The over/unders when the season began were in. There was real optimism about the Sixers. Some thought, the optimism had gone too far with many experts questioning whether the Sixers could hit 42.5 wins and whether Joel Embiid could stay healthy long enough to make a difference. They also wondered about Ben Simmons and whether he’d be as good as advertised. Early in the year, Markelle Fultz looked to be a lost cause and unlikely to contribute this season. Things were looking like they were heading up, but perhaps not as quickly as originally anticipated.
Fast forward a few months and the Sixers are now on a huge win streak (doing so without Embiid who is hurt but expected back for the playoffs), have guaranteed at least home court in the first round, Ben Simmons is an absolute stud, Markelle Fultz has made his return, and see a path to the conference finals with a matchup against either the Cavs or the Raptors with the Celtics limping into the playoffs.
The question remains, can the young Sixers keep the process going in the playoffs? Or are they destined to be like most young teams, a year or two away. What they have going for them is some pretty solid veteran leadership. JJ Redick has yet to miss the playoffs in his career, the two Hawks pick ups near the end of the year, Ersan Ilyasova and Marco Belinelli add some toughness, and despite Amir Johnson only being 30 years old, it feels like he’s been in the league for 20 years. These aren’t the Sixers that were Embiid and filler last season, they’ve gelled together in a way that some saw coming, but most assumed would not be this season.
The drawback is that in the playoffs, things change. Games get tighter, strategies become more shrewd. Teams know Ben Simmons has difficulty shooting from the outside and even the free throw line, so they may force him to play more to his weaknesses than his strengths. Teams can play to Joel Embiid’s ego and force him to shoot the ball from 3, despite him only being a 30.8% 3 point shooter, which is only 0.3% better than much criticized Lonzo Ball.
The Sixers have trusted the process thus far and it has taken them further in a quicker amount of time than almost anyone has anticipated. For them to continue this into the playoffs, they’ll need to continue to play at that high level. Opponents will do everything they can to poke at the holes in the Sixers’ game. The Sixers are too young and inexperienced to make any real noise in the playoffs, but this team may just be too young and naive to know any better.