2016-17 record: 28-54. 14th in the Eastern Conference.
Transactions: Trust the Process.
It’s been a mantra for Philadelphia basketball fans since former GM Sam Hinkie first uttered the phrase while shamelessly tanking the team to acquire young talent.
For the first time, it really looked like “The Process” worked last season when the Sixers 2014 1st round pick Joel Embiid finally took to the court and was absolutely spectacular.
Embiid was a revelation who took the league by storm and energized the Philly faithful for the first time in years. He was a magnificent combination of power and finesse with a skill-set that set basketball imaginations on fire and did the seemingly impossible.
When Embiid was on the floor the Sixers were good. They were fun to watch and seemed like a team that was going somewhere.
So in typical Philly fashion, the leading candidate for rookie of the year developed a partial tear in his meniscus and was shut down for the season after just 31 games. A mere hint of the greatness that he could accomplish.
That’s not to take anything away from fellow rookie of the year candidate Dario Saric, but Embiid captured the hearts of Philly fans forever by taking on the nickname “The Process” and giving them the otherworldly talent that they’d suffered for so long to get.
In their 23 year old centre, they had “The Process” realized. A future superstar that could be built around and finally bring the team back to respectability and make them a contender.
There was still the matter of this draft however and after some lottery luck which saw them end up with the 3rd pick of a loaded draft class, current GM Brian Colangelo decided to complete “The Process”. He – like all the Philly faithful – had seen the promise and brilliance in Embiid and decided to add to that immediately by getting the biggest prize of the draft: projected top pick Markelle Fultz.
In order to accomplish that he engineered a deal with the Boston Celtics to acquire the top pick in the draft in exchange for their third overall selection and either the picks that the Sixers acquired from the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2018 draft or Philly’s own pick in 2019.
With that move, Colangelo completed Hinkie’s “Process” in adding another incredibly talented young star to the core on Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons – last year’s 1st overall selection who has yet to play a game in the NBA due to a broken foot, which eerily paralleled the late start to Embiid’s career. With a group of exceptional young talent in place, the focus for the organization had to next be on getting some depth and leadership to surround them with.
The 76ers needed a veteran presence on their young roster and also required consistent shooting on the back-court. They addressed both needs with the signing of J.J Redick to a one year, $23 million deal.
The 33 year old still brings a lot to the table as he lead the NBA in three point shooting percentage just two seasons ago when shot 47.5% and followed it up by hitting 42.9% from downtown last season. In 28.2 minutes per game he averaged 15 points and appeared in 78 games as a starter.
He will likely share the back-court with Fultz in a lot of situations and serve as the key mentor to Philly’s rookie guard. At the same time, Redick can still play and will open up a lot of space for Fultz, Embiid and Simmons to operate with his shooting. Although he lacks the physical tools and speed at this point to lock down opposing guards, he still offers up solid defense and will work well in Brett Brown’s schemes.
Although the dollar figure is a bit high, there is no doubt that Redick fits a lot of immediate needs in Philadelphia and his stated intent to finish his career in the city of brotherly love is a huge boost to the organization going forward as he will likely follow up this massive payday with more team friendly deals as he continues his key role mentoring the Sixers’ young core.
Philly made another savvy veteran signing by adding 30 year big man Amir Johnson on one year, $11 million deal.
Johnson will bring a good defensive presence and solid rebounding ability to Philadelphia in his 13th NBA season. He also gives the team some front-court flexibility as he can play along Embiid at the four play the five alongside Dario Saric in a different set. Much like Redick, Amir’s most important role will be to serve as a veteran mentor to the young core.
As this stage in his career, Amir Johnson is a role player, but coming off a season where he averaged 6.5 points on 57.6% shooting and added 4.6 boards and 1.8 assists in 20 minutes per game for the Boston Celtics, it’s a role that he can still play really well.
Philadelphia added more veteran mentors by signing Kris Humphries and Emeka Okafor (who hasn’t played in the NBA since the 2012-13 season) to add veteran leadership and also bolster the front-court depth with the existing injury concerns around Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons going into this season.
2017 NBA Draft: The Sixers traded up to get their man so it was no surprise to anyone when with the 1st overall pick in the NBA Draft they selected Markelle Fultz out of Washington.
With that pick, “The Process” is complete.
Fultz is a future all-star and a player that will be a cornerstone for Philly for years to come. With Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, he forms an impressive young core that will eventually take the team back into the playoffs and chase championships down the road.
He can play either guard spot which will allow the Sixers a lot of line-up versatility. The 19 year old is an incredible pick-and-roll player (he was in the 93rd percentile in college) who can score at all three levels and facilitate with a great deal of creativity. Off the ball, he’s an excellent spot up shooter and can attack off of closeouts. If paired with a pick-and-roll partner, Philly would have an exception pick-and-pop attack with their first overall pick’s shooting ability.
The 76ers finished last in transition points last season and Fultz’s hustle and ability to get down the floor quickly and put pressure on the rim or find his teammates for finishes or open looks. He’s going to be a constant threat on or off the ball and will greatly improve the Sixers offensive attack as he shot 47.6% from the floor and 41.3% from three point range in his one-and-done year.
Fultz’s performance at the collegiate level was phenomenal. He averaged 23.2 points, 5.9 assists, 5.7 boards, 1.6 steals and 1.2 blocks. He followed that up with a Summer League performance that had basketball fans salivating as he debuted with a 17 point game and followed it up with a 23 point, 6 rebound, 5 assist performance on 56 percent shooting in his second game before being shut down after a mild ankle sprain.
Defensively, at 6’5” with a 6’9” wingspan he can check opposing guards and also lock down threes in small line-ups. He will need more development in this regard, but having a mentor like JJ Redick who plays solid defense and can teach the rookie will be invaluable. Philly has made all the right moves in terms of surrounding its future star with veterans who can help develop.
The Sixers really have the answer to all of their prayers at the guard spot. A future pick-and-roll master who shoot threes, is a top level slasher who can attack the rim, is an excellent facilitator and can play off the ball as well as he can on it. Fultz was the top selection in this loaded draft class for a reason and you can believe the hype in this case. He’s going to be a star in Philadelphia and a cornerstone of the team’s resurgence.
For a long suffering fan-base who have dealing with years of tanking and false starts with injured rookies, he’s the answer to their prayers.
Trading up for the top pick wasn’t the only move that 76ers made on draft day as they sent a 2020 protected first and second round pick for the 25th selection in this draft which they used to select Latvian Anzejs Pasecniks.
At 7’2”, 220 he’s got impressive agility reminiscent of countryman Kristaps Porzingis. Pasecniks is a fluid athlete who can cover a lot of ground, run the floor well and is very light on his feet. He can elevate quickly which allows him to play above the rim and catch lobs with ease. The 22 year old has shown great balance and coordination as a finisher and has shown a lot of ability in pick-and-rolls while playing for Gran Canaria in Spain.
Pasecniks has got the NBA’s attention with his range. He’s got a great shooting stroke and can create his own shot on the perimeter. The Latvian has also shown promise from downtown, which has had pro scouts salivating. He’s still got a lot of work to do on his game, especially on the defensive end where he’s still getting pushed around quite a bit, but was a solid selection as a draft in stash as he’s still committed to his Spanish team for next season.
The Sixers went the draft-and-stash route with the 36th pick, former UCLA Bruin Jonah Bolden who has been playing pro hoops in Serbia with FMP Beograd.
The 21 year old Australian stands 6’10” with a 7’3” wingspan and is a solid athlete who moves well across the floor, is quick off his feet and plays above the rim well with his length. His most intriguing skill is his shooting as he hit 40% of his threes playing in Serbia and has shown great mechanics and an ability to torch opposing defenses when he establishes a rhythm – including an eight game stretch where he went 58% from deep. Bolden has also shown some skill as a play-maker and pick-and-roll ball-handler.
On the back end, Bolden’s got the size, length, mobility and foot work to be an asset defensively. He’s shown the ability to fight through screens and stay in front of guards. His length also allows him to block passing lanes effectively as evidenced by his two steals per 40 minutes of play.
Bolden is going to play ball in Israel with Maccabi Tel-Aviv next season and will have time to work on his consistency and focus before coming to the NBA as a more fully developed player.
With the 50th pick in the draft, the 76ers went the draft-and-stash route yet again, taking French prospect Matthias Lessort who impressed in the French League averaging 18.5 points, 13.2 rebounds, 2.2 blocks and 1.4 steals per 40 minutes.
The 6’9”, 250 pound forward has displayed impressive physical tools as he can play above the rim with ease and has great speed running the floor and operates well out of the pick-and-roll, but he’s too small to play centre and lacks the play-making ability and range that is required of a modern NBA power forward. Although those deficiencies are largely mitigated by his defense which is punishing and physical.
Lessort has signed on with a Serbian club, Zveda, for next season and will have plenty of time to develop before the Sixers consider bringing him stateside.
Outlook: The major factor for the 76ers this season will be the health of Joel Embiid.
The Cameroonian’s impact was undeniable last season. When he was on the floor, the 76ers posted a 99.1 defensive rating which would have been the best in the NBA over an entire season. When he wasn’t that number ballooned to 107.7 which was 20th in the league.
The 7’2”, 250 pounder established himself as one of the top defensive talents in the NBA in his rookie season. He’s got the ability to defend opposing bigs in the paint with his play above the rim with his combination of strength and mobility that allow him to body up even opposing big and physically imposing as DeMarcus Cousins. Embiid’s skills as rim protector were evidenced by his 2.5 blocks per game. He’s also got the speed and agility to lock down opposing guards on the perimeter. That combination of skills is virtually unheard of in a man Embiid’s size and made Philadelphia a force when he was on the floor.
Offensively, the man now known as “The Process” also had a tremendous impact as he can score easily at all three levels. He 36.7% from three point range and 46.7% from 16 feet out to the three point line which is incredible range for a man his size. He swung the Sixers net rating by 11.6 points and averaged 20.2 points, 7.8 boards and 2.1 assists with a 36% usage rate and an 24.1 player efficiency rating as a rookie.
With Embiid on the floor, the Sixers are a legitimate contender for the playoffs and one of the most exciting teams in the NBA. Without him, they’ll struggle. Even with the new additions to the roster.
There is simply no replacing such a rare talent with such an incomparable set of skills and a major impact on both sides of the floor.
But can he stay healthy?
That’s the question nobody knows the answer to. Embiid has yet to be cleared for 5-on-5 play and his basketball career has been defined by injuries beyond the knee and foot problems that have hampered his pro career. He was also hobbled in college by stress fractures in his spine that kept him out of the NCAA tournament.
The lingering doubts around Embiid’s health are the single most important for the franchise and for their prospects of getting into the playoffs this season.
Health questions also surround last year’s top pick Ben Simmons who could also have a big impact in Philly this season.
If he’s on the floor, the Australian will be an immediate star and in the conversation for rookie of the year. He’s a 6’10” forward who can read the floor like a point guard and facilitate like one too which will allow the team a great deal of flexibility in offensive sets as he and fellow rookie Markelle Fultz can take turns running the offense which will allow Fultz to play off the ball and use his excellent shooting to allow the Sixers to create space. Simmons is also an excellent pick-and-roll ball-handler.
Simmons is an excellent scorer in his own right as he is an exciting and acrobatic finisher who can play above the rim with ease. He’s absolutely devastating as an isolation scorer as he’s too quick and too creative for most opposing forwards to stay in front of. The 21 year old will be a constant threat from the post with his speed, footwork and quick jump hooks.
Defensively, his length and size really help him to excel as he averaged 12.9 rebounds, 2.1 steals and just under a block per 40 minutes at LSU. Simmons has great vision for loose balls coming off the rim and is able to react and grab boards before opposing players see the opportunity. He can also defend multiple positions on the floor as his speed and foot-work allow him to stay in front of guards and wings while his size and strength allow him to body up to opposing power forwards.
There was some concern about the Aussie’s shooting range, but he’s really been working on that jumper and showed dramatic improvement in his shot mechanics. He also spent some time working out with none other than LeBron James, who has publicly referred to himself as Simmons’ mentor and can teach the rookie limitless lessons on being a big ball-moving forward in the NBA.
I’d expect some big things from Simmons for the Sixers and between him and Fultz, the Sixers could once again have two rookies in the Rookie of the Year conversation.
Last year, Dario Saric surprised many with his outstanding rookie performance where he carried the team after the all-star break and scored in double figures in 22 straight games which was the longest such streak by a rookie last season and included a 32 point performance against the Chicago Bulls last March. His post-all-star stat line was an impressive 17.3 points, 7.3 rebounds and 3.4 assists.
This season, the 23 year old Croatian will be looking to compete for another award as he is going to be the Sixers primary sixth man, coming off the bench as a utility front court player who can fill in at either forward line-up or even as a small ball centre for Brett Brown. It’s a role that will fit Saric just fine as he really excels in being in the middle of everything on the court and providing whatever he can – with above the rim or excellent ball-handling and facilitating for a 6’10” forward.
The man lovingly known by his teammates as “The Homie” certainly flew under the radar compared to Embiid, but is in many ways going to be a very important piece of Philly’s success and the versatility he can offer off the bench with his ball-handling abilities will be vital. The focus for him needs to be on improving his range, getting a consistent three point shot and working on limiting those turn-overs. If he can continue to improve on those areas, Brett Brown is going to have an excellent second unit anchored by Saric.
In the modern space and pace game, Robert Covington makes a lot of sense as a starter with his ability to hit from downtown. His versatility on the back-end will also make him a great fit as he can guard one through four with ease due to his speed and size. The 26 year old has also been working closely with Ben Simmons as he looks to benefit from reaping the rewards of sharing the front-court with such a good passer which should translate to open looks.
Philly will have a big decision to make with Jahlil Okafor. It’s hard to call a guy who was just drafted third overall in 2015 a reclamation project, but the 21 year old saw his minutes and stat-line plummet last season with the emergence of Joel Embiid who makes Okafor’s game look kind of out of date. The role of the big man is changing in the NBA and the former Duke Blue Devil can’t shoot from range and isn’t anywhere near the defender that Embiid is.
It’s unclear what the Sixers are going to do with Okafor. Trade rumours surround him but if he can come anywhere close to his rookie form that saw him put up 17.5 points and 7 rebounds per game before going down with a meniscus tear, he could be useful off the bench or to have on the team if Embiid gets injured again.
He can create his own chances, shoot off the dribble and is a good scorer within fifteen feet of the basket. That’s not the ideal range for a big man in the modern game, but consistent scoring isn’t an asset you can easily toss away either.
Nik Stauskas is another young Sixer with a potentially uncertain future. He was brought over from Sacramento in hopes that he could replicate his collegiate level sharpshooting, but is only a career 34.8% from downtown at the pro level. The 23 year old Canadian is coming to the end of his rookie deal and is going to have to put up his best shooting campaign yet in his fourth NBA season to warrant an extension.
The addition of J.J Redick, and the potential in Furkan Kurkmaz or Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot could make Stauskas expendable if he isn’t able to get going this season.
All in all, this is a very exciting young team with two rookies who project to be among the best in the entire league in Simmons and Fultz and a second year player who has the potential to be the best big man in the game in Joel Embiid. The veteran additions like Redick and Amir Johnson are going to do wonders for this squad in terms of leadership and stability – especially in challenging situations through the season and I’m really excited to see Saric shine in the sixth man role.
The Process is done.
The 76ers are a team that is ready to compete and will challenge for a playoff spot in an Eastern Conference with a shifted landscape with so many teams now actively starting their own version of “The Process”. Philly’s got the talent to hang in there and even grab a playoff seed.
Ultimately, though this a young team. Rookies and young players will go through challenging times and make mistakes. That’s part of the learning curve in any sport. Those mistakes can sometimes cost you games. And that’s okay in this situation because it’s the best way to get better – by having the freedom to make mistakes and learn from them.
Additionally, there are a lot of questions about the health of this team. Embiid still hasn’t been cleared for 5-on-5 play and an extended absence from him would really hurt the Sixers’ play-off chances. The full extent of Simmons health heading into the season has to be in question as well given the serious injury that delayed the start of his pro career.
The Sixers do have increased depth and can certainly handle injuries better than in the past, but having one or both of Embiid or Simmons out for a significant period of time represents two pieces of you core gone and would be a huge psychological blow to the franchise.
Ultimately, I see the Sixers falling just short of the playoffs because of the relative inexperience of key pieces of the team and the big question marks around Embiid and Simmons health. When those two are in the line-up, this will be one of the most fun and must-watch teams in the NBA. When they aren’t, it’s going to impact the team in the win-loss column for sure.
The 76ers are finally headed in the right direction though and if they do miss the playoffs this season, it will likely be the final time that happens for the foreseeable future.
Prediction: 40-42. 9th in the Eastern Conference.