Sixers Mailbag 2.0: Simmons Slump, Sixers Playoff Seeding, and More!
1.) Which Sixers role player do you think has improved the most this season?
If I had to pick a “Most Improved Player” overall, without a doubt Tobias Harris would take that award for obvious reasons. This question is great because it specifically focuses on bench players. One integral part of championship-caliber teams is the play of the bench, and there are a couple guys that certainly stand out on the Sixers bench. This is tough because not only do I think much of Doc’s second unit has improved, but they also all have very different strengths.
For me, it has to be Shake Milton. Milton is averaging just under fourteen points a game so far this season, which is five points higher than 2020. He’s also much more confident, taking four more shots a game on average than last year. Milton isn’t the best point guard, and sometimes struggles to run the offense in the second unit, but what gives him the edge over other guys is his ability to completely takeover games. Shake’s biggest strength is his ability to create his own shot on all three levels of the court. He can pull up from three, step into a mid-range off one or two dribbles, or go to the rack with confidence for a bucket. Milton has three games this season of twenty or more off the game, and nothing is more deflating than getting the Sixers starters out for rest, only to run into a hot Shake Milton that will blow a lead out of proportion for the Sixers.
2.) Is It Time to Start Worrying About Ben Simmons?
Ah yes, the most talked about player of the last five years for the Sixers, Ben Simmons. No matter how the Sixers are playing, Simmons finds a way to be a talking point in national media and the fanbase. It only gets worse when the Sixers start to sputter, and especially when Simmons falls into a slump. The first thing I’ll say is, no player will be playing at an elite level all season. Players have ups and downs in the regular seasons, it is just happens with this many games.
A majority of Simmons’ dip in play came on a long road trip, without his partner Joel Embiid on the court. Despite all of that, Simmons play since the All-Star break as a whole has been inconsistent and disappointing at times. His scoring has dropped, along with his field goal percentage, while his turnovers are up. Past the stats, Simmons continues to struggle with energy. Simmons will come up with an athletic steal and take it all the way down the court on his own for a dunk or and one layup one play, then the next time down fail to take advantage of Matthew Dellavedova guarding him in the post. There are going to be games where Simmons’ shots don’t fall, it is the nature of the sport.
As of late, Simmons infuriates me and other Sixers fans with his off and on energy. Especially on the offensive end in the half court. With Embiid back, I expect Simmons to step up his play with much of the offensive pressure on him taken away. If he still continues to struggle, I’ll begin to worry. For now, I want to see him play with his MVP center again.
3.) How Do You Expect the Second Unit to Change Once George Hill Returns?
With the latest news surrounding George Hill positive he’ll get into action soon, this is a very good question. Hill is a veteran guard with a ton of postseason experience. Most importantly, he is great at running an offense at the point guard position, something the Sixers second unit desperately needs. Shake Milton is best utilized as a shooting guard you kick out to or let isolate a defender one on one. With Hill entering the lineup, I think you can slot Milton back into that role. Dwight Howard is an obvious lock for center as the only other big guy on the roster.
Outside of that, things get murky. If Doc decides he still needs size out on the court, Mike Scott would stay out at power forward. From there I’d assume Rivers would decide between going offensive with Korkmaz or defensive with Thybulle. Personally, I don’t think Mike Scott deserves a roster spot on this team, and think the Sixers would be fine putting both Kork and Thybulle out there. Thybulle has certainly proven himself an elite defender, and I think he could handle his own playing the four. We’ll see who the Sixers manage to bring in as the buyout market comes to a close, but a lineup of Hill, Milton, Korkmaz, Thybulle and Howard would be a great second unit for the Sixers.
4.) Where Do You See the Sixers Finish in the East?
Currently the Sixers have the eighth easiest remaining schedule in the NBA. In their final stretch the Sixers will face off against the Nets, Suns, and Clippers once and the Bucks twice. Outside of that Philly holds multiple games against some of the worst teams in the NBA currently. Philly still has two games against both the Magic and Thunder on their schedule. Currently the Sixers sit only a half-game back from the Nets, who have a much tougher schedule ahead. I think that it is very likely the Sixers re-claim the top spot in the East by the end of the season, but need to take at least one game from the Bucks and the last game against the Nets.
5.) Which Team is a “Nightmare Scenario” for the Sixers in the First Round?
Currently, the Sixers most likely first round opponents are the Pacers, Bulls, Knicks and Celtics. Yes, there are four teams because of the play-in structure of this years playoffs. I think of all of those teams, the most dangerous one is without a doubt the Chicago Bulls. As of writing this, Zach Lavine just recorded a thirty-nine point first half, knocking down seven triples. Lavine can be streaky, but when this guy is on it is going to be difficult to beat the Bulls. What held Chicago back for the last couple years in my opinion was the lack of talent in the front court. With the trade for Nikola Vucevic, that problem is most certainly addressed. Pairing those two together has helped propel the Bulls into dangerous territory. I think any team that underestimates them going into a first round matchup may get punched in the mouth, especially if the Bulls just won the play-in games to make it there.
Mandatory Credit: NBC Sports Philadelphia, Philadelphia 76ers.