The NBA is officially set to return on July 31, with 22 teams heading down to Disney World to play eight regular season games before starting the postseason. It’s been nearly three months since play halted, and there isn’t a team in the league that could benefit from this long layoff more than the Sixers.
This time away from the court has given the team an ample amount of time to get healthy, and it’s also given Brett Brown more than enough time to strategize and mull over potential playoff rotations.
First, let’s look at the players returning from injury; that list essentially starts and ends with Ben Simmons. The two time All-Star has reportedly been healthy since April, so there’s no doubt he’ll be ready to go at the end of July. The time away has also allowed Joel Embiid to give his body some time off from the rigors of the NBA season.
Embiid was visibly exhausted in last year’s postseason. He’s never been able to enter the postseason with fresh legs — no player ever does, really — but we all know the dominant force Embiid is when he’s fully healthy, well rested and in the right mental state. He’s been relatively quiet on social media and has stayed out of the spotlight during the pandemic as well, which tells me he’s starting to really focus in on his basketball and preparing himself for the July 31 return.
With that said, we’ve always known that both Simmons and Embiid are stars in this league and capable of leading a championship team. The real question lies with Brett Brown.
Before the season was put on hold, the Sixers were one of the hardest teams to label. This was clearly evidenced with their home record versus their road record; their home record of 29-2 was the best home record in the league, while their 10-24 road record was the worst road record in the league. The team’s .641 difference between their home and road win percentage was on pace to largest of any NBA team since the league went to a 82-game format in 1967.
Based on NBA history, it’s literally impossible to be any more inconsistent.
So, with teams playing on a neutral court once the league resumes play this should actually benefit the Sixers. Not having to play in front of hostile crowds away from the Wells Fargo Center is ideal, but it’s fair to be weary of not having any kind of home court advantage given how dominant the Sixers are at home.
One thing’s for certain, we’ll find out what kind of team the Sixers truly are. The Philadelphia Inquirer’s David Murphy wrote this excerpt in his recent story titled “Now that the NBA season is set to resume, the Sixers have a chance to show us who they really are.”
“If you wanted to devise a system for evaluating a team against itself, for discerning the exact identity of a group of basketball players and coaches, for isolating the signal from the noise, the format you’d devise might look a lot like the one that is now at hand…. You would limit all of the extraneous variables that can effect performance: travel, crowds, etc. In essence, you would attempt to create a vacuum in which outcomes are determined solely by individual performance and collective synergy.”
Who knows if the Sixers will make any kind of significant noise in Disney World. It’ so hard to predict because this team has just been so hard predict on a game to game basis.
Finding out what we truly have with this current group of players is not only imperative for fans, but it’s obviously important for the front office as well. There will be no more excuses for Brown or some of the underachieving players like Tobias Harris or Al Horford. Their performance once the league resumes will play a large part in determining their future in Philly.
It’ll be fascinating to see what unfolds come July 31.