The 2021-22 season has been a season of inconsistency for the Philadelphia 76ers. The team are currently in the middle of one of their best streaks of the season, finishing a 3-0 roadtrip with a huge win over the Brooklyn Nets. However, the Sixers are only sixth in the Eastern Conference with an entirely average 19-16 record.
The first hectic months of the season, combined with the Ben simmons situation, has led to multiple questions regarding the 76ers both this season and long term. Should there be a change of coach? What is the real potential of this team this season and in the future?
Should Doc Rivers be in the hot seat?
When the 76ers first hired Doc Rivers ahead of the 2020-21 season, the move was seen as a home run by many. Rivers has underperformed so far during his one-and-a-half-year tenure in Philadelphia. His coaching abilities have fallen short, with the 76ers often overwhelmed in terms of game development and other in-game decisions.
Rivers, for the most part, repeatedly made the same mistakes while coaching the 76ers. He continues to mismanage team rotation, sending rosters to all benches that get killed instead of staggering his starters’ minutes to avoid units on all benches. In a team with better depth, all bench units might not be such a big issue. However, the 76ers don’t have a ton of depth in some positions and Rivers has to recognize that and manage the rotation around the strengths and weaknesses of his roster.
Poor turnover management is just one symptom of the main problem that plagues Rivers: stubbornness and a lack of creativity. The issues surrounding Rivers’ training in Philadelphia center on the inability (or unwillingness) to adapt and be creative. Lack of creativity manifests itself late in games when Rivers fails to prepare a good play after a time out or, again, when he fails to come up with different ways to stagger players’ minutes.
Hiding Ben Simmons in the dunker spot works due to his respective skills and lack of scoring ability. However, why is the team asking Tyrese Maxey to move at certain times this season? They are two completely different players who are used in the same way when playing off the ball.
Sixers need to work more urgently to give the ball to Joel when he has such a good position like this pic.twitter.com/fpgUwqusYl
– Jackson Frank (@jackfrank_jjf) December 2, 2021
The fact that Maxey is at the dunking post is just one example of an issue that is hindering ball spacing and off-ball movement for the 76ers. Far too often the spacing around Joel embiid when he puts the ball in the post consists of stationary players. Why aren’t Rivers and the rest of the coaching staff making an effort to fix this easily fixable issue? When Embiid puts the ball into the post, everyone has to move and put pressure on the defense rather than stagnating and letting the opposing defense crumble around the paint.
Rivers really deserves to be in the hot seat. However, his stature in the NBA and the five-year contract he signed to coach the 76ers will allow him to have a much longer leash than a single season and a few changes.
What is the 76ers’ real potential for this season and for the future?
The 76ers were once, and perhaps still are, one of the best teams in the NBA. They had Joel Embiid, a true dominant superstar player, to go with another All-Star in the form of Ben Simmons and a good third option in Tobias Harris. However, last season’s horrific playoff loss to the Atlanta Hawks and the ensuing fallout around Simmons took the team down.
Results so far this season show the 76ers are an average team without Simmons in the lineup. At this point, it seems the only result – whenever it happens – of Simmons’ situation is to trade him. General manager Daryl morey has yet to pull the trigger on a deal involving Simmons, but rumors continue to circulate around the return of any trade involving the disgruntled All-Star.
Teams in the league are all aware of the glaring shortcomings of Simmons’ game (lack of aggressiveness and scoring ability, no threat to space the floor). As a result, no team has yet wanted to give the Sixers what they really want in return: a Top 25 player. To compete with teams like the Nets, Warriors, Suns and Bucks, the 76ers will clearly need to add another top player to accompany Embiid and Harris. Embiid did everything he could every night and the team’s overall results were only average.
Assuming, for the sake of argument, the 76ers won’t be able to get top talent (ie: Damian Lillard or Bradley Beal) and they end up with a player like DeAaron Fox, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander or Collin Sexton, does that elevate the team to a level high enough to compete and win a championship? It should, at the very least, get them back into the conversation when they are on the outside looking in right now.
There are growing fears this season may be wasted as the organization settles Simmons’ situation and waits for an offer worthy of pulling the trigger. How will this affect the rest of the list? Embiid is not getting any younger and, at his size with his history of injury, every year of his prime is incredibly significant. Ultimately, as I’ve written several times over the past two months, the 76ers need to hang in there until they can make a Simmons trade that will dramatically improve the team. Trading it in for a bag of peanuts would effectively leave the team where they are now – not good enough to win a championship. If hanging on to get the right deal means this season is wasted, so be it.