We all know the story by now. The one where Kawhi Leonard’s four-bounce miracle shot catapults the Raptors past the Sixers and on to an eventual NBA championship in 2018-19. The following season both teams made radical changes and left scores of Sixers fans wondering “what if…”. The last three playoff seasons have found many masochists on twitter looking back and saying, “If the Sixers had won that game, they would have won it all.”
First, there’s no way of knowing what would have happened in those next two rounds. You can’t assume that the 76ers would have won it all just because Toronto did. Matchups and timing matter in the NBA and there are never any guarantees. Second, the Sixers absolutely had to dismantle that 2019 team because that series showed off their weaknesses as much as their strengths. There could be no “running it back”. (And Jimmy Butler was always going to go to Miami, no matter what happened with Harris or Simmons!)
All of this means that it’s time for us Philly fans to do the one thing that we do so poorly: Let go of the past. We have had so few “shining moments” in Philadelphia that we cling to the memories of past hopes and almost glories. What might have been. It’s time to let go, and that starts by looking at what we have in front of us. A legitimately gifted team and real title contender. Maybe if we compare the 2018-19 Sixers with the 2022-23 team on paper it will help us all move forward and forget past failures. It’s time to heal.
If the 2018-19 Sixers could play the 2022-23 Sixers, who would win?
For openers, this is obviously all hypothetical. The ball has yet to be tipped for this season so we are left to analyze the current Sixers as they stand on paper. Which is fine, this is a healing exercise after all. This team will never actually play that team so all we have left is conjecture anyway. Watercoolers were made for conversations like this. Which team is better, 2018-19, or 2022-23? Let’s compare!
Coaching: Brett Brown vs. Doc Rivers – To be honest, I wish the gap between these two was wider. Beat up Brett all you like, but he made a lot of nice adjustments after the Sixers acquired Jimmy Butler and even more in the second round of the playoffs, even taking the ball away from Ben Simmons and giving it to Butler in an effort to hide Ben’s inadequacies. Rivers has a ring to his name and is a superior x’s and o’s guy but has been slow to try new things, trust his young guys, and mess around with matchups. At the end of the day, it’s closer than I would have thought but there’s still a clear winner. Winner: Rivers.
Point Guard: 2019 Ben Simmons vs. 2022 James Harden – Both are gifted passers and rebounders but the midseason acquisition of Harden, combined with his injury issues, make this a difficult argument. Harden was a shadow of his former self last year and was still pretty darn effective on offense, despite lacking any lift or explosion. If Harden takes even a little bit of the return to form that many are hoping, he would easily win this battle going away, but we have to base this on the last time that we saw him play. Ben was limited on offense and ferocious on defense, and last season Harden was very good on offense and a limited defender. They look like each other’s yin and yang, bizarro opposites of one another. Let’s hope Harden looks better this year. Winner: Tie.
Shooting Guard: 2019 JJ Redick vs. 2022 Tyrese Maxey – Redick was an underrated leader and gravity stretching floor spacer, opening up valuable real estate for Simmons and Embiid. His defensive limitations aside, he was mentally tough and kept every defense honest. Maxey is a rising star, with a terrific handle, an outstanding jumper, and blazing speed attacking the basket. Winner: Maxey by a landslide.
Small Forward: 2019 Jimmy Butler vs. 2022 P.J. Tucker/Matisse Thybulle/Danuel House – Tucker should give the team 28 minutes of bruising toughness, leadership, and great defense but he will also play a lot of power forward and a little center. Everyone hopes that Thybulle can start to play a little offense and House should be a nice 3-and D addition, but let’s be honest, this one isn’t very close. Winner: Jimmy Buckets.
Power Forward: 2019 Tobias Harris vs. 2022 Tobias Harris – In 2019 Harris showed flashes of his wonderful talents but was never consistent, and occasionally a little soft. Four years in Philadelphia have toughened Harris and he showed a newfound commitment to defense last year, becoming a more consistent all around player and a jack of all trades, especially after adding Harden. Winner: 2022 Harris.
Center: 2019 Joel Embiid vs. 2022 Joel Embiid – Embiid was always a beast, but he had moments of softness and did not take his physical condition very seriously. Call it the immaturity of a talented young man. That loss to the Raptors in 2019 was a wake up call for him to take his diet, conditioning, and work ethic more seriously, and he has answered the bell. The current MVP-level version of Joel would have bullied the 2019 version and taken his lunch money. Winner: 2022 Embiid.
Bench: 2019 Danny Green, TJ McConnell, Mike Scott, Furkan Korkmaz, James Ennis III, Greg Monroe vs. 2022 De’Anthony Melton, Matisse Thybulle, Danuel House, Paul Reed, Korkmaz, Georges Niang, and Isaiah Joe – The bench got destroyed in the Raptors series. With McConnell and Green both battling injuries the bulk of the minutes went to talentless veteran role players like Ennis and Monroe, while the starters killed themselves playing tons of minutes. The offseason additions that the Sixers made this summer should make them much deeper, tougher, more fearless, and more aggressive, while still adding talent. The only question might be at backup center but the Reed/Tucker combo looks up to the task. This bench is clearly better than last year and infinitely better than the group in 2019. Winner: 2022 bench. By a LOT.
To wrap this all up, this year the Philadelphia 76ers should be really exciting and they are worth investing your hearts in. There is absolutely no question that if this year’s 76ers played the 2019 76ers they would win going away. There are media members out there who don’t love this team but there is no doubt that they will be in the mix for a Championship when playoff time rolls around. There is only one thing to worry about.
The one reason to temper your excitement about our Sixers this year is how much better the East has become. In 2019 there were only four really good teams, but the balance of power has swung from the West to the East and this year everyone is good and there are no easy outs. But if the Sixers can stay healthy there is every reason to believe that they will still be standing when the dust settles in June. And it would be psychologically healthier for everyone to let go of the past and just try to enjoy the potential greatness that stands in front of us. It’s time for all of us to move on and create some new memories.