The Philadelphia 76ers are on quite the winning run, but there are still reasons to be skeptical about their long-term success.
The Philadelphia 76ers so far this year have done things to make fans incredibly optimistic. After a rough start to their season that seemed to be all too familiar to the team’s 0-18 start from the season before, the wins have started to come in, and the team has seen a lot of success, especially compared to the last few seasons.
The Sixers certainly are better this year than in previous years, and have been really good with the minor roster additions that they have made. Joel Embiid is by far the best addition they made, and he is still a rookie center who doesn’t have his full awareness of the court yet.
The team still has more young additions to make — Ben Simmons being the most notable — both of players they already have and the likelihood that the team has two draft picks to utilize this season.
After a few seasons of a lot of negativity surrounding the team, things seem to be looking up, but there is still reason to be skeptical about the team, and still reason to wonder whether or not all of this will pay off.
Being optimistic is a good thing, but so is being realistic. Here are some reasons fans might want to do a reality check and think about how far out the Sixers still might be from being competitive.
Dec 23, 2016; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Philadelphia 76ers head coach Brett Brown against the Phoenix Suns at Talking Stick Resort Arena. The Suns defeated the 76ers 123-116. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Still losing games
The Sixers are in the midst of the most success they’ve seen in the past three years, since they started this whole rebuilding thing. Who knew that when your first round talents actually were able to play, you’d be able to be competitive?
Still, among the wins the Sixers have experienced as of late — they’ve won seven of their last 10 games — they do have some work to do, and still are losing a decent amount as well.
Having lost 26 games this season, they have lost the sixth most in the entire NBA, certainly a look that could be adjusted and improved. Many of those losses did, however, come from early season losses that were fixed as the year went on with adjustments.
But with still more room to improve, there’s a motivation to be skeptical about the team. No, not everything is perfect yet. Will the Sixers have a chance to adjust and make things a bit more perfect? Absolutely, but it’s all about grasping that opportunity and doing well with it.
If the Sixers can’t turn these lost games around and make several of them into won games, we have reason to think they won’t be successful. The good news is that even with this roster, the Sixers have seen vast improvement when comparing this point in the season to their earliest points in the season.
The roster that the Sixers are working with is far from complete, and the roster the team thought they would have coming into this season is completely different than the one we’ve seen so far.
The Sixers — and subsequently their fans — were excited about the possibility of being able to debut a backcourt with rookie point forward Ben Simmons and Jerryd Bayless, a duo that seemed to fit very well together.
It’s now January, and fans have yet to see those players on the floor together, and are guaranteed to not see that pairing at any point this season. After playing just a few games, Bayless and the team decided he needed to undergo wrist surgery and miss the remainder of the season.
Simmons, on the other hand, still has not played as well. He’s making very big jumps in his recovery so far, but with the Sixers being as careful as possible with their first top overall pick since Allen Iverson, they’re taking things slowly.
Simmons is one of the building blocks and foundational pieces of this roster, and the team will build around him and Embiid. While Simmons not yet playing can be looked at as an encouraging thing — the fact that the Sixers have been decent without him seems to imply that they would be even better once he is back — it can also be looked at as something that speaks to how incomplete the roster is.
The Sixers don’t even know what Simmons looks like on an NBA court, and have a lot they need to see still. Once they see that, they can make the determination about which players are good to build around Simmons and Embiid with, and then can go out and get those players. It’s kind of a scary thought, realizing that the team is far from where they need to be, and that the players we see now are likely not the players the Sixers want to move forward with into being competitive.
Some will stay, no doubt, but many will be on their way out and replaced by other players.
Another big concern moving forward is the NBA Draft. While the Sixers do have a decent young core that they drafted and could move forward with, one of the main appeals of the rest of the team’s future is that they’re not done with the draft. The Sixers project to have two lottery picks in this year’s draft, and may even have a shot at the top overall pick yet again.
That seems like something to get excited about, and at the baseline, it certainly is. New, young talent in the NBA is something that is worth talking about and having good hopes for, but at the same time, first round busts are not rare. With the recent release of Anthony Bennett by the Brooklyn Nets, a former top overall pick, there is ever-so-relevant worry that players drafted won’t pan out to be what they were once projected to be.
Of course, the Sixers have been very meticulous with their development of players and seem to have a system down, but you never know what type of person you’re drafting, and a lot can change in between the initial drafting of players and their playing career.
We certainly should go into the upcoming drafts with an open mindset for what the Sixers can do, but the team should still proceed with caution, and fans should realize that the draft is never a sure thing, even for players like Ben Simmons.
Dec 7, 2015; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers general manager Sam Hinkie speaks to the media during a press conference to introduce Jerry Colangelo (not pictured) as special advisor before a game against the San Antonio Spurs at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Man who started it all is gone
Having a master plan for taking your team from worst to first is always a good idea. That said, when you have a master plan, but no longer employ the person who constructed said master plan, things can be a bit funky.
Last year, in light of the Sixers ownership hiring Jerry Colangelo and really aiming to push Sam Hinkie out of his position with the team, Hinkie resigned and left his lengthy rebuilding project with the Sixers behind.
Hinkie’s project seems to, in theory, be a well designed one, but it was one that ignored the demands from ownership about revenue increase and ticket sales. Hinkie was not at all worried about the team as a business in the short term, but instead looked towards the long term.
As ticket sales were wavering, and the ownership was failing to see how the team would be good right away — and failing to see that the team could be good at all — they decided parting ways with Hinkie was best.
That may have been a decent short-term move. The team is doing well with Bryan Colangelo now holding the position Hinkie once did, and they are winning games this season. That said, there’s still some critical moves that need to be made to make the team successful, including the draft, free agency, and trades.
While Colangelo can do all of those things successfully, he probably won’t do them in the same way as Hinkie would have. With that in mind, it’s not clear whether or not those differing mindsets and different moves made will impact the outcome of the rebuild or not. Will the different pieces come together as one? Or will the pieces brought in by different orchestrators of the same song come together and clash? Only time will tell.
Sep 26, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers forward Ben Simmons (25) during media day at the Philadelphia 76ers Training Complex. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
The biggest thing to worry fans and make them skeptical is the one thing that is out of just about everybody’s control — injury issues. The Sixers are no stranger to injury issues, having sat Joel Embiid out due to injury for his full first two seasons in the NBA, Nerlens Noel for his first season, and of course, Ben Simmons for the entirety of this regular season so far.
The fact is, the Sixers appear to show signs of trouble with injuries. While Embiid has held up well this season, Nerlens Noel always seems to be getting hurt, and foot injuries — especially for big men like Embiid — are never good in the NBA, and seem to be something that lingers for a while.
Simmons also sustained a Jones fracture in his foot, something that is said to be a troublesome injury for a basketball player all throughout his career.
While we can point to the outstanding hires in the Sixers medical department and say that their advisement over the players’ recoveries will ensure that they stay healthy throughout their career — and don’t get me wrong, those medical people really do help — there are just some things that can’t be controlled.
The injuries will certainly be a factor, and may hinder the Sixers moving forward. This is the one thing that there is almost no control over, so Sixers fans shouldn’t get too worked up over it and how the team handles things like it.