Behind Simmons and Embiid, the Sixers are .500 for the first time since 2013

At 4-4, here’s why their next win is going to be big.

NBA: Atlanta Hawks at Philadelphia 76ers
Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
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The Sixers are officially good. After toppling the Atlanta Hawks 119-109 Wednesday night, the Sixers are .500 at any point in an NBA season for the first time in nearly four years.

The last time the Sixers franchise had a team that was .500 was Nov. 15, 2013, following a loss to Atlanta. The last time the Sixers had a winning record (this is a real note, I swear it) came after an overtime win against the Rockets on Nov. 13, 2013.

We’re on the precipice of something historic.

If the Sixers beat the Pacers Friday night — a pretty good team to start the NBA season in their own right — they will have a winning record for the first time in 246 games. That’s a full three seasons. That’s the last time the Sixers have been over .500.

Getting to 5 wins

After a slow 1-4 start to this year, they’ve rattled off three-straight wins and are set to have an actual — gulp —winning record for the first time in (also real, I promise) 1,450 calendars days.

In that time the Sixers have won a total of 74 games. Friday will be 75. Should the Sixers win against the Pacers they’d hit their fifth win this early in the season for the first time since 2013. That year the team started 5-4 then had four-, four- and seven-game losing streaks between wins, completely falling apart in February and March — they were 1-26 and in full-on tank mode over those two months — finishing 19-63.

In 2014-15, the Sixers lost the first 17 games of the season, winning their fifth game on Jan. 5, the 33rd game of the season.

In 2015-16, the Sixers won their fifth game on Jan. 16, the 42nd game of the season. That year they won just 10 games all year.

Last season, in 2016-17, all the promise in the world didn’t translate to early wins, as the Sixers started the year 0-7. They didn’t win their fifth game last year until Dec. 8, the 23rd game of the season.

This has been a trying Process or fans, but it’s finally starting to pay off.

The Sixers haven’t gotten to five wins yet, but with three-straight wins and four in the last five games, it looks like they’ll hit the five-win plateau before December. Whether they break the .500 mark soon will depend on Friday’s outcome against Indiana. The Sixers have a West Coast road swing after Friday’s home game, playing at Utah, Sacramento, Golden State, and two in LA, facing the Clippers then the Lakers before returning home on Nov. 18 against the Warriors.

There’s a win in there somewhere, and likely enough to finally break the .500 record threshold.

Simmons and Embiid

Much of the early success can be attributed to heralded second-year rookie Ben Simmons. Simply put, he’s great, and he told reporters after Wednesday’s win he’s not even close to reaching his potential.

Simmons leads all rookies in scoring through eight games, dropping 18.5 per game. He leads all rookies in rebounds with 9.6 per game and he’s second among first-year players in steals, with 1.5 per contest. But remember, at 6-10, Simmons is playing point guard, legitimately, and he’s averaging 7.9 assists per game, tops among rookies and nearly a full assist more than Lonzo Ball.

The only players with more assist per game than Simmons in the NBA are Russell Westbrook (11.7), John Wall (9.7), James Harden (9.2) and LeBron James (8.9). Only Westbrook of that group has more rebounds per game, and in more minutes Simmons has two fewer turnovers than the Thunder superstar.

Embiid, meanwhile, is starting to round into dominant shape. He played more than 30 minutes for the first time in his career Wednesday night. He’s eighth in the NBA in points (27.3) and 14th in rebounds (13.5) per 36 minutes of players who have been in five or more games. Embiid’s useage rate — the percentage the play on offense runs through him — is behind only Kristaps Porzingis, Harden, DeMarcus Cousins and D’Angelo Russell. And he’s making defenders pay on the low block.

Remember, Embiid hadn’t played since March and is still out of shape (for him) while Simmons had never played in an NBA game until this year. This is the start of something special. They just need to get to five wins first.