3 reasons the Philadelphia 76ers are better than last season

Tobias Harris, Joel Embiid | Philadelphia 76ers (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)
Tobias Harris, Joel Embiid | Philadelphia 76ers (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images) /

The Philadelphia 76ers, despite losing Jimmy Butler, are better off heading into the 2019-20 season.

The Philadelphia 76ers were loaded with star talent last season. The starting lineup of Ben Simmons, J.J. Redick, Jimmy Butler, Tobias Harris and Joel Embiid posted one of the best net ratings in the NBA, and the squad took the would-be champion Toronto Raptors to seven games in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

Despite their success and the extreme demand to “run it back,” the Sixers are heading into next season with a new and improved roster after undergoing their fourth major roster change since the start of last season. Here are three reasons why the newest iteration of the Sixers is better than the last.

1. Defense

The Sixers had all of the necessary tools for a great defense last season. Joel Embiid is one of the best rim protectors in the league. Ben Simmons is a versatile defender capable of defending all positions. Jimmy Butler was a four-time All-Defensive Team selection, and Mike Scott and James Ennis provided tough-nosed defense off the bench. Despite this, they were fifteenth in defensive rating and nineteenth in opponent points per game last season. Part of the reason for their less-than-stellar defense were bad defensive players like Redick and T.J. McConnell, who both left in free agency, and a bad defensive coordinator in Billy Lange, who took a college head coaching job during the season.

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Now, the Sixers don’t really have a weakness on the defensive end. New additions like Josh Richardson and Al Horford give the Sixers the length and athleticism on defense they desperately needed in the last two postseasons. The hiring of Ime Udoka from the Spurs should excite Sixer fans; the Spurs have been an excellent defensive team for most of the past decade and Udoka played a large part in their success. The Sixers look primed to be a top-three defense next season.

2. Embiid insurance

When the news broke that the Sixers were signing Al Horford away from the Celtics, Sixers fans blew a collective sigh a relief. Horford played defense on Embiid better than any other player, and now Embiid only has to match up against him in practice. In addition to Horford, the Sixers also signed Kyle O’Quinn to a veteran’s minimum contract. Though this signing doesn’t move the needle far, O’Quinn brings toughness to the second unit and he provides better defense than any of Embiid’s numerous backups from last season.

Embiid is the most impactful player on the Sixers, and it isn’t particularly close. In the two and a half minutes he sat in Game 7 versus Toronto, the Sixers were outscored by 12 points. In the 45 minutes that he played, they were +10. Though we had four backup centers, not one of them was any good and the Sixers paid the price whenever Embiid rested. With the Horford signing, Elton Brand is making sure the Sixers have elite rim protection for all 48 minutes, and that allowing Embiid to rest won’t spell their downfall.

3. Roster consistency

Last season, the Sixers went through three major roster changes. At the beginning of the season, Markelle Fultz was the starting shooting guard. In November, the Sixers acquired Jimmy Butler for two starters, Robert Covington and Dario Šarić. Then, at the trade deadline, the Sixers acquired Tobias Harris and more for three role players. The team did not have the necessary time to gel and get fully comfortable playing with each other by the time the playoffs rolled around. Now, the Sixers finally have some roster consistency.

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Yes, the team looks much different now than it did in Game 7 versus the Raptors. But this team lacks many weaknesses and is, for the most part, complete. The new additions will have the entire summer to acclimate to Brett Brown’s system, develop important chemistry with their new teammates, and establish a team identity. Barring any unexpected, and major, roster changes, the Sixers seem ready to compete next season with mostly a complete and consistent roster.