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
Mavs Guard Devin Harris on Personal Leave from Team
Guard Devin Harris will take an indefinite leave from the Dallas Mavericks after the tragic death of his brother, Bruce.
“I was with him yesterday and just encouraged him that when he’s ready to come on back,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “I don’t know when that will be. He can take as long as he needs.”
Source: Tim MacMahon of ESPN
NBA PM: Patrick Beverley Set the Tone for Clippers in Season Opener
Patrick Beverley set the tone for the L.A. Clippers with his aggressive defense in their season opener.
“The LA Clippers are going to the Western Conference Finals. Guaranteed.”
That bold statement was made by Charles Barkley during TNT’s coverage of last night’s matchup between the Lakers and Clippers.
While Barkley may have had his hot take canon primed and in mid-season form, that should not overshadow the fact that the Los Angeles Clippers put together a strong showing in their first regular season game since the departure of Chris Paul.
Blake Griffin logged 29 points, 12 rebounds, three assists, two steals and knocked down three of his six three-point attempts. Griffin was aggressive and showed no hesitation on his jumper, which seemed to open up lanes for him to drive to the basket (where he is most effective). DeAndre Jordan was fantastic as well, contributing 14 points, 24 rebounds, one assist and one steal.
While the Clippers lost some significant contributors from last season, including J.J. Redick, Luc Mbah a Moute and Jamal Crawford, the team had some returning and new players show that they are capable of filling the void.
Milos Teodosic was just 2-9 from the field, but knocked down two three-pointers and looked comfortable and effective running the team’s offense. Danilo Gallinarni shot just 3-13 from the field but looked healthy and spry, displaying the kind of mobility that is necessary to play the small forward position. His ability to act as a secondary playmaker wasn’t on full display, but there were moments where it was apparent that he could be a big help in generating open looks for his teammates. Lou Williams also looked good in his Clippers debut, scoring in a variety of ways off the bench and contributing six assists as well. Wesley Johnson continues to look confident and aggressive, a continuation from his preseason performances, and is starting to knock down the open shots his teammates are creating for him (which has been a problem for him in the past).
While the Clippers looked solid in their opening act without Paul, it should be noted that the Lakers are a young team overall and their defense has been a major problem for the last few seasons. While the Lakers have added some promising young talent over the offseason, like most young teams, they are going to struggle to slow down veteran teams with potent offenses. It would be a mistake to think the Clippers can replicate this sort of offensive performance every night, especially against the better defensive teams in the league. However, perhaps the most promising part of the Clippers’ season debut was the fact that they seemed to feed off of and embrace the gritty demeanor and style of play that Patrick Beverley brings to the court each and every night.
Last night’s game was the NBA debut for rookie point guard Lonzo Ball, who many predict will develop into a star player. Unfortunately for Ball, his opening night matchup came against Beverley, who earned a spot on the 2017 All-Defensive First Team. Beverley repeatedly guarded Ball past half court, pushed him around and did everything he could to throw him off of his game. He held Ball to three points, nine rebounds and four assists in 29 minutes of action.
Beverley, like every NBA player, has heard the hype and noise surrounding Ball and his future in the league (most of it from his outspoken father, LaVar).
“I just had to set the tone,” Beverley said. “I told him after the game that due to all the riffraff his dad brings, that he’s going to get a lot of people coming at him. I let him know that after the game. What a better way to start than spending 94 feet guarding him tonight — welcome the young guy to the NBA.”
Beverley is one of the more aggressive defenders in the NBA and is known for trying to get under the skin of his opponents, so Lonzo may not face this level of intensity in every game. But based on Beverley’s comments, it’s clear that he expects other players around the league to defend Lonzo aggressively as well.
Snoop Dogg, the rapper and passionate Lakers fan, summed up the issue for Ball arguably better than anyone else has so far.
“His father put him in the lion’s den with pork chop drawers on,” said Snoop.
For his part, Lonzo complimented Beverley on his aggressive defense.
“[Beverley] plays hard. He knows his job. He does it very well,” said Ball. “He gets under people’s skin and plays defense and does what he can to help his team win.”
Beverley set the tone for the Clippers, who looked crisp and confident throughout the game. Griffin’s three-point shot looks like it could finally be a reliable part of his offensive arsenal. Jordan was very active on the glass, pulling down 24 rebounds (possibly inspired in part by his commitment to donate $100 per rebound this season to help the effort to rebuild his hometown of Houston after the damage inflicted by Hurricane Harvey). The rest of the supporting cast played with the sort of cohesion and confidence that takes at least a few weeks into the season to develop. Again, the Clippers’ performance could have stemmed primarily from the Lakers’ shaky defense, but it was encouraging to see the team play with such force and confidence in the absence of Paul.
The Western Conference is extremely talented and deep, so it’s unlikely that the Clippers will make it to the Western Conference Finals as Barkley predicted. However, challenging for a spot in the playoffs and perhaps even doing some damage once there seems to be in the realm of possibility. This is especially the case considering how much of an impact Beverley had Thursday night, both defensively and in setting the tone for the rest of his new teammates.
Morris Bringing Leadership To Celtics
Marcus Morris chats with Basketball Insiders for a one-on-one exclusive.
Returning just one starter from last year’s top-seeded team in the Eastern Conference, the Boston Celtics underwent wholesale changes this past offseason.
Gordon Hayward signed a super max contract. Danny Ainge pried Kyrie Irving away from the Cleveland Cavaliers in a blockbuster deal. Jayson Tatum was selected with the third overall pick in the NBA Draft.
In early July, though, there was an under-the-radar trade executed that hasn’t been mentioned much. Surprisingly, Celtics guard Avery Bradley was sent to the Detroit Pistons in exchange for Marcus Morris, a heady wing with size and versatility to add to a revamped core of players.
Bradley was a mainstay with the franchise for seven years and played a vital role as a part of Brad Stevens’ system, but Boston decided to move in a different direction. As for the man they got in return, he’s thrilled to be there.
“It makes me feel good,” Morris told Basketball Insiders of Ainge dealing one of his best former players for him. “It makes you feel wanted.
“This is my first time since I’ve been in the NBA I’ve been on a team with a bunch of guys that [are] All-Stars. With the maturity of the team being this high and having them high expectations on us, I’m excited to get the season going and see how far we can take this.”
The Detroit Pistons likely wanted to keep him, but the organization clearly felt Bradley’s skill set was too good to pass up. For Morris, he insisted there was no indication that his old team would send him away, but he hasn’t been bashful about talking up his new home.
“Had no idea that I was gonna be a Boston Celtic, but I’m ready for the challenge, you know?” Morris said. “I’m excited. Boston, being a Celtic—it’s something that growing up you don’t really see happening, but when it happens it’s an amazing thing.
“It’s like playing for the Patriots, you know what I mean? One of the most heralded teams and most heralded franchises, and Boston is one of those.”
Entering the seventh season of his career, Morris has remained a steady part of the league. During his time in Detroit, he started nearly every game for the Pistons and found a comfort zone that he believes will carry over in Boston.
“Just continue to be consistent, continue to build on my last past couple of years,” Morris said of his personal goals. “I really felt like I carved my spot in the NBA the last two years—averaging 14 a year and helping my team get to the playoffs one of those years, so I really think I’ve carved a niche in this league.”
The success has come thanks to his versatility and the NBA’s current direction pointing towards that type of game. All of a sudden, not having a defined position makes a player more valuable, something Morris is thankful for as he continues to bring a little bit of everything to the table.
“For guys like me, it’s great,” Morris said. “Coming into the league, I had this ‘tweener’ thing on my back and now it’s like [freaking] great to be a ‘tweener’ at this time. I’m actually happy that it’s switching to my position and guys that can do multiple things are being utilized more in this league.”
Putting the ball in the basket has come fairly easy for Morris, who averaged 14.1 points per game on 42.6 percent from the field over 159 games with Detroit. He’s able to stretch the floor and provide solid spacing offensively, and he envisions doing more than that for this Celtics group.
“And leadership,” Morris said. “I’m not too much of a vocal guy, but I’m a passionate guy on the court. I think that’ll rub off on guys. I love scoring. I love shooting the ball. But that’s not the only thing I do.
“I’ve been a tough defender around this league for the last past years and I’m really looking forward to hanging my hat on that again and just doing whatever it takes for my team to get to that next level.”
Stevens is aware of the impact Morris can bring in the locker room and on the floor. When he returns from a sore knee to make his debut for Boston, that’ll show through his play.
“He’s a guy that can stretch the floor at the four,” Stevens said. “He’s a guy that can guard two through four. He’s tough. He’s smart. He works the right way. We’ll be better with Marcus Morris for sure. The versatility is a very important part of what we want to be.
“Whether he is starting in a couple of weeks or whether he’s coming off the bench, at the end of the day he’s gonna be a critical, critical part of our team.”
While he’s waited to come back, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum have stepped up in his absence. With Hayward likely sidelined for the rest of the season, that success will have to be sustained. Morris is a big believer in this promising duo and sees how grounded they are to make that happen.
“They’re mature guys for their age,” Morris said. “Jaylen, I think he’s 20. He’s definitely a lot more mature than I thought. Jayson, too. He’s way more mature than your average 19-year-old.
“At the end of the day, it’s just basketball. I think those guys, they’re ready for the challenge. They love the game. They always in the gym, so I think it’ll be easy for ‘em.”
Part of Morris’ role is guiding those two and the other younger pieces that Boston has as they try and establish themselves as professionals. He’s kind of a coach per se, which is somewhat fitting considering what he did this summer.
Most basketball fans are aware of “The Basketball Tournament” that takes nationwide. For those that aren’t, it’s a single-elimination competition between 64 teams in which the champion receives a $2 million prize. Morris was the head coach of Team FOE—standing for Family Over Everything.
Along with his fellow Kansas alums, including his brother Markieff and Thomas Robinson, Morris coached his team to the final game. Team FOE was in front most of the game but ultimately fell to Boeheim’s Army, a squad filled with former Syracuse Orangemen.
“I was on my way man,” Morris said of coming close. “I actually liked it. I’m a smart guy. Me and basketball stuff, I can put it together real well. I was kinda upset we lost in the fashion that we lost, but we’ll be back next year.
“I’m a smart player,” he said regarding a potential future on the sidelines. “I know the game really well. Coaching comes easy for some guys and I’m just one of those guys.”
You could hear “Coach Morris” down the line, but for now and for years to come, Marcus is focused on his first year with Boston. It’s a team that surely has the talent to be the top team in the East it’s pegged to be. Stevens is a basketball savant with great leadership.
Even without an All-Star like Hayward and a 0-2 start, the Celtics should still be a force to be reckoned with. There’s an even greater demand for them to achieve their potential, especially knowing eyes will be on them, but Morris welcomes the challenge.
“Man, it’s pressure on every team,” Morris said. “It ain’t like it’s just all on the Boston Celtics. It’s pressure on every team. What’s a game without pressure anyway?
“Pressure makes it the best thing. That’s what we need to do anyway. I enjoy the pressure. Me personally.”
Shouldering the load won’t be easy, but if it comes down to it, Morris will be swimming instead of sinking. When all is said and done, he shares the same aspirations as most players do—raising the Larry O’Brien trophy in the summer.
“I want to the win the championship,” Morris said. “You put this type of team together to get to those positions. I’m looking to be playing in June and trying to get to a championship.”