2020-21 Kia Season Preview

2020-21 Season Preview: Philadelphia 76ers

Can the 76ers finally maximize their potential under new coach Doc Rivers?

How will Daryl Morey and Doc Rivers impact the 76ers’ style of play?

When last seen, the Sixers were … getting swept in the first round of the playoffs by the Boston Celtics. Playing without Ben Simmons (who suffered a left knee injury in the seeding games), they struggled on both ends of the floor. They shot a postseason-worst 26% from 3-point range and ranked in the bottom three in both opponent turnover rate and opponent free throw rate. After a year in which they were one possession away from the conference finals, it was a big step backward for a team with two of the best young talents in the league. While the quick exit could be blamed on Simmons’ absence, the Sixers hadn’t been playing to their potential while he was healthy, seemingly having spent money in the wrong places in the summer of 2019.

What’s new? Changes were inevitable and they came swiftly. Head coach Brett Brown was fired and eventually replaced by Doc Rivers, just three days after he parted ways with the LA Clippers. A month later, the Sixers hired Daryl Morey as their new president of basketball operations (shortly after he left Houston), placing him above GM Elton Brand in the decision-making hierarchy. Morey got to work quickly, trading Al Horford and Josh Richardson in deals that brought back Danny Green and Seth Curry. Rivers, meanwhile, has promised to run more pick-and-rolls in the Sixers’ offense.

What’s missing: Most important was adding shooting around Simmons and Joel Embiid, which is what Curry and Green bring. But neither is much of a threat off the dribble and the Sixers still lack an offensive triple threat who can create advantages in the half-court offense. Simmons’ inability (or unwillingness) to shoot and need to operate in the paint has too often had Embiid catching the ball on the perimeter, and that “fit” issue remains. Dwight Howard as the back-up center also limits the Sixers’ ability to surround Simmons with shooting when Embiid sits.


Ben Simmons | 16.4 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 8.0 apg
A force in transition. Ranked third with 226 assists on 3-pointers. Arguably the league’s best perimeter defender.

Seth Curry | 12.4 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 1.9 apg
His 45.1% from 3-point range over the last three seasons is the league’s best mark over that stretch.

Danny Green | 8.0 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 1.3 spg
Numbers took a step backward last season, but he always shoots better in seasons ending with an odd number.

Tobias Harris | 19.6 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 3.2 apg
Was at his best (20.3 ppg on 55.4% effective FG%) with the Clippers, playing the four for Rivers.

Joel Embiid | 23.0 ppg, 11.6 rpg, 3.0 apg
Took more shots from outside the paint (effective field goal percentage of 44%) than in the paint (59%) last season.


Dwight Howard | 7.5 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 1.1 bpg
Remains an elite finisher (79% in the restricted area) and rebounder (eighth in rebounding percentage).

Shake Milton | 9.4 ppg, 2.2 rpg, 2.6 apg
Surprise contributor in his second season, but the offense wasn’t good when he played with Simmons.

Mike Scott | 6.0 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 0.8 apg
Gives the Sixers a floor-spacing option at the five. 39.1% from 3 over the last three seasons.

Matisse Thybulle | 4.7 ppg, 1.6 rpg, 1.4 spg
An elite defender (ranked second with 2.6 steals per 36 minutes), but needs work offensively.

Philadelphia 76ers, last 5 seasons

Season W L PCT OffRtg Rank DefRtg Rank NetRtg Rank
2019-20 43 30 0.589 110.7 14 108.4 8 +2.3 10
2018-19 51 31 0.622 111.6 8 109.0 14 +2.6 11
2017-18 52 30 0.634 108.5 13 103.9 3 +4.6 4
2016-17 28 54 0.341 102.7 30 108.2 16 -5.5 27
2015-16 10 72 0.122 98.4 30 108.6 27 -10.2 30

OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions


With Simmons (now 24) and Embiid (turning 27 in March), the ceiling is high and it wouldn’t be a total shock to see the Sixers representing the Eastern Conference in The Finals. This is a team that, despite its issues last season, had some impressive wins (at home) over the best teams in the league. Just a healthy and in-shape Embiid who operates in the paint more than he does outside would make this a better team than it was last season. But there are a handful of contenders at the top of the East and most of them don’t have as many questions about fit, chemistry and consistency. Seeing how the personnel and coaching changes manifest themselves on the floor will make the Sixers a fascinating team to watch once again.

Predicted finish: 45-27

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John Schuhmann is a senior stats analyst for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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