No one doubts the talent of the Philadelphia 76ers, but they have been one of the most inconsistent teams. Will coach Brett Brown's decision to move Ben Simmons to power forward allow the team to thrive when the NBA season restarts?
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Although they were picked by many to challenge at the top of the Eastern Conference and make a deep playoff run this season, the 76ers will resume their campaign in a disappointing sixth place. Their 39-26 record comprises superb home form (29-2) and a woeful return from their road games (10-24).
On Heatcheck, regulars Mo Mooncey and Ovie Soko were joined by three-time NBA champion BJ Armstrong and all three were asked by host Jaydee Dyer if the resumption of the 2019-20 season is a make or break moment for Philadelphia.
"It is make or break on this current team (the 76ers) have assembled, in terms of the paring of Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid and adding Al Horford into the mix and paying him all that big money," said Mooncey. "If it doesn't work now, there is going to have to be some serious questions asked and trades that are going to have to be made in the offseason.
"A lot of people have said Embiid and Simmons can't play together. If the Sixers do crash out in the first round of the playoffs, I think the front office will have to look at making a few moves.
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"However, I think this current situation is really favourable for Philly. Embiid has had the chance to rest and hopefully his injuries won't flare up again. They also have one of the easiest schedules (for their eight seeding games) before the playoffs start. It is teed up perfectly for the Sixers to get in rhythm and make a run, but it remains to be seen how long that run can last."
"It's make or break for this Sixers unit, but not in terms of them winning the championship," Soko agreed. "I don't think they are a championship-level team quite yet."
"There is more pressure on the Sixers players to perform (than there is on coach Brett Brown)," said former Chicago Bulls guard Armstrong. "Personally, the Philadelphia 76ers are one of the most intriguing teams. I look at the team and I love their talent, especially what Embiid and Simmons bring. For whatever reason, they can't find the perfect combination or chemistry for their two star players to co-exist.
"On paper, adding Horford last summer sounded great. He has always been a player who has had a lot of success as a center. He has been an All-Star-calibre player as an undersized center. But you can see the combination hasn't worked in Philadelphia. They are a huge, super team. They have (Embiid, Horford), Tobias Harris and the 6ft 10in Simmons at the point guard position. But the spacing and chemistry did not work."
Armstrong believes the Sixers' decision to switch Simmons from the point guard to the power forward position - with Shake Milton coming into the starting line-up at the point and veteran Al Horford going to the bench - could solve the Sixers' woes.
"I really love them putting Simmons at the power forward position. I think this is his natural position. I am really excited to see them (with this line-up). They are putting Simmons at a position where he has a natural advantage. I can't think of another power forward who has his speed, quickness, agility and skillset that he will bring as a power forward. I am looking to see him playmake, not initiate," Armstrong said.
"I think he is going to be a monster at the power forward position. He should have an advantage almost every night, with the exception of when he comes up against Giannis Antetokounmpo."
Soko agreed, saying the positional switch could be like "flicking the light switch" for Simmons.
"I think he will shoot the ball a lot better and be an absolute headache for opponents," he said. "It will also allow more spacing for Embiid, something they have always struggled with when Simmons operates as a ball-handler. Horford, most likely, will have to come off the bench. He is a veteran and he will be able to handle that change if it benefits the team."
"It is going to be a really interesting experiment because rather than having the ball in his hands and being forced to shoot, Simmons will be the 'roll man' in pick-and-roll situations where he can utilise his incredible speed and his size advantage," said Mooncey.