Small Ball 2016-17 Season Previews: Philadelphia 76ers

Philadelphia 76ers
10-72

Additions: Gerald Henderson, Jerryd Bayless, Sergio Rodriguez, Brandon Paul, Dario Sarcic
Departures: Ish Smith, Isaiah Canaan, Elton Brand, Christian Wood, Sasha Kaun

Can Head Coach Brett Brown do the unthinkable? That is, win more than 20 games this year–a feat that has never been accomplished in Philadelphia since the 2012-2013 season. The 76ers were by far the worst team in the NBA last year as they only managed to win just 10 games all year.

The arrival of #1 overall pick Ben Simmons is just about the only thing that Sixers fans can look forward to this year after the abysmal season of 2015-2016. How can the Sixers have a top three draft pick the last three straight seasons and still not manage to win more than 20 games in any of them? Is it because they don’t know how to draft? Is it just pure bad luck? Is it not their fault that Joel Embiid got hurt and has not returned until this year? Will Ben Simmons be any different? So many questions surround Philadelphia this year, but you can’t blame last years draft pick Jahlil Okafor for the teams misery. He averaged 17.5 points, 7.0 rebounds and 1.2 assists in his Rookie season. It’s sure shaping up to be another roller coaster season for Philadelphia fans where they may struggle to hit that 20 win mark.

Returning Players: Robert Covington, Joel Embiid, Jerami Grant, Carl Landry, Richaun Holmes, Kendall Marshall, TJ McConnell, Nerlens Noel, Jahlil Okafor, Nik Stauskas, Hollis Thompson

Who is Dario Saric? Well, he is one of the draft-and-stash pieces of the so-far poor 2014 NBA draft for the Sixers. Besides Jerami Grant, the only other piece they have left from that Draft is Embiid; who they picked third overall that year. Embiid has not played a game yet in the NBA because he’s been injured but says he feels stronger than ever this year. Between him, Saric and Ben Simmons, it’s almost like they have three lottery picks out of this years draft that they have to work with (and maybe even Timothe Luwawu).

On top of last years third overall draft pick, Jahlil Okafor, and 2013’s sixth overall pick Nerlens Noel, Ben Simmons has the opportunity to add to this core of top draft picks in Philly. If they can all get healthy, stronger, and more mature as players and as a team, then the Sixers should be able to actually compete in the next few years. The problem with this core of guys is that they are all big men. There’s just too many of them.

In todays NBA, you need at least one all star or elite guard in order to compete. You need to have guys that can shoot threes that aren’t at the 4 or 5 spot. They had a guy that bordered that caliber in Ish Smith, who they will have to replace (14.7 points, 7.0 assists, 4.3 rebounds per game) and Isaiah Canaan (11.0 points, 1.8 assists, 2.3 rebounds per game) whom they also have to replace. They have to figure out their big man rotation first and foremost. And somehow, they need to find a way to score the ball.

G- An obvious question will be whether or not Timothe Luwawu can be a force or not at the guard spot in the NBA. He was just taken 24th overall in this years NBA entry draft. Last year overseas with the Mega Leks, he averaged 14.8 points, 4.7 rebounds and 2.7 assists Not quite the stats Ish Smith put up last year for Philly, but pretty darn close. He was projected to go higher than the 24th pick too, as some mock drafts had him as high as 10-15.

If you can add an almost lottery-pick talent guard to the additions of Simmons, Embiid and Saric, you can get a solid core of young players for the Sixers to work with going forward. The only problem with Luwawu is that he isn’t the best shooter. He only shot 39% last year and that was one of the key pieces that this Philly team is lacking in. Adding Jerryd Bayless and his 10.4 points, 3.1 assists and 2.7 rebounds per game will help replace Isaiah Canaan, but not the hole that Ish Smith left.

Philadelphia needs Luwawu to step up and be one of those guys if they want to compete this year in the division and with the rest of the league. From what they have left last year at the guard spot, Nik Stauskas is the only one that has any hope for the 76ers after he averaged 8.5/1.9/2.5 last year. Philly did go out this offseason and get guards, however. Besides Jerryd Bayless, they signed Gerald Henderson, who averaged 8.7/1.0/2.9 last year, along with Sergio Rodriguez and Brandon Paul. The only problem with just about every guard I just named is that they are basically all bench players for about 28 other teams in the NBA. Marshall and McConnell are just fill-ins.

F- This is where Philly starts to get to their problem believe it or not. They have such a plethora of Big Men that they don’t even know what to do with them. They even tried trading Nerlens Noel (11.1 points, 8.1 rebounds, 1.5 blocks per game) or Jahlil Okafor (17.5 points, 7.0 rebounds, 1.2 assists per game) on draft night in order to attain the Celtics #3 overall pick so they could get Providence-guard Kris Dunn.

Obviously they knew that the big man spots weren’t a need on this team; even though giving up those young, stud-caliber players always hurts. For the forwards, it starts with Nerlens and also an underrated guy in Robert Covington, who averaged 12.8 points, 6.3 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game last year. He’s very versatile at 6’9 and works well in rotation with Noel and Jerami Grant. Grant’s another underrated player who at 6’8 and averaged 9.7 points, 4.7 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game last year.

I feel like these guys are underrated because of how bad Philly has been. Maybe it does speak to the type of players some of these guys are, and maybe they are bench players on most other teams in the NBA, but they’re still young and talented players than can give guys like Noel or Simmons a rest when they need it.

The #1 question of the NBA this year (apart from how the Warriors will be) is how good will Ben Simmons be. He’s said to be the next big superstar in the NBA, and with good reason, as he dominated at LSU; averaging 19.2 points, 11.8 rebounds and 4.8 assists per game. He was one of the most impressive players in all of the Summer Leagues along with the Celtics #3 pick, Jaylen Brown. If Simmons can be a serious player in the NBA this year like Okafor was his Freshman year last year; the Forward spot could potentially be deadly in Philly with a duo of Simmons and Noel. Holmes, Landry and Wood are all fill-ins.

C- Jahlil Okafor is their starting center. There’s no question about that, is there? Joel Embiid, who they took third overall in 2014, is apparently back and healthier than ever. The seven-footer was supposed to be a dominant center in the NBA, but hasn’t played yet because of his injury. What we see out of him could depend on how the well the Sixers do this year. If he can come in and be the dominant rebounder that he was drafted to be, then guys like Simmons and Noel and even Okafor won’t have to get banged up as much, allowing them to focus on the offensive side of the ball.

Even Noel can play the 5 at 6’11, but he may struggle against guys like Lopez or Valancuinas. That’s why the Sixers need Embiid to be that big body down low and give Okafor some rest. They are the only three centers on the team, and Noel is the starting 4 so you don’t want to use him at the five unless absolutely necessary. If Embiid truly can be the force that he was drafted to be, than he and Okafor should make a pretty formidable duo at the center spot. The loss of Sasha Kaun will mean nothing, especially if Embiid can produce.

Overall

The 76ers will only go as far as Ben Simmons takes them. With the bulk of the guys that they had last year, they only managed to win 10 games all year. That’s pathetic. On top of Simmons, Joel Embiid needs to step up and be a force, and Timothe Luwawu has to become a servicable guard in the NBA (and fast).
The Sixers only added Gerald Henderson, Jerryd Bayless, Sergio Rodriguez and Brandon Paul this offseason–all guards. They didn’t get that much better in the offseason, but in the draft they did. Ben Simmons should be a superstar within the next 3 years if all goes well. He needs to snap the streak of unfortunate draft picks that Philly has endured the last few years with the exception of Jahlil Okafor, and Noel if you want to go further back. It’s shaping up for them to be one of the bottom teams in the division and the league, but they at least shouldn’t finish behind the Nets like they did last year.
Prediction: 23-59
UPDATE: Resigned Elton BrandUPDATE UPDATE: Ben Simmons fractured his foot, out at least 3 months+ !!!

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