Entering this season, the Philadelphia 76ers were debatably the favorites to represent the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals. With the all-star break around the corner, the 76ers have been a dysfunctional team sitting at 5thplace in the East.
Philadelphia certainly has the talent to make a run come playoff time, but many things have to change. This team lacks leadership and is dramatically underperforming given its talent. Here are three players who must improve to give Philadelphia a shot in the postseason.
Let’s start at the top with this team’s best player, Joel Embiid. No one can deny Embiid’s talent and ability, but he needs to be better in order for the 76ers to make a playoff run.
If you look only look at Embiid’s 22.9 points per game and nearly 12 rebounds per game, you would assume he is not part of the problem in Philadelphia. However, if you consider Embiid’s potential to be the most dominant player in the East, you will realize he can contribute much more.
I believe Embiid needs to assert his dominance in the post more often instead of hanging along the perimeter and taking outside shots. In 2017-2018, Embiid scored 61.5 percent of his points from inside the arc. This season that number has dropped to 53.5 percent.
Embiid certainly has to ability to knock down 3-pointers, but it is baffling that he does not use his size and strength down low more. Embiid’s lack of conditioning could be a contributor to this. We have seen his conditioning fluctuate through the years and it is vital that he be in his best shape for the playoffs.
On top of this, Embiid needs to step up as a leader. He is face of the franchise and his talent combined with Ben Simmons and the complimentary pieces have enough fire power to make a run in the postseason. This team needs more leadership and chemistry and that starts with Embiid.
Al Horford was a key addition for the 76ers this past offseason, but he has not lived up to the hype thus far. Horford seemed to be Philadelphia’s kryptonite during his time with the Boston Celtics and one could only assume that his addition would help the 76ers’ production.
Unfortunately for Philadelphia, Horford has looked like a much different player this season. Horford has a smaller role in Philadelphia than in Boston, but it is shocking to see his numbers come down in almost every category.
Horford is shooting nearly ten percent worse from both the field and the free throw line this season. Maybe even more shocking is that his real plus-minus is less than half of what it was last season.
Horford does not have to be a star on offense for this team to win, but he has to be more productive. Horford is a player who has developed his jump shot throughout his career, but it has not shown this season.
Josh Richardson needs to step up in a similar way as Horford. Richardson is a high-quality player who was acquired in the Jimmy Butler trade this offseason. Richardson has not played poorly this season, but the 76ers could use more from him in order to make a deep playoff run.
Richardson is not the shooter JJ Redick is, but Philadelphia needs him to play a similar role. Richardson needs to be a knock-down 3-point shooter and a facilitator for this team and he certainly has the potential to do so.
Richardson is battling back from a hamstring injury, but I believe he will find his true role on this team down the stretch. A healthy Richardson playing his best basketball could do wonders for the 76ers.
(Stats from https://stats.nba.com and http://www.espn.com/nba/statistics/rpm/_/position/6)