Ranking 76ers' Biggest Strengths Through 2 Months

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistDecember 23, 2021

Ranking 76ers' Biggest Strengths Through 2 Months

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    Rocky Widner/Getty Images

    The Philadelphia 76ers entered the 2021-22 NBA season as one of the premier heavyweights in the Eastern Conference.

    They have struggled to look the part.

    Injuries and illness figure into that, but the bigger issue has been a lack of consistency. The 76ers are predictably unpredictable, the type of team that can—and has—immediately follow a six-game winning streak with a five-game losing skid.

    Watching this club can be maddening on the wrong night, but catch it on the right one, and your imagination will run wild with potential outcomes for this season. That's because there are things this team does really well, and we're here to dissect and rank them.

3. Ball Control

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    Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

    Without Ben Simmons around to floor the gas pedal, the Sixers have decelerated to the league's second-slowest pace. That has upped the importance of each offensive possession.

    For a team missing its starting point guard, that could be the recipe for a disaster, but Philly has never veered off track. Philadelphia has jumped all the way to sixth in turnover percentage—last season, with Simmons, it was 20th—thanks to mostly excellent decision-making by everyone in the backcourt. Sophomore Tyrese Maxey has the been the category's biggest key, as his first season at the helm has resulted in one of the NBA's best assists-per-turnover rates (3.45).

    "You can tell he's getting better seeing the floor," Maxey's backcourt mate Seth Curry told reporters.

    Maxey sometimes gets too passive and could look for his own shots more, but for a young player running offense for the first time, there are myriad major issues he could encounter, and that's not one.

2. Disruptive Defense

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    Charles Krupa/Associated Press

    Philly's defense doesn't have the same zip without Simmons. Turns out that losing an all-galaxy defender who has the mobility to defend point guards and the length to pester centers is kind of a big deal.

    Overall, the Sixers defense has fallen off a cliff since last season, dropping all the way from No. 2 to No. 21 in defensive efficiency, per NBA.com.

    Yet this unit can still wreak havoc like few others, thanks primarily to interior anchor Joel Embiid and tenacious perimeter stopper Matisse Thybulle.

    Their fingerprints are all over Philly's prominent rankings in blocks (6.0, first) and steals (8.0, ninth). Thybulle's motor, in particular, has helped the Sixers tally the fourth-most deflections (16.6).

1. Joel Embiid

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    Chris Szagola/Associated Press

    While a Simmons trade might give the Sixers a wider safety net, they will ultimately go as far as Embiid can take them.

    He's the puzzle piece other teams can't handle. While he hasn't been quite as sharp as he was last season—when he finished second in MVP voting despite missing 21 games—he's been outstanding compared to practically everyone else.

    His nightly contributions include 25.1 points, 10.9 rebounds, 4.4 assists, 1.4 blocks and 1.2 steals. If that sounds like an overstuffed stat sheet, that's because it is. The list of players with a 20/10/4/1/1 average stat line is two names long: Embiid and two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo.

    Embiid, who makes the team 9.5 points better per 100 possessions just by hitting the hardwood, is the heart and soul of the Sixers and the only reason they can't be ruled out of the championship race.

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