The fans in Philadelphia are hoping that their beloved 76ers have finally graduated from the rebuilding phase to a competitive “win-now” stage of their development.
For the first time in a very long time, Sixers faithful have reason to be optimistic and excited about the present, as opposed to just focused on the future. There is hope that the seedlings Sam Hinkie patiently planted in years past will finally begin to show fruit. Of course, plenty of question marks remain, but the foundation appears to be set and that alone is quite promising.
Basketball Insiders previews the Philadelphia 76ers’ 2016-17 season.
FIVE GUYS THINK
It’s nice to see the 76ers starting a season in which they’ll actually be given the opportunity to be good at basketball, because it’s been a long time since they were anything but the tank-focused league laughing stock with zero chance at winning 25+ games in any given season. This year, though, there’s such a massive influx of young talent that it’s hard not to get at least a little excited about what’s to come. Those that “Trusted the Process” are about to see their patience rewarded in the form of rookies Ben Simmons and Dario Saric, as well as pseudo-rookie Joel Embiid. They still don’t have a point guard, and they still need to figure out how they’re going to return some measure of value for Jahlil Okafor in trade, but things are finally trending in the right direction for this squad. Plus, they may not actually be the worst team in the NBA. Progress!
4th Place – Atlantic Division
– Joel Brigham
The Sixers are headed for another sub .400 campaign, but let’s be clear unlike the past few seasons there is plenty of talent in Philadelphia these days. The team’s youth movement in the frontcourt will be their strength with Joel Embiid, Nerlens Noel, Ben Simmons, Jahlil Okafor and Dario Saric all competing for minutes in the nightly rotation. This will create somewhat of a logjam, but it’s a good problem to have for the previously talent starved Sixers. However the team’s overall success could hinge on how much production they can realistically count on from its backcourt. The team signed veteran guards Jerryd Bayless, Gerald Henderson and Sergio Rodriguez for stability over the summer and all three will have the chance to challenge for 20-plus minutes per night. While the playoffs are still a very far cry away for the Sixers, the talent level is enough for them to move up in the Atlantic Division. Not sexy, we know, but definitely progress.
4th place – Atlantic Division
– Lang Greene
Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Dario Saric, Jerryd Bayless and Gerald Henderson among others give the Sixers a new look, as the team attempts to escape from the doldrums of the Eastern Conference. At the very least, it does appear that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, but with the Raptors and Celtics clearly being the cream of the division and the Knicks having enough talent to compete, the Sixers will be battling the Nets to avoid the dubious distinction of being the doormat of the Atlantic.
One interesting thing to keep in mind as it relates to the Sixers, though, is that they are still more than $10 million beneath the salary floor and have more than $20 million worth of cap space. The Sixers still have the means to improve their team and could absorb a contract or two under the right circumstances. Barring something along those lines, though, I won’t bet on them escaping the cellar of the Atlantic. Not this season, anyway.
5th Place — Atlantic Division
– Moke Hamilton
It’ll be very interesting to see how the 76ers manage their frontcourt pieces this season. Adding Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid and Dario Saric to the mix when they already have Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor will likely only lead to more trade rumors coming out of Philly. I’m excited to see what Simmons can do at the NBA level after hearing so much hype about him for years, and he has some talented pieces around him (which is important since he’s a facilitator who needs offensive weapons to be at his best). I don’t expect the Sixers to make a ton of progress this year since they are still relying on a very young, inexperienced core. With that said, hopefully Embiid is healthy, Saric impresses and Simmons lives up to the hype. If those things happen, this team looks like one of the better up-and-coming squads in the East.
5th Place – Atlantic Division
– Alex Kennedy
The 76ers enter the 2016-17 NBA season with a lot of reason for optimism. After tanking for the last few seasons, the 76ers are loaded with young talent, including players like Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid, Jahlil Okafor, Nerlens Noel, Dario Saric and even Nik Stauskas. With Jerry Colangelo and Bryan Colangelo running the show, the team is now dedicated toward turning the fruits of the franchise’s suffering into something meaningful. In order to facilitate this transition, the front office added some veterans like Jerryd Bayless, Gerald Henderson and Sergio Rodriguez to bring stability to the team. While this team won’t be competing for a championship this season, it will be fun to watch the franchise find out who the cornerstone pieces are, who can be traded and how good guys like Simmons, Embiid and Saric can be. If things start coming together nicely in Philadelphia, let’s remember that it was Sam Hinkie who laid the foundation for their future success.
4th Place – Atlantic Division
– Jesse Blancarte
TOP OF THE LIST
Top Offensive Player: Jahlil Okafor
Okafor had a roller-coaster rookie campaign. He had a number of issues off the court, and struggled mightily on the defensive end of the floor. However, Okafor was arguably even better than advertised offensively. In fact, Okafor became just the sixth under-21 player in NBA history to average at least 17 points and seven rebounds while shooting above 50 percent from the floor. Per BasketballReference.com, the other five members of that exclusive club are Magic Johnson, Adrian Dantley, Chris Webber, Shaquille O’Neal, and Karl-Anthony Towns. Okafor can score in a number of ways. He has great touch around the basket, an impressive post-up game and can also step out and knock down 15-footers. Okafor has the potential to develop into one of the NBA’s truly elite low-post scorers.
Top Defensive Player: Nerlens Noel
Noel is already one of the most versatile and athletic defensive-minded big men in the NBA. In 2014-15, he became the first rookie in NBA history to average at least 1.7 blocks and 1.7 steals per game. He was back at it again last season, patrolling the paint in Philadelphia, leading the 76ers in defensive rebounds and steals, while finishing second on the team in blocks.
Top Playmaker: Sergio Rodriguez
The Sixers plucked Rodriguez from Spain this summer with a one-year, $8 million deal. Sergio has some NBA experience; he was drafted by the Phoenix Suns with the 27th pick in the 2006 draft and was later traded to the Portland Trail Blazers, spending three seasons with them. He also had short stints with the Sacramento Kings and New York Knicks before returning to Spain. Rodriguez developed significantly during his time playing in the competitive Spanish league. Last season, he led Real Madrid to a league championship, and led the league in assists for the second time in his career. The Sixers have had issues at point guard since trading away Michael Carter-Williams and are hoping Rodriguez can successfully facilitate the offense in his second go-around in America.
Top Clutch Player: Jahlil Okafor
This is a very difficult choice and should probably simply be left as “TBD: To Be Determined.” Because they are such a young team, no player has established themselves as a true “team leader.” Thus, it’s hard to predict who will get the ball in important, late-game situations. Will they dump the ball down low to Okafor in the post? Will Philly run a play to get experienced veteran shooting guard Gerald Henderson a good look? The other issue is the Sixers haven’t played many close games, so we haven’t had a chance to see them operate much in the clutch. By this time next year, we should have a better read on this situation.
The Unheralded Player: Dario Saric
No. 1 overall pick Ben Simmons will (deservedly) draw plenty of attention. Ditto for Joel Embiid, as he (hopefully) makes his way back to the court. As a result, one rookie that may fly under the radar in Philadelphia is Croatian sensation Dario Saric. He has played for Anadolu Efes of the Turkish Basketball Super League since 2014, and averaged 11 points and six rebounds this past season. Still, as we know with young, international players, numbers don’t tell the whole story. Just 22 years of age, the 6’10 Saric is just beginning to scratch the surface of his potential. As he showcased in the Olympics, he is not intimidated by anybody and plays with an aggressive edge that will surely win over plenty of fans in the City of Brotherly Love.
Best New Addition: Ben Simmons
There are some flaws in Simmons game, such as the lack of a reliable jumper, but there is also plenty for Sixers fans to get supremely excited about. Simmons is a rare athlete who can dominate the game in a multitude of ways. He has a great handle and is a terrific playmaker for someone who stands 6’10. There is even talk of Simmons playing some point guard next season. In fact, when we create this list again next season, Simmons may be listed as the team’s best playmaker. He impressed during his first showing in a Sixers uniform, when he averaged 12.3 points, 7.8 rebounds and 5.5 assists over his four games in the Las Vegas Summer League. Simmons has a good chance to join Allen Iverson and Michael Carter-Williams as the third player in franchise history to take home the NBA’s Rookie of the Year Award.
WHO WE LIKE
1. Brett Brown
Brown has been a head coach for three seasons and, amazingly, has yet to win 20 games in a single season. In total, his career record stands at a putrid 47-199 (.191 winning percentage). However, we know that judging Brown solely by his record would be unjust, because he has had so little talent to work with. The first three years of Brown’s coaching tenure have been about ripping apart the roster in an effort to rebuild the franchise. And, to his credit, Brown has kept a sturdy chin and taken the beating. He has always said the right thing and made sure his teams played hard, even if they were obviously out-manned and bereft of talent. The Sixers rewarded him with a two-year contract extension. The 2016-17 campaign will be the first opportunity Brown has to coach a team that will make winning games immediately the top priority, which means he’ll finally have the opportunity to enter each game with a legit chance to win.
2. Joel Embiid
The skepticism surrounding Embiid is obviously understandable, considering he hasn’t played a single minute in the NBA since being drafted back in 2014. However, the upside remains as enticing as ever. He was hailed by some as arguably the best center prospect in a decade when the Sixers snagged him with the No. 3 overall pick. He’s been beset by injuries ever since, but he recently claimed he was 100 percent and ready to finally get his NBA career off the ground. Based on footage from recent workouts, he looks like he’s in great shape.
— Tommy Beer (@TommyBeer) July 24, 2016
If he can ever stay healthy, it will be extremely exciting to watch him unleash his rare combination of size and athleticism on the league…
3. Robert Covington
Covington has carved out his niche as an under-the-radar contributor in Philadelphia the last two seasons. Undrafted out of Tennessee State three years ago, he’s proven he belongs in the league. Last season, he averaged 12.8 points and 6.3 rebounds per game while posting a respectable 13.2 PER. Impressively, Covington shoots above 36 percent from three-point territory for his career. He has also impacted the game on the defensive end of the floor as well.
4. Jerami Grant
A former second-round pick, Grant earned a spot in Coach Brown’s rotation last season. Grant started 52 games for the 2015-16 Sixers, averaging 10.2 points, 4.9 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game in those 52 contests. With Saric, Simmons and Embiid entering the mix, it may be difficult for Grant get the same opportunities, so it will be interesting to see if he can continue his growth as a player in Philly.
SALARY CAP 101
The Sixers have changed over their management from Sam Hinkie to Bryan Colangelo, but the franchise’s financial position hasn’t changed significantly. The team is still carrying minimal payroll, with only $65.2 million in committed salaries. That’s roughly $29 million under the NBA’s $94.1 million salary cap, giving Philadelphia tremendous flexibility in trade. Only 11 of the franchise’s 19 players heading into training camp have guaranteed contracts. The Sixers are well below the $84.7 million that teams are required to spend this season. If they don’t reach that mark, they’ll need to cut a check at the end of the year to their rostered players.
The 76ers need to decide on the rookie-scale options for Joel Embiid, Jahlil Okafor and Nik Stauskas before November. Assuming the team takes all three options, Philadelphia projects to have in the neighborhood of $47 million in cap room next summer. Some of that could be committed to Nerlens Noel, whose extension deadline is Oct. 31.
The Sixers’ roster is stacked to the brim with young, talented athletes with tantalizing upside. Nerlens Noel is 22 years old. Jahlil Okafor is only 20. Joel Embiid is 22. Ben Simmons was 19 on draft day. Dario Saric is also just 22. The Sixers have only three players on their entire roster born in the 1980s. All the rest were born in the 1990s. There will obviously be growing pains with this inexperienced group, but Coach Brown should be able to tap into all that youthful energy on a nightly basis and use that to the Sixers’ advantage. Philadelphia obviously isn’t a title contender, and won’t be for a while, but they are moving in the right direction.
The Sixers were the worst offense in the NBA last season. They were the only team in the entire league to score fewer than 100 points per 100 possessions. In fact, Philly has posted the worst Offensive Rating (below 99.0 each year) three seasons in a row. The hope is that the arrival of Simmons as the facilitator and Embiid as a finisher, along with the continued development of Okafor, will allow the Sixers to score more efficiently and effectively starting this season. Philadelphia also finished last season with the fewest rebounds in the league. They will need to address/improve that deficiency next season.
THE BURNING QUESTION
Will Philadelphia trade away a forward/center to address their lack of depth in the backcourt?
Trading a “big” for a “small” isn’t always advisable in the NBA, but it may make sense considering the Sixers’ glut of big men and need for guards. Philly’s hand may be forced and they will have to make a difficult decision sooner rather later, especially if Embiid stays healthy through camp and the early part of the season. Noel may be a free agent next summer, and with the salary cap set to spike to north of $100 million, he would receive a bevy of lucrative offers. Will Philadelphia commit major money to Noel long-term? If they do, what happens with Okafor, Embiid and Saric? There are simply not enough minutes to go around up front. When you also consider the Sixers’ lack of quality guards (their projected starting point guard and shooting guard didn’t start a single NBA game last season), trading away from their glut of big men might be the best allocation of their resources. It is likely Philadelphia will be very active on the trade market in the days and weeks leading up to the deadline in February. In fact, it would be somewhat surprising if both Noel and Okafor are on the roster in March.
– Tommy Beer
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