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Sunday, April 29, 2018

Boston Versus Philadelphia Preview

Eastern Conference Second Round

#2 Boston (55-27) vs. #3 Philadelphia (52-30)

Season series: Boston, 3-1

Philadelphia can win if…the 76ers stick to the foundations that have taken them this far: outstanding team defense and rebounding, tremendous passing as a unit and then the individual brilliance of Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, who returned to the lineup for the final three games of the first round after being out due to an orbital fracture.

During the regular season, the 76ers ranked first in defensive field goal percentage (.434), first in rebounding (47.4 rpg) and second in assists (27.1 apg). They displayed toughness, physicality and unselfishness. The team improved throughout the season and survived the 18 regular season games missed by Embiid, who led the 76ers in scoring (22.9 ppg), rebounding (11.0 rpg) and blocked shots (1.8 bpg) despite playing just 30.3 mpg.

Ben Simmons, who likely will win the Rookie of the Year award, averaged 15.8 ppg, 8.2 apg and 8.1 rpg during the regular season. He is a throwback player who shoots a high percentage from the field (.545) while only attempting just 11 three pointers (none made) during the entire season. His rookie numbers are eerily similar to Magic Johnson's (18.0 ppg, 7.3 apg, 7.7 rpg, .530 FG%, 7-31 three point shooting)--but what made Magic special is that he led the Lakers to the championship that season and then led the Lakers to four more titles in the 1980s. Simmons averaged 18.2 ppg, 10.6 rpg and 9.0 apg while shooting .500 from the field as Philadelphia took care of Miami in five games in the first round.

J.J. Redick averaged a career-high 17.1 ppg during the regular season and he led the 76ers with 20.0 ppg in the first round of the playoffs. The defensive attention commanded by Simmons and Embiid obviously helps Redick a lot.

Marco Belineli, Dario Saric, Ersan Ilyasova and Robert Covington are all making excellent contributions.

Boston will win because…the Celtics are an outstanding defensive team that is better than the sum of its parts.

Al Horford led the Celtics in scoring (18.7 ppg) and rebounding (8.7 rpg) as Boston defeated Milwaukee in seven games. Jaylen Brown (17.9 ppg) and Terry Rozier (17.6 ppg) were Boston's next two leading scorers.

This may not be a "name-brand" roster but the Celtics can play. During the regular season they ranked second in defensive field goal percentage (.440), first in defensive three point field goal percentage (.339) and third in points allowed (100.4 ppg).

The Celtics are smart, tough and unselfish. They have consistently found ways to win even with their star players sidelined. During the first round, they held serve on their home court and almost won game four in Milwaukee before routing the Bucks 112-96 in Boston in game seven. It will not be easy for the 76ers to take a game in Boston during this series--and if the 76ers do, the Celtics could very well take one in Philadelphia to reclaim home court advantage.

Other things to consider: Both of these teams have had surprisingly good seasons. Few would have expected Boston to do so well after losing Gordon Hayward for the season due to an injury suffered in the opening moments of the first regular season game and even fewer would have expected Boston to make much noise after losing Kyrie Irving to injury prior to the playoffs. After firing Sam Hinkie in 2016, the 76ers finally stopped their seemingly endless tanking and emerged in the second half of this season as a legitimate playoff team. It is important to understand that the so-called "Process" did not make the 76ers good; firing Hinkie and replacing him with a real basketball executive (two-time NBA Executive of the Year award winner Bryan Colangelo) is what turned the 76ers around.

The 76ers closed the regular season with a franchise-record 16 game winning streak and they blitzed an overmatched Miami squad in the first round but dealing with Boston will be a different matter. Philadelphia may actually be more talented on paper but Boston's collective productivity--and having game seven at home, if necessary--will make the difference in what should be a competitive and exciting series that will probably go the full seven games.

I would be remiss if I did not mention the historical note that this is one of the NBA's greatest rivalries. The Celtics and 76ers battled against each other in the 1960s--led by Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain respectively (they also squared off earlier in the decade when Chamberlain played for the Philadelphia Warriors before the franchise moved to California)--and they faced off in a seven game series in 1977 (led by John Havlicek and Julius Erving respectively) before Julius Erving and Larry Bird competed against each other in four Eastern Conference Finals during the 1980s.

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posted by David Friedman @ 11:03 AM

22 comments

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22 Comments:

At Sunday, April 29, 2018 12:05:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have a hard time to seeing BOS winning this series. PHI has the 2 best players in the series by a long ways. MIL wasn't a good playoff team, and BOS barely dispatched them. BOS is needing several role players stepping up to play like stars or near stars. That's a lot to ask of them. Maybe it can happen in a limited time span, but I doubt it will for much longer than that. And Horford is a borderline AS at best.

Hinkie seemed like a fool, but his tanking helped PHI acquire Simmons/Embiid and several other key players.

 
At Sunday, April 29, 2018 12:37:00 PM, Blogger Nick Feldman said...

I've got Philly in 5 or 6.

Boston is extremely well-coached and Al Horford is one of the most underrated stars in the league, but Philly has a lot more talent and comparable depth.

I thought Boston would struggle with Milwaukee, and was mostly right, but Milwuakee's lack of a cogent defense or true offensive strategy beyond "Giannis and Khris go nuclear" made them ultimately beatable. Philly does not have those problems; they have one of the league's deadliest defenses, and a strong offensive blueprint.

It will be more difficult for Terry Rozier to look like Kyrie Irving when he's guarded by Ben Simmons (or, if they follow their Miami blueprint, but RoCo).

Joel Embiid is a nightmare matchup for anybody, but his height may especially be a problem for Horford.

If Embiid stays healthy, Philly should win pretty easily.

As for the Process, it is evident that they got most of their best players through the draft. Embiid, SImmons, and Saric (and Fultz, if he turns into something) are all the fruits of their losing. Whether or not is was "worth it" is a separate issue, but the Process certainly did what it set out to do: loaded up the team with young assets and cap space.

 
At Sunday, April 29, 2018 12:38:00 PM, Blogger Awet M said...

Agreed with Anonymous, that Boston doesn't have the required talent or depth to compete with the resurgent Philadelphia 76ers.

The true key to this series is whether the Celtics can control the non-stars of the 76ers, much like how they shut down the Bucks' players outside of Middleton and Antetokoumpo.

J.J. Reddick is key, because he led the 76ers in scoring in the first round. The Celtics will try to limit him with their resident pitbull Marcus Smart.

However, it's interesting to note that Embiid had trouble scoring on Al Horford this season, hitting a mortal .357 of his shots. Horford was also effective on Ben Simmons, but he just cannot guard both of them at the same time, so it'll be up to Coach Stevens to figure this out.

If the Celtics slow down the pace, keep the score under 100, apply the necessary grit and their intangibles, they can hang in there and maybe steal the series. But the Sixers just have way too much talent. The absence of Irving and Hayward really hurts here.

Philadelphia in six.

 
At Sunday, April 29, 2018 12:39:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

David,

I know you are anti-tanking and anti-"Process," and I think the whole idea is ugly and should be banned or dis-incentivized (the league has already gone a little way down that path by flattening the ping-pong-ball odds a bit within the lottery).

But it has become borderline ridiculous to claim that the Process is not the cause (or at least a main cause) of the Sixers' success this season, or for that matter their exceedingly-bright looking future.

The Process included some misfires, but the point was always to aggressively accumulate as many lottery tickets as possible, and also to focus on high-risk players (like Embiid) who had franchise-player potential. And it worked: the core players on this team are all on the roster because of the process. Embiid, Saric, and Covington are starters drafted by Hinkie; Simmons, a consensus #1 choice, was available to the Sixers because of Hinkie. That's 4/5 of the starting lineup, and of course the two main engines (there are Hinkie guys on the bench, too).

Colangelo has done a nice job of filling things out with Redick and in-season, with Ilyasova and Belinelli. But what he's done is basically a lay-up, enabled by Hinkie's prior work. He has the same core players; he hasn't changed the coach or style. He continues to benefit from Hinkie's stockpile of still-not-yet-spent draft picks.

Even so far as Colangelo's rounding out the team goes, overpaying Redick (possible because of the huge cap space Hinkie left Colangelo with) was hardly a creative or difficult move. And the other guys very likely showed up because the team is so damn talented and dangerous-looking--again, primarily because of the foundation Hinkie had laid.

I know you don't like tanking (I don't either), and I know it has seldom worked. But it's absurd to claim it didn't work in this case.

As to the series, it will be really interesting to watch. I think Philly will win in 6 (or maybe even 5), but I've been continually surprised by the Celtics all season...

 
At Monday, April 30, 2018 12:48:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

Tanking is awful for many reasons:

1) It rips off the fans who pay full price for a subpar product.
2) It turns a real sport into a trash sport with scripted/certain outcomes because a team is not really trying to win.
3) It doesn't work! I have posted many times about research that proves that tanking is not an effective strategy.

Regarding the 76ers, Hinkie proved to be very good at finding the worst possible players who could guarantee a lot of losing regardless of how well Brown coached. However, there is no reason to believe--based on the evidence--that Hinkie knows how to build a winning team. Colangelo assembled the current roster, deciding who to keep from the Hinkie era (not many players), who to get rid of and who to draft/acquire. I am not going to assume that Hinkie had the vaguest idea of what to do with the draft picks that he stumbled into (there was no guarantee which picks he would get from losing) and I am going to give Colangelo credit for actually putting the team together. The 76ers have actually fared quite well without Embiid, who may never be healthy enough to play a full schedule with superstar minutes.

Look at teams like Boston and Utah. They lost star players to injury or free agency but instead of tanking they played hard and smart, qualifying for the playoffs and winning at least one series each. When Miami's Big Three fell apart, Pat Riley still put competitive teams on the court. That is how you build a winner, not by losing on purpose and hoping for the best.

 
At Monday, April 30, 2018 3:23:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

2nd Anonymous, I agree with you mostly.

David, nobody is really disputing with you about how awful tanking is, and that's probably a bad business model in many different ways. And while you've posted about how it hasn't worked, it actually does work sometimes, and is working with PHI. CLE got James, SA got Duncan, to cite 2 other examples to go along with the current PHI team. Those other 2 are isolated incidences, but do you really believe both or either CLE/SA tried 100% to win as many games as possible the seasons before they drafted their superstars?

The draft is usually a crapshoot. You might need 10 lottery picks to get 3-4 decent players, if you're lucky, even if you're great at projecting players' futures. And then some draft years aren't very good.

Colangelo kept some obvious players pretty much anyone would: Simmons, Embiid, Covington, Saric, and then added another high lottery pick: Fultz. Then, he added a few role players, which I'm sure any GM could've gotten or try to get. That last part is up for debate a bit, but it's not like he went out and obtained anyone that's near AS status.

How the team does on the court is in the coaches/players' hands then, not the GM's. Simmons is playing like an AS and looks like a future triple-double machine. With the players he had around him, even minus Embiid, PHI should be a top 4-5 team in the East at the least. Whatever you want to say about Hinkie, and I don't think anyone thinks he had much of a clue, and maybe it was just dumb luck, but he acquired 2 future AS: Simmons/Embiid. Whether either or both have sustained success is out of his hands or Colangelo's hands now, but he picked up a nice core for a solid team.

 
At Monday, April 30, 2018 6:49:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick and Awet:

You both make valid points. I expect a closely contested series and it will be interesting to see how the various individual matchups play out, as well as how Boston collectively deals with Philadelphia's superior roster (on paper).

 
At Tuesday, May 01, 2018 6:35:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

I am not sure that I agree that all of the teams that you cited actually tanked and if those teams did tank then they did so for one season or a portion of a season at most--which is still not acceptable from my point of view but there is a huge difference between a team that is already bad (due to injuries or an aging roster) deciding to rebuild for one year and a team embarking on a multi-year process involving deliberately stuffing the roster with minor league ball players.

If a team's roster is already compromised during a particular season and there is nothing that can be done in the short term to improve without seriously compromising the long term future then that is one thing but--to cite one of your examples--the Spurs never embraced a culture of deliberate losing. In fact, they have made the most of late round picks and savvy trades, as opposed to believing the "analytics" that suggest that the only way to get better is to become terrible for years so that you can hoard Lottery picks.

The only meaningful player that Hinkie chose who is still around is Embiid, who gets hurt all the time and even when he is healthy only plays about 30 mpg so his body won't fall apart. He is a prime example of how risky it is to be intentionally bad for years and count on one Lottery player to lift your franchise. The franchises that have sustained success build their rosters organically.

Hinkie does not deserve credit for acquiring Simmons or Fultz. Hinkie stockpiled draft picks but we don't know which players he would have chosen, nor do we know how those players would have developed if Hinkie were still running the team. Colangelo was brought in not only to assemble a better roster--which he immediately did--but also to change the team's losing culture.

 
At Tuesday, May 01, 2018 1:35:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I cited just 2 other examples: CLE and SA, the years before they drafted James and Duncan, respectively. I thought these 2 examples were pretty common knowledge unless you think either and/or both of these teams tried their very best to wins as many games as possible. Sure, they still needed some luck to get the #1 pick, and then luck that #1 pick will pan out, but there's a lot of luck involved whatever way you build a team.

I don't dispute SA ever fostered a losing environment, but they still tanked after Robinson went down. They had never made a Finals in their history before Duncan, and they had only reached the WCF 1x with Robinson(before Duncan). They would still likely be without an NBA title if they hadn't obtained Duncan. But once a team has a superstar like Duncan, they're not going to even think about tanking anymore obviously. Then, it's time to win. That's a lot different than in the position most teams are in without at least one superstar. Simmons and/or Embiid never saw the court when Hinkie was still in PHI. Once they did, I seriously doubt the tanking would've continued.

Colangelo doesn't deserve credit for Simmons or Fultz either then if Hinkie doesn't, because he didn't obtain those picks and wouldn't have had them to begin with. Simmons was a pretty no-brain #1 pick, but I guess never know what each GM would've done with the #1 pick that year. And Embiid is still a top 3-5 center in the league even with his injuries. Simmons missed an entire year, too.

 
At Wednesday, May 02, 2018 7:26:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

After Robinson suffered a season-ending injury and Sean Elliott got hurt as well, the Spurs did not have much talent left. Sure, they could possibly have tried to sign some one year rentals but they knew that Robinson would be back the next year so why would they change their roster that way? That is not tanking. The Cavs' pre-LeBron season is perhaps a little closer to tanking but, again, Hinkie pioneered the idea of signing minor league players and trying to be as awful as possible for years at a time. If this were working then he would not have been fired; ownership kept the coach but fired the GM and brought in a GM who would actually build a team. That is what happened in Philadelphia. By the way, several years after the "Process" and a couple years into the Colangelo era, the 76ers are still not necessarily a championship contender--but at least under Colangelo they are again a viable NBA franchise as opposed to an embarrassment to the league and the sport, which is what they were under Hinkie.

 
At Wednesday, May 02, 2018 10:25:00 AM, Blogger Nick Feldman said...

David-

Two things can be true:

1) The Process was an embarrassing, shameful atrocity that should never be repeated or encouraged. Brian Colangelo has turned what was an embarrassing product into an excellent one.

2) The Process created the environment that birthed this (pretty good) 76ers team. Whether or not individual players were drafted by Hinkie is largely immaterial; his goal was a team that would be bad enough for long enough that it could take a whole bunch of lottery picks and hopefully hit on a few; that's exactly what ultimately happened, with 3 (and potentially 4, if Fultz pans out) of those picks turning into high-value players.

 
At Wednesday, May 02, 2018 2:46:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It'd be hard for PHI to be a championship-caliber team with young players leading them this quickly. But, the door is completely open for them this season to reach the Finals(which doesn't necessarily mean they're true contenders), even though it's unlikely they do.

Hinkie took tanking to an extreme, but there's differing degrees of tanking each year in the NBA. Even SA has been doing when they've had stacked teams by resting their stars repeatedly.

I understand the Hinkie firing and it makes perfect sense, but he accomplished what he set out to do like Nick pointed out. Colangelo basically just added Belinelli and Redick, 2 aging career role players. Plus, he added Ilyasova, who was waived midseason by a bad team. I might be wrong, but I believe you've said in the past that you didn't think Redick could ever start for a title team. Regardless, he filled out the roster ok, but hardly that impressive. It'd be hard for a GM not to find some guys of these abilities in any offseason. And he's paying Redick 23 million this season.

 
At Wednesday, May 02, 2018 7:05:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

I realize that those two things "could" be true but I disagree that they are both true.

 
At Wednesday, May 02, 2018 7:07:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

I believe that Colangelo has done a good job fixing Hinkie's mess but I also believe that (1) the 76ers are not yet a legit contender, (2) they may not become one and (3) if they do become one it will be despite Hinkie, not because of him.

 
At Friday, May 04, 2018 11:39:00 AM, Blogger Nick Feldman said...

Man, Ben Simmons picked a bad time to hit the rookie wall, didn't he?

 
At Monday, May 07, 2018 11:41:00 AM, Blogger beep said...

So Hinkie got some players of current roster and hired potentially good coach (Greg Popovich's apprentice), also got more draft picks. That's all of positives he actually did.

Now to mold individual players with some potential into worthy performers, add missing pieces through trade/draft and build an actually competitive team is whole different area of expertise, where he has 0 achievements. That work was done further down the road by others, and they deserve the credit, not the process and its creator.

 
At Monday, May 07, 2018 1:29:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Beep, yes, Hinkie actually deserves some credit as strange as that may sound.

The new GM isn't molding those drafted players though(not that you were necessarily saying that). That part is up to the players themselves and the coaches some. Maybe at the lower levels some, but NBA coaches don't make players. NBA coaches, however, are part of the process of building a team with the players at their disposal.

I'm not saying Colangelo has done a bad job, but I'm not seeing why we should be so excited for what he has done so far by adding Belinelli/Redick/Ilyasova basically as I mentioned previously. It's a step in the right direction. And maybe Hinkie would have no idea what to do after Simmons/Embiid were able to start playing, but we have no way of knowing that either. He wasn't given enough time(probably smartly) to finish his plan. But, he did obtain 2 young AS-caliber players. I don't know if any other team in the league can say that. I'd think players would want to come to PHI to play now. Putting a few decent role player around Simmons/Embiid shouldn't be that hard to do. Not too many teams in the league without a few role players like PHI's.

 
At Tuesday, May 08, 2018 6:48:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Beep:

I agree with you 100%.

Anonymous:

You are confusing the "chef" who botched several cakes (built a losing team for several years) by buying bad ingredients and who then bought a couple good ingredients with the "chef" who baked a good cake (built a team that is a functional NBA squad).

 
At Tuesday, May 08, 2018 10:24:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ok David, whatever you want to believe, that's your choice. Colangelo didn't magically pick Simmons/Embiid and a bunch of other good role players out of a hat. I think it's too early to say much about Colangelo, good or bad. He needs more time, but I haven't seen much from him yet to get too excited. He's mostly fortunate a bunch of these Hinkie turned good when he took over so far. Now, he has a solid base for a potentially great team, something Hinkie never had.

 
At Tuesday, May 08, 2018 10:55:00 AM, Blogger beep said...

Anonymous
while I agree coaches and players do most direct job in developing skills, GM is responsible for environment, hiring right staff/teammates, managing contracts etc. so his role is quite active here even though indirect.

Coulda, shoulda, woulda I don't want to discuss. My point is he didn't get a chance to do all I mentioned. Others did and did quite good job at that, thus credit goes to them.
That said I might even be curious if he could succeed in actually managing team instead of another "process".

 
At Wednesday, May 09, 2018 3:27:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Beep, GMs hire the coaches/players, yes. Once that's out of the way, it's the coaches/players' job to figure out on the court.

All we've seen Colangelo do so far is add a few role players that almost anyone could've done, and way overpay for Redick for one. The core of the team was what Hinkie obtained. We don't know what Hinkie would've done, but he never had a chance once he got the players. The verdict is still out on Colangelo, can't really say one way or another about his success or lack thereof. But, he has a golden opportunity what he inherited. Especially being in the weaker East, he should be able to get PHI far in the playoffs almost every year for awhile. And Hinkie accomplished what he set out to do.

 
At Monday, May 14, 2018 9:23:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

It is not too early to say that Colangelo seems to have made good draft picks and that he has surrounded those draft picks with effective complementary players. If it were so easy to make good draft selections then there would not be so many first round busts.

I am the first to say that Philly is not yet a legit contender. I did not jump on the bandwagon and pick them to beat Boston or act as if Philly had a real shot to win the East this year. I agree with Coach Brett Brown's candid, public assessment that Philly needs more talent to be a title contender.

However, we have seen enough to know that (1) Hinkie does not know how to build a winning team and (2) Colangelo has built winning programs before and has built a winning program in Philly (not a contender to this point but a winning program).

You say that anyone can make use of the draft picks that Philly acquired in the wake of Hinkie's tanking but I submit that it is a lot easier to lose on purpose than it is to assemble a functional roster, as Colangelo has done. A trained monkey could have done what Hinkie did: load up the roster with minor league players.

There is no evidence that Hinkie would have ever assembled a functional roster.

In addition to tanking not working (which has been demonstrated by long-term research that I have repeatedly cited here), tanking is also terrible for the sport as a whole. It devalues the product and turns what are supposed to be competitive games into meaningless exhibitions akin to professional wrestling. Look at Philly's 16 game winning streak, which broke a franchise record set in the Dr. J era by a legit contending team: at least six of those wins came against teams that were tanking.

The rampant tanking and the rules changes giving perimeter players a license to kill without even being touched make it progressively more difficult to make meaningful comparisons of this era's teams/players with the teams/players from previous eras, much like it is difficult if not impossible to compare the Mikan dynasty Lakers to the subsequent pro basketball dynasties.

 

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