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Through the Eyes of the Opposition: Suns vs. 76ers with Liberty Ballers

An on going bubble series: The Suns JAM Session guys have reached out to SB Nation representatives of the competition. Here is what they had to say about their team, their chances, and the Phoenix Suns.

Philadelphia 76ers v Phoenix Suns Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Pinch yourself.

This is not a dream.

The past 10 days have seen the best basketball this franchise has played in six years, and given the circumstances, probably longer. The Phoenix Suns have won 6 consecutive games in the Orlando Bubble, giving a new meaning to the Magic Kingdom. We are Sunderella and we are refusing to let the clock strike midnight.

Talking Stick Resort Arena should rename their stadium ‘The Bubble’ after this performance.

Following a 27-point walloping of a beleaguered OKC team on Monday, the team looks to continue their magical run with their only back-to-back on the ‘bub schedule. Their next opponent? The Philadelphia 76ers.

What I know of this team I have learned through conversations Bill Simmons and Ryen Russillo have on the The Bill Simmons Podcast. Simmons views the team through the lens of the Celtics fans, so what I know it a skewed version. A team that doesn’t like each other. A team that doesn’t fit together. A team the took Celtic’s favorite Horford.

The Suns JAM Session Podcast recently spoke with Dan Volpone, staff writer and podcaster for SB Nation’s Liberty Ballers. Let’s see what he had to say about the team standing between the Suns and 7-0.

How do you view this year’s version of the 76ers?

“In a word I would probably say ‘disappointing’,” Dan began. “Coming in to the season it felt like it was a year that could be good. There were a lot of question marks because the fit was weird. But it felt like if the fit does work, I mean, has anyone tried this lately? Not really. With two centers, two power forwards and a small forward in the starting lineup.”

The Sixers did the opposite of the Houston Rockets small ball method. They went big. Really big. In the off season the team signed veteran center Al Horford to a 4-year, $109 million contract. Puzzling for a team that already rostered an All-NBA second team center in Joel Embiid, right?

“I think we all talked ourselves into it. And it really didn’t work.” The team is currently 42-28, so not bad by any means. But when you have championship aspirations, the #6 seed isn’t where you expected to be.

As for the team’s performance this season, following a run last year that was cut short by Kawhi Leonard and his legendary Game 7 shot in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, Dan expressed his frustrations.

“It’s been a tough year, especially coming off the last two seasons where it felt like, coming into the playoffs, who know what we could do. And this year it feels like we’re capped.”

Does 3-2 in the bubble meet your expectations?

“I think it’s around where I thought we would be,” Dan said.

The team is currently slotted with the #6 seed, 0.5 games behind the Indiana Pacers for the #5 spot.

“Looking at the Sixers, we always joke: They’re going to lose the games that it seems like they can’t lose,” Volpone chuckled. “They don’t make any sense. Just based on their regular season record, low strength of schedule, it kind of makes sense.”

“3-2 is just who they are,” he added.

Joel Embiid or Ben Simmons?

It is a question that opposing fans always wonder, most likely because the two do not appear to compliment each other’s game. Ben Simmons needs space to operate, and Joel Embiid takes up a lot of space.

Although neither will be playing in the game on Tuesday, we would be reminisced if we didn’t take this opportunity to ask a Philly fan about it.

“I would pick Joel easily. That’s not a tough choice,” Dan replied. “In terms of nation media coverage, it’s super overblown.”

“They’re not a perfect fit,” he added, “but they fit well enough. The issue seems to be the pieces around them. If you look a few years back when they were surrounded by shooters, they were great. They had a 17-game winning streak. For some reason the team decided to move away from surrounding them with shooters. Obviously that doesn’t work when Ben is not a shooter and Joel plays inside.

“I think they can coexist.”

Who is the one guy that Suns fans don’t know about but should?

We knew Embiid. We know Simmons. We know Tobias Harris. The majority (I think?) know Josh Richardson. Who don’t we know?

“At this point it’s probably Shake Milton,” Dan answered.

Shake Milton is a guy who, they took in the draft a few years ago, was in the G-League, was on a two-way contract, didn’t play most of the year. When Ben and Joel were hurt and the end of this season right before the bubble Shake came in, and playing the Clippers, scored 39 points.”

“He actually tied Steph Curry’s record for most consecutive three’s made,” Dan informed. “He hit 13 straight three’s.”

“He’s always been a great shooter. He was a great shooter in college.”

Milton, who attended Southern Methodist University, does have a sweet stroke. Per BBall Index (you know I’m throwing some advanced stats your way!) the 6’5” guard is one of the top 3-point shooters in the league, albeit in a 37 game sample size:

  • Pull Up 3PT%: 52.6% (96%tile, A grade)
  • Catch and Shoot 3PT%: 43.7% (89%tile, A- grade)
  • Above the Break 3PT%: 46.3% (95%tile, A grade)
  • Corner 3PT%: 41.7% (67%tile, B rating)

Are you reading this Monty Williams? Don’t leave Shake, and if you do, push him to the corners. You’ll thank me later.

“Now he’s starting,” Dan informed, “because Brett Brown decided to bench Al Horford just for fit around the court. He really opens things up because he is such a dead-eye shooter.”

What are the Sixers strengths and weaknesses?

It is clear that Philly fans love Joel Embiid. A lot. And, when he is playing hard, rightfully so.

“If Joel is healthy, they go as he goes,” said Volpone. “He really is incredible. Be blows my mind sometimes. He can pretty much do whatever he wants. Size wise, he’s probably too big for Ayton.”

“At this point, that is probably they’re main strength, other than defense in general. They have a really solid defensive unit with Josh, Ben, Matisse [Thybulle] on the perimeter and Joel inside.”

“Weaknesses?” Dan laughed. “Oh my God, they can’t shoot. It’s so frustrating, they play such ugly basketball when the shots aren’t going in. They can really play indecisive basketball.”

On a scale of 1-10, how much do you miss Dario Saric?

Dario Saric began his career playing in the confines of the Wells Fargo Center. Although drafted by the Orlando Magic originally, he was sent to Philadelphia in a trade that involved Elfrid Payton. His first moments in the NBA came in the Philly uni.

“On court I’d give it a 4,” responded Volpone. “We probably miss him more than you guys use him. We could use his shooting, although I don’t think he’s shooting quite as well as he was his last season here.”

“Off the court it’s got to be a 10. He was so much fun. Him and Joel really got along.”

“When he first came over, one thing I always admired about Dario is that his English was really bad. But he always answered every question in English. He had some funny Dario-isms where he would say something that was a little bit off, but he always gave great answers to questions.”

Dan added, “He’s such a great spirit.”

Prediction for the game?

“If Joel doesn’t play, I don’t think that they have the pieces with the way Phoenix is playing,” Dan said.

“I think Phoenix is playing better than anyone right now. But everyone gets a heat check at some point and the Sixers, they play so weird that when a team’s in rhythm the Sixers can throw them off.”

“They play the dumbest style of basketball,” he added. “Anything you have going for you, it’s like ‘Oh, now we’re playing the Sixers, they’re playing like crap, it feels like we can really beat them, they just lost to Portland, all their guys are hurt’. And then they put three centers on the court and you’re like, ‘What the hell am I supposed to do?’”.

Thank you again to Dan Volpone for kicking it with the JAMsters. We hope you have enjoyed this series. Seeing as Dallas is the eighth and final game, and we’ve already covered them, this is the last in this series.

For the entire interview, here is the podcast:

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