Welcome back friends to the third annual installment of my NBA League Pass Rankings. For those new to the process, forget power rankings. Forget Vegas Over-Unders and salary cap gymnastics. Here at Knicks at Night we dive into the teams one by one to answer one simple question. If you’re shelling out the money for a League Pass subscription, which of these teams are worth that top 5 night-in, night-out slot and which of these guys are absolute, unwatchable garbage people?
Full disclouse: This post was written days before 1st overall pick Ben Simmons suffered a Jones fracture in his foot and is now at risk of missing his entire rookie season.
I had a Wire style dream the other night that Ben Simmons was hanging out with some friends at a party in the woods when he was shot twice execution style by a youngster trying to earn a little respect for taking down the local legend. And I woke up screaming. Philadelphia basketball has been waiting too long, and failing too spectacularly, to miss out on a talent of Simmons’ caliber.
Simmons is the first true potential superstar produced from Sam Hinkie’s “Trust the Process” tank-athon that started more than four years ago and has generated an insane 47 wins over the last three seasons. Over that time the Sixers have been a punch line, then a decent defensive unit, than an absolute garbage show that started last year with a near unbelievable 0-18 losing streak. I can’t imagine what it’s been like as a Sixers fan over this time (though I can’t say the Knicks have been all that much better), but after years of terribleness, this team finally has some real intriguing young players and a glut of potential in the frontcourt.
Simmons has been one of the most highly touted high school prospects since Lebron James and has a similar skill set with the athleticism and passing ability that you wouldn’t normally expect to see from a big man. He was criticized a good deal in his lone season at LSU for lacking a killer instinct and not always playing up to the competition in the bigger games. He also has a fairly busted jumper, but the fact remains that few players possess the raw physical tools of a guy who just turned 20 years old. It’s not always going to be pretty in Philadelphia, and I don’t expect Simmons to be worth an immediate 6 or 7 game improvement for a team that won just 10 all of last year, but I’m confident that the Sixers will continue to be patient, bringing him along slowly and putting him in best position to succeed.
As crazy as it is, though, to turn my back on a 6’10” Rookie of the Year point guard, I may just be more excited to see Joel Embiid in action this season. Philly’s number 3 pick from two years ago has yet to see any playing time after undergoing multiple foot surgeries and has become something of an off-court folk hero in Philadelphia, doing everything from courting Rihanna to chugging ridiculous amounts of Shirley Temple. He also might have a higher ceiling than any young center not named Karl Anthony-Towns. Embiid has garnered comparisons to everyone from DeAndre Jordan to some lofty, everything breaks right Hakeem Olajuwan projections. This might be the imagination running wild a little bit, but Embiid improved like crazy in his one season at Kansas going from a relative unknown to looking even better than his teammate and eventual first overall pick Andrew Wiggins.
The Sixers will surround these two with the gazelle-fast, shot blocking high faded Nerlens Noel and low-post throwback Jahlil Okafor. There’s a lot of talk going on about how the Sixers need to trade one of these guys; Embiid will be a third pure center who needs playing time while Simmons is functionally a power forward unable to shoot from outside of 5 feet. Noel makes more sense in the modern NBA where a big man’s role is largely protecting the rim and rolling to the basket on offense. However, despite Okafor getting into every kind of trouble under the sun last season, there just aren’t too many NBA rookies who are able to come into the league and average 18 and 7 with a block a night. The fact is that the league knows how desperate Philadelphia is to move them and will likely offer pennies on the dollar, but between these four and rookie power forward Dario Saric, this team is going to have a major log jam for frontcourt minutes.
Even if Simmons will be handling the ball the majority of his time on the court, this team needs a point guard in the worst way and was apparently enamored with Providence’s Kris Dunn in this year’s draft. And if not a point guard then some serious outside shooting as no one outside of Robert Covington is able to hit a three (maybe if Sauce Castillo gets back to form). Still, though, these guys know they aren’t just one piece away and will continue to use this season like a laboratory experiment where they can learn how to extract the most out of their players. With one more likely high pick in next year’s stacked draft class and some exciting play from either Simmons or Embiid, we should all be lining up to hire Sam Hinkie and jump on this train before its left the station.
Last year’s ranking: 22 (+10)