NBA

Can the New Look Philadelphia 76ers Top the Eastern Conference in 2019-20?

Joel Embiid feels the heartbreak of a Game 7 loss

The 2018-19 season ended in heartbreak for Joel Embiid and the Philadelphia 76ers. After pushing their playoff series against the Toronto Raptors to a Game 7, the 76ers watched in horror as Kawhi Leonard’s off-balance shot took an improbable bounce off of the rim before eventually falling into the hoop for the game and series winner.

The Raptors, who were pushed to the brink by the 76ers, would go on to win the NBA Championship in 2019. Now re-tooled with some new weapons this offseason, Philadelphia hopes to be the team that reaches the promised land in 2020.

Al Horford and Josh Richardson are in, Jimmy Butler and J.J. Reddick are out

Al Horford joins the Philadelphia 76ers
Al Horford is headed to the City of Brotherly Love | Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Jimmy Butler and J.J. Reddick were two of Philadelphia’s best offensive weapons last season. Butler averaged 18.2 points per game during the regular season for the 76ers and ramped that up to 19.4 PPG in the postseason including an impressive 22 PPG against Toronto. Reddick averaged 18.1 PPG during the regular season and hit 41.4% of his three-pointers during the playoffs.

Yet despite the level of talent heading out of the door in Philadelphia, there is legitimate reason to believe that the talent coming in could be an upgrade. Once considered one of the league’s most underrated stars, Al Horford came into this offseason as one of the top free agents on the board. The versatile big man averaged 13.6 points, 6.7 assists and 4.2 rebounds for the Boston Celtics last season while hitting 36% from behind the arc.

In trading Jimmy Butler to the Miami Heat, the 76ers received Josh Richardson, who on paper looks to be a perfect fit for this Philadelphia team. The 25-year-old shooting guard enjoyed career highs of 16.6 points, 3.6 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game last season with the Heat while establishing himself as an elite perimeter defender. And perhaps best of all, he’s signed to a cap-friendly contract for the next three seasons.

Current starters need to take the next step

Tobias Harris received a big payday from the 76ers who gave him a five-year, $180 million max deal. Harris averaged 18.2 PPG in 27 regular season games for the 76ers last season and 15.5 PPG in the postseason.

The 26-year-old forward has been a solid scorer over the course of his career, but he’ll need to be even more than that if Philadelphia hopes to compete for the top spot in the East and the NBA Championship this season. With Butler and Reddick both gone, Harris will be called upon to pick up the slack on perimeter offense moving forward.

While the complimentary pieces are all important, this team will go as far Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons take them. Embiid was simply unstoppable for large portions of last season averaging 27.5 points and 13.6 rebounds per game during the regular season. But against Toronto, the star center averaged only 17.6 points and 8.7 rebounds per game. He will need to find a way to assert his dominance against the NBA’s top teams when the playoffs roll around.

Similarly, Ben Simmons saw his regular season totals of 16.9 PPG, 8.8 rebounds per game and 7.7 assists per game shrink down to 13.9, 7.0 and 6.0 in the postseason. The former first overall pick will have to elevate his game this offseason, and improved shooting would be a great place to start.

A fantastic starting five

In a league full of teams with 2-3 superstars and not much depth behind them, the 76ers’ starting lineup of Joel Embiid, Al Horford, Tobias Harris, Ben Simmons and Josh Richardson is arguably the best in the NBA. And the scariest part for the rest of the league is that all but Horford on this list are 26 years old or younger.

The sky is the limit for this group in this season’s wide open NBA landscape. If Embiid can stay healthy, the 76ers should live up to the hype and be a legitimate NBA Finals contender in 2020.