Its hard to tell what Philly fans think of the rebuilding project going on at the Wells Fargo Stadium. I spoke to a friend over the summer who was enthusiastic about the 76ers netting Kansas center Joel Embiid with the third pick of the draft. In his one-and-done college season, Embiid went from living under Andrew Wiggins’ shadow to looking like a franchise transforming big man and the clear cut #1 draft choice. Then he suffered a stress fracture in his foot that dropped him down draft boards until the opportunistic Philadelphia GM Sam Hinkie took him at #3. Now, Sixers fans will have to wait a full season to see Embiid in action, just as they missed all of last season from their 2013 draft acquisition Nerlens Noel. (The Pelicans actually drafted Noel, but sent him to Philly in a package that netted them PG Jrue Holiday).
As a long-time fan of one of the most poorly-managed teams in basketball, I gotta say I appreciate that Hinkie has a plan at least. But his ruthlessness in pursuing that overall #1 pick for the last few seasons has gutted the Sixers roster of any real NBA talent and brought up serious conversations about how much the current draft system encourages this kind of shameless tanking. A summit on proposed reforms to the system over the summer was protested by a few of the league’s GMs, Hinkie being one of the loudest, as any changes now would derail the long-term plans they have for their teams.
Let’s be clear here, this is a LONG term rebuild in Philadelphia. Baby-faced killer Michael Carter-Williams shined on this team last year, using their league-best pace of play to pad his scoring and rebounding stats on the way to winning Rookie of the Year, despite jacking up so many shots that he ended up with a 40% FG percentage and a ghastly 26% from 3. MCW is the real deal and will likely continue to improve as the front-office surrounds him with more talented players, but other than him and Noel, who we have yet to see in NBA competition, the Philadelphia 76ers might as well be a D-League team. After taking a quick peek at their roster, I recognized frightfully few names. Tony Wroten (?) had a couple good games for them at shooting guard last year. Alexey Shved was a fairly mediocre player on the Timberwolves with great hair. And that’s it. Yikes. These guys might not even be cut out for the D-League.
If you remember, last year’s Sixers started the year with a surprising win over Lebron and the reigning champs wherein MCW had a 12-4-6 line and looked like a breakout star. These guys plummeted back to Earth pretty much immediately after, with most of their press coverage concerning their remarkable 26 game losing streak, tying a league record. They still managed to finish out the season better than Milwaukee, but it seems as if Hinkie is dead-set on changing that, sending their last mature player in Thaddeus Young over to the T’Wolves (a move that netted them Shved’s hair, and yet another 1st rounder, this time from Cleveland). When you consider Hinkie’s other draft pick was the Croatian wonder Dario Saric, who will also miss all of this season as he continues to play overseas, there will almost definitely be a renewed conversation this year about the lottery system and fair competition. While Sixers fans may have a lot to look forward to in the future, especially if this is the last of Embiid’s injuries, I would not blame them for missing this season.
X-Factor= Nerlens Noel.
Noel is a defensive monster with the lanky frame to contest shots like a Serge Ibaka or Larry Sanders. He has never been known as having many post moves or offensive presence, but if he can develop a good pick-and-roll game with Carter-Williams he should have a few thunderous jams per game. But mostly, this season will just be about keeping him healthy and making sure he is not bullied around too much by the league’s sturdier big men.