Obstacle avoidance and attraction is only half of pathfinding. The other half being the defining characteristic of true path finding in my opinion. But I understand your point.
An example you can consider is if you have a V shaped wall, the entity is inside the V and the target is beyond the point of the V. The attraction will pull the entity toward the bottom of the V, but obstacle avoidance will send it the opposite way. Compare this to path finding where it will immediately know that it cannot reach the destination that way, and will go up and around the top of the V shape.
The SphereCast stuff is interesting, I'm not sure how that works mathematically. The trouble with rays is that they have a width of 0, so you need to cast an infinite number to simulate line thickness. You can estimate it by casting a few, and hope nothing is in the gaps. It's possible to do volume based ones using signed distance functions (SDF) and ray marching, but it requires a way to generate an SDF for each collision object. It would also be a fair bit slower I wager. A third option would be to do a capsule intersection test with all the collision objects. I'm not really sure what sort of information you'd get back from that, other than it hit something.