A year ago, fans of the Philadelphia 76ers were subject to the worst trolling ever in any professional sport. In fact, even NBA reports seemed to line up knocking on the Philadelphia 76ers, and the hopes of fans who trusted the “delayed gratification” mantra used by the team’s front office. The mantra evolved into “Trust The Process”, and was a simple scheme.
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As the Philadelphia 76ers began to shoot for “down the road” improvements, rather than immediate progress, the team struggled as young players tried to find NBA caliber playing skills against veterans of many years.
It didn’t go well.
Don’t Dash 76ers Hopes
But the fans had hopes. The cavalry was coming in the form of both Dario Saric and Joel Embiid, two first round draft picks from the 2014 NBA draft, who were scheduled to arrive in 2016. But that was a hope some could not allow.
In fact, the trolls even asserted that top draft pick Ben Simmons did not want to play for the head coach of the Philadelphia 76ers, a man who had coached his father. The assertions only reached a fever pitch when it was clear that the Philadelphia 76ers would be selecting first in the NBA Draft:
And so it went. Beyond good-nature kidding. Beyond keeping a foot on the ground. It was a constant diatribe of trying to shunt the flickering hopes of the fans who continued to root for a team that was outmanned and outgunned on a daily basis.
The team’s future was entrusted to Joel Embiid, even before he stepped onto the basketball court. Thanks to Sam Hinkie’s basketball analytics, the team was able to project the huge upside of Embiid in that 2014 Draft. So far he is scoring 20.2 points per game (1st), pulling down 7.8 rebounds per game (1st), dishing out 2.1 assists per game (5th), generating .87 steals per game (4th), and creating 2.45 blocks per game (1st). He is shooting 46.6 percent from the floor (4th) and 36.7 percent from three-point range (5th). He is even shooting 78 percent from the foul line.
And he is just a rookie who has played just 31 NBA games in his life.
Not everyone saw the future as brightly as we have. In fact, when the team was just 4-16, we reiterated the call for hope. The fundamentals are stronger with this team than they have been in a very long time. In fact, when the rookie center Embiid plays, the team has managed a 13-18 record. Toss the first five game losses, and the team plays .500 basketball with Joel Embiid playing.
Don’t Discount Dario
And more are coming. Dario Saric continues to improve dramatically this season. Starting the season with just 5.0 points per game average, Saric has been improving dramatically. Right now, he is 14.2 points per game in the month of February 2017, including back to back 20 points or better games. Like Embiid, he also does it all. He can rebound, steal, toss some incredible assists, and even get hot shooting from the perimeter.
As he is still adjusting to the play in the NBA, his accuracy has cycled between very good and not so good, but he has shot 70.0 percent on his treys in the past two games. Ultimately, he will bring his overall average up as he matures.
But this is not just a team of first year wunderkinds. Robert Covington, Nik Stauskas, and T.J. McConnell are all beginning to come into their own on the basketball court. Covington is rock-solid on defense, while his offense is returning. Stauskas is much improved, and his play has led to starting over veteran Gerald Henderson.
But T.J. McConnell has truly excelled, handing out assists and stepping up his game. But he is evolving into one of the clutch scorers of the team. He scored the second game winner against the Orlando Magic on February 9th, 2017, and followed that up with a steal to seal the victory.
Destiny Awaits This Team
The team that was developing for the past three years is beginning to emerge from the NBA basement. Players have experienced the NBA – many still in their first NBA contract – and are now beginning to play to their potential. But potential of this team requires all players to achieve that potential, nearly simultaneously.
It’s not enough for the city of Philadelphia for this team to achieve “some” wins. It’s not even enough for this team to return to .500 basketball. This team must fulfill the patience, the hopes, and the dreams of the the 76ers’ fans. Year two will feature Joel Embiid, Dario Saric, Ben Simmons, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, Furkan Korkmaz, Robert Covington, Nik Stauskas, T.J. McConnell, Richaun Holmes, and the remainder of the roster.
And Then, The 2017 NBA Draft
But this team will add another round of NBA draft picks. As many as four new players from an NBA Draft that is loaded with talent. The team, as is, can play .500 basketball just by playing Joel Embiid. Imagine the upside of this team when Ben Simmons joins Embiid? Now throw the chance at two top five draft picks from the 2017 NBA Draft?
There were reasons so many ridiculed the Philadelphia 76ers in recent years. When all of these pieces come together to form one incredible team, nobody will ridicule the team. The Philadelphia 76ers will be a playoff team next season. And with players still developing and improving, this team will challenge for the championship for years to come.
Philadelphia has long been an NBA stronghold. Even when the team was not competing for championships, much of the innovations for the sport ran through Philly. The flamboyance of Darryl Dawkins, the crisp highlight reel sensationalism of Julius Erving, the blue collar physicality of Moses Malone, and the anti-establishment rebellion of Allen Iverson.