Philadelphia 76ers Hopes Go Beyond 2017 NBA Draft.

The Philadelphia 76ers have a solid cast of rookies with elite upside. Don’t limit this team to the results of the 2017 NBA Draft. The draft is just the next pit stop.

The Philadelphia 76ers finally have currency on the roster, perhaps more than many realize. With two players already among the top tier of the 2016-2017 KIA NBA Rookie of the Year in Joel Embiid and Dario Saric, the front court appears to be very solid.

Or so it seems for now.

The Philadelphia 76ers back court may be equally “set”, albeit in a longer time frame. The team now anticipates the return of 2016 NBA Draft first selection Ben Simmons in February 2017. With the team committing Simmons to the point guard role, that establishes a very curious future for this team.

On a parallel track, the team is slowly developing shooting guard Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot.  At only 6.7 minutes per game, it’s a slow climb indeed.  But the team has veteran Gerald Henderson for two years.  Similarly, Nik Stauskas has a two-year shelf life with the team. Only Luwawu-Cabarrot is a 76ers shooting guard until 2020.  In fact, he joins Simmons and Saric as the only players with that commitment.

But don’t expect Joel Embiid to be going anywhere.

Dec 18, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid (21) dives to keep the ball in play during the fourth quarter of the game against the Brooklyn Nets at the Wells Fargo Center. The Sixers won the game 108-107.Mandatory Credit: John Geliebter-USA TODAY Sports

Rapid Pulse

And so, the pattern of looking forward to “next year’s draft” is incredibly popular.   Some discuss the team needs as though this is a veteran team with glaring holes in the roster.

It’s not.

What this team has right now is a roster with answers at each position.  We simply need the patience to let it happen.

Of course, the 2017 NBA Draft, or any draft for that matter, is coming. As such it brings the opportunity to find young prospects who can deliver beyond the scope of the roster of this team on this day. I get that.

Filling holes is one of the primary functions of the NBA draft for each team.  But right now, the 76ers have invested high upside young players at each position. Each player takes at least a minimum of a full year to give the head coach enough to assess the floor and ceiling of that player. Meanwhile, the fans have already begun to cast their hopes upon a new crop of talent yet to become indoctrinated to the rigors, pressure, and pace of the NBA. Let’s not place the cart before the horse here.

From the moment Joel Embiid and Dario Saric joined the 2016 NBA Draft crop for the Philadelphia 76ers, a pulse of young talent entered the Philadelphia 76ers pipeline.  Add Simmons, Luwawu, and other prospects and the 2016-2017 season has become drinking water out of a fire hose.

Jun 23, 2016; New York, NY, USA; A general view of a video board displaying all thirty draft picks in the first round of the 2016 NBA Draft at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

We’ll Get Him Next Time

To many, the shopping list of the Philadelphia 76ers covers all positions not currently played by Joel Embiid. And for all intents and purposes, there is nothing wrong with establishing lofty goals.

But the very conservative Analytics approach to an NBA championship team clarifies the team compostiion relies almost entirely on the top three players on the roster.  Those top three may already be on the team in the form of Joel Embiid, Jahlil Okafor, Ben Simmons, and Dario Saric. We won’t know until the end of the 2017-2018 season, at the earliest.

Even then, the pieces may be at or nearly elite, but the sum of the team may fall short due to bad chemistry, bad scheme, or just bad timing.

But the mindset of this team has become so accustomed to the undrafted, long-range future of the strategy, that many are finding it difficult to kick the habit of automatically seeking today’s answers in tomorrow’s draft.

Many of the answers may already be on this team, and simply need time to develop.  The back court play may tempt us to shop for a solution for two guards next season, but neither Ben Simmons nor Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot has seen significant action yet. Are we making a shopping list of the items already in our cupboards?

Sep 26, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers forward Nerlens Noel (4) during media day at the Philadelphia 76ers Training Complex. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Attrition

The trick will be to harness the emerging talent with significant contracts, while allowing enough flexibility to keep the team’s salary cap at a manageable level.  Right now, this 15 man roster is scheduled to lose five players to free agency.  Those are the five known holes in this roster for next season.  As of today, those players are: Nerlens Noel, Ersan Ilyasova, Hollis Thompson, Sergio Rodriguez, and T.J. McConnell.

That could change rapidly with this team.

But as for starters?  Unless the Philadelphia 76ers land one of the top three picks in the 2017 NBA Draft, I would expect a gradual easing of a newly drafted player into quality minutes, much like the path Dario Saric is taking this year.

On most NBA teams, the path of filling lost players comes from the reserves who had been groomed specifically for that occasion.  But the Philadelphia 76ers, constructed almost entirely of players on their first NBA contract, does not have that system in place.  The “next man up” in Philly could be fresh out of the NCAA.  By rights, that was the situation Bryan Colangelo was brought in to avoid.

But he allowed Ish Smith, Isaiah Canaan, Carl Landry, Jerami Grant, and Kendall Marshall to end up elsewhere. As such, the 2016 NBA Draft brought more than just players to look at.  But that should not be the standard going forward.

Jun 24, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers number one overall draft pick Ben Simmons (25) and number twenty-fourth overall draft pick Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot (20) pose for a photo with President Of Basketball Operations Bryan Colangelo (L) and owner Josh Harris (R) at the Philadelphia College Of Osteopathic Medicine. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Best Draft BPA

Ultimately, the best draft for an NBA team is the best player available.  That happens when that NBA is so filled with holes that the team benefits from talent to any position.  Conversely, the best player available also occurs when the team has solid starting talent at all five positions, and therefore has the luxury of simply augmenting the roster with the best talent from the draft.

The Philadelphia 76ers are climbing out of scenario one, and are far from scenario two.

To place this into perspective, if the Philadelphia 76ers select in the 2017 NBA Draft with a center or center(s) slotted as the best value at that draft pick, it would not surprise anyone to see the team trade out of the spot.

In the past, Hinkie would draft the prospect, flip the draftee to a team who coveted him, and land a player he wanted plus added picks.

But at some point in time, this team must unlash the hopes of the future from the draft outcomes, and begin to tether those hopes on this roster today.  If not today, then soon.  While it’s fun to live in the “what if” world of future drafts, the risk is missing a true Joel Embiid gut check to win the game against the Brooklyn Nets.

The NBA is a business.   As such it comes down to the bottom line. While the team is still a work in process, growing the talent on hand is now a higher value than bringing in more talent.
At some point we all have to recalibrate.

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