After what felt like an eternal off-season, preseason basketball will finally tip off in a little under a week. The Sixers will have a lot on their shoulders to once again compete for a top seed in the Eastern Conference
The Sixers finished last season 52-30, propelled by Rookie of the Year Ben Simmons and first-time All-Star Joel Embiid. They were able to seize a playoff series win against the Heat in the first action of postseason play together, but the season ended in a 4-1 series loss against the Celtics in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
Now expectations for this team are at a high for the first time in years. The main core will be back to play together, minus a few crucial bench players like Marco Bellineli and Ersan Ilyasova, and a few new faces will be in the mix.
So where do the Sixers go from here? Here’s a few bold predictions for this 2018-19 NBA season.
1. Ben Simmons Finishes Top-3 in Assists
Ben Simmons rookie season was nothing short of spectacular. Ben joined Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson as the only players in league history to score over 15 points per game, 8 rebounds per game, and 8 assists per game in their first season in the league. Ben also accumulated eight triple-doubles for his rookie season; the only player with more is Oscar Robertson with a whopping twenty six triple-doubles.
With play makers and shot creators like Joel Embiid, J.J. Redick, Dario Saric, and others around him, Simmons should have no trouble returning to the elite passer he established himself to be last season.
Expect another solid season from Simmons where he dishes nine to ten assists and finish as a top-3 assist leader in the league.
2. Markelle Fultz will be in the Starting Lineup for the Season Opener
Everybody in Philadelphia, from trainers to fans, are optimistic about the return of Markelle Fultz. After an injury-riddled disappointment of a rookie season, Fultz is coming back with a laser pointed at his back. Now is the time Fultz needs to produce in order to keep his spot on the team.
Reports from Drew Hanlen, Fultz’s trainer, and the front office are suggesting that Fultz has rejuvenated himself and is set to compete for or potentially secure a spot on the starting roster. Fultz’s shot is looking a lot better from what it looked like last year, and if that tells us anything, it’s that the true Markelle Fultz is back.
If he can stay healthy, the league should be very scared as to what Fultz can accomplish.
3. Joel Embiid will be a top MVP Candidate
While the hype around the jump shots of Fultz and Simmons have been in the spotlight, a lot of people forget about the absolute monster playing the five position: Joel Embiid. Embiid has the tangibles to be not only one of the best centers in the league, but one of the greatest of all-time.
Embiid should have another All-Star caliber season and will continue to assert himself as the top center in the NBA. The attention the team will get garnered through JoJo’s leadership will undoubtedly make him a viable candidate for the prestigious MVP award.
Expect a double-double average from the now unrestricted and 100% healthy Embiid, with at least 26 points per game and 12 rebounds per game as well as at least 2.0 blocks per game.
4. The Injury Plague will Strike… Again
You’re not a true 76er rookie until you’re injured before the season even starts. Just ask Nerlens Noel, Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Markelle Fultz, or this year’s draft selection Zhaire Smith.
Smith, who was acquired from the Suns along with an unprotected 2021 pick in exchange for Mikal Bridges, the 10th overall pick, suffered a Jones fracture in training which required surgery. The odds that Smith will play this season look incredibly slim.
However, if history suggests anything, this might be for the better. Embiid missed his first two seasons and shaped himself into an NBA All-Star starter. Simmons missed his first season and still managed to win ROTY and nearly made the All-Star team.
There shouldn’t be any urgency to rush Zhaire Smith back unless the team is exponentially losing. Expect Smith not to return until after the midway point of the season or next season at the latest.
5. The Sixers win the East
The last time the Sixers made the NBA Finals was 2001. With LeBron out of Cleveland and moved out to the Western Conference to the Lakers, the East is wide open and the Sixers path to the Finals got a whole lot easier.
Philly is supposed to be amongst the East’s best teams with the Celtics and Raptors. The Sixers made it as far as the ECF last season and have enough talent to make it back and even farther into the playoffs.
However mistakes like those made in last year’s Celtics series need to be minimized. Turnovers need to be reduced drastically so teams like the Celtics or Raptors don’t go on extended runs where we are outscored.
Our most valuable leaders like Joel and Ben must step up in clutch time in order to close out close games. Games like game three of last year’s ECF where Simmons only had one point are unacceptable in the NBA Playoffs when every win or loss matters the most.
This team should be able to overcome last year’s errors through playoff experience and growth. Seasoned veterans with playoff experience like JJ Redick (who has made the playoffs every year since his rookie season) will be responsible to lead one of the youngest teams in the league in the right direction once again
It’ll be very close, but I could definitely see the Sixers barely squeezing out a series win against the Celtics and making the NBA Finals. Trust it.
[Photo Credit: Chris Szagola & Winslow Towson/Associated Press, Mike Stobe/Getty Images]
17 year old aspiring sports journalist and a fan of all things Philadelphia sports! #TrustTheProcess