As much enthusiasm as there is for the Sixers’ best start in five years, they still have a long way to go to reach the ranks of the NBA’s elite.
That probably shouldn’t come as news to anyone. The Sixers have an incredibly young, inexperienced core group of players. Joel Embiid played 31 games as a professional prior to this season, and Ben Simmons is still considered a rookie. That right there is the foundation of the franchise and says nothing of Dario Saric in his second season, or No. 1 draft pick Markelle Fultz on the shelf after appearing in four games.
Some growing pains were inevitable. That much is evident when the Sixers are facing top-flight competition.
The Sixers have amassed an 11-8 record on the season — the best through 19 games since 2012 — though it’s come largely at the expense of inferior opponents. After losing to the Cavaliers on Monday, their record against teams with superior records fell to 3-6, compared to an 8-2 mark vs. the rest of the league.
Again, this isn’t exactly a shocking development. Aside from the fact that we’re talking about the very best competition the NBA has to offer, any expectation the Sixers should be playing on the level of a championship contender right now is probably out of line. Naturally, their record is going to be better against lesser opponents.
Still, with the way the Sixers have performed against the likes of the Cavaliers, Celtics and Warriors — three of the four teams that reached the conference finals last season — they don’t appear to be on the same plane yet.
The Sixers are 0-4 against the previous season’s conference finalists, and those losses haven’t been particularly close games in the end. They’ve dropped those contests by a total of 61 points, or an average of 15, with the closest margin of defeat coming by eight.
Each of those matchups was close for stretches of the action, with the Sixers playing the Celtics pretty tight until the final few minutes of the fourth quarter. By and large, and against the reigning champion Warriors and runner-up Cavaliers in particular, the Sixers simply couldn’t keep up.
One more time, this isn’t a surprising development. The Sixers have a ton of growth ahead of them, and the 2017-18 campaign is going to be fun whether it ends in a parade or more than likely does not.
Nearly a quarter of the way into the season, we are beginning to get a better feel for the hierarchy in the NBA. And for now, at least, the Sixers are not quite in the top tier.
How the Sixers measure up to basketball’s elites by April, May or June might be a different story. So far, they have a lot of work left ahead.