Just like the 2013-14 Sixers, the 2019-20 team is 3-0.
And that’s where the comparisons end.
The 2013-14 squad had a starting unit featuring Michael Carter-Williams, Evan Turner, Thaddeus Young, Spencer Hawes and James Anderson. They also traded away All-Star guard Jrue Holiday that offseason and were fully entrenched in a rebuild under new GM Sam Hinkie.
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This current version features a star-studded and monstrous starting five and is coming off back-to-back 50-win seasons.
To say the expectations are higher this year would be a gross understatement.
After acquiring Al Horford and Josh Richardson to add to the trio of Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and the re-signed Tobias Harris, it’s championship or bust.
Of course, three games out of 82 is an incredibly small sample size, but there are signs that the Sixers are the team we thought they were.
Everybody has the same goal,” Simmons told reporters after Monday’s win in Atlanta. “Everybody wants to win. Everyone's locked in on defense and offense. And we have a lot of guys who are leading this team. So I think we're all together. We know we have a special team this year and we can do something special.
What’s been impressive is the way the Sixers have won all three games. They haven’t all been pretty — in fact, none of them have been — but they’re getting the job done.
On opening night, it was Simmons who took charge by using his unbelievable combination of speed and size to knife and finish through Boston’s defense. In the comeback win without Embiid in Detroit, Harris caught fire in the third quarter and then Al Horford followed suit in the fourth. Against the Hawks, Embiid was Embiid and Atlanta had no answers for the All-Star center.
Monday’s win was especially impressive. The high-flying Hawks, led by electric second-year guard Trae Young, hung a 40-point first quarter on the Sixers. Nobody panicked. When Mike Scott was ejected for a highly questionable Flagrant 2 foul and Shake Milton got hurt, they didn’t feel sorry for themselves.
They grinded the game out and held Young (7 of 20) in check. Atlanta scored just 38 points in the second half and the Sixers earned a tough road win.
“I mean, it was a similar response that we had in Detroit,’” Brett Brown said. “You're going to go back and I'm going to be critical of how we found ourselves in that environment, but from that point on, you give them immense credit, and it was the same attitude, the same type of qualities that let us claw back from a 13-point deficit in Detroit. We're figuring each other out but that ingredient that enabled us to not roll over and find a way to win on the road is a fantastic quality.”
There is a something to be said for not only the talent of the players GM Elton Brand has chosen to build his team with, but also their character.
Horford is a proven winner that’s been known to sacrifice for his team’s success. The same can be said for Richardson, a second-round pick in 2015 that had to earn his way on the floor in Miami in several different roles. Embiid, Simmons and Harris were all left with a bitter taste after the way last season ended and are all driven by how close they came.
For all that ability and a team-first mindset, there’s still one big concern: Shooting. When looking for possible areas of weakness this summer, that was something many pointed to. After an 11-for-41 performance Monday, the Sixers are currently the fourth-worst three-point shooting team in the league (29.8 percent).
Brown has been consistent in saying he doesn’t think it’s as big of a concern as “the marketplace does.” You could make the argument that a sharpshooting wing should be atop Brand’s wishlist ahead of the trade deadline. While it remains to be seen, it’s fair to say that the Sixers will likely improve in that category.
Richardson is a career 36.6 percent three-point shooter that’s hit just 2 of 13 so far. Horford, who shot 38 percent from downtown the last three seasons in Boston, is just 4 of 15. Harris was off to a solid start in that category, going 6 of 11 before his 1-for-9 performance Monday night.
It likely won’t be a strength of this team, but it should get better.
“Yeah, I mean, I think it's definitely early,” Harris said. “Early jitters from everybody getting our chemistry down and it will continue to progress. But needless to say, we were able to come out and execute [in the] fourth quarter, get some good shots and be able to come out of here with a victory.”
And that’s likely the formula that will lead the Sixers to wins. They’re going to lock teams down and get points any way they can.
“Don't matter,” Embiid said when asked about the team’s 3-0 start. “We still got 79 games. It's a long way — 3-0, very fortunate to be in this position, but we still got a lot of work to do.”
The 2013-14 team went on to win just 16 more games.
Just a hunch, but these Sixers look poised to win a whole lot more.
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