2018-19 NBA Season Preview: What to expect from the Philadelphia 76ers

Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid (NBA Getty Images)

With the 2018-19 NBA season quickly approaching, we're rolling out 30 Teams in 30 Days. Between now and opening night, we're dedicating one day to each team in the league.

Today, we're analyzing one of the Eastern Conference's best teams last season, the Philadelphia 76ers.

2017-18 season record

52-30 (No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference)

Projected 2018-19 season record

54.5 wins (tied with the Toronto Raptors for No. 2 seed in Eastern Conference)

Notable additions

Wilson Chandler (trade)

Mike Muscala (trade)

Zhaire Smith (No. 16 pick in 2018 NBA Draft)

Notable departures

Ersan Ilyasova (free agency)

Marco Belinelli (free agency)

Richaun Holmes (trade)

3 key storylines

The next step for Ben Simmons

Simmons had a historic rookie season, putting up numbers we haven't seen from a first-year player since 1960-61, but the Boston Celtics were able to slow him down in the playoffs by throwing like-sized defenders at him and daring him to settle for outside jump shots.

While Simmons doesn't necessarily need a reliable jump shot to build on his promising Rookie of the Year campaign, it would make him almost unguardable if he was more comfortable scoring outside of the paint. It's therefore no surprise that it's been a point of emphasis this offseason, with Simmons reportedly working with his brother to expand his range to the elbows and 3-point line.

MORE: How Simmons can improve without a jump shot

Other than his jump shot, 76ers head coach Brett Brown hopes to use Simmons more as a post-up scorer and screener this season. The combination would add a dimension to his game he didn't have last season, helping him tap into his superstar potential.

What's Joel Embiid's ceiling?

Now that LeBron James has moved from east to west, the crown for the best player in the Eastern Conference is up for the taking.

Giannis Antetokounmpo and Kawhi Leonard have dominated the discussion this offseason, but Embiid has the potential to snatch the crown if he can build on his All-NBA sophomore season, when he averaged 22.9 points, 11.0 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.8 blocks per game.

Depending on how dominant the 76ers are as a team, Embiid could even sneak his way into the MVP discussion this season. Few players impact the game on both ends of the court like he does and Philadelphia has the makings of a contender as long as he can stay healthy.

What will the 76ers get out of Markelle Fultz?

Fultz ended his rookie season on a high. All it took the 76ers guard to become the youngest player in NBA history to record a triple-double - 13 points, 10 assists, 10 rebounds in 35-point win over the Milwaukee Bucks - was 25 minutes.

That game was one of only 14 Fultz appeared in during the regular season due to a mysterious shoulder injury that turned one of his greatest strengths coming into the NBA into his greatest weakness. Now that he's at full strength with a new and improved jumper, however, the No. 1 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft will likely be on a mission this season to prove that he's just as good as of a prospect as Jayson Tatum and Donovan Mitchell.

5 games to watch

Oct. 16 vs. Boston Celtics

After losing to them in five games in the second round of last season's playoffs, the 76ers will get an opportunity to prove that they're on the same level as the Celtics this season when they travel to Boston on opening night. This game should have a playoff-like atmosphere.

Nov. 16 vs. Utah Jazz

Just because they aren't rookies anymore doesn't mean the Donovan Mitchell vs. Ben Simmons debate is over. Simmons dominated the two games he played against Mitchell last season, recording a 16-point, 13-rebound double-double in the first matchup and scoring 27 points in the second.

Nov. 19 vs. Phoenix Suns

Joel Embiid will likely have this game circled on his calendar. The reason why? The All-Star didn't appreciate analysts comparing Deandre Ayton to him on draft night.

Ayton didn't have much to say in response, but you best believe the two talented big men will bring their A-game the first time they play against each other.

Jan. 29 vs. Los Angeles Lakers

Simmons' final meeting with LeBron James last season was one to remember. In a 132-130 wire-to-wire victory for the 76ers, Simmons and LeBron combined for 71 points, 26 rebounds and 24 assists.

Expect more of the same from them both when Philadelphia travels to the Staples Center on this night.

Feb. 5 vs. Toronto Raptors

This will be the fourth and last regular season matchup between the 76ers and Raptors in 2017-18, but we should have a better idea of whether or not they're both title contenders at this point of the season. Don't be surprised if these two teams meet at some point in the playoffs.

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