Sixers go 11-5 in January, Embiid wins POTM: Gutterman’s Sixers Analysis

Embiid, Simmons, Harris and others have led the 76ers to an exceptional start to the 2020-21 NBA season.


Jonah Gutterman/ made with PicStitch

Top: Tobias Harris, Ben Simmons, and Shake Milton. Bottom: Joel Embiid, named NBA Eastern Conference player of the month.

Roughly six weeks of the 2020-2021 NBA season are in the books, and the Philadelphia 76ers are off to a pretty exceptional start. After 21 games played thus far, the Sixers sit atop the NBA’s Eastern Conference with a record of 15 wins, 6 losses (15-6), as of February 2, 2021. The team, overall, has had a very solid start to the season with some notably great wins in the mix. 

The Sixers’ schedule so far has not been extremely difficult, as they have only played a small number of above-average teams thus far. However, when the 76ers did find themselves matched up with fellow NBA contenders, they played quite well. 


The Sixers have already defeated the Miami Heat twice (on Jan. 12 and Jan. 14), and topped the Boston Celtics twice (on Jan. 20 and Jan. 22). (*However, we must note that both wins over the Heat were without Jimmy Butler or Bam Adebayo playing for Miami, and both wins over the Celtics, Boston was without Jayson Tatum). Nevertheless, despite those star players not playing for the Heat and Celtics respectively, the Sixers came out with some solid victories.


Between December 29, 2020, and January 7, 2021, the Sixers went on a 5-game winning-streak, defeating their opponents by an average of 13.6 points each night during that short stretch.


During the month of January, in 16 games played, the Sixers as a team averaged 116.2 points per game while giving up just 104.4 to their opposition. Philadelphia’s highest single-game point total so far this season was the 141-136 win over the Washington Wizards on January 6. In that game, Joel Embiid, Seth Curry, and Tobias Harris combined for a whopping 85 points between the three of them.


Speaking of Joel Embiid, the Sixers All-Star Center has been playing at an incredibly high level. In 10 games played since January 6th, Embiid averaged 29.4 points per contest, including eclipsing the 30-point mark in six of those games. 

Overall so far this season, Embiid ranks 4th highest in the entire league in scoring, averaging 28.3 PPG through all games played (*as of February 2nd). He has averaged less points than only Damian Lillard, Kevin Durant, and Bradley Beal. Lastly to mention, Embiid’s efficiency has been phenomenal, as he’s shooting a career-best 54.4% from the field and 84.0% from the free throw line on over 11 FTAs per game. Embiid’s overall impact on the court for the Sixers is extremely evident, as the team is only 1-4 in games which Embiid has been inactive, sitting out with an injury. Embiid’s tremendous play earned him the NBA’s Eastern Conference ‘Player of the Month’ award for January. He has now established himself within the sports media world as an early-season favorite for the 2021 NBA MVP Award, assuming his performance stays at the highly-elite level it is at now.


Another player who has been a big bright spot for the Sixers is forward Tobias Harris. Now in his 10th season in the league at 28 years old, it appears that Harris has most likely just entered the prime years of his NBA career, where he will be for the next 4-5 years. So far this season, Tobias Harris has been a rock-solid scorer and overall asset for the Sixers, averaging 20.3 PPG and 7.0 RPG on 51.4% shooting and over 46% from 3-point range. 

This season, in his 18 games played, Harris has scored under 16 points only once, scored 18+ in 13 games, and scored 20+ in 10 games. Fans and analysts see that the consistency is now truly there for Harris, and his name has been thrown around a lot as a solid candidate to become a first time All-Star this year.


All-Star point guard Ben Simmons’s individual numbers have been down a bit, as he is averaging a career-low 13.5 points per game, less than even his rookie season average. Nonetheless, despite not scoring the ball so much, Simmons’ presence has certainly been felt, especially on the defensive end of the floor, as he’s averaging nearly 2 steals per game. The 24-year-old point guard is also averaging just over 8 rebounds and just under 8 assists per game (*as of February 2nd). It’s not just the stat sheet that matters for Simmons, it’s his floor generalship, court awareness, and solid basketball IQ that helps the Sixers succeed when he’s out on the court.


The Sixers bench has also been a very impressive aspect of the team so far and has been a crucial part of Philadelphia’s overall success. Third-year guard Shake Milton has played exceptionally well, averaging a career-best 14.1 PPG coming off the 76er-bench. Milton’s energy and speed have been helpful assets to the Sixers while he’s out on the court.


Dwight Howard has played solidly in his backup center role, coming off the bench in all games when Embiid plays. In the games Embiid has missed due to injury, Howard has started in his spot at center. In under 18 minutes a night, Howard has averaged more than 8 rebounds per game, including 2.7 offensive rebounds. 


Other bench players who have been great contributing pieces include the sharpshooting Turk, Furkan Korkmaz, and defensive-minded second year guard, Matisse Thybulle. Both Korkmaz and Thybulle have been key assets for the Sixers thus far.


The Sixers finished January winning 6 of their final 7 games of the month, including an absolutely incredible comeback win over the Indiana Pacers on the road. With Joel Embiid sitting out due to back pain, the Sixers came back from being down twenty points late in the third quarter to ultimately top the Pacers late in the fourth quarter and somehow, miraculously, pull off the victory. 

When the score was a 95-75 Indiana lead at the 1:55 mark of the 3rd quarter, it seemed pretty obvious that the 76ers were already out of the game and would be taking the loss. With only 13:55 total left to go in the game, the Pacers had a 98.7% win probability, according to ESPN’s win probability calculator. That calculator is accurate a very good amount of the time, but it surely was not for this game. The Sixers began a monstrous comeback effort, and led by Tobias Harris, Ben Simmons, and Furkan Korkmaz, Philly outscored Indiana 37 to 15 in the 4th quarter to come out with the stunning win. This victory was quite a great way to close out the month of January.


**Some important notes: As of February 7th, Joel Embiid’s scoring average has increased to 29.3 points per game. 

As of February 7th- since January 20th- Embiid is averaging an unbelievable 35.3 points per game in his past 8 games played.

The 76ers have started off the month of February 2-1, defeating Charlotte, losing to Portland, and defeating Brooklyn. As of February 8, 2021, Philadelphia’s record is 17-7.

The Sixers now begin a 4-game road trip, headed out West to take on Sacramento, Portland again, Phoenix, and Utah starting on February 9th and returning home February 17th.