Can the Philadelphia 76ers Emerge as Genuine Title Contenders in the 2023-24 Season?

The Philadelphia 76ers are coming off a tough end to their season after losing in the second round to the Boston Celtics in a heartbreaking game seven. This spawned some major changes for the team, including a coaching swap and some roster tinkering. With James Harden demanding a trade, the odds are that the roster changes aren’t over with.

There are plenty of questions that still need to be answered about the 76ers, but a big one most fans have is, is this team a real title contender this year? The 76ers are one of the top-ten favorited teams to win the NBA Finals on most gambling sites, but do they have a chance? 

Let's look at the facts and consider whether the 76ers can get the job done this year. 

A World-Class Star Player

The Philadelphia 76ers have one thing no other team does, and that’s Joel Embiid. Embiid is one of the world’s best players. He is fresh off his first MVP trophy, and most sports betting sites give him a solid chance of repeating next year. He has led the league in scoring the past two seasons and is too physically dominant for his opponents most nights. Embiid is still very much in his prime at 29, and his unique skillset makes him one of the best players on the planet.

Embiid brings so much to the table, both offensively and defensively. He is considered one of the top candidates to lead the league in scoring again, and he is regularly one of the top shot-blockers in the league. With Embiid, there is no question that the 76ers will be a talented, competitive squad. The question is, can he stay healthy for an entire season and playoff run? He has worn down as the season has gone on in recent years, and fans are hoping he can maintain his dominant play for longer this year. 

A Secondary Player Ready to Take Off

Another reason to have faith in the 76ers this year is Tyrese Maxey. If Harden isn't playing, which seems likely, Maxey will have a bigger role and get more shots and possessions. At just 22, there is no question that he is ready. He has improved every year in the league and averaged more than 20 points per game last season. He is perfect as a second option. Maxey is incredibly fast, plays with a ton of poise, and is emerging as a top shooter in the league. He is an excellent complement to Embiid.

Maxey has room to grow, and this year could be his chance to do that. Most sportsbooks have him as one of the leading candidates for the Most Improved Player award. Expect Maxey to really begin to spread his wings this year. If he can bump his scoring average up, maintain his efficiency, and improve his passing, the 76ers will have a second superstar. That could put them over the edge into contention territory.

Intriguing Supporting Cast

The 76ers can’t stake a claim to being one of the deepest teams in the NBA. Outside Maxey, Embiid, and Harden, who likely won’t play, they don’t have any star upside. What they do have is a solid group of role-players that can contribute to a massive season. Tobias Harris will fill back into his role as the third option on the team. He has thrived here in the past. Even though his contract exceeds his role, Harris is a great talent. He is a lights-out shooter, solid rebounder, and willing defender. He is an important piece of this team.

Outside Harris, there are several players who could improve this team's outcome. Kelly Oubre Jr. can catch fire and has been an effective scorer throughout his NBA career, and he will add some juice to this roster. Paul Reed is a quality backup big man who is still growing into his game. Patrick Beverly is still a dogged defender and fun team presence. P.J. Tucker is aging, but his basketball IQ and defensive competitiveness remain sky-high. De'Anthony Melton is an ideal role player who fills a ton of gaps, plays great defense, and hits enough outside shots to keep teams honest.

A New Coach and System

Last year, the 76ers were coached by Doc Rivers. While Rivers has experienced plenty of NBA success, his teams have a reputation for folding under pressure, and that is once again what happened in the postseason. Now, the 76ers are coached by Nick Nurse, the 2019 NBA Champion who brought tons of schematic wizardry to the Toronto Raptors. Nurse is one of the NBA's elite defensive minds, coming up with befuddling game plans to confuse superstar players. He will lead the 76ers to a more competitive defense. 

Nurse has mentioned that he also wants a more democratic, open style of basketball to be played in Philadelphia. He has talked about getting Tobias Harris more involved on offense. He has also emphasized more of a free-flowing game plan. Last year, the 76ers struggled to generate clean looks, and their star players often felt like they weren’t playing together. This year could be different.  

Lots of Questions to be Answered

Before we can say definitively whether the 76ers will be real title contenders, there are a lot of questions to be answered. The biggest question is what will happen with James Harden. The constantly disgruntled former MVP has demanded trades from three different franchises over the past few years, and the 76ers are the latest. He will likely not bring much enthusiasm to the court for the team if he plays at all. The question is, what kind of return can the 76ers get for him?

If the team can get some more quality role players to add to their depth, Nick Nurse’s scheme works out for them, and Tyrese Maxey and Joel Embiid play to the level they’re capable of, the 76ers are for real. While this is admittedly a lot of ifs, and the Eastern Conference is loaded, this team can definitely surpass expectations this year. 

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