Now that the dust has settled from the 76ers’ playoff exit and the sting has started to subside from the 4-1 series loss to the Celtics, it’s a good time to look at what the Sixers can do to improve.
It’s no secret that Ben Simmons needs to work on his jumper and that Markelle Fultz has to rediscover his own, but there is plenty more that the rest of the roster can work on in the offseason to make sure the team has a better chance when the 2019 playoffs come around.
There is a good chance that the Sixers will look a lot different next season. With JJ Redick, Amir Johnson, Ersan Ilyasova, and Marco Belinelli becoming free agents, along with the draft being around the corner and free agency looming, there’s no point in dissecting some of the guys who might not be here. But, for the players who will be in Sixers jerseys, there are things we can look at.
Joel Embiid, Simmons, Dario Saric, Robert Covington, and Justin Anderson are a handful of the players who can address certain aspects of their game to improve in the offseason.
This is not an attempt to cover every spot that the Sixers need to fix, but rather, it’s a chance to look at just a few of the the not-so-talked-about things that could help them in the long run.
There really is no better teacher than experience, and that will help with all the Sixers, including Embiid. But when the starting point guard also averages a high number of turnovers, you have to try to cut down elsewhere.
Embiid’s conditioning work in the offseason is one thing that can help with this, and it’s something that he focused heavily on in his exit interview. In addition to a stronger body and increased stamina, better ball-handling skills would benefit Embiid. Nobody is expecting him to become Stephen Curry, with a 30-minute, pregame, two-ball-handling routine. All Embiid needs is just a little bit better understanding of his body in relation to the ball and how to have more control with the ball in his hands. A great number of Embiid’s turnovers came when he pump-faked from near the corner or was backing down someone in the post and lost control of the ball.
Simmons’ off-ball defense
Simmons was incredible in his rookie season, and a pleasant surprise on the defensive end through the regular season. In the future, the hope for the Sixers is that there will be someone other than T.J. McConnell who can be a ball-handling defender, and someone who is a more traditional two-way wing player so that Simmons won’t be stretched too thin.
Still, Boston showed some of the weaknesses in Simmons’ game. Unfortunately, the best way to get better at off-ball defense is with practice and a ton of film. Simmons will have a semi-busy offseason with trying to become a point guard who can shoot, but he should have plenty of time to watch game tape and get into a gym to run some scenarios.
Saric’s ability to battle with bigs
The Sixers’ Croatian sensation had a consistent and improved year, and, compared with last season, increased his efficiency and production in every category. He will no doubt be looking to continue his three-point improvement, which will benefit the Sixers, but if he wants to take another step forward, he should spend time preparing for some physical battles.
Power forwards are getting only stronger in the NBA and Saric is sometimes tasked with playing the five in a small lineup, so it’s a good idea to hit the weight room and work on playing through heavy contact. Additionally, with the amount that teams are switching and creating mismatches, Saric will need to work on his quickness and agility.
The series against the Celtics was probably the roughest on Covington, who struggled on both ends of the floor. It was one of the rare times that Covington didn’t play well on the defensive end, and his shooting continued to be unpredictable.
He will be working on his shot and looking at things he could have done better on defense, but Covington can also improve by becoming a better finisher at the rim. He’s a fast player, and because he is defensive-minded and comes up with a lot of deflections and steals, he gets into fast-break and transition situations more often than most. But sometimes he struggles with his final touch. It’s one of the things that Covington said came up in his exit interview, and it’s something that easily can be worked on in the offseason.
A lot of people were disappointed that Anderson wasn’t put in the lineup sooner and more often in the Boston series, including Anderson himself. One of the reasons that Brett Brown held back on using Anderson was that the Sixers were desperate for scoring against the Celtics.
Anderson would have provided more physical defense on the wing, and he had improved his shot since the previous season, but in Brown’s eyes, he wasn’t as reliable a shooter as Belinelli and Ilyasova. Of course, the two veterans didn’t end up shooting well and we all know how things ended in Boston. Next season, in the final year of his contract, Anderson will want to be known as a guy the Sixers can rely on to knock down a shot. Long gym hours and repetition will be key in his offseason.