Are the Sixers in the top tier of the Eastern Conference?

The Philadelphia 76ers currently sit 7th in the Eastern Conference largely due to a flurry of injuries that have hindered roster continuity. When healthy, can this team be a top contender in the East?

For the last few years the Philadelphia 76ers have had the talent to compete with anyone in the Eastern Conference, even though they have not lived up to those expectations. This year appears to be no exception, yet I find myself even more concerned than I have in years past. The reasons I feel this way include lack of confidence in Doc Rivers, inconsistent bench play, and starter burnout and injury.

Doc has frequently been criticized for lack of development of young players and we are seeing that again this season. The bench is playing limited minutes and due to that they are not able to get into the flow of the game. A prime example is Shake Milton. The only reason Shake even got the substantial playing time to be showing out over the last couple of weeks is because of injury.

Is it a coincidence that Joel Embiid and Tyrese Maxey both got hurt in the first couple months of the season when they are both playing career high minutes? I don’t think so. Embiid is not built to play 35+ minutes every single night. And James Harden is at 37 minutes per game. A 33-year old point guard who has insane miles on his body, due to an incomparable usage rate during his time in Houston, is not meant to play that many minutes. It’s unsustainable.

If Doc continues relying on the starters for this contribution during the regular season, injuries and burnout are all but guaranteed. With that said, my biggest concern is unfortunately not something that can be controlled by a new coach or adjustments of minutes played. My biggest concern is the impressive play of other Eastern Conference teams, specifically the Milwaukee Bucks and the Boston Celtics.

Can the Sixers catch up to Boston and Milwaukee atop the Eastern Conference?

The Celtics are a league leading 20-5 and have a staggering 11-2 home record. The Bucks are right behind them at 17-6 and they have not had Khris Middleton to start the year. With Middleton now back for the Bucks and the Celtics having the best offense in NBA history to this point, the outlook for the Sixers is even dimmer.

Because of the injuries and new bench players on the Sixers, it would be unfair to judge them now on what their potential could be come playoff time. It is a long season and lots of changes can and likely will be made. Staring up at the Celtics and Bucks though can be quite intimidating and until proven otherwise, those two teams are in a league of their own.