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The Roar



The Sixers' time is now

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Roar Guru
29th January, 2023

30.7 seconds left on the clock. Joel Embiid releases a step back three over his positional arch nemesis Nikola Jokic. The ball goes in, and a crowd erupts in South Philadelphia. The on-court interviews rave about the seven-game win streak and 20 wins from the last 24, but this Saturday night win is of singular importance to the Sixers.

Having been down multiple double digit deficits in the game, Philadelphia managed to rally around their big man to get a statement win (final score of 126-119); keeping them right on the tail of their historic rival, the Boston Celtics, for the top seed in the East.

The win exemplified the 76ers season, as the in-game deficits embodied the injuries to their big three in Embiid (missed 12 games), James Harden (missed 16 games) and Tyrese Maxey (missed 19 games). Despite these setbacks, the Sixers have a record of 32-16 and are primed for a deep playoff run.

To break down this Sixers season, let’s start with an outlook on the roster. Offseason acquisitions in PJ Tucker, Danuel House Jr. and Montrezl Harrell added a tougher skin to a Sixers roster that had its manhood questioned in recent years.

Yet, the most pivotal move by GM Daryl Morey was a trade with the Memphis Grizzlies for two-guard De’Anthony Melton.

The 24-year-old has supplanted young star Tyrese Maxey as the starter beside Harden due to his exceptional defensive support, lending the Sixers a 109-defensive rating (almost six points better than league average!) when he is on the court.

Surrounding generational talents in Embiid and Harden, and fantastic role players in Maxey and Tobias Harris, with hard-nosed defenders, Daryl Morey may have constructed the best roster in his career as a GM.

On offense, Philadelphia owns the fifth best offensive rating currently (116.9 a franchise record). A balanced roster has translated to a balanced attack. Iso ball around Embiid and Harden, check. Pick and roll/pop, check. Off ball spot up shooting, check.

INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA - APRIL 05: Joel Embiid #21 and James Harden #1 of the Philadelphia 76ers meet in the fourth quarter against the Indiana Pacers at Gainbridge Fieldhouse on April 05, 2022 in Indianapolis, Indiana. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

(Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

They are top five in each respective style from a points per possession standpoint. Their 4th best rating in half-court points per possession (1.07 PPP) along with a 97-pace rating should encourage those who question whether this offense will translate to postseason success, as the game slows down and becomes more a game of half-court strategizing.

Seven of their key rotation players shoot above league average from beyond the arc, and when paired with one of the most dominant interior forces in the 21st century in Embiid, Philadelphia’s offence is downright terrifying for opponents to scheme against.

On the other end of the floor, the Sixers have the seventh best defensive rating (112.8). This combination of having a top ten offense and defence bodes well, as most NBA champions have had to follow suit in both categories.

The key weaknesses of this defence lie in point of attack guard defence when both Harden and Maxey are on the court as well as securing defensive boards to stop second chance opportunities.

MIAMI, FLORIDA - MAY 04: James Harden #1 of the Philadelphia 76ers reacts against the Miami Heat during the second half in Game Two of the Eastern Conference Semifinals at FTX Arena on May 04, 2022 in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

(Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

To combat this, coach Doc Rivers has experimented with three-guard line-ups to enable Melton to meet the ball carrier at the top of the key, whilst trying to hide Harden and Maxey on corner threats. The Sixers have also implemented a lot of 2-3 zone this season to be able to crowd the paint and position three players on the block, creating positional rebounding opportunities.


With the high skill level on three-point shot making in today’s game, taking away wide open looks from the arc is of paramount importance. The Sixers hover right about league average regarding these types of looks at 16.4 open attempts a game.

Doc’s scheme allowing this number of open looks accentuates the strength of the Sixers defence as there is not a huge disparity between defensive rating being influenced in a luck-based manner by open three point attempts (look to Cleveland’s league best defensive rating despite allowing the 5th most open threes a game).

Rim protection is key in the playoffs and whilst Embiid is one factor in this area of the defence, Melton and defensive wing Matisse Thybulle also offer different threats to opposition drives. The malleability of this defence is the stalwart of this season’s team; their comfortability in several different defensive schemes creates very few easy buckets.

The most fundamental aspect to a team with championship aspirations is having a dominant MVP calibre player on the roster. The Sixers have this in their Cameroonian big man, Embiid.

After failing to move past the conference semi-finals in four of five playoff runs, Embiid is now leading the league in points per game (33.75) and is truly in his prime. A preeminent talent on both ends of the floor, the Sixers will go as far as he can take them.

James Harden holds the ball

James Harden is struggling to recapture his best form. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

Looking to other historic big men of the past, it took Moses Malone six playoff runs to attain a ring. For Shaquille O’Neale, seven. For David Robinson, eight. For Hakeem Olajuwon, nine. Even his Eastern Conference counterpart Giannis Antetokounmpo, six playoff runs. This year will be Embiid’s sixth playoff run and history is calling his name to cement himself as one of the elite centres to have graced the wooden courts of the NBA.


In support is a former MVP in James Harden. An all-time scorer, Harden has replaced the scoring volume of his Houston days with playmaking mastery that matches some of the all-time greats. His passer rating (a statistic attempting to measure a player’s passing ability out of 10) of 9.3 exceeds his own previous career best as well as top Chris Paul, Lebron James and John Stockton seasons.

Pair this with a league leading 17.1 box creation rating (a statistic that estimates the number of open shots created for teammates per 100 possessions) and you’re pairing an extraordinary playmaker with an outstanding scorer. Sounds like a recipe for success, no?

As with any title chasing season, you can point to certain caveats or potential drawbacks. What if one of the key stars gets injured? What if Doc Rivers or James Harden author another historic playoff meltdown? What if the standard of the East is too great to surmount? To those questions only time will tell.

What is evident is that the city of Philadelphia is in the middle of a sensational sport run. The Phillies made the World Series and the Eagles are on the verge of another Super Bowl appearance. Perhaps the Sixers are due to match their neighbouring franchises? After all, it is the NBA’s 76th season.