By Erik Leonard (@BrickPollitt)
“We have come too far, we have sacrificed too much, to disdain the future now.” – JKF
“Come on, guys, this is our time.” – Mikey from Goonies
Trust the Process. Evan, Hawes, Thad, Bynum, MCW, Nerlens. Gone and forgotten. The byproducts of possibly the most ridiculous yet fascinating sports team building blueprint ever designed. TTP will be explored in the future like the famous fossil Lucy or why anyone ever enjoyed The Big Bang Theory (please watch it on YouTube without the laugh track; it’ll change your life). It was a grand experiment and the data has been analyzed but it’s time to formulate conclusions.
After years of trial and error, the team now resembles an actual professional NBA roster. The Sixers have guards, forwards AND centers. They play in the Eastern Conference which is rather terrible. There are about five legitimate playoff teams and then the dregs of the league. Hawks, Nets, Pacers, Magic, Bulls (what in the world is that team doing?). Vegas actually thinks the Sixers are going to be competitive this year setting their Wins Over/Under at 41.5. If they succeeded in achieving that (I personally wouldn’t put down 10 cents on the Over), that would be a 14 win upgrade from last season. To put that into perspective, Shaq was responsible for pushing the Magic to 41 wins in the 1991-92 season which was a 20 game improvement. He was also arguably the most dominant player in NBA history.
They’re poised to be good for the next ten years. Even after all the trades and draft picks, they STILL have assets coming out their rears thanks to Saint Hinkie. Three 1st round picks, six 2nd round picks in the next two years and mucho dinero to spend in free agency or a blockbuster trade. But I wouldn’t be doing my duty as a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist if I didn’t remark on the injured elephant in the room wearing street clothes and a walking boot. I have to transcribe a term now that hovers over this entire article and their future:
Shout out to Marcus Hayes; inventor of the minimally worded paragraphs.
Every sports team has to deal with injuries. The Celtics can attest to that after losing their $128 million shooting guard last night. Not to go full Mark Jackson on everyone but injuries are “part of the game.” But with this team right now, it’s the number #1 topic of discussion even over their actual play on the court. It’s like watching The Cosby Show in 2017. The content is humorous but you can’t shake the sick feeling in your stomach while viewing. I can’t stress this enough as a fan of this team: Don’t get hurt! I can’t handle it anymore! I need you to be good so my life feels complete! (OK…maybe that’s too far).
Before their season tips off tonight in Chocolate City, I’m going to examine each player and their importance to the team’s success this year. And in honor of the upcoming 30th anniversary of my favorite Eagles team ever (1988), I’m going to apply corollary players from that legendary team to the members of the 2017-18 Sixers. Obviously not in terms of their actual roles but rather a comparison of how good they have to be for the team to finally make the playoffs for the first time since 2011-12.
Joel Embiid (Randall Cunningham)
His health is everything. When he recently signed his contract extension (5 yrs, $148 mil), I gasped for air. But then some early contract condition reports were released and I started to breathe again (initially only 50% guaranteed). BUT THEN it was revealed that he would have to specifically reinjure himself in precisely the same places on his body for the 50% provisions to kick in. So I haven’t breathed since Oct 10th. Philadelphia and I won’t be breathing Every-Single-Time he comes down awkwardly with a rebound or from a shot block attempt. There will be no Carbon Dioxide in the 215/610 area at those moments. But (see above), he can be the best player in the NBA and a Hall of Famer. That’s not hyperbole but rather the truth.
- Last season per NBA.com, he was 10th overall in Player Impact Estimate (a player’s overall statistical contribution against the total stats in games they play in) and 7th in Overall Defensive Rating (a team’s points allowed per 100 possessions while on the court).
- Per BBREF.com, his On-Off Court Offense Rating Difference (a good measure of how a player’s team and the opposition are offensively and defensively when they’re on and off the court) was +11.5. To compare, Curry +17.5, Lebron +17.0, Westbrook +12.5, Gobert +11.3, A. Davis +9.4 and Durant +8.2.
- From 12/30/16-1/20/17 when Embiid was playing, the Sixers were 10-2 and led the league in Defensive Rating.
Much like Randall, he’s the key to everything this season. Without him, they’re back in the lottery.
Ben Simmons (Reggie White)
This section would start with his stats but he doesn’t have any. All we can go by are his preseason highlights. We’ve learned a few things:
- Passing and vision is dynamic and puts him on another level in the NBA without ever even playing a game.
- Perimeter defense will be better than expected due to his underrated athleticism.
- Ability to attack the rim and finish around it will lead to lots of points for him and 3 point shooters parked on the wings. Unfortunately…
- He can’t shoot whatsoever. Either from the field or the foul line. It’s one of the worst shots I’ve ever seen and I’ve played against PST’s own Len Hunsicker so I’m familiar with bad form.
His aptitude to draw defenders into the paint when he drives is the #2 key to their success only 2nd to Embiid’s health and progress. So the inability to shoot may not be a game changer if he can at least make a 3 footer. There is precedent here. LeBron wasn’t the best shooter (44% eFG rookie year) initially. Kawhi’s shot was a bit of a mess as well (37% 3PT as a rookie). His ceiling is undefinable at this point considering he hasn’t played a regular season game yet and he can still learn to shoot.
Markelle Fultz (Jerome Brown)
Fultz is a bit of a mystery at this juncture. He altered his shot form to the point where it’s unrecognizable from any valid shooting I’ve ever seen at any level. For free throws, he basically dribble spins the ball right into his guide hand and then the shooting hand kinda shoves the ball towards the rim. Anyone who has ever shot a free throw knows that what I just wrote is crazy. You might as well as instead go full Rick Barry. He has stated that the transformation is due to an ongoing shoulder ailment. That seems to me too drastic of a makeover. When I hurt an ankle from running, I don’t just hop around on one foot or walk on my hands everywhere I go until it’s healed. It feels a bit extreme. Also, his penchant for constantly devouring Chick-fil-A leaves me with conditioning concerns (sorry Jeff and Len, I just lost you a potential sponsor).
The good thing is he has shown he’s a top notch talent. He was phenomenal during his one year at Washington and has a superb pedigree. The kid can shoot the ball so I’m not too worried about the odd alteration. He will be starting on the bench and that couldn’t make me any happier. I want people to doubt him. He was the #1 pick and now he can really play up the “no one believed in me” angle even considering his draft position. Watching Lonzo and Tatum play and get highlights broadcasted on all of the sports platforms should put a TJ McConnell sized chip on his shoulder. I think he has a lot of dawg in ‘em, will take it personal and be cracking ankles with his Hesi Pull Up Jimboz soon.
JJ Redick (Cris Carter)
The one thing majorly lacking the last few, grim seasons was the ability to shoot the 3. Redick brings that to this young table. He’s a career 42% 3PT shooter and an NBA best 48% just a season ago. But maybe more importantly, he can show these young bucks (cliché alert!) how to be professionals. When the team is in Miami on Feb 27th next year and some players are considering hitting up that last club at 4am, maybe his presence will make them think twice and not get in the drunken street brawl that winds up on TMZ Sports (looking at you Jah). At least he’ll put the thought in their head.
Robert Covington (Keith Jackson)
ROCO has to come up huge this season. His shooting has been up and down during his three year career. While his 2P% has increased year over year, his 3P% has actually decreased during that same time frame. He wound up a career low 33% 3PT last year. But his defense is what will be key to this team. He finished 22nd overall last season in Defensive Win Share at 3.2. Redick can take of the scoring heat off of ROCO and allow him to dominate defensively. Also, pics of his physique this summer cropped up on the internet. If anyone comes approaching you ROCO with a test tube, RUN!
Dario Saric (Seth Joyner)
I think it’s unanimous amongst my friends and other Sixers fans. The Homie is our favorite. He plays his ass off, he’s good defensively, has size, can shoot, is durable and his passing can insult his opponents. Seriously…check out the pass Dario made to Bojan Bogdanovic in the Croatia vs. Spain Euroleague game this past summer! I’m sure the Euro Marv Albert (Marvinez Alberto?) had a coronary (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sKHW6OtaLSU). His Swiss Army Knife game will band aid many of the Sixers ailments this year.
Richaun Holmes (Clyde Simmons)
He’ll be missing the next 3-6 weeks with a wrist injury which is going to hurt their frontcourt rotation. But once back, he’s a major key to their bench. He brings energy, defense, rebounding and he can score (17.6 PER and 17-9 Per 36 last year). We desperately need him back because…
Jahlil Okafor (Dave Rimington)
This comparison is an insult. Rimington is the perfect Jah doppleganger. He was successful in college, drafted very highly and ultimately fizzled out of the league. He went from shrimp and lobster to ham and eggs. We’ve already heard the narrative. “Jah is in shape and ready to prove his doubters wrong.” Color me a skeptic. He hasn’t made a single effort to play D in his career and his game is suitable for 1997 rather than 2017. Believe me, I hope he comes out firing this season. So we can trade him.
T.J. McConnell (Keith Byars)
Besides being 8th in total assists (37.5 assist %) and 6th in total steals (3.1 steal %) last season, everyone on the team loves this guy. Just look at that picture above. He makes JoJo more excited than pitchers of Shirley Temples.
Jerryd Bayless (Eric Allen)
While I don’t have much faith, I’m hoping he can help run the floor while Ben learns how to play. He missed the whole season last year and has a checkered injury history. And if you peruse his stats, he seems like a bit of a contract year player. He shot a career high 44% 3PT two seasons ago (playing next to Giannis which I think even I could hit 30% in the same scenario) and then did squat. But Simmons is gonna struggle at first and they really need Bayless to pretend his contract is expiring next June.
Amir Johnson (Wes Hopkins)
They paid him some serious money to play defense and rebound (8.2 TRB Per 36 last year). Basically they gave him a piece of the Jah/Noel cash they would’ve burned had they resigned either or both. When Embiid is off the court, they’ll need him patrolling the paint while Jah is standing motionless, statuesque and facing the opposite direction of his opponent on defense.
Furkan Korkmaz & Timothe LuWAWA-Cabarrot (Anthony Toney & Roynell Young)
We’re going to combine these two. Furkan can shoot the lights out. He finished at 43% 3PT overall last season on his two Turkish league teams. He’s also more athletic than most think. But he only weighs 86 lbs (approx.) and can’t play D. On the other hand, LuWAWA (as long as you’re on the Sixers, your name is LuWAWA) is uber athletic and can get to the rim. If he can up his D game, he’s a legit contributor. Totally wish my main Frenchman could shoot worth a damn though. My dream scenario for these two: to actually combine these two. To meld them into a single player. Furkan LuWAWA-Cabamaz. Who the hell isn’t buying that jersey?!
Justin Anderson (Andre Waters RIP)
Positives-Really big and strong/Not paying Nerlens $140 over 5 years.
Negatives-Can’t shoot or drive to the rim/Not sure about his D/Other than that seems like a nice guy.
Goal-Intimidate and goon people if needed.
Sauce Castillo (John Teltschik)
Bye bye, buddy. Nice knowing you. You’ll always be “Trade Swap” to me. You’re a 1st ballot candidate for the Bad Sixers White Guy HOF which includes the likes of Rex Walters, Lou Amundson and Jason Kapono. See you at the ceremony next June at Dave & Busters on Delaware Ave.
They tipoff in a few hours. My excitement level is somewhere in between getting an Atari 2600 in 1983 for Christmas and receiving my fake ID in the mail in college. This might seem out of place but I’ve been listening to a lot of Lou Reed recently because his lyrics are moving and he’s totally awesome. While his stories are usually dark, I can just literally apply some of song titles to my feelings on this team. The last few seasons have been Vicious/but I’m Beginning to See the Light/and hoping for A Perfect Day. Hopefully Embiid doesn’t break his foot in game 9 of the season and I need Heroin.
Tonight is the night so sing it with me…1-2-3-4-5 SIXERS!