Buying or Selling 76ers' Biggest Early-Season Trends

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistDecember 9, 2021

Buying or Selling 76ers' Biggest Early-Season Trends

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    Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images

    It's hard to get a complete grasp on the Philadelphia 76ers when they haven't been complete at any point of the 2021-22 NBA season.

    Ben Simmons remains out of the fold, as he waits for his trade wish to be granted. This roster has lost players to injuries as well as the health and safety protocols, resulting in just six players appearing in at least 20 of the club's first 25 games.

    While other clubs might be coloring in the picture of what they can or can't do during this campaign, the Sixers have barely started their rough sketch. Reading this team isn't easy, but we'll accept the task while putting three early-season trends to the buy-or-sell test.

Trend: The Defense Has Really Regressed

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    Matt Rourke/Associated Press

    Verdict: Buy

    Last season, the 76ers led the Eastern Conference and ranked second overall in defensive efficiency, per This year, they have fallen all the way to 18th.

    What happened?

    For starters, every key stopper on this squad has missed time. Wings Matisse Thybulle and Danny Green have both missed seven games. Interior anchor Joel Embiid has sat out 10. There is no way to mask those absences when they happen.

    The bigger issue, though, is the loss of Simmons.

    Philly's 6'11" head of the snake and one of the league's only true five-position defenders, Simmons has only played four NBA seasons and already earned a pair of All-Defensive first-team honors. This defense isn't and won't be the same without him, especially if he winds up getting traded for an offense-focused shot-creator.

Trend: Joel Embiid Has Regressed, Too

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    Chris Carlson/Associated Press

    Verdict: Easy sell

    No player matched Joel Embiid's level of two-way domination last season. That's why he took second in the MVP voting despite missing 21 games (nearly 30 percent of the truncated 72-game schedule).

    He hasn't packed the same punch this season, losing, among other things, 0.7 win shares per 48 minutes, per Basketball Reference. Clearly, that's a cause for concern, right?


    He had a scary bout with COVID-19 and felt the aftereffects upon his return. He has struggled with his shot and adjusting to life without Simmons.

    But Embiid is starting to distance himself from those struggles (34.3 points on 55.0 percent shooting his last three games). He might be getting his wind back, and his playmaking has really perked up to compensate for Philly's lack of a natural point guard. He might not factor into this season's MVP race, but he's fine.

Trend: Tyrese Maxey Has Joined Most Improved Player Race

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    Charles Krupa/Associated Press

    Verdict: Buy

    Tyrese Maxey appeared in 12 playoff games as a rookie last season. He logged fewer than seven minutes in five of them.

    Why is that relevant to this discussion? Because it's important to remember how new the 21-year-old is to all of this—the major minutes, the starting spot, the primary point guard duties—since his play could convince you that he is a seasoned vet.

    No matter what you thought about Maxey coming into this season, you have almost certainly elevated your expectations since. His dramatic increase in offensive chances hasn't cost him any efficiency. In fact, he's shooting better at all three levels. His assists are way up without a similar spike in turnovers, and he is more consistent at the defensive end.

    The Sixers have an All-Star removed from the equation, and it hasn't sent them spiraling down the standings. That's a credit to a lot of people around this team, but Maxey's ability to rise to the challenge ranks among the biggest factors.