The Atlanta Hawks and Philadelphia 76ers begin a seven-game series this weekend in Philly. Before tip-off Sunday afternoon, the Peachtree Hoops staff weighs in by answering three roundtable questions. For our first roundtable, we discuss the biggest X-factor in the series.
Brad Rowland: I’ll get this out of the way for everyone. The only answer is Joel Embiid’s injury status, and I’m banning anyone else from saying it. It’s too obvious when Embiid is one of the best players in the league and his status is so uncertain. Still, I just want it to be clear to everyone that, yes, we realize that it’s the single biggest X-factor. It would also be boring if the entire staff said it, so for the rest of the crew, that one is off the table.
Wes Morton: A year after shoving their chips into the middle betting on a stacked frontcourt despite the spacing nightmare, the Sixers shrewdly reversed course this past offseason and now offer a multitude of dangerous shooters. The trio of Danny Green, Seth Curry and a revitalized Tobias Harris has provided over 7 threes a game at over a 40% collective clip. The Hawks will need to prevent Ben Simmons (or a theoretically healthy Embiid) from collapsing the defense and leaving space around the perimeter.
Glen Willis: Danilo Gallinari. The Sixers use their centers defensively to sit back and protect the paint. The Hawks need someone who can step out and either entice the opposing big men to get away from the rim or punish them for staying inside.
The Hawks got by against the Knicks despite a few poor shooting performances from Gallinari. They won’t have that margin of error versus Philadelphia. Also, he is going to have a bigger challenge defensively that he will need to solve as to be able to be on the floor for his normal volume of minutes. Tobias Harris and Ben Simmons offer bigger offensive creation challenges than Julius Randle did in round one.
Rashad Milligan: I think defensive wing play for the Hawks is the biggest factor in this series. Philadelphia has a couple advantages over Atlanta in this matchup, but for sure the fire power two through four with Seth Curry, Danny Green and Tobias Harris is one of them in my opinion. All three of those guys can light you up any night, with Curry getting 30 in the series clincher at Washington, Harris joining Trae Young in the debate of biggest Eastern Conference All-Star snub and Green having the championship experience he brings, standout defensive performances from De’Andre Hunter, Kevin Huerter and John Collins are necessary again.
Graham Chapple: I’ll give one for each team. For the Hawks, Danilo Gallinari has to be more consistent than he was in the first round against the Knicks. The home games went well for Gallo but the three road games were nothing short of a disaster offensively. For the Sixers, it’s probably the play of Tobias Harris (if Embiid is out for a significant period of the series). You’d imagine that De’Andre Hunter might be the one to guard Ben Simmons (someone has to stay in front of him and Hunter is likely the best choice) which likely leaves either Collins or Bogdanovic to cover Harris. Harris will have a larger offensive load to shoulder with Embiid out and if he struggles it could open the door for the Hawks in a game or two here.
Elliott: Philly’s point-of-attack defenders, especially Ben Simmons and Matisse Thybulle. The Sixers have what the Knicks lacked: multiple skilled perimeter defenders they can throw at Trae (not to mention Bogi and Huerter). Obviously, Simmons and Matisse are nerfed without [[redacted]] behind them to protect the rim (especially if Simmons is forced to play center — in which case Capela would be my second choice for X factor), but they are still two of the best perimeter defenders in the league. Atlanta’s likelihood to win depends heavily upon Trae’s ability to get to the second and third level of the defense.
Malik Brown: I’m going to go with Elliott and say the Philly’s defenders as well. Even though the Knicks were one of the best defensive teams during the season, the hawks showed that they could get anything they desired in the first round. Philly also has a great defense, but they also have great individual defenders as well. If Ben Simmons, Matisse Thybulle, and Danny Green can throw Trae Young and the offense off their game, it could tough sledding for the Hawks.
Andrew Kelly: I think Kevin Huerter’s offense. We saw him play well particularly on defense against New York, and this series I look for him to make more of an impact as a scorer. It’s very important for Atlanta to remain offensively viable with Trae off the floor, and I think Huerter is building confidence and has at least one surprisingly high scoring game.
Josh Lane: Danilo Gallinari had a pretty polarizing first round. One night he hits every three pointer he attempts and in the next he seemingly will miss every three point shot that he will take. The unexpected thing that we saw with the matchup against the knicks is that his defense was much better than anticipated. If Gallinari can avoid being a complete negative on the defensive end and can stretch the floor with better shooting, this will be big when opening up the lane for Atlanta’s guards.
Zach Hood: Ben Simmons. To what degree he can impact the game (on both ends of the floor) will be monumental for the Sixers. Trae Young has had some prolific scoring games vs. Philadelphia in his career, including a 39 point-18 assist performance in a victory over Simmons and Joel Embiid last season. Simmons will be pressured to impact the game significantly on both ends of the floor in light of Embiid’s injury. It seems unlikely the Sixers could win this series without Simmons being spectacular, particularly if Embiid is out or limited.
Tony Papadopoulos: In my opinion, if the Hawks can get January 2021 De’Andre Hunter on both sides of the ball, it could be the tipping point for this series (is anyone surprised by me having this take? Maybe not). Hunter as an X-Factor is really a proxy for the larger point around the Hawks’ depth. Trae Young, Clint Capela, and John Collins will get their looks, but Hunter could provide a lift offensively with his mid-range and rim finishing (without needing Young’s help). Defensively, Hunter will likely be tasked with guarding Ben Simmons / Tobias Harris depending on personnel. The Knicks offense did not offer much by way of complexity, but Hunter’s performance in pick & roll defense was something to watch. If he can stay locked in defensively, and continue to impact the pick & roll / pick & pop, it will greatly improve the Hawks’ chances of limiting the Sixers’ scoring.