The Philadelphia 76ers made big organizational changes after being swept by the Boston Celtics in the first round of the 2019-20 NBA season. The team fired Brett Brown after failing to meet expectations and hired Doc Rivers in his place. Former Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey was named President of Basketball Operations. Philadelphia also made several changes to its roster. Seth Curry and Danny Green were acquired in two separate trades and Dwight Howard signed as a free agent. The 76ers finished were a better team after these moves and finished with the best record in the Eastern Conference. Unfortunately, they stumbled in the playoffs again.
After defeating the Washington Wizards in the first round, the 76ers were upset by the fifth-seeded Atlanta Hawks in the second round. Even more devastating, Philadelphia lost Game 7 at home. With a record number of stars missing games due to injuries this postseason, this was a golden opportunity for them make a title run. Instead, the 76ers are entering the offseason questioning whether or not “the process” will ever be complete.
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Before their disappointing playoff exit, the 76ers looked like one of the best teams in the NBA. The additions of Green and Curry paid off dividends. They presented the Sixers with more floor spacing than in previous years. Their perimeter shooting paired with Joel Embiid’s dominance in the paint gave the team the perfect combination on offense. Rivers made it a point of emphasis for Embiid to play more in the paint this season. That resulted in the big man exceeding career marks in multiple categories. Embiid attempted a career-high 10.7 free throws per game, averaged a career-high 28.5 points per game, and shot a career-high 51.3 percent from the field. Philadelphia finally found the right pieces to complement their star.
As good as the 76ers were offensively, the team was built on defense. Philadelphia ranked second in defensive rating and sixth in points allowed per game. Ben Simmons spearheaded the charge. Simmons was a first-team All-Defense selection and finished second in the Defensive Player of the Year voting. Green, Matisse Thybulle, Howard, and Embiid all played huge roles in the 76ers’ defensive dominance, too. Simmons, Green, and Thybulle smothered the opposing team’s perimeter players. Embiid and Howard’s rim protection and ability to switch onto smaller defenders made them one of the most versatile teams in the NBA on that end of the floor. Philadelphia was a complete team on both sides of the ball this season, that’s why their loss to the Hawks was so surprising.
Team Award Winners
MVP – Joel Embiid
Embiid is clearly the 76ers Most Valuable player. His impact cannot be replaced and the team struggles without him in the lineup. Their record was 10-11 in games without him patrolling the paint. He is not only their best player, but he is also the heart and soul of the team. His teammates feed off his energy and his dominance makes the game easier for everyone. Embiid forces double-teams and often gets opponents into foul trouble. He took a step forward this season and had the best of his career. The All-Star finished second in MVP voting, made the All-NBA second team and the NBA All-Defensive second team. The 76ers may have fallen short of the ultimate goal, but Embiid had a fantastic season.
Defensive Player Of The Year – Ben Simmons
In the playoffs, Simmons’ defensive prowess was on full display. He made Trae Young work for every basket and Young ended the series shooting 39 percent from the field and 32 percent from three. The Hawks won the series, but Simmons showed the rare ability to completely neutralize a star offensive player. He was a menace on the defensive side of the ball all season, finishing second in voting for the NBA Defensive Player of the Year award and made the All-Defensive first team. He ranked near the top of the league in multiple categories. Simmons’ 106.1 defensive rating was tied for fourth in the NBA. His 3.5 deflections per game was tied for third and his 3.3 defensive win shares tied for sixth, while he finished fifth in steals with 1.6 per contest.
Sixth Man Of The Year – Shake Milton
Thybulle and Milton were both key pieces off the bench for the 76ers this season but Milton’s offensive output gives him the edge. Milton plays with incredible confidence and his energy often served as a spark plug for the team. The guard was the team’s fourth-leading scorer at 13 points per game despite averaging just 23 minutes on the court. He saw his playing time decrease in the playoffs, but performed whenever Rivers decided to call on him. Milton had a big-time performance in Game 2 against the Hawks, scoring 14 second-half points. His energy rubbed off on his teammates and the game ended in a blowout. He is the most under-appreciated player on the roster.
Biggest Surprise – Seth Curry
Curry was one of the most efficient three-point shooters in the NBA this season. He ranked sixth in the NBA in three-point field goal percentage at 45 percent. Curry’s regular season was not surprising, the playoffs are where he exceeded expectations. After averaging 12.5 points per game during the season, Curry jumped up to 18.8 points per game in the playoffs. His three-point percentage went from 45 percent to 50.6 percent. In the second round against Atlanta, Curry averaged 21.4 points per game and shot 59.6 percent from three. He was their second-leading scorer during the series. If Curry can build on his strong postseason, the Sixers will be a very dangerous team next season.
Biggest Disappointment – Doc Rivers
Former 76ers coach Brett Brown was fired because the organization felt like he was not maximizing the talent on the roster. Rivers was brought in to cure the team’s playoff woes. After losing a Game 7 at home to the fifth-seeded Hawks, Philly may be wondering if Rivers was the right hire. Rivers is a good coach, but he has a habit of underachieving with talented rosters. The Los Angeles Clippers moved on from him for this very reason. To Rivers’ credit, the 76ers did look like a much better team during the regular season but they completely unraveled in the playoffs. Embiid’s health played a part, but the team blew multiple double-digit leads and that falls largely on coaching. Rivers is an upgrade from Brown, but is he the coach that will get them over that postseason hurdle?
The 76ers are facing many questions after their premature exit in the playoffs. The biggest question is whether or not this team can win a championship with Simmons at point guard. Against the Hawks, Simmons was almost non-existent on the offensive end. He had single-digit scoring outings four times during the seven-game series. Simmons failed to score in double-digits in each of the final three games. He shot 34.2 percent from the free throw line in the playoffs, the worst free-throw percentage in NBA history for a player who had at least 70 postseason attempts. Simmons averaged a career-low in both points (14.3) and field goal attempts (10.1) per game.
Simmons trade rumors will go on for the entire off-season after his playoff outing. Trading him will not be easy after his performance against the Hawks; his flaws were put under a magnifying glass during the series. The 76ers decided against trading Simmons for James Harden earlier in the season, so it is obvious that he is valued by the organization. It’s almost certain that they will not receive a player of Harden’s caliber in a Simmons trade after this postseason, so the team may have to move on with him.
Howard and Green are two key free agents for Philadelphia. Both bring gritty defense and veteran leadership. Green is still one of the better three-and-D players in the NBA, so it makes sense for the 76ers to bring him back. With Embiid being so injury-prone, having a backup center like Howard is important. The 35-year-old is still capable of playing great defense. Re-signing Howard would give Philadelphia the best backup center in the NBA. High-level role players are the key to every championship team, so it’s important for them to retain both players.
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