By: Jalon Dixon, Columnist
Despite entering the season with one of the most talented starting lineups in the league, center Joel Embiid and the Philadelphia 76ers underwhelming play on the court has made them one of the most disappointing teams to watch so far this season.
With a record of 15 – 7, the Sixers are currently sitting at fifth place in the Eastern Conference. Coming into the season many analysts chose Philadelphia as their pre-season conference champion and for good reason. Out of the Sixers and the four teams above them, Philadelphia came in with the least question marks.
After losing all-star forward Kawhi Leonard to the LA Clippers, some wondered if the Toronto Raptors would fall out of playoff contention and force them to possibly begin a rebuild. Third time was supposed to be the charm for Miami Heat guard Jimmy Butler after bouncing from the Minnesota Timberwolves to the Sixers, but there were questions regarding whether he left a championship caliber team for a roster that might not even be talented enough to make the playoffs.
The Boston Celtics suffered major blows to their roster due to free agency, only to have guard Kemba Walker and center Enes Kanter to show for it. And of course, the Milwaukee Bucks may have the best player in the conference and reigning MVP in forward Giannis Antetokounmpo, but is his supporting cast around him enough for them to really to win a title? With all these questions needing answers, Philadelphia was in a prime position to overtake the East and put the league on notice.
With a starting lineup of guards Josh Richardson and Ben Simmons, along with forwards Tobias Harris and Al Horford along with Embiid, no one should be surprised that the 76ers have the kind of expectations that they do. Considering that Philadelphia acquired Horford who was the Boston Celtics best rim defender last year and acquired another primary ball handler to go alongside Simmons, they put together a championship-caliber starting five full of willing defenders and capable scorers that could compete with the likes of all the top teams in the league.
So far this season they have shown their capabilities in spurts, but they have also shown the low end as well. Looking at their games played so far, they do not have a quality win against a contending team besides beating the Utah Jazz 103 – 94 on Dec. 2 and that was actually more of a revenge game considering the Jazz beat them 106-104 in the first matchup. Along with that, they have losses to the Washington Wizards, Oklahoma City Thunder and Phoenix Suns that they do not have any business losing to.
Being as top heavy as they are, Philadelphia relies a lot on the play of their all-star duo in Simmons and Joel Embiid who is not playing up to their potential at the moment. Known as more of a facilitator, Simmons is averaging a career high in assists with 8.5 per game, but he also has career lows in points (13.2) and rebounds (6.9). As a 6-foot-10 guard, Simmons is playing smaller than he is and his lack of aggressiveness as a scorer and his inability to shoot the three is reflects that.
For Embiid, although he is a comedian on Twitter, what is really funny is how much he has regressed from last season to this season. After having an MVP caliber stat line of 27.5 points, 13.6 rebounds and 3.7 assists on 48.4% shooting, Embiid has taken steps back averaging less in every category so far this year. The most glaring stat being his 22.6 points per game this season which is his lowest average since his rookie season.
With everyone outside of the starting lineup averaging nine points or less, the lack of bench depth is hurting this team more than most could have anticipated. We are only a third of the way through the season, but it is safe to say that the Sixers will probably look to be very active on the trade market when the time comes. Things have not been looking great for Philadelphia and they are slowly sliding down NBA power rankings, but they still have time to turn things around and prove that they are still one of the top teams in the league.