With Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid as the franchise cornerstones, the Philadelphia 76ers have long been the sleeping giant in the Eastern Conference.
Outside of the two superstars, the Sixers roster has been a constant turnstile, with the franchise seemingly chasing its tail in search of the right mix. A first-round exit in the 2020 postseason may have been the last straw, with the services of Doc Rivers and Daryl Morey acquired for the head coach and President of Basketball Operations posts respectively.
The moves signalled a stabilisation of a team that has undergone one of the most discussed rebuilds in sports history, and 2021 looms as a critical season as the pressure for the duo to become a true contender amplifies.
Simmons, in particular, remains a polarising figure among fans, with his deficiencies often overshadowing his elite talent in other areas of the game.
In what could only be described as a Mick Foley level cheap pop for Sixers fans, newly acquired Sixers big man, Dwight Howard described Simmons as a "young LeBron" in his introductory press conference earlier this week.
At 24 years of age, Simmons has not come close to showing the ability to carry an NBA franchise on his own as LeBron had at the same point, though, it must be said that Philadelphia have done him no favours with roster construction over his short career.
Arguably the best stretch of Simmons' career came late in the 2018 season.
With the Sixers heading to their first postseason since 2012, the roster was bolstered in the buyout market by the additions of Ersan Ilyasova and Marco Belinelli. Led by Simmons, Philly rattled off a blistering 20-3 record across the remaining regular-season schedule with the Australian causing chaos in transition for opposition defences.
Averaging 13.7 points, 9.3 rebounds and 10.1 assists in the stretch, Simmons was at his destructive best.
The mere threat of Ilyasova, Belinelli and the deadly J.J Redick allowed Simmons to push the tempo and create. Exploding to the basket to finish or drawing a crowd in the paint and kicking it out to the plethora of shooters on the roster, the Sixers looked irresistible. With this in mind, it should come as no surprise he was able to hit 72.1 percent (109-for-150) of his shots within five feet of the basket.
At the time this felt like a light bulb moment at the tail end of an impressive rookie campaign, and while the Sixers were ultimately eliminated in the second round by the Boston Celtics, the blueprint had been set....or so we thought.
Fast forward to the eve of the 2021 season and it feels like the Sixers have once again found the path to success, adding a number of quality shooting options to the roster.
The acquisition of Seth Curry from Dallas via trade is one of the more underrated moves of the offseason period. Sneaking under the radar amidst the draft night chaos, Curry comes in as one of the most deadly shooters in the league.
300+ 3PA at 42% or higher during 2019-20 regular season
As shown in the table above, Curry joins a group of just five players to attempt greater than 300 triples and connect at 42 percent or higher -- it is quite ironic that Redick tops the list by the way. It also should be noted that Sixers guard, Furkan Korkmaz attempted 356 triples at 40.2 percent last season, also an elite mark.
Perhaps even more relevant for the former Mavericks' partnership with Simmons is the simply-scorching 48.1 percent mark he registered on catch-and-shoot opportunities a season ago. Curry isn't simply a shooter you have to be aware of as an opposition defence, you have to be on RED ALERT.
According to NBA.com, Curry hit just 28.6 percent of his pull up attempts from deep. While he can both shoot from stationary positions and on the move, he's not the type of player who is going to break down a defender and pull up from range. An excellent off-ball player, Curry will thrive alongside Simmons, utilising the gravity of the All-Star playmaker to find open looks.
NBA 2019-20 regular season 3-point assist leaders (via PBP Stats)
|Total assists||3P Assists||% of total assists 3P|
In addition to Curry, the Sixers acquired veteran marksman Danny Green via trade, while also signing Aussie Ryan Broekhoff to further bolster the shooting depth off the bench.
While the loss of Jimmy Butler drew most of the media attention throughout the sputtering 2020 season, moving on from Redick was arguably as catastrophic. Averaging just 31.6 3-point attempts per game, Philadelphia ranked 21st in the category. With an odd mix of average and reluctant shooters, Al Horford, Tobias Harris, Embiid and Simmons struggled to find the right mix.
The Sixers don't quite have the same depth of shooting that they did in that scorching run to the playoffs in 2018, but they are back on the right path and in a wide-open Eastern Conference with no clear frontrunner, that could be enough to get them over the hump.
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