The incredible is happening, and the Philadelphia 76ers, surging on the wings of the Joel Embiid phenomenon, are actually being mentioned as a potential playoff team.
The Sixers are still 13th in the East, but at 15-26 and most importantly winning 8 of their last 10 games, there’s no longer talk of tanking and battling to avoid finishing at the bottom of the NBA. They are 4.5 games behind the 8th spot in the East, which doesn’t sound too lucrative for most teams, but for the Sixers to be in this position halfway through the season is incredible. Not because of their roster which isn’t half bad, but because of the last three seasons, which have been horrendous.
Attribute it to the Embiid effect or simply Brett Brown being allowed to coach for the first time since being hired, the Sixers are playing well and are fun to watch, and not just for their fans and their hopes of one day being relevant in a good way again. They still have the worst offense in the NBA, but their defense makes up for it, and the thought that you’re seeing something special in the making helps too.
Embiid is a phenom, a lock to win rookie of the year and perhaps even an All-NBA team when the season is over. He looks like the most complete center we’ve had in this league for a very long time. It’s not just his 19.8 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game in under 26 minutes a night. It’s his fun personality, it’s the star quality, and it’s for being the person who makes this team interesting and fun to watch after such a long time of hovering around rock bottom.
Ersan Ilyasova is playing well, Robert Covington is bouncing back from a tough start, Dario Saric will be a very good player once he starts making shots (shooting just 37.7% from the field) and adjusts to American basketball. The Sixers aren’t a team filled with All-Stars, but they have one more than they’ve had in three or four years, while the depth issue is finally being managed. Nik Stauskas, Gerald Henderson, Sergio Rodriguez and even T.J. McConnell. No one is telling Brown to lose on purpose (or pull out his better players early), and it’s almost shocking to find out he does have good players to work with.
Whether it’s due to the process and the sacrifice of Sam Hinkie, or perhaps putting a solid team around a rising star, or just Embiid on his own, the Sixers finally seem to be moving upwards instead of treading water in the hope of a better future. Actually making the playoffs this season will be incredibly difficult and probably a tad impractical. However, there’s hope in the city of brotherly love when it comes to its basketball team. This isn’t close to the sensation around the basketball team when Allen Iverson was donning the team’s jersey, but finally letting Embiid loose and getting Ben Simmons back from injury could get them to a point that’s very close. Maybe just becoming relevant again, playoff or no, is good enough when they’ve been historically bad for so long.