Far-Fetched Friday: Philadelphia 76ers, Not Brooklyn Nets to Win the East

04/17/2021

Remember the saying, Defense Wins Championships. It's a cliche for a reason. Over the last ten years, every team that has won the Larry O'Brien Trophy has ranked near the top 5 in net defensive rating. While it has improved over the course of the season, the Brooklyn Nets rank 24th with a rating of 113. In contrast, the 76ers rank 2nd with 106.6, which is one of the reasons I have them besting the Nets in the Eastern Conference Finals. The other reason is Joel Embiid, who has been on a mission this year and is finally realizing his potential as a dominant MVP candidate.

Welcome back to Far-Fetched Friday, where every Friday we give you a bold prediction that we believe will come to fruition. This Friday, we look at the Eastern Conference.

A glance at the Nets roster reveals no one jumps out because of the defense they play. Kevin Durant was elite in the Golden State System as a rim protector, but it is hard to imagine him logging heavy minutes in that role again. Kyrie Irving and James Harden can be above-average defenders at best but aren't going to be shut down defenders for an entire series.

On the other hand, if there was ever a team built to slow down the Nets, it would be the 76ers.

Joel Embiid is a dominant anchor and rim protector. Ben Simmons, perhaps the best perimeter defender currently in the league, can comfortably guard 1-to-4. Mathies Thybulle, a defensive prodigy, should not be taken lightly. Length and versatility in Danny Green and Tobias Harris. Dwight Howard, playing the enforcer as a backup center.

And while the 76ers have all the pieces to negate the unprecedented firepower of Brooklyn, the real difference lies in the Nets' lack of an answer for Joel Embiid. 

Averaging nearly 30 and 11 on 50% shooting, Joel Embiid has been nothing short of dominant this year. His conditioning and mental focus has finally unlocked his potential as an unstoppable force in this league. Even the reigning defensive player of the year, Rudy Gobert, could not stop Embiid from getting 40 points.

What has opened up Embiid's offense is his face-up game.

 His efficiency in shooting over big men who are so scared of his post moves has allowed the offense to flow through him more than any other point in his career. Embiid is someone who gets double teams at all times on the court. Facing up towards the rim helps him read the help defense more effectively. His passes from the post have gone up from 2.7 to 4.5 this year, only behind Nikola Jokic at 5.6. Though his passing is not as effective as Jokic's, it does keep the defense honest. If you do decide to double Embiid, you then run the risk of leaving shooters like Seth Curry (41%), Danny Green(41%), and Tobias Harris (40%) wide open for 3s.

The other aspect of Embiid's game is his ability to get to the line. 

This year Embiid leads the league in free throw attempts per game with 11.6. Two more than Giannis Antetokounmpo in second. And while Embiid is not the first elite center to get to the line at an elite level (Dwight Howard routinely took over ten a game in his prime), what sets Embiid apart is his guard-like free throw percentage at 85%. 

If this holds, Joel Embiid will be the first center in NBA history to hit free throws at an 85% clip while taking at least ten a game. 

Embiid gets opposing centers in foul trouble at an elite level. Say DeAndre Jordan is your best matchup against Embiid (yikes) Embiid can quickly get him to commit three fouls, either forcing him to sub out for Nic Claxton or play more tentatively. Your last answer is to double him, And we know you cannot double team as effectively this season.

And, if the Nets do make it to the conference finals, I can't help thinking about their conditioning levels. 

James Harden has a long track record of flaming out in the playoffs. Kyrie hasn't gotten out of the first round since he was on the Cavs 4 years ago. Kevin Durant is the most reliable star, but his Achilles still makes me hesitant to believe he can be the same player for 3-4 rounds of the playoffs.

As of right now, the Brooklyn Nets would have to play the Miami Heat in the first round of the playoffs. Despite their offense stalling, Miami's defense is still the best in the league. That is the last team the Nets should want to face in the first round.

The tenacity the Philadelphia plays defense with, matched with their dominant MVP front runner, Joel Embiid, is why I'm picking the 76ers to make it out of the east over the Brooklyn Nets.


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