In each of the last two seasons, the Philadelphia 76ers have seen the league's biggest increase in winning percentage, improving from 10-72 in 2015-16 to 52-30 in '17-18. They saw a dramatic growth spurt late last season, winning their last 16 games of the regular season and cruising through a first-round series against the Miami Heat. But in the conference semifinals, Philly ran into the team they'll be running into a lot in the next few years, and the Boston Celtics showed the Sixers that they still have more improving to do. The Process continues ...
General manager Bryan Colangelo resigned in early June after an investigation into social media accounts run by his wife, and coach Brett Brown took over basketball operations through the Draft and free agency ... After selecting local favorite Mikal Bridges with the No. 10 pick, the Sixers traded him for the No. 16 pick -- Zhaire Smith, who broke his foot in August -- and a 2021 first rounder ... The Sixers were unable to use their cap space to sign (or trade for) a star .. Veterans J.J. Redick and Amir Johnson were re-signed to one-year deals (preserving 2019 cap space), but two keys to last season's second-half surge -- Marco Belinelli and Ersan Ilyasova -- were lost in free agency ... Veteran reserves Wilson Chandler and Mike Muscala were acquired via trades ... Elton Brand was promoted to general manager just days before training camp opened.
1. Defense is a given. With a starting lineup that includes four guys -- Ben Simmons, Robert Covington, Dario Saric and Joel Embiid -- that are 6-foot-9 or taller, the Sixers can't help but be a good defensive team. Last season, they were the only team that ranked in the top five in both opponent field goal percentage in the paint and in opponent effective field goal percentage on shots from outside the paint.
2. Offense is a question. The Sixers ranked fifth offensively after the All-Star break and led the postseason in both ball movement and player movement. The departures of Belinelli and Ilyasova mean that they'll have to start over somewhat on that end of the floor, though Markelle Fultz could add a new dynamic to the offense.
3. Contrast in styles. Another challenge on offense is finding a balance between playing at a fast pace through Simmons and playing more deliberately through Embiid in the post. If they make it work, the Sixers have the best of both worlds.
MAN ON THE SPOT
Relative to the rest of the league, neither the Sixers nor Celtics had much roster turnover this summer. Both teams rank in the top seven in regard to the percentage of last season's minutes played by guys that are still on the roster. But Boston is adding Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving to the team that eliminated Philadelphia in the playoffs. The Sixers will get a boost from the continued development of Simmons and Embiid, but a strong comeback from Fultz is their best chance to take another big step forward. While the guy (Jayson Tatum) the Celtics selected after swapping selections with Philly in the 2017 Draft (and getting an additional pick) had a terrific rookie season, Fultz struggled with his shot and his confidence, played in just 14 regular season games, and didn't see the floor in the conference semis. For the Sixers to make the most of what they have, they'll need Fultz to erase last season and make that trade look like less of a disaster.
Ben Simmons | 15.8 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 8.2 apg
Fultz isn't the only guy who needs to fix his jumper, but Simmons can do more without one. Already one of the league's best finishers at the rim.
JJ Redick | 17.1 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 3.0 apg
The league's best 3-point shooter (44 percent) over the last three seasons (minimum 500 attempts) opens things up with his spacing and movement.
Robert Covington | 12.6 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 1.7 spg
Led the league in deflections, but really struggled (33 percent shooting) in the postseason, losing his starting job in the Boston series.
Dario Saric | 14.6 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 2.6 apg
A do-it-all forward who was one of the league's most improved 3-point shooters (39 percent, up from 31 percent as a rookie) last season.
Joel Embiid | 22.9 ppg, 11.0 rpg, 1.8 bpg
Should be a Kia MVP and Kia Defensive Player of the Year candidate for the next several seasons. Conditioning was an issue in the playoffs.
Wilson Chandler | 10.0 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 2.1 apg
Not the ideal fit next to Simmons and Embiid, but can play both forward positions.
Markelle Fultz | 7.1 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 3.8 apg
One of three players (teammate T.J. McConnell was another) to record a triple-double off the bench last season.
Mike Muscala | 7.6 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 1.0 apg
The Ilyasova replacement took more than half his shots from 3-point range last season.
With cap space next summer (and the assets to make a trade before then), the Sixers still have some cards to play. As they stand, they're one of the three best teams in the Eastern Conference, with two young stars that will win them a lot of games. They won't see the league's biggest win increase this year, but another jump to 58-24 is realistic. Then it's all about matchups in the playoffs, and Embiid may be the one guy teams like Boston and Toronto can't deal with.