After Philly's blazing start to the season, it was easy to assume The Process was over. But after dropping 10 of their last 14 games, the 76ers have very much returned to Earth. Did NBA fans and analysts jump the gun on declaring the Sixers as a potential threat this season?
In the latest episode of the Open Floor podcast, Andrew Sharp and Ben Golliver open their mailbag and discuss the 76ers' recent struggles and examine what's been plaguing them of late. The two dive into Joel Embiid's impact and absence, Ben Simmons's ability to carry a team by himself and the complementary parts that make the Sixers click.
To listen to the full episode, subscribe to the Open Floor podcast on iTunes here. Sharp and Golliver also touch on the Rockets' reality check, DeMar DeRozan's recent explosion and the NBA's most depressing arenas.
(The following transcript has been edited and condensed for clarity).
Andrew Sharp: Let’s examine the 76ers. One of our readers asks, “A couple of months ago, I tried to troll ‘Enemy of The Process’ Sharp by asking Golliver to take a long, advanced stats look at the Sixers’ success. Today, I ask the same question again, but to understand what’s gone wrong. So what do you think?
Ben Golliver: It’s not an advanced stats question. It comes down to Joel Embiid’s minutes played. If Embiid plays 27 minutes or fewer this season, the Sixers are 4–11. That’s as clear as it gets. If he’s on the court, they win games at a 70% clip. If he’s off, they basically lose no matter what. And that absolutely factors into the perception of a guy like Ben Simmons. Look at the drop off when Embiid is not on the court—what is one player supposed to do, much less a rookie? It’s massive. When you are looking at overall impact and contributions, again, I understand why you love Donovan Mitchell, but come on. There’s still a very large gap there. If Philly is going to make the playoffs, Embiid has to be on the court. It’s as simple as that.
Sharp: Wait, wait, wait. I think there’s a gap between Ben Simmons’s ceiling and Donovan Mitchell’s ceiling, but I think right now that Donovan Mitchell might be more productive than Ben Simmons.
Golliver: Because you love his volume scoring and you don’t value anything else about basketball? We don’t need to have this same argument, come on.
Sharp: [Laughs] OK, you’re right we don’t need to have the same argument again. I think there are two things to watch with the 76ers. That stat is incredible with Embiid. But I think we've seen two major factors lead to Philly's regression. Number one, that first month when the 76ers really did look like a scary playoff team, Robert Covington was shooting the lights out. He looked incredible and he looked like he was turning the corner. Then they signed him to that deal and it looked like the biggest steal in the NBA. But since then, his shooting has fallen majorly and he’s sort of regressed to where he’s always been, which is like mid-30s from three, and he’s had several games where’s he 4-of-12 or 3-of-13 and that’s kind of been his normal over the last couple of years and now it’s coming back. So it comes at a time, especially with Embiid out, when they really need somebody to score. And the second thing is, I just don’t think we realize how ordinary this Sixers team is if you take Embiid off the court. JerrydBayless, J.J. Redick, Amir Johnson, Richaun Holmes—this could be one of the three worst teams in the league without Embiid there. And the only thing that sort of confuses people is Simmons, and after all the hype he got in that first month and how great he looked at various points. People think of Simmons as a tent pole star, but he’s really not there yet. So he makes the roster look better, but the roster is still pretty overmatched and really has no business making the playoffs when Embiid’s not out there.
Golliver: Yeah, they are not a playoff team at all if Embiid’s not out there. To me, Simmons without Embiid is sort of in that Devin Booker in Phoenix territory, where all the shambles around him are just too overwhelming and there’s only so much one man can do. He’s still young and figuring things out.
Sharp: Well, it’s not just that. That team needs scoring and that’s the one thing he can’t really do. They need a go-to-guy when Embiid isn’t there, and if you’re running the offense through Simmons, he’s still fairly limited.
Golliver: He’s still averaging 16 points per game, come on. He’s not that far off from Donovan Mitchell, who you think is the second coming. Look, he’s a significantly better playmaker than Donovan Mitchell and Mitchell is a minus-defender, so I think that gap is pretty big.
Sharp: That’s true, Simmons’s defense has been pretty great.
Golliver: So I’m not here to blame anything on Robert Covington. We did talk about how his three-point shooting would regress to the mean, there’s no doubt about it. But he’s still there with Embiid in terms of on/off impact. If you take him off the court things get really ugly. So it speaks to their lack of depth outside of their top 4-5 guys.
Sharp: Yeah, their bench is pretty rough too.
Golliver: If we jumped the gun on Philly as a playoff team, I’m not sure we should apologize for that. Embiid has been fairly healthy and he’s been an even bigger impact guy than we could have expected coming into the season. If he maintains his current level of availability I still think they’re going to sneak into the playoffs with some other teams coming back to Earth. And I think Simmons is more likely to avoid the rookie wall because he’s slightly older than other rookies, as you love to point out. And also physically he’s just very strong and built for the pounding. So to me, it’s not panic time. But in terms of other statistical things, the turnovers are out of control. They have to figure it out. Especially Embiid, he’s got to get this done. Simmons is going to commit a certain amount of turnovers, but we’re at the point with Embiid where he’s missed so much time and he’s still getting acclimated to games, and he’s so assertive both on and off the court frankly, they’ve got to dial some of that back because they give up a large amount of points every single night just due to sloppiness.
Sharp: Yeah, absolutely. That was one thing we need was going to be an issue coming into the season because they’re just a really young team. And you’re right about Embiid, he has a lot of sloppy moments out there, but the Sixers are right on track for about what we expected coming in. And I should add, in fairness, despite my jokes about Ben Simmons peaking in high school, Donovan Mitchell is the same age as Simmons—he just stayed longer in college.
Golliver: Yeah, Kyle Kuzma is old too. So there is a warping effect which, unfortunately, brings us back to our most hated position, which is: You’ve really got to give Jayson Tatum credit for what he’s doing out there as a 19-year-old!
Sharp: [Laughs] It is kind of crazy! And the 76ers man, I’m not going to apologize for buying into them after that first month because when they’re good, and everyone is healthy, they are scary. Particularly when Covington is making shots. I know you don’t want to overplay that too much, but he sort of is the X-factor when I watch them.
Golliver: And that’s how it should be, right? You have your stars in place, and then you live and die with guys like Redick and Covington making their threes. Then your offense is clicking and your smacking teams and that’s what it should look like.
Subscribe on iTunes to listen to more episodes of the Open Floor podcast.