Questions 76ers Must Answer Before 2021 NBA Playoffs

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistApril 22, 2021

Questions 76ers Must Answer Before 2021 NBA Playoffs

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    The Philadelphia 76ers rank inside the class of heavyweight NBA championship contenders.

    Their place among that group might be up for discussion, but their inclusion in it is not.

    Joel Embiid is an all-caps SUPERSTAR. Ben Simmons might be the league's top defensive chess piece with his unrivaled versatility. Tobias Harris has turned this entire campaign into a heater. The offseason investment in shooting has already paid off. Coach Doc Rivers has pushed the right buttons as the Sixers had hoped.

    But the Sixers, like everyone else, have things to clean up and questions to answer ahead of the 2021 playoffs. We'll focus on the latter with three of the more pressing inquiries for this club.

Do They Have Enough Scoring Around Embiid?

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    Chris Szagola/Associated Press

    A healthy Embiid is both a gift from the basketball gods and the driving force behind Philly's championship dreams.

    He might be in the driver's seat for the MVP award had he not lost 10 games to a left knee bruise. Even with the injury, he makes the short list of top candidates with remarkable per-game marks of 30.1 points, 11.3 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.4 blocks.

    But despite Embiid's sizzling stats—and the best season of Harris' career—the Sixers sit just 15th in offensive efficiency. They could still use more shooting (26th in threes per game) and need more shot-creators to supplement Simmons' distributing.

    Elite defense (second in efficiency) and all the Embiid opponents can't handle isn't a bad formula for success. But you wonder if Philly has enough counterpunches in its arsenal for when teams inevitably devote the majority of their resources to slowing down the big fella.

Can Shake Milton Shake out of His Funk?

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    Give Shake Milton access to a time machine, and he might be exactly what this offense needs in it supporting cast.

    From last season's stretch run through this year's opening, he electrified this offense with loads of shot-making and enough distribution to handle secondary playmaking duties.

    But that version of Milton is becoming a distant memory, as the third-year scoring guard stumbles through a challenging stretch with not enough scoring, wayward shooting and very little in the way of finding shots for teammates, as Kyle Neubeck noted for Philly Voice:

    "I have absolutely no idea what happened to that guy. Everything (aside from some periodic outside shooting) looks extraordinarily difficult for Milton at the moment. He can't beat anyone off of the dribble, he's forcing up terrible shots inside the arc, he's dribbling himself into traffic and into trouble, and his passing has been a borderline disaster."

    Philadelphia might decide it is effectively committed at this point to Milton, who ranks fourth on the team in points and sixth in minutes per game. That means this issue isn't getting swept under the rug. Instead, the Sixers can only hope their ignitable guard can reignite his flame ahead of the playoffs.

How Big of a Role Should George Hill Have?

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    George Hill is racing against the clock to make a definitive argument for a substantial role in Rivers' playoff rotation.

    Acquired at the deadline for a package that included reserve center Tony Bradley and four second-round picks, Hill had his Philly debut delayed by a thumb injury that predated the deal. All told, the injury cost him nearly three months, and he has only been able to make two appearances so far for the Sixers.

    The good news is the 34-year-old has the smarts and skills needed to bring himself up to speed quickly. He's an easy fit on almost any roster—this one included—since he can play on or off the ball and fill either guard spot at both ends of the floor. With 127 playoff games under his belt, he won't be fazed by the postseason's bright lights, either.

    The better news is it's easy to see where Hill can help. He can meet some of Philly's demands for more shooting and shot-creation, and the latter skill in particular could be useful given Milton's aforementioned struggles in that department.

    Still, Rivers needs to use these next few weeks to get a good grasp on how much Hill can handle. The playoff plans change considerably if he's averaging in the high teens in terms of minutes as opposed to the high 20s.