Sunday, October 2, 2022

Sixers are set to pull off a historic feat this season

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Despite all the work that’s been done this summer to strengthen the Philadelphia 76ers’ bench, one fact remains: In the playoffs, star power at the top of the roster will decide games.

And the Sixers have no shortage of excellence at the head of the roster. Joel Embiid comes off an MVP runner-up campaign and scores a title, James Harden still boasts of his legendary playmaking, and Tyrese Maxey would have gone into the lottery on a re-draft. In Embiid, Harden and Maxey, the Sixers have an enviable mix of youth, experience and star power.

And barring an unforeseen disaster, Embiid and Harden will both earn All-Star nods this season. Maxey might be on the way too. And if the Sixers send three All-Stars to the midseason celebrations, they’ll equal the total the Golden State Warriors sent last season. A few months later, the Warriors defeated the Boston Celtics and won the Finals.

But according to Bleacher Report’s Zach Buckley, the Sixers may not be chasing the 2021-22 Warriors but the 2018-19 Golden State. This season, the Warriors sent a whopping four All-Stars to the midseason game.

In 2018, the Warriors sent Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Kevin Durant to the All-Star Game. They became the first team to have four All-Stars since the 2014-15 Atlanta Hawks.

Each of those players clearly deserved the honor: Curry and Durant were in the midst of their legendary primes, Thompson was scoring 22 points a night at 40.2% from three, and Green cemented his status as one of the best defensemen in NBA history. They were a legendary basketball quartet. But can the Sixers keep up?

According to Buckley, at least it’s possible.

“Embiid is a castle and Harden should be a bit close to it. The only question is whether Maxey and Harris can reach that level,” Buckley explained.

“If Maxey’s third-year jump looks anything like his second, it could also be a shoo-in. As for Harris, he’s dabbled in heavy-caliber production in the past but never got the call. That could change this season if he increases his efficiency, adds a dash of volume and helps the Sixers to an NBA best ahead of the All-Star break.”

Between Maxey and Harris, the latter is the real kicker. He’s never earned an All-Star nod and his best days may be behind him. Buckley’s mentioned volume has been declining for the past three seasons and his PER has taken a big dip over the last season.

But what if Philadelphia starts red-hot, defeating the Celtics, Bucks and Heat in the Eastern Conference? Harris would certainly have a chance as long as he Also proves that he is indispensable for this success. In 2018, Thompson, Curry, Durant and Green were individually critical ingredients to the Warriors’ success. Harris will have to make his own case for the Sixers next season.

The only problem? The ideal Sixers lineup might not include Harris at all.

Last week, RealGM’s John Wilmes dived deep into the Sixers’ planned rotation for next season. And in it, he made a strong case for benching Harris in favor of De’Anthony Melton, a versatile defenseman the Sixers traded for this summer.

“Without Harris, the roster makes more theoretical sense: imagine Embiid and Tucker’s big precourt, complemented by the jarring contrast of Maxey’s and Melton’s athleticism, all orchestrated by Harden’s dazzling basketball brain. That’s the ideal that Sixers’ most optimistic forecasters have in mind,” Wilmes wrote.

If forecasters are already switching out Harris after capable backups, it doesn’t bode well for his chance for an All-Star nod. Still, Utah’s Mike Conley seemed destined to be an excellent player who never earned an All-Star selection before receiving surprising recognition in his 14th season two seasons ago.

In Conley’s case, the Jazz flashed the league for the best record in the East and he proved a capable backcourt partner for rising star Donovan Mitchell. All in all, it’s never too late for a player, even Harris.

In Conley’s case, the Jazz flashed the league for the best record in the East and he proved a capable backcourt partner for rising star Donovan Mitchell. All in all, it’s never too late for a player, even Harris.

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