76ers Biggest Takeaways from Opening Games of 2021-22 NBA Season

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistOctober 28, 2021

76ers Biggest Takeaways from Opening Games of 2021-22 NBA Season

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    Nate Billings/Associated Press

    The Philadelphia 76ers are four games and a boatload of Ben Simmons rumors into the 2021-22 NBA season.

    Their identity is unknown—they have two wins over bad teams and two losses to good ones—and will remain that way as long as Simmons is on the roster but off the court.

    It's hard to weigh anything Philly is doing without Simmons or whatever trade package the 25-year-old All-Star could bring back. Still, a trio of takeaways has already surfaced around this squad.

The Ben Simmons Situation Needs a Solution

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    Matt Rourke/Associated Press

    Simmons took his trade request to Sixers management near the end of August. November arrives Monday.

    Two months may not seem like a massive amount of time, but it's a lifetime to talk about the same subject over and over again—a subject who is almost entirely silent and seeking a split from some longtime teammates.

    This is about more than discomfort, though.

    Simmons' absence weighs even heavier on the court, where Philly has fallen from second to 21st in defensive efficiency, per NBA.com. The offense is riding high for now on a bunch of shot-making, but there's no connectivity. Tobias Harris leads the team with 5.0 assists, and Joel Embiid is the only other player clearing four dimes a night. Simmons' 6.9 helpers last season were a career-low.

    The Sixers are missing an All-Star and annual Defensive Player of the Year candidate. That's impossible to gloss over. They need to find a solution fast, whether it's somehow convincing him to stay or working out a deal that brings in a player or players who can help this club chase the crown.

Seth Curry Has 1 of the NBA's Best Contracts

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    Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

    Credit the Dallas Mavericks for having the foresight to ink Seth Curry to a four-year, $32 million pact back in July 2019.

    But credit the Sixers for pouncing on the deal a year later when they acquired Curry for the underperforming Josh Richardson and Tyler Bey. Richardson has since skipped out on the Mavs, while Curry has entrenched himself as a core player in Philly at one of the best bargain rates in the league.

    Curry was solid last season, but he started to let rip in the postseason. He ranked third on the squad in scoring with 18.8 points and posted a pristine 57.8/50.6/78.9 slash line.

    It shouldn't be possible, but he's shooting better this season. Through four games, he's converting a ridiculous 63.2 percent of his field goals and 61.9 percent of his long-range looks. He may not have many layers to his game beyond shot-making, but he's so unbelievably good in that area that it's hard to believe he doesn't cost more against Philly's cap.

Joel Embiid Isn't Himself

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    Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

    If Embiid doesn't miss 21 games last season, there's probably an MVP award sitting on his mantle right now.

    His 2020-21 version was a soul-snatcher. He was unstoppable on offense and unbeatable on defense. His volume and efficiency simultaneously spiked, and the result was a two-way weapon no opponent—other than maybe the injury bug—could handle.

    Embiid isn't that player right now. His numbers are down almost across the board, and his impact isn't being felt nearly the same way. The right knee he injured last postseason is hampering him again after he bumped it on opening night, although he has tried downplaying the injury's significance.

    "[The knee injury] is not an excuse, but I don't think I've played like this to start the season or any stretch in my career so it's not an excuse," Embiid told reporters. "I'm gonna keep pushing and hope for the best."

    Whether this is simply a sluggish start or something Embiid will need to address with rest, Philly can't get rolling until it's fixed. The Sixers are only in the championship conversation because of their center, so if he's not right, they can't be either.

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