around the league.
With Horford now officially a member of the Thunder and Josh Richardson (No. 80 this year) on the Mavericks, the 2020-21 Sixers had four ESPN top-100 selections:
- Seth Curry (No. 91)
- Tobias Harris (No. 57)
- Ben Simmons (No. 16)
- Joel Embiid (No. 14)
These types of lists are, of course, all inherently arbitrary to some degree. The Sixers’ brass certainly thinks Embiid and Simmons have the talent to be fixtures in the top 10. Embiid came in at No. 8 last year.
Simmons was an All-NBA Third Team Selection and Embiid was passed over for All-NBA honors. The three-time All-Star had very similar statistics per 100 possessions to the 2018-19 season (4.7 box plus-minus) but played fewer minutes on average and also missed 22 games.
“When you consider top-10, top-5 players or whatever, I don’t know,” Embiid said last week. “When you’re up there and don’t make an All-NBA team, that just shows me a lot. It didn’t even have to do with the way I played last year, because I think I averaged 23 points and 12 (rebounds) or something like that. I actually thought that was enough, but it is what it is. Can’t get mad at it. But then again, just thinking about it was disappointing — extremely disappointing — because I didn’t get the respect I deserve. But you’ve got to be able to win, so that’s where it starts. You’ve got to win.”
Harris dropped nearly 30 spots after being ranked 29th last season. We’ll see whether the 28-year-old can build on his previous success with head coach Doc Rivers, who is pushing Harris to play more decisively.
“I thought he had a breakthrough a little bit today,” Rivers said after the Sixers’ practice on Wednesday. “He got to the basket several times, got his shot, looked way more comfortable. It’s a process for him to get back to that quicker-decision basketball. I just think Tobias going downhill is really hard to guard, and the more he does that, the more easy shots he’ll end up having, as well. So he’s getting it, a day at a time.”
Curry, whose game we explored here, is several rungs above Richardson as a shooter and more than just a catch-and-shoot player. Richardson is a superior defender, though Curry is prideful about that end of the floor.
“On the defensive end, I think that’s honestly how I got my shot in the league and was able to stick and get a chance to contribute offensively, is by being trustworthy on the defensive end," he said last Friday. "Any team I’ve been on, anybody who’s really watched me play and watched the film on me knows I’m a good defender and I do a good job.
“I’m trying to continue that, get better and just be a guy who can guard ones, who can guard twos, create havoc with my hands and create different steal opportunities, Just be smart and be in the right places. I’m not going to be a defender that’s overly physical and bangs on guys. I’ve got to be smart and beat guys to different spots and different positions. That just comes with my IQ to anticipate different things.”
Recent champions Danny Green and Dwight Howard don’t make ESPN’s cut but are clearly important pieces for the Sixers. Both players aim to assume key roles as mentors and leaders.
“My job, I think, is more important off the floor than it is on the floor for this group,” Green said Wednesday. "Just helping them understand the small details of what it takes to win, to be winners. Teaching them small things like guarding pick-and-rolls; guarding screens, pindowns; coming off and how to use those screens; how to talk to each other; being patient; and how to communicate defensively. So I think that can help everybody — not just certain stars, certain people, but everyone across the board, both guards and bigs.”