The 76ers are finally poised to start improving after one of the worst runs imaginable. But are they really or is that just what they want you to think?
At the NBA Draft Combine one of the Colangelos stated that he thinks the “rebuilding” is over for the Philadelphia 76ers and the “building” is about to start. He said this about a team that has won 19, 18, and 10 games over each of the past three seasons. It’s an aggressive claim, to say the least. But how far off is he?
Philadelphia, despite going 1-30 over their first 31 games last year, has a few things to build on. Once again they have the highest chance to win the draft lottery, meaning they’re bound to get a solid player or a nice trade package for a top-pick. While everyone has a lot of space under the ballooning salary cap, Philadelphia should have over $60 million to spend on free agents. That's obscene. Additionally, they have some bright spots with the personnel already in place.
First, Jahlil Okafor will be a force in the NBA. He averaged 17.5 points and 7 rebounds while shooting over 50% from the floor. Those numbers are doubly impressive as a rookie, and if it weren’t for Karl Anthony Towns, Okafor may have been a genuine threat to win the rookie of the year award. If you watched a Sixers game, you know that defense is an issue – opponents shot almost 60% inside against him - but he’s 20 years old, so that’s not a surprise. He'll come around over time. Perhaps the biggest issue is whether or not he can stop acting like an ass and suffering an occasional suspension. Those won’t get any easier to deal with over time, and once a reputation is established, there’s going to be a target on him.
But again, he’s only 20 years old and he’s a guy who put up multiple 20+ point, 15+ rebound games. His “injury” late in the season was minor and there was no incentive to trot him out there each game, so that should be no concern.
Moving on. This writer has been a big fan of Nerlens Noel for a few years now and Noel has shown flashes of being a big-time contributor as a quick-footed, defensive-minded center. He’s not big enough to body up with the monsters yet, but he’s super-athletic and is fast. He had more games with 3+ blocks than with 0 blocks, so that’s pretty darn good.
Source: By Patriarca12 (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
At guard, I guess Ism Smith is as close to an answer as the 76ers have had since…the previous time they had Ish Smith. Once he came into town, the Sixers won a few games (7-25 after going 1-30 is a marked improvement) and showed actual signs of life. No disrespect to TJ McConnell but a rookie PG leading a team full of young guys is not a great way to win games. However, Ish is not under contract past July 1 of this year. They should re-sign him.
So where does that leave Philly? They have pieces to improve on, but with the league moving evermore toward the pace-and-space design, the Sixers spent the past three drafts collecting post-up players. I mean, what can you say about Joel Embiid at this point? He might come back eventually, but is there really any hope? Can he do anything that Noel isn’t doing?
There’s just not a great chance that this year will be enjoyable for Sixers fans. The team has to convince decent players to sign with them after punting on success for the last four full years. What incentive would a player have to go to Philadelphia other than the insane contract space they have? That might work, but then that means the players that are on Philly’s radar are going to be money-first players who they have to overpay for.
The one redeeming factor is that Brett Brown hasn’t been fired. He’s done everything he could do with the hand that he’s been dealt, and he deserves to see whether or not it works in the long run. With Bryan Colangelo in charge (what a strange road it was for Sam Hinkie), there’s some quiet optimism that the team is going to turn it around, but turning around and actually moving ahead are very different things.
Okafor could be very good, but behind him is a roster full of 6th men and role players. Philly needs to hit a homerun in the draft or pull some major strings in free agency. Maybe Saric will come around eventually, too. Whatever Colangelo tries, he needs it to work because it will still take two more years to come together.