When Kevin Durant joined the Brooklyn Nets this offseason, he officially brought an end to the Golden State Warriors super-team that had owned the NBA for the last three seasons. For the first time in years, there are multiple teams around the league that look like they have a legitimate shot at winning the NBA Championship. One of those potential title contenders is the Philadelphia 76ers.
Philadelphia entered its sixth game of the 2019-20 season against the Phoenix Suns as the only remaining undefeated team in the NBA at a perfect 5-0. While there are a handful of great teams around the league this year, there is one key reason why the 76ers might be the team to beat in the Eastern Conference.
Philadelphia is loaded with balanced depth
The NBA is a superstar-driven league. The Golden State Warriors entered the season as a potential playoff contender, and once Stephen Curry went down with a broken hand, suddenly they look ready to tank the season.
The more legitimate contenders have better depth than this year’s Golden State team, but the point remains; most teams aren’t build to survive if a superstar gets injured. Imagine the Milwaukee Bucks without Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Houston Rockets without James Harden, or the Los Angeles Lakers without LeBron James or Anthony Davis.
And then there are the 76ers, who balance their scoring across all five of their starters. Entering this week’s action, Joel Embiid was leading the way with 23.3 points per game, followed by Tobias Harris (19.6 PPG), Ben Simmons (16.8 PPG), Al Horford (16.2 PPG), and Josh Richardson (14 PPG). That’s five different players that can get the job done on any given night.
The ability to survive Joel Embiid’s absence
Joel Embiid is unquestionably Philadelphia’s best player when he is on the court. The 25-year-old is an explosive big man that has improved every year he has been in the league, most recently averaging 27.5 points and 13.6 rebounds per game in 2018-19.
But over the last three seasons, Embiid has missed 88 (or 35.8%) of Philadelphia’s 246 regular-season games. The team’s performance used to take a noticeable hit in games that Embiid missed or wasn’t playing his best in as the 76ers had no legitimate replacement for him at center.
Now, they have one of the best centers in the game in Al Horford ready to go. As Embiid was serving the first game of a two-game suspension he picked up for his brawl with Karl-Anthony Towns, Horford slid over from power forward into his natural position at center, leading the team with 25 points in a 129-128 road win against the Portland Trail Blazers. Tobias Harris slid into his natural position of power forward and scored 23 points while Ben Simmons chipped in with 18 and Josh Richardson had 17.
The 76ers won’t be an easy out this season
As the regular season wears on, Philadelphia’s depth will allow the team to control wear and tear on its players with rotating days off, all without losing too much production on the court.
In the playoffs, this starting five is going to be a handful for opposing teams. While other teams have a player or two that you can hone in on during a seven-game series, the 76ers will have the depth to exploit teams that leave any of these talented players open. It’s going to be very interesting to see how far this team can go.