Rejoice, NFL fans! Your favorite sport has delivered a dumpster fire product this year. But alas, the NBA has just tipped off and is here to save you from the Thursday Atrocities, Sunday Suffering (6-6 tie!!!) and Monday Misery. The first few games have already transpired and early storylines have been established. The Dubs crapped the bed, LeBron is still the biggest MOFO in the league, the Spurs haven’t lost a step, Houston literally doesn’t play defense and the Nets are using D-League players in live NBA games. But of course there’s only one game that really matters to me and that I’m going to completely overreact to because I’m a Philadelphia sports fan. The Sixers lost a close one to the Oklahoma City Thunder at home 103-97. Let’s get right to the breakdown and some random notes:
The starting lineup consisted of G-Sergio Rodriguez, G-Gerald Henderson, F-Robert Covington and then…F-Dario Saric and C-Joel Embiid! To use one of my favorite lines from the classic film Slap Shot, “it’s finally happened”. This is the first time in years that I was genuinely excited about the start of a Sixers game. While last year’s opener starred Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor, I think every viewer knew that matchup wasn’t going to work and be a clunky pairing at best. This year though highlighted two players that are definitely part of the future fabric of the team. While Dario struggled a bit, Joel shined in only 22 minutes of playing time. Here are some arbitrary thoughts from Game 1:
- Dario (27 min, 5 pts, 7 rebs) is going to be beloved in this city. He plays really tough, dives for balls and has an attitude. He’s a grinder with legit basketball skills and cool as hell during interviews. He even got his own chant in his first NBA game. And look at that picture below. Dude is only 22 and living the life of Riley. Between his game and ability to party, he’ll soon be a Philly favorite.
- Joel Embiid (22 min, 20 pts, 7 rebs) has the chance to be a transcendent player. Barring injury (an obvious given his medical track record), he has the skill set to further transform how the NBA game is played. He’s legitimately 7’2”-270 lbs, can pull off the Dream Shake and shoot 3’s. He’s also gonna be a beast around the rim defensively. And to top it off, he hits his free throws! Unlike his peers DeAndre Jordan and Andre Drummond, you can’t end quarters by constantly fouling him because he’s gold from the charity stripe. More on him later and what could become of this team once the pieces are in place.
- The city is dying for the Sixers to be good. Of course everyone loves the Birds, Phils and Flyers. But basketball is in the Philly DNA and when the Sixers are good you can feel it in the streets. I remember when AI dragged them to the finals in 2001 and the city was electric. Hell…the Daily News ran a picture of a guy running naked down South Street at the time. That’s true excitement, folks!
- I like Jah coming off the bench even after his knee entirely heals. They could use a good scoring punch off of the bench and as long as he’s paired with a solid defender in the paint, you can get away with his appalling defense.
- Once Nerlens comes back and has a few good games, put him on the trade block. The way I see the team designed in the future, he doesn’t fit into the system. He’s an abysmal offensive player and this team will look to be a scoring machine soon. There will be a contender who needs a low post player later in the year who protects the rim and the Sixers should take full advantage.
- Sauce Castillo (23 min, 13 pts, 4 rebs) looked good coming off the bench. If he can just start making a few three point shots, he can be a real contributor. He really needs to step up his game this year or I’m afraid he’ll join the ranks of Jim Spanarkel and Leo Rautins in the Sixers Hall of Crappy White Players (TJ McConnell…your statue there has already been erected).
- I really like Richaun Holmes (12 min, 6 pts, 3 rebs). He’s not a starter by any stretch of the imagination and has limitations. But he brings energy off the bench, plays some defense and is good for one or two “drive the crowd crazy with an f’n monster dunk” moments.
- That one short, balding, annoying schlub that works in every office in America today got thrown out of the game for flipping off Big Russ. I love Philly fans to death and think we get a bad rap. But this jabroni ain’t helping matters. He fits every stereotype. Just look at his fat face. He claims that Westbrook provoked him to give him not one but two middle fingers. I think one of the best 3-4 players in the league was busy with other things rather than taunting some pudgy idiot.
- Elton Brand was sitting courtside in a very sharp suit beaming from ear to ear. The reason being is that he’s newly retired at the age of 37 after having earned $165 million during his 17 year career. But his coup de grace is signing a one year deal before this season with the Sixers, retiring without ever even dressing for a game and taking home a cool $1 million. Screw every professor at the Wharton School of UOP, he should be teaching every course.
I recently turned 40 years old. Go ahead, all of you Millennials. Make fun of my grey hair and crow’s feet. I’ll just sit here at my computer and wave my fist at you (at least I have a paying job!). One thing you do though when you hit a milestone age is you reflect on the past. My 20’s were somewhat wild and in my 30’s I started a family. But I found myself looking forward much more than dwelling on the past. It’s a perfect parallel for being a Sixers fan in 2016. We all need to wipe away the memories of mediocrity during 2002-2012 and the abhorrent tanking of 2013-2016.
They’re going to lose a good deal of games this year and be in the high lottery. But this is all starting to actually gel together into something resembling a team. A possibly great team. They’ll figure out the logjam in the paint. They’ll eventually get a guard who can handle and shoot the ball (kind of important in basketball). But they also have the ability to alter how the game is played. The Warriors and Spurs have mastered today’s style of playing that can win you titles. Small Ball lineups, great shooting, quick ball movement. The Sixers though with their height and talent could create something similar but with gigantic players. Visualize this: 6’10” Ben Simmons running the point, 6’5” Markelle Fultz at the 2 (can’t look ahead to the 2017 draft too soon), 6’8” Josh Jackson at the 3 (the Lakers pick HAS to be ours soon), 6’10” Saric at the 4 and 7’2” Embiid at 5. Big Ball lineups with outside shooting, ridiculous Magic-like passing, the ability to attack the lane and swarm the rim. Get the smelling salts! I just lost consciousness. It’s time all of the gambling chips that Hinkie (RIP) hoarded like a prisoner protecting his lunch tray get cashed in. The future’s so bright, you gotta…
I’m a weirdo. One thing that I love to do that most don’t understand is watch TV or movies that I despise. I enjoy the anger it affords me and the platform it provides me to complain about stupid things. I really should go talk to someone. One commercial that I currently loathe is the sappy Whirlpool ad where the dad puts little notes in his son’s lunch box. I don’t like when advertisers try to pull at heart strings and manipulate me. I don’t want to get emotional while staring at a nice stainless steel stove. It’s just plain strange. But regardless of my aversion to this, I’m going to steal the gimmick and put my own little notes into the lunch pails of a few Sixers. They got through their first game and now they start the grind of an NBA season. I’m going to be Daddy and give them some extra parental encouragement:
Ben: Don’t come back this year. Sit at home with the doors locked and your broken foot elevated until June 2017. You’re the linchpin. We’re gonna stink this year regardless. Take a seat and relax.
Joel: Please, for the love of God, don’t break your foot again. I love you.
Dario: Keep shooting and trying those sick European passes. And keep partying with fine ladies.
Jah: Look in the mirror every morning and tell yourself “I’m going to actually try and play a little bit of defense tonight”. Daily affirmations are a beautiful thing.
Nerlens: Get healthy and pack your bags. I really didn’t like how you complained about the roster arrangement of a team that won 10 games last year. EVERYTHING is on the table at this point.
Jerami: Shoot 179,000 three pointers in practice. You can actually be a part of the future of the team but you gotta learn how to shoot.
Robert: Start shooting better. Your role on the team is going to start dwindling greatly in the near future.
Richaun: Keep drinking those 5 Red Bulls before every game.
Sauce: You’re another 29% 3PT season away from coming off the Nets bench.
Timothe: Please consider changing your last name of Luwawu officially to LuWAWA. Everyone in MontCo and DelCo will lose their minds over it.
This year is going to be fun unlike the previous tanking ones. There are actually good, young players to watch night in and night out. To steal some catchphrases from the long time Sixers announcer Marc Zumoff, they’re going to turn garbage into gold and fight the good fight. After three years of misery, it’s all we can really ask of them.
Follow Erik Leonard on Twitter @BrickPollitt.