In addition to being perennial Finals competitors, the Philadelphia 76ers boast one of the league’s most star-studded lineups in James Harden, Joel Embiid, and rising guard Tyrese Maxey.
Harden is a former MVP whose playmaking should complement Embiid’s game. Embiid, for his part, is a yearly MVP candidate who became the first center since Shaquille O’Neal to win the scoring title last season. And then there’s Maxey, who might be a third-year steal after shooting the lights out of the ball from three last season.
Add in Tobias Harris and PJ Tucker to round out the starting five, as well as solid depth in Georges Niang, De’Anthony Melton, Montrezl Harrell, and Matisse Thybulle, and this Sixers team looks loaded.
But for all that star power, the Sixers have yet to make it past the second round of the playoffs since Allen Iverson was leading the charge. But according to Greg Swartz of Bleacher Report, there is a strong case to be made that the Sixers are legitimate Finals contenders. But at the same time, the team’s volatility and injury history could make them merely “pretenders” with “blowup potential.”
The Case Against the 76ers Contending for the Championship
If Philadelphia does find itself in real contention next season, it will likely be because their stars are performing well. But the team’s hopes could also be dashed by poor play from those same players. Embiid could miss time with injury and some of Harden’s best playoff moments have come with him off the floor.
And, as Swartz pointed out, let’s not forget about head coach Doc Rivers, who has his own checkered history during the postseason.
“Between some of Harden’s playoff meltdowns, Doc Rivers’ recent postseason coaching and Embiid’s injury history, there’s a lot of blowup potential here,” wrote Swartz.
“Harden also shot just 40.2 percent overall in the regular season with Philadelphia and 40.5 percent in the playoffs, and at 33, he is far from the offensive force he was even a few years ago. Still an elite playmaker, Harden will have to keep taking a step back and let players like Embiid and Maxey take on primary scoring roles.”
But Sixers boss Daryl Morey didn’t spend the summer and last trade deadline putting together a team with “blowup potential.” That’s why, even with some volatility in the lineup and on the sidelines, the Sixers were still given the ultimate vote of confidence from Swartz.
Philadelphia is ‘Definitely’ a Contender Next Season
If everything goes according to plan, then Philadelphia should see themselves once again in a place competing for the Larry O’Brien Trophy, according to Swartz.
“Daryl Morey did an excellent job of turning Ben Simmons into Harden and now filling out the roster around his stars. If Embiid is healthy come playoff time, these Sixers are definitely contenders,” Swartz concluded.
But Swartz did throw in a caveat above: if Embiid is healthy. And that’s no small ask. Last year, the Sixers looked like the favorites in the Eastern Conference after swiftly taking care of the Toronto Raptors.
But after Embiid suffered a facial fracture against Toronto, the Sixers entered a winnable series against the Heat without their talisman. Philadelphia looked utterly lost without Embiid, and by the time he returned, the series was largely already lost. But it was that tantalyzing pre-injury play from Philadelphia that has analysts believing in this team.