The last few seasons of 76ers basketball are full of heartbreak. James Harden’s disappearance in the playoffs last year. Ben Simmons openly passes on shots under the basket. Joel Embiid labors after a physical foul with various bruises and dings that have been adding up over the season. It’s enough to make a Philadelphia sports fan throw up.
Things are trending upward for Philadelphia sports. The Eagles made the Super Bowl, the Phillies went on a World Series run last season, and now the 76ers are rounding out into form. They’re 8-2 over their last ten games. The streak includes road wins over the Lakers, Clippers, and Kings. They also have home wins in the streak against divisional foe Brooklyn and the Western Conference-leading Denver Nuggets.
What’s different about this year’s squad compared to the ones who broke Philadelphia’s hearts over the last few seasons? Let’s find out.
Joel Embiid: Making His Best MVP Case
Joel Embiid made his case for MVP in the match-up against the Denver Nuggets and their MVP-contending center, Nikola Jokic. Embiid put up a stat line of 47 points, 18 rebounds, five assists, three steals, and two blocks.
Embiid is leading the league in points per game, with 33.5 points per game. There is a new degree of maturity in him that we haven’t seen in previous years. That shows up on the floor in a couple of ways.
First, the number of three-point attempts per game has gone down. In 2021-22, Embiid averaged almost four three-point attempts each game. Now he’s averaging about three.
By spending less time shooting threes, Embiid is spending more time in the paint, which is leading to more free throw attempts – and makes. Since 2019-20, Embiid’s free throw attempts per game have gone up to where he averages around 11-12 free throw attempts per game. He has steadily made more free throws each year. This year, he’s averaging ten free throws made per game.
Filling Out the Rest of the Rotation
After last year’s playoff exit, Embiid made public comments to the press about the Sixers becoming a team that can handle the physicality of those deep playoff rounds. P.J. Tucker was mentioned by name. Tucker then joined the 76ers on a three-year free-agency deal.
During the draft, the 76ers traded Danny Green and a draft pick to the Memphis Grizzlies for 24-year-old guard De’Anthony Melton. A player from the gritty culture in Memphis would help make the 76ers more physical. New additions to the roster have helped – but a little coaching from Doc Rivers has also benefitted the Sixers’ start to 2023.
After the 76ers beat the Lakers, Doc Rivers announced he would use three different starting lineups for the rest of the season. In the match-up against the Lakers, Tyrese Maxey came off the bench, and De’Anthony Melton started. This match-up-based approach by Rivers will help the Sixers get through the regular season. It will be interesting to see if Rivers tries this approach in the playoffs, where teams usually rely on an established rotation.