Happy Friday. Yesterday was a solid 1-1 day. We’ll take those, especially when the win comes on an outright pick of a slight underdog that completely cancels out the spread loss. The Sixers handed us that spread loss, getting beatdown in embarrassing fashion in Philadelphia. They were outplayed and outclassed by the Heat in their own building with the season on the line, and that’s a pretty tough pill to swallow. It’s time to face a lot of questions in Philly.
Is Doc Rivers done? It sounds like the answer is no.
So maybe the better question is this – should he be done? The roster flux surrounding the Sixers has been an inescapable issue, and it’s one that deserves plenty of attention. Embiid hasn’t had the same core group around him for two straight seasons in his career. That’s an embarrassing amount of roster rotation given the fact that Philadelphia still hasn’t found the right combinations. They might have had a decent part of the answer with Jimmy Butler, but that’s well in the past by now. Ben Simmons is in the past too. All of this is a long way of saying the blame shouldn’t fully fall on Doc’s shoulders, just like it shouldn’t have all gone to Brett Brown. But it can still be true that Rivers simply isn’t a great coach, and the proof for that seems to be piling up. He’s had a ridiculous lack of playoff success given the teams that he’s coached, and at some point the blame needs to stop there. Rivers has won 48 or more games eight times in the last nine years, and he has zero conference finals appearances to show for it. Even if you give him credit for the regular season results – which is perhaps a dubious choice to make given the similar regular season success of the coaches surrounding his tenures in Philadelphia and Los Angeles – the goal is to win in the playoffs, especially when you enter them with high expectations. Rivers hasn’t. When does that last chance come? Based on rumors coming from other teams, not any time soon, even if the Sixers decide to move on.
Can James Harden consistently function as anything more than an expensive offensive organizer that struggles to do anything else at an elite level? The answer, right now, is no. Harden scored 25 or more in his first four games with the Sixers. In the last twenty-nine games, he also scored 25 or more four times. There’s nothing inherently wrong with not scoring in the high 20s on most nights. Harden is still an elite facilitator that gives the Sixers the kind of offensive quarterback they’ve lacked for a long time. The problem is that this isn’t just any old player. It’s James Harden, your second star, and what he’s brought to the table in Philly simply hasn’t been enough, especially given the lack of contributions he’s able to make in other areas of the game. You either need Harden to regain his burst and become more of an individual scoring threat, or you need to find another elite scorer to take that pressure off of him. It’s theoretically possible – a Maxey leap, a move for someone like LaVine or Beal, etc. I’m not a huge fan of either Beal or LaVine, but they can put the ball in the hoop. They would absolutely open up the lanes for Harden to a greater degree than what we saw in this series. But a move like that would open more questions about who gets the ball and when, and Harden has lots of strides to make as an off-ball threat if this is going to be the path his career takes. And, in any case, the Sixers didn’t bring Harden in to be the sort of player you need to make that kind of move for. They brought him in to be a title-winning superstar. He’s going to need to have one heck of an off-season to deliver on that expectation next year.
Is it realistic to depend so much on Joel Embiid? Embiid is a truly phenomenal player. He’s an elite scorer, rebounder, and rim protector. He just doesn’t have many on-court flaws. He carries the Sixers to the level of a Giannis or a Jokic, and, at this moment, I’m not sure there’s a name you’re saying before his when you’re asked to name the third best player in the league after those two. But he also just set a career high with 68 games played in the regular season, which isn’t exactly impressive. At the end of the day, the regular season availability isn’t that terrible –
|Player||Regular season games played last 5 years|
No one is looking at this and praising Embiid for his durability, but there’s clearly another drop he could make. He’s no Kawhi, and he’s played more than Butler and Durant (rather significantly so for the latter) and about as much as LeBron. But what about the playoffs? Here’s another table –
|Player||Percentage of team playoff games played last 5 years|
Embiid is low here, and both Curry and Durant are where they are because of one extended injury rather than multiple stretched across different years (though it’s certainly fair to question the durability of those two as well). In any case, Embiid is significantly below most of the guys on this list. Does that matter? Yes and no. It’s hard to rely on a guy that you can’t trust to be healthy. That’s the reality. The Clippers would say the same about Kawhi. You generally build a team to be dependent on a star, and it’s a massive hit to your potential when that star goes down. Now, the Sixers might be more dependent on their best player than most. You wouldn’t, for example, expect them to get the results the Heat can get without Butler or see them do what the Bucks managed to do without Giannis at the end of last year’s ECF if Embiid was out. But the general point is that they’re not alone in depending on that player. When a key domino falls, teams struggle to prevent the whole operation from falling apart. So you want that player to be available – and available often. You’re rolling the dice when they’re not. At the same time, some of those players are worth rolling the dice with. The Raptors found that out with Kawhi a few years ago, and Embiid is certainly a player of that stature at his best. He can be the best player on a title team. That’s likely worth taking on a greater chance of injury-based disappointment. All it takes is one year.
The last key question, then, is this – what do you do with the pieces around Embiid and Harden to maximize your chances? Regardless of anyone’s stance on the durability question, Embiid certainly isn’t going anywhere, and Harden figures to be a necessity at this point regardless of whether or not he can regain his past form. The Sixers just have to hope he’s good enough. They don’t really have another option. You have to figure that Maxey will be back too after his sophomore year slump. But who else?
Tobias Harris is a better player than he gets credit for; it’s not easy to find 35 minutes of adequate two-way play a night from a big wing. But the contract looms, and it’s not hard to understand why so many expect more production from him. When you look into roster improvements, it’s hard to avoid taking a long glance at Harris and his contract as moveable pieces to open up the room for quality additions. The problem is that Philly barely has wing depth to begin with. Danny Green is now both old and hurt. Matisse Thybulle is completely unplayable; he can’t do anything offensively. Furkan Korkmaz isn’t good. Georges Niang is limited. Are you really going to find the guys that not only match what Harris provides but exceed it? What the Sixers really need are quality role players, which is clearly easier said than done after so many misfires. That applies to the center position too. The Embiid bench minutes have been major negatives for years. Paul Reed was far from awful in the playoffs this year, but can he keep that going as he develops the next few years? More regular season minutes for some of these young guys would probably help, but really hitting on some offseason moves would be nice too.
The Mavs gave us a win last night, controlling the game in Dallas for the third time in this series. It’s 3-3. Game 7 tomorrow. Let’s go. This has been a good statement of intent from the Mavs. Regardless of how this series ends, they have some really nice momentum to build off of heading into next year. And, right now, there’s reason to believe they can make some of the big things happen this summer. Golden State and Memphis aren’t exactly rolling. For Phoenix, there are questions to ask. They struggled against the Pelicans, and they’ve been pushed all the way by the Mavs. It’s hard to call the Suns the favorites right now, and anything less than a title would be a significant disappointment for this team after the last twelve months.
After last night, the second round record is 10-9-1. The playoff record is 37-22-1. Let’s keep the momentum going tonight. The Bucks and Warriors are both looking to close things out in six at home.
NBA record: 248-220-9 ATS (29-41 Underdog ML), 13-16-1 O/U, 5-8 parlay, 0-2 props
- Bucks -1
Bucks in 6. Let’s finish this thing. It’s not going to be easy for the Bucks. The Celtics are good, and they’ve been hitting hair shots all series long. Milwaukee finally got their shooting breakthrough in the fourth quarter of Game 5, but they’ve struggled from deep all series. Which version do we get today? I’m not betting against Giannis Antetokounmpo though.
- Grizzlies +8
The Warriors have won just one game in this series by more than a possession, and the Grizzlies have been suffocating all year without Ja. With Games 1 and 4 going down to the wire, there’s a real argument to be made that the Grizz have been the better team in this series (though this is ultimately irrelevant in comparison to their 2-3 record). It won’t be easy to win this thing in the Warriors’ house, but I’ve seen nothing so far to suggest that Golden State is going to run away with it. Memphis is going to give them everything they can handle.