We are nearing the end of the NBA’s truncated 72-game season. Though it’s been a bit weird watching games with artificial crowd noise, cardboard fans, press conferences over Zoom, and masks worn everywhere, this season has delivered exhilarating highs and lows.
That said, one thing is certain: the fans are desperately needed back in the arenas. I hope the 2021-22 season will bring everyone back to seeing these players play at full capacity.
The Philadelphia 76ers are in first place and have carved out a spot in the hierarchy of elite NBA teams this season.
I think we’ve had more than enough evidence to start making some bold declarations. So, here is mine to sum up the season so far as we prepare for the playoffs: The Philadelphia 76ers are the best team in the NBA this year. And it’s not close. Sure, Utah has had one eye-opening heck of a year themselves, but Philly has turned heads even more. Doc Rivers is the Coach of the Year. No doubts. Will he get the nod? Who knows, but Rivers is one of the top two candidates for the award. And he isn’t number two.
Daryl Morey is Executive of the Year. Absolutely. What he was able to do with this team upon taking the job coming from Houston in such a short time, was amazing to say the least. A team that had no direction on the floor, and a front office that had no direction off the floor, he came in and swiftly righted the ship, putting the right pieces around Joel Embiid, making him a prime MVP candidate.
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He filled out this team with the right balance of position players, shot creators, and defensive playmakers like the resurgent Dwight Howard (And I must say: what a two-year run that Howard has been on! He has gone from being on his way out of the league, to discussions about where his place will be among the great big men of NBA history once he hangs them up. He has the résumé. Don’t overthink it). Morey is a huge reason why the Sixers are where they are this year.
Ben Simmons is the Defensive Player of the Year. Yes, the guy who wrote two articles about the trade talks being Simmons’ fault, is saying this. Don’t get it twisted though: I still stand on what I said, and Morey confirmed it, but didn’t pull the trigger. However, it’s not lost on me how dynamic Simmons is on the defensive end.
Ben can make life miserable for opposing teams’ star player. Recall the second half stat-line of another MVP candidate, Damian Lillard, earlier this year when the Sixers played Portland: 2 for 14 from the field when Simmons guarded him. Lillard is as feared a player as there is in the NBA. “Dame Time” is not a cool saying; it’s a real thing. And Simmons darn near made him invisible in the second stanza. Incredible. If there was a such thing as a shutdown corner in the NBA, give Ben Simmons that title this year. Sorry Draymond, your best days as a defender may be behind you.
Factor in the revelation of Shake Milton, the always reliable shooting of Danny Green and Seth Curry, and promising rookie Tyrese Maxey, and this Sixers roster has checked every box needed for a championship run. This team is hungry, and we can see it. They’re playing with an urgency which says they know that something special has emerged and they want to cash in on it. As a Sixers fan, and Philadelphia native, this team reminds me of the run we saw in 2001. The difference is, there is more firepower on this version of the Sixers than there ever was on that version. A prime Allen Iverson would’ve loved to lace them up with these guys.
Sixers fans: This might be the year. This might be the moment that you’ll look back and remember exactly when you heard Marc Zumoff say in that legendary voice, “The Sixers are your NBA champions!”.
We’re on the precipice of an iconic summer in Philadelphia. Prepare yourselves!