Every summer NBA franchises make decisions that positively or negatively effect their future. This is the latest in a series of articles detailing transitional teams. I.E., teams that have had notable offseasons, and thus, are must-watch television during the 2016-17 season. For our last article on this subject, regarding the Dallas Mavericks, click here.
The Philadelphia 76ers are the protest candidate in a Presidential election. This person is given all the stats about how protest candidates a) don’t get their issues any additional serious coverage; and b) don’t win primaries. Yet, in the face of the data, decides to run as a protest candidate, and however miraculously, is actually successful.
Yes, I am saying that the Philadelphia 76ers are Donald Trump. They are (literally) going to be huge in the NBA.
Moreover, like Donald Trump, ex-Sixers general manager Sam Hinkie looked at the evidence of complete tanks consistently failing, yet nevertheless found a way to make it successful. Indeed, the 76ers “process” has been undeniably effective.
Let’s begin by looking at when the Sixers starter their tank, we’ll begin this journey at the beginning of the 2012 NBA playoffs. Here, due to significant injuries to the Chicago Bulls, the eighth seed 76ers were able to defeat the top-seed Chicago Bulls. Led by versatile wing Andre Iguodala, guard Jrue Holliday, and former superstar forward Elton Brand, the Sixers surprised a lot of teams.
After defeating the Bulls, Philadelphia took the Boston Celtics and their trio of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen to seven games before being eliminated. After this season everything was looking up. The 76ers had a significant amount of cap space and a solid, mid-round draft pick going into the offseason. However the Sixers misused those tools, signing oft-injured, headcase big-man Andrew Bynum to a large contract, and then drafting bust Justin Hamilton. This resulted in a 34-48 season and the beginning of the Sixers rebuild.
The 2011-12 season and the one that followed are interesting because we see other teams that stopped being successful. The 2012 NBA playoffs were the last appearances for Philadelphia, Orlando, Utah, and Denver. Moreover, the Knicks joined this club the following season. At this point, none of those five teams have made the playoffs. Furthermore, outside of the Utah Jazz, Philadelphia is the only team whose rebuild has undoubtedly been successful.
Orlando: With the trade former second overall pick Victor Oladipo and the hiring of their third coach in as many seasons, it’s pretty clear that this rebuild has been an utter failure.
Utah: Many are picking them to be a top-four seed in the West this season. The trio of Rudy Gobert, Rodney Hood, and Gordon Hayward is fearsome, and moreover, new point guard George Hill will be the perfect quarterback for the Jazz and an even better mentor for Dante Exum.
Denver: To be sure, Nikola Jokic, Jusuf Turkic, Danilo Gallinari, Emmanuel Mudiay, and Jamal Murray is a fearsome five. The question facing Denver is, simply, does their roster have enough balance to be competitive. Their core is made up of four role players who may very well turn into stars, however, none have shown anything making that a guarantee. And the fifth is going to be a rookie. This season will determine how successful the Nuggets rebuild has actually been.
New York: Well their new point guard, Derek Rose, has claimed that New York is a “superteam.” And it is his right to believe that. Regardless, outside of Latvian sensation Kristaps Porzingis, the Knicks simply don’t have many long-term pieces. They will be a playoff team this year, however, their aspects of sustained success are questionable at best.
This brings me to Philadelphia. What, you may ask, looks successful about a team whose coach has a horrendous professional record, no proven players, no players who can shoot three-point shots, and who just fired their general manager over “the process” they have been following for the better part of three seasons? The answer is fairly simple. The Sixers have exploited a market inefficiency in basketball and will be further ahead of the curve of any NBA team, sans Minnesota, in the next three seasons.
First, they have four players that have shown, in some way or another, superstar potential. Obviously, everyone knows about Ben Simmons, who looks like he could be the prototypical playmaking forward every current championship contender has. But moreover, whether it was Jahlil Okafor’s early rookie year offense, Dario Saric’s superb international play, or Joel Embiid’s college production, the Sixers have young talent to look forward to.
Now, if my articles have taught you anything, you’ll certainly be thinking: “well Jordan, the Sixers have poor roster balance, no three-point shooters, and no good point guards, all things necessary to compete in today’s NBA.” And you would be 100% correct in making that claim.
So let’s be honest, the Sixers are not ahead of the Utah Jazz’s nor the Denver Nugget’s rebuild, at least in the short-term. But looking ahead, this team is simply awesome, because of their Moneyball strategy. Three years ago Sam Hinkie looked at the modern NBA and saw what Steve Kerr did later. I.E., there are no NBA centers whose offense is good enough in isolation and post-up plays to offset their speed.
But, I imagine Hinkie thought, that is only the case for a short-period of time. This is because, since the 1960s, this is the only time the NBA has had such terrible traditional big-men. And the Sixers’ decision to draft Nerlens Noel, Joel Embiid, Dario Saric, and Jahlil Okafor guranteed that, when dominant NBA centers returned to the NBA, the Sixers would have one of them.
Now why will a dominant NBA big-man be enough to beat a team like the Warriors? The answer is simple: Draymond Green, Zaza Pachulia, and David West would have no ability to guard a prime Dwight Howard, Tim Duncan, Shaquille O’Neal, David Robinson, Dirk Nowitzki, Pau Gasol, Kareem, etc. The question remains, though, can Okafor, Noel, Saric, or Embiid become that elite offensive big? Frankly, nobody knows.
In regards to Okafor, the one who we have the best offensive data for, the answer is mixed. Per Synergy Sports Tech, Jahlil Okafor ranked among NBA leaders in 1-on-1 scoring as a rookie. 51% of his offense came on isos (32% in post, 19% on perimeter). This is elite offensive production. Moreover, at one point this season, Okafor’s offensive efficiency ranked as the sixth best for any rookie all-time. Yet, the picture is not crystal clear, as the Sixers’ offense was roughly ten points better per 100 possessions with Okafor off the court. Nonetheless, Okafor has shown offensive promise, and when placed in a better offensive system it seems like he will excel.
The other two players who have potential to be NBA game-changers are Joel Embiid and Dario Saric. The dilemma with both players is that they haven’t played in the NBA yet, Embiid due to injuries, whereas Saric was overseas. Nonetheless, Embiid was the highest rated center to enter the draft since Shaquille O’Neal. Further, Saric has been dominating overseas and international competition. In fact, Jonathan Tjarks has claimed that Saric is “the Ben Simmons of Croatia.” If either of these two players hit their potential, in combination with Simmons, we are looking at an elite NBA team.
Okay, so Jordan, Philadelphia has no proven stars, let alone superstars. And that’s true, but until a few months ago, Donald Trump did not have any major Republican supporters. The fact is, that like the Republican nominee for President, the Sixers are playing the long-game. While they don’t have the proven talent that Denver or Utah do, Philadelphia’s long-term team is much sexier, and that means something.
Will the Philadelphia 76ers be a playoff team this season? No way in hell. Will they be one next season? Maybe, but probably not. Yes, they are three years away from competing, but that does not mean their rebuild hasn’t been a brilliant success. They have four players who, for all we know, can become superstars. And out of those four, if Ben Simmons is not a superstar, that will be a surprising disappointment.
Moreover, in Nerlens Noel and Robert Covington, you have two extremely athletic defensive players who have proven success in the NBA. The former made opponents shoot 7.8% worse within six feet of the basket when he was the primary defender.
But what is most dangerous about Philadelphia is that they have a ton of assets. The Sixers have a really unbalanced roster. The good news is that GM Bryan Colangelo should be able to trade two of Embiid, Okafor, Noel, and/or Saric with no problem. They should use those players to find shooters and more shooters. Then, with their surely high draft picks over the next few years, Philadelphia should ensure they get a good starting point guard.
So what makes Philadelphia so exciting? It’s that they have entertaining, high-potential young talent and an unfilled roster, both of which will ensure this team will be a serious contender in three years. Moreover, like the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Philadelphia 76ers played the market inefficiency in basketball and will have a huge advantage over the rest of the league in only a few years.
Finally, Donald Trump is kind of painful to watch, but he’s damn entertaining. And the Ben Simmons-led Sixers will be the exact same.