2017-18 Preview: Philadelphia 76ers

By Josh Eberley #41

The loading status bar is creeping forward. The process isn’t close to complete but the download is no longer lagging. Joel “The Process” Embiid is playing five on five basketball and all is right in Philadelphia. Fresh off a huge extension and a three-year injury hibernation, 2017-18 might be the campaign Embiid is finally unleashed. The 2016 No. 1 pick Ben Simmons is making waves in preseason and 2017 No. 1 pick Markelle Fultz is… well, Fultz is there, too. And let’s not—like everyone has—forget about Jahlil Okafor. The Sixers are one shooting readjustment from being everybody’s favorite up and coming squad—if they aren’t already. J.J. Redick got an unfathomable $23 million to bring some spacing and veteran experience to the young unit. Amir Johnson got $11 million to mentor the young crop of Philadelphia bigs. The Sixers were fortunate in that they didn’t lose or give up anyone this summer crucial to their long-term plans.

Sixers 2017-18 Ballhandlers Wings Bigs
Returners Jerryd Bayless, T.J. McConnell Robert Covington, Justin Anderson, Nik Stauskas, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot Jahlil Okafor, Joel Embiid, Richaun Holmes, Dario Saric
Newcomers Markelle Fultz, Furkan Korkmaz Ben Simmons, J.J. Redick Amir Johnson, Kris Humphries, Emeka Okafor
Gone Sergio Rodriguez Hollis Thompson, Gerald Henderson  
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Offense: There are a million stats that speak to the impact of Embiid during his brief stint playing last season and a million more that projects him as a future MVP. Let’s keep it simple: He’s special. The Sixers were horrendous without him and the offense had no one remotely capable of carrying anywhere near the load he shouldered over his 31 games last season. An especially ridiculous stat to consider; Embiid, Robert Covington, Ersan Ilyasova, T.J. McConnell and Nik Stauskas had a net rating of +14 in 110 minutes last season. The same lineup with Embiid out and Okafor inserted in his place had a net rating of -15.5 in 80 minutes played. It’s a small sample but that extinction sized crater can’t be ignored. The Sixers had the 30th ranked offense last season, a mark they are sure to explode out of so long as Embiid is healthy. Simmons is the de facto quarterback of the offense, but he’s also a rookie. He’ll bring a level of athleticism and playmaking they didn’t have last season, but you’ll have to expect some growing pains along with it. As one of, if not the best spot-up shooter in the League, Redick will bring some stability and a steady shot to the lineup that badly needs both. The trio should fit beautifully with clear roles and high-end talent relative to their skill sets all-around. It’s easy to see how the Sixers offense shoots up the board with haste. However, Fultz and his role this season is the big question for the offense. The most recent No. 1 selection looks foreign to the game after some questionable tinkering to his shot. Fultz scored with ease in college. He boasts immense length for a guard and shot 41 percent from deep at Washington. There’s no reason to panic; remember, he hasn’t even played a real game yet, but it’s an auspicious start. Fultz will have to figure out the kinks before he can contribute to the Sixers offense. Covington provides some spacing and is a versatile forward, he didn’t shoot great from long range last season but he won’t be asked to shoot at near that volume this year. Lack of talent dictated multiple Sixers carry egregious weight last season. Those loads should be alleviated this season with the stars in the lineup.

Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Defense: The Sixers defense ranked 17th last season. They were way better with Embiid present and at the other end of the spectrum without him. The 17th placed ranking probably doesn’t even tell the full story given how many games they were out of from the jump without Embiid, who is a straight-up gamechanger. Covington is one of the best defensive wings in the game. The two of them alone should keep Philadelphia out of the bottom third of teams defensively. Fultz and Simmons both have negative reputations as defenders, and in general rookies aren’t counted on to the degree Philadelphia will lean on these two. That said, very few players in the League have the physical tools those two do. It’s hard to see a team with as much as youth as Philadelphia has be a top 10 team defensively, but Johnson and Justin Anderson are both positive additions at that end. Look for them to finish in the 12-16 range, health permitting.

Upside: When the mantra is “trust the process,” the sky is the limit but it’s also the destination. The Sixers tanked to avoid mediocrity. They tanked to acquire multiple players with star potential. Phase one complete. No one should expect this team to be contending for a title but they should be looking for a massive jump this season. Very few teams jump from perennial lottery team to champion in a year but the Sixers committed to being terrible to springboard ahead of the competition and that must start now. Expect the Sixers to be in the playoffs this season, especially in the weak Eastern Conference.

Durability: There’s never been a player like Embiid. Even Greg Oden played 51 more games through his first three seasons. There’s simply no prior model to compare Embiid to. How many former players missed anywhere remotely close to the time he missed and wound up having a long and successful career? The answer is zero. And yet, the Sixers clearly believe. Injury stipulations aside, they just agreed to pay him $148 million over five years. Simmons just missed his entire rookie campaign. Fultz is beginning the season on the bench due to a bum shoulder. This Sixers unit is volatile in the injuries department. All you can do is keep the faith and trust the…well, you know.

Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty Images

Synergy: Grant the youth time to come together but the culture Philadelphia has nurtured is special. Trust the Process isn’t just a slogan, not just a mantra—it’s become a movement. The team is well constructed and all that’s left for the patient Brett Brown is to put them out there and let them show it. All the key parts that have resulted from the Process—Embiid, Simmons, Saric, Fultz, even Okafor—just now need some time to jel. If they do, the Sixers will be formidable for a long time.

Experience: Johnson and Redick were brought in for this reason. Both have been to the playoffs plenty, both have seen the best and worst parts of the League. It’s tough to remember but their best player isn’t a kid either. Embiid is 23, plenty of playoff teams have been led by younger stars. It’s a unique case but the Sixers aren’t the team of rookie’s many envision them as.

Win-frame: 37-42 wins

2017-18 HOOP Season Preview

Eastern Conference Western Conference
Atlantic  Central Southeast Pacific Southwest Northwest
Boston Celtics Chicago Bulls Atlanta Hawks Golden State Warriors Dallas Mavericks Denver Nuggets
Brooklyn Nets Cleveland Cavaliers Charlotte Hornets Los Angeles Clippers Houston Rockets Minnesota Timberwolves
New York Knicks Detroit Pistons Miami Heat Los Angeles Lakers Memphis Grizzlies Oklahoma City Thunder
Philadelphia 76ers Indiana Pacers Orlando Magic Phoenix Suns New Orleans Pelicans Portland Trail Blazers
Toronto Raptors Milwaukee Bucks Washington Wizards Sacramento Kings San Antonio Spurs

 

Utah Jazz