The Sixers play NBA basketball in a city which has a very popular nickname; Philadelphia-City of Brotherly love. Officially the team doesn’t have a nickname as it flies under the mantra “Trust the Process”.
However, unofficially, Sixers are the San Antonio Spurs in the Eastern Conference; after all, the team has its version of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili in Joel Embiid, Markelle Fultz and Ben Simmons.
But this is quite strange given the stark difference in age at first glance. Spurs are one of the oldest teams in the league while Philadelphia Sixers ranks as one of the youngest teams.
Unlike Philadelphia who is through to the next round of the postseason, Spurs got knocked out in the first round falling to Golden State Warriors (1-4).
While there was little surprise Philadelphia qualified ahead of Miami Heat, doing so in five games has caught the attention of observers.
But the reasons behind the unofficial tag veer way off the age chasm between the two teams and the change in fortunes in this season’s playoffs. It has to do with the Sixers exotic mix of nationalities, connections to San Antonio and knack for defending opponents.
The last time San Antonio won the NBA Championship, the team had a United Nations feel about it as players from several countries were on the roster.
The diversity caught the eye of then USA President Barrack Obama who brought up the UN remark during the team’s visit to the White House.
Aron Baynes from New Zealand, Patty Mills from Australia, Marco Belinelli from Italy, Ginobili from Argentina, Tiago Splitter from Brazil and Tony Parker and Boris Diaw- from France were on the team that beat Miami Heat. The Sixers have Belinelli on their roster plus Joel Embiid from Cameroon, Ben Simmons from Australia, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot from France, Dario Saric from Croatia and Ersan Ilyasova from Turkey are on the roster that vanquished Miami a few days ago.
In the wake of Spurs Head Coach Gregg Popovich’s wife death, Assistant Coach Ettore Messina was moved into the spotlight as the main man on the bench. One of Popovich’s assistants, Brett Brown, is the main man on Sixers bench in the past four seasons. The man tasked with overseeing a mountain of losses in the phase of an unprecedented rebuild has shown his true acumen of the game when given a healthy, dynamic and balanced squad. Heading to the season with only 10 wins in 2014-2015 and 28 in 2015-2016 seasons respectively, Philadelphia was expected to gather a few more wins before attempting a postseason run after this season.
However, the team almost doubled its win tally by clinching 52 wins and bookmarked it with a 16 game winning streak. Adding the quartet of wins over Heat, gives Philadelphia 20 wins In 21 games setting up Brown’s team up for bigger runs in upcoming seasons. As things stand, Philadelphia is possibly looking at an Eastern Conference finals berth as its next opponent-yet to be determined between Milwaukee Bucks and Boston Celtics-potentially has two more games to play before the matchup and has a shallow roster compared to Sixers.
After spending time and winning an NBA title in San Antonio, Belinelli brings immense knowledge of the playoffs to a team largely made up of first, second and third year players. It is true Embiid, Simmons and Saric have outplayed expectations in their debut postseason but without the contributions of Belinelli and fellow veterans JJ Redick and Ilyasova in the second half of games the duo might not have the same impact they have had so far. Sixers ended the regular season with a 12th ranked offensive rating five places better than Spurs. Missing Kawhi Leonard’s 20+ points per game had a big effect on the team’s scoring options as LaMarcus Aldridge was the sole offensive option for the team.
However, both teams shared a remarkably close rank on defense as Spurs had a third best defensive rating with Sixers earning the fourth best rank. Despite missing Leonard, San Antonio still has the likes of Danny Green to play elite defense. Joel Embiid is a top defender but the Sixers are yet to have another ball stopper on its roster.
While the likes of Robert Covington hold their own on defense, Brown’s switch happy system of San Antonio mitigates the defensive downside to for example, Redick’s game. Former San Antonio player turned Coach Steve Kerr has incorporated the elements in leading Golden State Warriors to two titles in the past three seasons. Due to age, cap space and stable management, Sixers are expected to be title contenders for many years just as San Antonio has done close to twenty years.
By Yaw Adjei-Mintah
@YawMintYM on Twitter