Are the Philadelphia 76ers in the top tier of the Eastern Conference? Part 2

Montrezl Harrell, Philadelphia 76ers (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)
Montrezl Harrell, Philadelphia 76ers (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images) /

Back in December, I wrote an article positing the question: Are the Philadelphia 76ers one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference? At that time, it was pretty clear they were a tier below both the Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks. As we are now past the halfway point in the NBA season and the Sixers seem to have hit their stride, it is worth revisiting this question.

When I wrote the previous article the Sixers were 7th in the Eastern Conference, sitting in a play-in playoff spot. The Celtics were 1st in the East and had gotten off to an impressive 20-5 start to the season and looked like the team that went to the NBA Finals last May. During this first 25-game stretch, the Celtics’ offense was first in NBA history in offensive rating, effective field goal percentage, three-point percentage, free throw percentage, and true shooting percentage. In lay terms, they played like the most dominant offense in the game’s history. A lot can change in two months though, and a lot has.

The Sixers are only 2 games behind the Celtics and have moved into the 3-seed in the East. Joel Embiid has been playing at an MVP-caliber level and is leading the league in scoring for the second consecutive year with 33.5 points per game. Embiid is unguardable on the offensive end of the floor and has picked up his defensive effort as of late.

The 76ers finally look like a cohesive unit on the court.

Doc Rivers made a good move by swapping De’Anthony Melton for Tyrese Maxey in the starting lineup. Now the second unit has a real identity and Maxey has been balling out in his new role as a Sixth Man.

And do not forget James Harden who is easily leading the league in assists with 10.9 per game and has become a facilitator first point guard. That was unimaginable watching him play as a score-first guard in Houston, but he continues to impress us with his adaptability.

To answer the question I started this article with: Yes, now the 76ers are one of the best teams in the East and deserve to be discussed in the same tier as the Bucks and Celtics. The NBA regular season is a grind and teams are not going to be playing at their best consistently throughout. The fact that the Sixers got off to a slow start is no surprise after a disappointing end to last season. But they are playing good basketball in the second half of the season and that is what matters.

If Harden continues his unselfish play, Embiid continues to dominate every matchup he faces and Maxey continues to grow and thrive in his role with the second unit, the 76ers can hold the Larry O’Brien trophy come June.