Sixers cannot contend without a legitimate perimeter star

Ben Simmons, Sixers (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Ben Simmons, Sixers (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) /

The 2004-05 season signified a radical change for contending in the NBA. To revamp the aesthetics of a plodding, physical game, the NBA banned hand-checking. What started as one simple rule change turned into a seismic shift in how basketball was played.

Gone are the days of superstar centers dominating the paint like Shaq or Kareem. The league is now run by athletic creators like LeBron and three-point bombers like Steph. Perimeter creation is the name of the game.

Yes, Nikola Jokic and Joel Embiid both had dominant regular seasons, finishing top-two in MVP voting this season. However, neither was successful in the playoffs without a star perimeter creator to ease the offensive load.

Yet again, the Sixers’ glaring absence of a true perimeter playmaker brought a once-promising season to a screeching halt.

Just look at the four teams still standing to see where the league is heading. The Suns’ offense is orchestrated by stud guards Chris Paul and Devin Booker. The Clippers get elite perimeter creation from Paul George and Kawhi Leonard (pre-injury).

The Bucks attack from the perimeter in a variety of ways, using Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, and Jrue Holiday as co-ballhandlers. Sixers‘ fans know more than enough about how successful the Hawks have been with Trae Young at the helm.

All the players listed above are stronger perimeter creators than anyone on the Sixers. The Sixers’ 13th-ranked offense was always going to be their downfall, and the lack of perimeter creation relative to other elite teams was the biggest culprit.

The story is the same when looking at past champions and their elite perimeter creators. LeBron led the Lakers to a title last season. Kawhi and Kyle Lowry drove the Raptors to their first championship. The Warriors were led by the three-headed monster of Steph, KD, and Klay on the perimeter.

The Heat had LeBron and D-Wade, while the Spurs had Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. The Lakers were led by Kobe, while the Celtics relied on Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and Rajon Rondo. Other than the 2011 Mavericks, every recent champion has had elite perimeter creators, and even the Mavs had Dirk running some offense from the perimeter.

Sixers’ history further reflects this trend. Unsurprisingly, the two best Sixers’ teams of the past 20 years both had star perimeter creators. Allen Iverson led the 2001 Sixers to the Finals while Jimmy Butler had the 2019 Sixers within two points of the eventual champion Raptors.

Don’t get me wrong, dominant post-centers like Embiid are still very useful. The issue comes when a post player is clearly your best offensive option. Playoff defenses are too sharp and locked-in for a player to back his man into the basket.

We just saw firsthand what an elite playmaking guard can do against stout defenses like the Sixers. The Hawks could get a solid shot whenever they wanted by running a basic pick-and-roll with Trae Young. On the flip side, Embiid had to work hard every time to get a halfway decent shot in the post.

Obviously, the Sixers need a perimeter upgrade, but how do they get one? As outlined here, the Sixers could flip Ben Simmons for a more scoring-oriented player, but getting teams to buy low on Simmons may be tough. Tyrese Maxey could develop into a strong perimeter creator, but he still has a long way to go.

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Getting the right player will be tough, but Daryl Morey has used creativity to get these types of players before. With Embiid in his prime right now, Morey needs to get the perimeter creator the Sixers soon.