Championship or Bust: Why the 76ers are on their way to a title in 2021
As we all know, the 76ers have been in the conversation as title contenders for a few seasons now, but in reality, it never quite felt legitimate. There are plenty of factors for this to be blamed on, whether it was Brett Brown, the poor roster construction, or a plethora of other things. That doesn’t matter anymore. This season is entirely different, and the Sixers are actual NBA Finals contenders, and here’s why:
As of today, the 76ers hold the second-best defensive rating in the NBA (107.7), behind only the Los Angeles Lakers. They’ve also held teams to under 100 points seven times this season, including their last win against the Boston Celtics. In a league that is so heavily driven by offensive superstars, Philadelphia holds a unique advantage over almost every other team in the NBA: they have three incredible two-way players. The Holy Trinity is not only fantastic together on the offensive end, but the trio of Harris, Simmons, and Embiid have been the catalysts for the defensive dominance that this team has shown so far this season.
Ben Simmons is still a DPOY candidate and Joel Embiid makes life much easier for everyone else on the defensive end. The factor in this whole situation has been the transformation from an average defender to a high-quality defender in Tobias Harris. Tobi has been locked in on that side of the ball all year, and while performing at his career-best offensively, his defensive improvement has gone slightly unnoticed in the grand scheme of things. Versatility, hustle, and scheme have turned this talented roster into a nightmare for opposing squads. From Simmons on the perimeter to Embiid in the paint to Matisse and Dwight off the bench, teams can’t catch a break from the pestering Sixers. It has been the anchor to this team’s success all season, and it will be a major reason why they are successful come the postseason.
To some, chemistry can seem like an arbitrary aspect of the success of a team. As this 76ers squad has proven to us this season, it really does matter. The NBA sees teams fall victim to egocentric players, poor chemistry, and just an overall lack of fluidity between the roster all the time. We are literally watching Boston go through that exact problem right now. On this side of the fence, from top to bottom, there has been a clear goal in mind all season and every player and staff member appears to be on the same page. It’s a great change of pace to hear players come into the Sixers facility and say how strong the culture is, and how everyone wants to win so badly, compared to how dysfunctional this organization was over the past few seasons.
There is a lot of credit to go around, some credit goes to Doc Rivers for harboring a healthy culture from himself and the coaching staff. Some goes to Danny Green and Dwight Howard for being solid veterans and being as integral as they have been this year. I also really think that there should be a lot of credit given to Joel Embiid for taking it upon himself to turn things around. From the start of camp, the only word rumbling around this team has been “win”, and they have been able to do that in a variety of ways this season. There have definitely been ugly games, but when the chemistry is so deeply rooted in the way they play, all that matters is winning. No egos, just believing in each other and doing whatever it takes to come out of each game with a win, and that cannot be undersold in its importance.
In every single game that the 76ers play, they hold at least one advantage over the opponent. That is that nobody in the world can stop Joel Embiid. At any given moment, the Sixers can stack up against any other team defensively, and they will, but vice versa there is no team that can ever match what Embiid brings to the table. The league’s MVP has come back from his injury without missing a beat, and anytime he plays, this team has a real chance of winning. As a younger person, I have never experienced a player this dominant on my favorite team, and Joel Embiid can actually carry the offensive load for this team in any game that he has to. Along with that, his dominance has gone so far that he has started to make all of his teammates significantly better.
Teams have to double Joel and his ability to space the floor while also having immense gravity in the post has not only made the shooters better but also Ben and Tobias. Those two reap the benefits of Joel more than any other player in the rotation because it allows them to attack space and mismatches with ease, and creates a lot of favorable one on one matchups. It seems taboo to have three post-up players, let alone for it to actually work. The bully ball style offense and overbearing defense have made this team incredibly unique, and the cherry on top of it all is that they have the best player in the world playing center for them as well.
The Sixers are title contenders, and they haven’t even peaked yet. With the Holy Trinity ramping up to full speed, and the bench being supplemented with George Hill, this team is not one that I would want to see in the playoffs. As the game slows down in the postseason, the ground and pound play of Philadelphia is only highlighted in that setting. Between Harris and Embiid, there are plenty of tough, grown man buckets to be handed out. With Simmons taking charge and pushing the pace there is a variety of attacks that many teams are not prepared for, and a laundry list of ways to create advantages. So, listen, I’m not saying that the 76ers are guaranteed Eastern Conference Champions, but if you aren’t taking them seriously, then you’re sorely mistaken.