As we gear up for the return of the NBA, Sixers contributors from The Painted Lines gathered some of their top bold predictions for the Sixers playoff run. Enjoy!
Austin (@KrellTPL): Brett Brown coaches a masterpiece
I know, I know. WhEn HaS bReTt BrOwN eVeR cOaChEd WeLl?? This is a marvelously unique situation, though. In the midst of all the peaks and troughs the team experienced, the COVID-19 pandemic suspended the season. With so much uncertainty, the subject of Brown’s future died off a bit. Then, when the plans to resume play were reported, there were suspicions that Brown may survive another season, after all. The time frame between the end of the season, free agency, and next season’s training camp left too small a window to find a new coach, as well.
Jon Johnson of WIP is the only Sixers insider I know to have publicly declared that Brown would be gone after the season, regardless of the oddities that have made this season so unprecedented, if the team didn’t do something special. Now once again, Brown is fighting for his job.
But, this opportunity is, again, unprecedented. He will have had over four months to really assess his team, watch film, and make adjustments to help put a bandaid on this roster’s glaring weaknesses.
Add that to the context that the man is literally fighting for the certainty of his future income, and it’s hard not to believe he’ll try everything to get passed the checkpoint his team has reached each of the past two seasons.
What does that look like? If only I were a fly in the film room. I would start with reducing Horford’s minutes at the power forward position, increasing Harris’ minutes at power forward, starting two shot-creating guards next to Simmons and utilizing Simmons as a pick-and-roller when the offense isn’t running through his hands.
Will it work? Who knows. The Sixers are the wildcard this season. That is their advantage.
Every other team has had a chance to adjust as well. However, not every team is as powerful as the Sixers are on paper. Not every team had moments when they showed the world that they were as good as envisioned and then followed that with moments when you weren’t sure if they were guaranteed to make it out of the first round.
Joe (@JoeyD_6): Shake Milton will start more playoff games than Al Horford
Shake put the league on notice prior to the NBA season hitting the pause button. In his previous nine games, Shake averaged 17.8 PPG while shooting a scorching 60.4% (29/48) from deep, at one point tying an NBA record with 13 straight made threes. He dropped a career-high 39 points on the Paul George and Kawhi Leonard-led Clippers back in March, 26 of which he scored in the first half.
Shake’s breakthrough provided a glimmer of something the Sixers have been starving for. A combo-guard who can space the floor, create for himself and act as an ideal complement to the Simmons-Embiid duo.
He’s not overly explosive or freakishly athletic, but he plays with a great deal of purpose and poise. He can work the passing lanes, drive to the hole, pull up from mid-range, and light it up from three-point range. When comparing the potential fit of a Simmons/Embiid/Milton trio to the overall clunky fit of Simmons/Embiid/Horford, it’s almost night and day. Come playoffs, I think it’s safe to say that Brett Brown would be hard-pressed to remove Shake from the starting five in favor of Horford if Shake meshes well with Ben and Joel.
Thiago (@TScabbia): Al Horford becomes the team’s tertiary scoring option
With Ben Simmons on the shelf with a back injury, Al Horford started to show considerable signs of life offensively. Horford’s offensive efficiency was a major point of concern during long stretches of the season. Al Horford compiled an abysmal 52% true shooting percentage from December thru February. Some questioned if he was fully healthy (Horford missed two games in December battling a knee injury). Regardless, once on the floor Horford’s shooting was a significant issue. During the same span, Horford shot a dreadful 33% on 160 catch and shoot attempts (most on the team).
With injuries and a benching behind him, Horford looked to be a different (and perhaps healthier) player towards the postponement of the season. While the fit with Embiid and Simmons remains a major question mark, Al found new blood as the team’s main creator without Simmons. Horford led the team in assist points created during an 11-game stretch without Ben. But Al also saw his offensive efficiency sky rocket during a similar stretch.
In 5 March games, Horford averaged a 57% TS playing heavy minutes alongside Embiid. His ability to hit open three point shots turned into a significant plus to the Sixers offense. During the same 5-game stretch, Horford shot a healthy 40% on catch and shoot threes.
It is this type of offensive contribution that can turn Horford from a black hole into a considerable offensive option. Philadelphia will likely rely on more of his outside shooting in the playoffs. A more consistent Horford can turn Al from an offensive dud to arguably the team’s third scoring option.
Deibs (@mrcrockpot): Furkan Korkmaz will play more total playoff minutes than Al Horford
I’m sorry Thiago but I just don’t see it. Based upon the evidence observed during the regular season, I just don’t have much hope regarding Brett Brown finding the appropriate recipe between Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid and Al Horford on the court. The bleeding needs to stop. When Horford is with Embiid, their offensive rating dips to 100.6. Add Ben to that mix, and it’s a pathetic 98.8. How Brett Brown is able to get Al Horford to gel with the Sixers main duo is by far the biggest storyline heading into the NBA playoffs.
The Sixers will have 8 “regular season” games to figure it out. That’s just not enough time for Brett Brown to figure it out. I completely expect Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid’s minutes to ramp up until the playoffs start. Meanwhile, the Sixers need shooting more than anything. This is an area that Al Horford hasn’t done his job and the Sixers will rely on Furkan’s ability to make timely buckets on the perimeter when the offense goes stale (which happens way too often).
If Brett Brown plans to play Joel Embiid 38 minutes per night, then where does that leave Al Horford?
We know Ben Simmons will likely get 40 minutes per game once the playoffs start get into full gear. I expect Brett will have a very short leash with Al Horford and Furkan Korkmaz getting steady minutes due to him being a threat to space the court. Yea it sucks that a guy making 28 million this year can’t get on the court. But at the end of the day, this is the Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons show and making sure their growth together is positive is everything.
Deibs (@mrcrockpot): Joel Embiid will average 30 points per game during the NBA Playoffs
It’s wild to think that it’s been 4 months since Shaquille O’Neal called Joel Embiid “soft.” Joel Embiid turned 26 years old a couple of months ago during the COVID-19 pandemic. We all know that Joel Embiid is at his best when he’s talking trash, engaging with other players and having fun.
Well, he’s now got his driver’s license, a fully guaranteed contract and he’s about to spend significant time at the happiest place on Earth.
Ok back to being serious: the stage is set for a massive stretch run from Joel Embiid. Embiid’s playoff numbers have increased across the board between 2018 and 2019. His plus/minus numbers went from +5.6 to +20.4. Embiid realized that he needs to get to the line more. His free throws per 100 possessions increased from 7.6 to 13.1 attempts per 100 possessions. His win shares, box plus/minus and VORP all saw increases. When Embiid is dominating on the free throw line, good things happen for the Sixers. Period.
As long as Embiid is on the court, the Sixers are in great shape to win and it’s time for Jojo to put it all together. I think we all agree that it would be best to keep the Sixers medical staff in Philadelphia over these next few months. It all boils down to the big man’s conditioning. I am tired of hearing about “career best fitness” when it comes to Joel Embiid. Stay healthy and dominate. 38 minutes a night of Embiid should be a nightmare for every team in the NBA playoffs.
Joe (@JoeyD_6): Ben Simmons will lead the league in steals per game in the playoffs
Ben firmly established himself as one of the truly elite defensive players in the entire NBA this season. He’s led the league in both steals per game (2.1) and total steals (115) to this point. He’s a virtual lock for 1st-Team All-Defense in addition to having a very compelling case for Defensive Player of the Year. Health-permitting, his production on that end of the floor should only continue once the NBA resumes its season.
With as long a lay-off from competition as the NBA has had, it’s almost a guarantee that teams will be slightly disjointed on offense.
Field goal percentages will be down across the board and players will no doubt be more mistake-prone as they get re-acclimated to NBA basketball. Teams with lock-down defenders are going to take advantage. That should play right into the hands of a player like Ben Simmons. His combination of length, quickness, and IQ should allow him to incite a huge amount of chaos on defense in a unique playoff environment like the one the league will soon find itself in.
Sixers Road Woes
Austin (@KrellTPL): The Sixers’ road woes in regular season prove irrelevant
Building off the wild card point I previously mentioned, a significant part of the team’s ups and downs this season was their marked disparity in play at home compared to on the road. One thing is of critical importance to not overlook–the opening night starting lineup only played 10 road games together, including the ones that saw players leave early due to injury. Now, the Sixers are much healthier. With some conditioning before the playoffs, it’s essentially a reset. If you recall, when the team was fully healthy, they enjoyed a couple of very good stretches before and after injuries occurred, including a 13-2 mark between November 17th and December 13th.
But how about that segment of the fanbase that believes the team is legally obligated to lose every road game and win every home game? I don’t buy that the team just won’t show up. I’ll tell you why.
There’s only one thing more embarrassing than losing a home game in Philly, and that would be being thoroughly outplayed on national television at a neutral location with no fans in attendance to hijack the energy. There are no pillows to soothe that blow. It’ll simply be that they got outplayed and they, well, they suck and don’t belong there. Nothing eats at the human mind more than feeling like one doesn’t belong. That is the foundation of my belief that there are no superficial advantages or disadvantages in this season’s playoffs. That’s why I think it is ever in the Sixers’ favor.
Thiago (@TScabbia): Matisse Thybulle sees minutes evaporate in the playoffs
The Matisse Thybulle experience has been one of the most pleasant rides of this roller coaster Sixers season. Thybulle burst into the scene as a highly disruptive defensive-oriented player. The 23-year old rookie has been magnificent on that end for most of the year. Since the shot clock era, Thybulle is among only two rookies to record 2.6+ steals and 1.3 blocks per 36 minutes (in over 1000 minutes). While the defensive impact has been as advertised, it was his offensive evolution that earned Thybulle consistent minutes. As a low usage spot up shooter, Thybulle’s three point shooting peaked in the winter. During his November thru December stretch, Matisse shot an elite 51% in over 57 attempts from beyond the arc.
But as is with most rookies, the journey is often bumpy. And with the recent emergence of Shake Milton (coupled with the Sixers midseason additions of Alec Burks and Glenn Robinson III), Thybulle is likely to see his minutes crater come playoff time.
Why? Thybulle’s shot making has evaporated since that winter stretch. Unless that changes drastically, minutes will likely be distributed to other capable offensive contributors. Brett Brown is notorious for relying on veteran play come playoff time. And on a team laden with vets, Matisse finds himself looking up at a logjam of options. Whether those prove to be better all-around options remains to be seen. Thybulle is a major defensive cog. But Philadelphia is thirsty for complimentary offense alongside Joel Embiid. And looking elsewhere may just be what the doctor ordered.