This has been one of the weirdest starts to an NBA season in my recent memory. Teams are dropping 140 points like it's nothing, the Kings are good (for now), the Rockets are bad, and the Lakers are looking like an early letdown (it's fine, they'll turn it around. Maybe?) The landscape for the league has seemingly changed this year with fast paced, balls-to-the-wall offense looking like the key to winning. One of the most polarizing teams thus far is the Philadelphia 76ers, who sit at 6-5, good for fifth in the East. They've been plagued by inconsistency and questions still surround Markelle Fultz and his, as well as the team's, shooting abilities, but Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons are once again performing at All Star levels, making this whole process pretty damn uncertain.
Something just seems off in Philly. There isn't that sense of thrill that surrounded the team last year. It feels as if people have abandoned their fascination with the "Trust the Process" fiasco in favor of the new "Showtime" Lakers and upcoming free agencies. The Fultz "broken jump shot in practice" videos that blew up NBA Twitter every week are no more because now we can watch Fultz shoot in-game, and while the results haven't been great (30.8% 3FG), they could be worse, and everyone seems to have accepted that. Similarly, people have seemed to accept even less from Ben Simmons, as it's pretty universally known he can't shoot, and he's not expected to learn anytime soon. There's a feeling within me that more non-Philly fans are going to start turning on Embiid as he starts to come even more into his own as a player and personality. After the first Pistons/Sixers matchup of the year when Blake Griffin dropped 50 in an OT win to go along with posterizing Embiid, I saw a few tweets going after Embiid that were gaining some traction. Personally, Embiid is one of my favorite players in the league and I'd thought that he was a widely-liked player, but I can see how some may grow tired of his continued on-court antics and social media beefs.
The inconsistency has been the biggest issue up to this point. They're currently 6-0 at home and 0-5 on the road. Philly's had to play against some really good teams away from home (Boston, Milwaukee, Toronto), but if they want to be taken seriously as a contender they have to perform in these matchups. Besides the OT defeat to the Pistons, none of their losses have been that close. They even got blown out by the Nets in Brooklyn as they were outshot 105-65 (field goal attempts). Luckily for them they're one of only five teams in the East with a winning record so it's not like they're going to be worrying about making the playoffs come late-March. Their home record is encouraging since they can be in a position for home court advantage in the playoffs, but they need to figure out a way to cut down on the road losses if they want to have a chance at knocking out the Raptors or Celtics in a second or third-round matchup.
Amongst a myriad of uncertainty, Joel Embiid has been the one sure thing. He's played in all eleven games so far, an encouraging sign for his durability, and is averaging 28.4 points, 12.6 rebounds, 3.5 assists, and 2.2 blocks in those appearances on 48.8/30.4/80.7 splits. Not only is Embiid cementing himself as the best big man in the game, he's also making a run at being the best player in the East. IF the Sixers can straighten out their record and Embiid can stay healthy and keep up these stats, there's no reason why he shouldn't be in the MVP conversation. It's wild to think that Embiid has only played 105 games and is already so dominant. The fact that he hasn't hit his final form yet is asinine because once he does, he's going to be Dream Stepping the shit out of everyone, and in the process* probably finding himself in the Hall of Fame. For now, he's been a force on both ends. Embiid is currently third in the league in scoring, sixth in rebounding, and fifth in blocks. Anchoring the defense down low, Embiid's presence is massive for the tenth-best defense in the league (107.3 defensive rating). His health is obviously going to be a question mark for the rest of his career, but if he can stay on the court, a 70-plus game Embiid season is a gift from the basketball gods.
The other star in Philly isn't doing too bad, either. Last year's Rookie of the Year Ben Simmons is currently putting up 13.9 points, 9.3 rebounds, and 7.5 assists a game on 50.0/0.0/62.3 splits. If only Simmons had a jump shot, he could easily be putting up 22-9-8 consistently if he could just knock down even an elbow jumper or a free throw. Some see him as the potential successor to LeBron in terms of sheer greatness, but that's never going to happen if defenses literally turn their backs to him when he has the ball behind the arc. His turnovers are a little too high for the amount of assists he's collecting, as he's averaging 3.5 a night. It's likely that he'll be voted an All Star for the first time this year, but it wouldn't hurt for him to work on that stat line. It's not bad by any stretch, but after seeing what he could do last year (15.8/8.1/8.2) there's no reason for him to build on his successful rookie campaign. Simmons has the potential to be an all-time great, he just needs to get his entire game figured out. Him and Embiid together are going to be scary for the league in three to four years, especially since the Warriors dynasty will more than likely be no more.
The supporting cast hasn't been that great, with a few exceptions, which is probably why the team can't seem to win anywhere but Philly. J.J. Redick has been doing his job well, putting up almost 18 points a night on 38% shooting from three. Robert Covington is living up to his three-and-D label, averaging 11.5 a night on 42% three-point shooting to go along with two steals (seventh in the league) and 1.5 blocks. They're the lone two supporting players who have been consistent from three to help keep the offense afloat. Everybody else has been fairly disappointing. Dario Saric is having a down year in just about every category and is only averaging 9.8 points on 34% shooting. 2017 first pick Markelle Fultz isn't doing the Sixers any favors either. In what some hoped would be the year Fultz silenced critics, he hasn't done much to answer the questions surrounding his game. He's putting up 9.3/4.1/3.5 a night on 39.3/30.8/66.7 splits. It's not a great look, especially since he was selected before guys like Jayson Tatum, Lonzo Ball, and Donovan Mitchell. Hopefully everything clicks one day, but it doesn't seem like this is going to be his breakout year. Rookie Landry Shamet is giving the Sixers 7.5 points a game in 19.7 minutes a night, so they could potentially look for him to take on a bigger role if the offense stays in the bottom-five. Wilson Chandler, who was acquired via trade this summer from the Nuggets, will be returning soon enough to provide more bench scoring, which the Sixers desperately need.
The Sixers have limited time to get everything worked out before the Raptors, Celtics, Bucks, and maybe even the Pacers fill out the top half of the East. It may seem early still, but the season is going to go by fast and the Sixers better have it together before they find themselves out of the playoffs in the first round.