It’s been a while since you could feel this confident. Sure, a lot of what “could be” surrounded the past three seasons that portrayed the role of optimist. Oh, on paper this defense might be the league’s best. Yes, perimeter shooting will unlock he who shall not be named. Finally, a legitimate perennial All-NBA guy to pair with the franchise star. Three consecutive seasons since the best Sixers team in decades lost to the Toronto Raptors in the most improbable way.
Now, there’s a best new Sixers team in decades. It’s not hyperbolic to say this is the most important season in franchise history. Joel Embiid needs it. James Harden, too. The excuses have been exhausted.
Last postseason, they lacked two-way wings. Two postseasons ago, well we don’t need to go there. Three postseasons ago, the team didn’t make much sense at all, failing to be a legitimate title threat in a lost season.
With the additions of PJ Tucker, De’Anthony Melton, Danuel House, and Montrezl Harrell, the absurd seemingly never-ending development of Tyrese Maxey, and the emerged willingness to let it fly from Tobias Harris, it’s up to Embiid and Harden.
No matter what they do in the regular season, the conversation around Philly’s two most high-profile players won’t change. It’ll take advancing to the conference finals at minimum for the chatter to diminish. The thinking behind many experts opinion of this team’s NBA Finals chances hangs on Maxey actually being the second-best offensive scorer with Harden demanding the role of true facilitator, but if the Sixers have any desire to win it all, it’s Harden who needs to deliver in key moments. He’ll be the one with the ball. He’ll be the one with the opportunity to break down a big man off a switch. Will he have the burst? The lift? Maxey makes Harden’s life a little easier. That’s the truth, but Harden can’t vanish like he has in big moments before.
Maxey seems to be the gift that keeps on giving. The 2020 season couldn’t have gone any worse for the Sixers. But the silver lining will always be it’s how Maxey became a Sixer, and it’s one of the three most important things to happen to this franchise (that’s a made-up number but in all seriousness where is this team without him?) The energy he brings is contagious. Against the Cavaliers this preseason, Caris LeVert blocked Maxey on a fastbreak, and I swear that’s the first time that’s ever happened. So many times last year Maxey scoring in transition proved to be viable offense. Adding to his scoring repertoire appears to be a foregone conclusion each year because this dude lives in the gym. He clearly added muscle this offseason, too, so maybe his defense improves during the postseason since that’s another big question surrounding the Sixers: how will they defend with Maxey and Harden in the backcourt?
Watching Embiid play basketball has been an absolute joy. He routinely adds to his game each offseason and, following the second-round loss to the Miami, it wouldn’t be a surprise if there’s a specific focus on how Embiid attacks the ultra-aggressive nature that Miami, in particular Bam Adebayo, deploys. Toronto, Boston, and other top defenses will handle Embiid similarly, too. Getting to his spots obviously increases in difficulty as the season deepens, but matchups such as tonight in Boston and then back-to-back games at Toronto in a week will be a great test for Embiid off the jump. After back-to-back failed MVP runs, it wouldn’t be a shock to see Embiid take it easier in the regular season, hoping to maintain his health for the postseason. Freak injuries have been most of the cause for Embiid’s playoff issues—but no matter how they happened, the fact is they continue to happen. So, ensure his health remains the goal of the regular season.
There’s not much more to say. It’s exciting to have NBA back as a whole. Last year, so many big names missed chunks or the entire season. Despite every team at full strength, the Sixers have as good of a shot as any team to win it all. And that’s all you can want.