When The Athletic released its NBA Power Rankings last week, the Philadelphia 76ers placed just outside of the top ten. That was quite the drop for a team that placed first overall in the Eastern Conference at the end of the 2020-2021 regular season.
Perhaps, Ben Simmons' absence had something to do with that, which is understandable. When the Sixers started the season, they lacked a bit of juice and barely defeated average to below-average teams while losing to playoff contenders.
After last week, the narrative completely shifted. No Ben Simmons? No problem! Even without other key players, the Sixers completed a perfect week in the previous seven days. Last Monday, they defeated the Portland Trail Blazers without Simmons, Joel Embiid, and Tobias Harris.
On Wednesday, the Sixers beat the Chicago Bulls without Simmons, Harris, and Danny Green. Less than 24 hours later, Philly tipped off with the Detroit Pistons without Simmons, Harris, Green, and Furkan Korkmaz and picked up another win.
Then, the Sixers closed out their week by beating the Bulls a second time within a three-day span without Simmons, Harris, Green, Matisse Thybulle, and Isaiah Joe. At this point, the Sixers are alone at the top of the Eastern Conference once again.
Are they contenders in the eyes of The Athletic's Zach Harper? Not quite yet. But they have reached a probationary "brink of contention" status as they place No. 5 overall on The Athletic's latest NBA power rankings.
"So the All-NBA point guard/forward guy went away, and the Philadelphia 76ers have managed to be one of the top offenses in the league? In fact, the best offense in the league through the first three weeks of the season? Well, what do you know? That’s the case for the Sixers right now. The encouraging part of this is Joel Embiid hasn’t even been that good by his standards. And they’re this good. Seth Curry is shooting the lights out all over the floor and playing great basketball. Tyrese Maxey and Shake Milton have plugged in quite well at the lead guard positions. Wings are knocking down 3-pointers, and this is by far the best shot-making team in the NBA so far."
Will Ben Simmons play for the Sixers again? It's difficult to imagine the Simmons saga gets resolved anytime soon. Early on in the year, it seemed that the drama surrounding the Sixers might be too much of a distraction, and the void of Simmons' playmaking abilities and perimeter defense would cause Philly to take a major hit.
However, they've proven through ten games that's not the case. A lot can change over the course of a long, 82-game season, but the Sixers are playing some great basketball, and they don't seem to show any signs of slowing down anytime soon, no matter what obstacles get in their way.
Justin Grasso covers the Philadelphia 76ers for Sports Illustrated. You can follow him for live updates on Twitter: @JGrasso_.