The Philadelphia 76ers had high hopes of becoming championship contenders heading into the 2019-2020 NBA season. With a focus on becoming a defensive powerhouse, the Sixers' old front office neglected the need for shooters to put around Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons.
Spacing was an issue last year. The lack of space surrounding Embiid and Simmons frustrated the two young All-Stars throughout the year. As the season went on, the entire Sixers locker room grew frustrated and there was a lack of accountability from the front office, to the coaching staff, down to the players.
After getting swept in the first round of the playoffs, the Sixers practically cleaned house in the front office. They also fired head coach Brett Brown and replaced him with Doc Rivers. With Rivers and Daryl Morey getting a call on Philly's personnel decisions, the Sixers finally added some shooters.
Just like that, the 76ers look reborn. Through six games this year, they're first in the Eastern Conference with a 5-1 record. Joel Embiid, who look disinterested at times last year, looks like he's back to being all-in on the Sixers.
Tobias Harris, who took a lot of heat last season due to his contract numbers, is beginning to live up to the expectations that got brought on when he signed a max deal. So, what's the difference this season? Sixers All-Star Ben Simmons explained.
"I think [shooting] definitely is a huge part," Simmons said as he attributes the offseason upgrades in the shooting department as a reason why they're playing much better this season. "It's also everybody buying into this system. You know, when you have everybody holding each other accountable defensively first, then offensively is tough. You want to come out here and do well for your teammates every possession."
It's been said plenty of times that the Sixers will only go as far as their two young stars take them. Well, it seems Simmons has been listening. "We got to be leaders, starting with myself, Joel, [and] Tobias," Simmons continued. "Then we got guys like Danny Green and Seth [Curry], who just came to the team. We're trying to build the right culture around here. That's being competitive, moving the ball, and playing as a team."
Ben Simmons and the 76ers are on the right path to becoming contenders so far this season. Now, it's up to the team to sustain their solid chemistry and keep playing the way they are as the season progresses.
Justin Grasso covers the Philadelphia 76ers for Sports Illustrated. You can follow him on Twitter: @JGrasso_