Also, former No.6 overall pick, Nerlens Noel, was dealt just prior to the trade deadline to the Dallas Mavericks.On top of the transactions made by Sixers president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo were the games missed by key members of the frontcourt rotation.
Rookie center Joel Embiid was again struck by the injury bug and played in just 31 games. Second-year forward/center Jahlil Okafor played just 50 games due to a combination of injury, form and the presence of Embiid. Combined with the midseason departures of Ilyasova and Noel, the Sixers were relying on D-League call-ups to fill out the remainder of the season.
Here we take a look at how the key members of the Sixers’ frontcourt rotation performed this season, and the implications moving forward.
Embiid’s impact in his first 31 games in the league was nothing short of incredible. Despite being placed on a minutes restriction and unable to compete in back-to-back contests, the sheer hope Embiid gave the 76ers was immeasurable. Hope is an amazing feeling for a franchise coming off the back of 19, 18 and 10 wins over the previous three seasons.
Embiid’s best stretch of his debut season came between Dec. 23 and Jan. 27, when his season unfortunately wound up. Over 12 games, Embiid posted 23.8 points, 8.6 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 2.5 blocks and 1.2 steals in 27.1 minutes per game.
Notably over this stretch, Embiid was a +81 while on the court, and the Sixers posted an 8-4 record.
But to truly appreciate Embiid’s value over this 12-game stretch, the difference in the Sixers’ performance when he was on and off floor is staggering for a player in his first season.
Offensive Rating – 76ers points per 100 possessions
On Court: 108.5
Off Court: 98.1
Defensive Rating: Opponents points per 100 possessions
On Court: 97.5
Off Court: 107.2
Embiid’s premier game of the season came in just his 18th game as a pro. Playing at home against the Brooklyn Nets, Embiid registered 33 points, 10 rebounds, three blocks and two steals in just 27 minutes of game time.
Embiid is currently rehabbing from his recent, season-ending surgery, and is very optimistic following his latest procedure. As he stated recently to ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan:
“I feel very lucky….When they did the MRI [before the surgery], it looked like my meniscus was fully torn. But when they got it in there, they realized that wasn’t the case. It really turned out to be nothing, just a small, little thing. So that’s very good.”
Presuming all things go to plan in the offseason, anything is possible next season for Embiid.
Both Saric’s gradual improvement and his durability were notable attributes in his rookie campaign. Playing in 81 games, Saric’s only absence was in the final game of the regular season. He started somewhat inauspiciously, averaging just 9.8 points on 38.1 percent shooting over his first 28 games of the season.
But gradually, as Saric gained experience and the Sixers lost players through either injury or trade, his confidence soared. Over his last 30 games of the season, Saric posted 17.9 points, 7.3 rebounds and 3.2 assists in 30.0 minutes per game. Despite the increase in playing time and responsibility, Saric was able to maintain a high level of performance, an extremely impressive feat for a rookie.
Saric’s best performance in his debut season came during a road victory against the Chicago Bulls. Playing 34 minutes, Saric notched 32 points on 12-of-19 from field along with 10 rebounds, two assists and steal.
Moving forward, Saric is going to need to familiarize himself with playing alongside Embiid. He started alongside Embiid on just seven occasions, which were in the first 10 games of the season, at a time when Saric was still adjusting to life in the NBA.
Okafor had a classic case of the second-year blues. A combination of injuries, form and the presence of Embiid reduced Okafor’s playing time from 30.0 minutes per game as a rookie to just 22.7 this season. Having averaged 17.5 points and 7.0 rebounds per game as a rookie, Okafor received the dreaded Did Not Play – Coach’s Decision on multiple occasions.
In his 50 games on the court, Okafor played in 17 minutes or less on eight occasions. In comparison, Okafor never played less than 17 minutes in a game during his 53 games as a rookie. Having said that, when Okafor was provided opportunity to produce on the offensive end, he still demonstrated flashes of the talent that resulted in the Sixers selecting him at No. 3 overall in the 2015 NBA Draft.
Okafor’s most impressive single game this season was his 28-point, 10-rebound performance in 29 minutes in a one-point loss to the New York Knicks.
On just 10 occasions this season, Okafor managed 13 or more field goal attempts, close to his rookie average of 14.7 per game. Over these 10 games, Okafor posted 18.4 points and 5.7 rebounds on 51.3 percent shooting in 26.0 minutes per game. Notably, Embiid played in just two of these 10 games.
However, two important aspects stood out from these 10 contests. Firstly, the Sixers were 1-9 during these games. Further, Okafor was a -78 overall for the 10 games while on the court.
Overall for the season, players classified as a center per NBA.com, Okafor had the worst net rating in the league for those averaging at least 20 minutes per game. As can be seen from his numbers, scoring is not Okafor’s problem. It’s his defense.
With the gradual improvement of Saric, and the limitless potential of Embiid, Okafor’s role with the Sixers moving forward remains questionable.
Covington’s season numbers were almost a replica of the season prior. For the third straight season in Philadelphia, Covington was unable to break the 40 percent shooting from the field barrier. And like past seasons, he had stretches where he performed terribly, and other stretches of the season where he excelled.
Covington started off the season ice-cold, posting 7.4 points and 4.9 rebounds while shooting just 26.2 percent from the filed and 24.4 percent from three over the initial 14 games of the season. But encouragingly for the Sixers, Covington finished the season in terrific fashion.
With just one year remaining on his contract, and a slew of players returning, it promises to be an interesting offseason for Covington. At 26 and seemingly at a crossroads moving forward, the upcoming draft could certainly decide Covington’s future with the 76ers.
Holmes made great strides in his second season since being drafted out Bowling Green in the second round of the 2015 NBA Draft. His first half of the season was rather underwhelming, playing in just 21 games due to a number of factors, including the presence of Embiid and a six-game stint in the D-League.
The second half of the season was much more prosperous for Holmes, primarily due to the absence of Embiid and the trade of Noel. And much like Covington, Holmes excelled to finish off the season. Over his last 18 games of the season, Holmes posted 14.6 points and 7.5 rebounds in 28.4 minutes per game, shooting 57.1 percent from the field.
Holmes’ best performance for the season came on March 29, when he posted 25 points and eight rebounds on 11-of-16 shooting.
Like many of the frontcourt players on the Sixers’ roster, Holmes’ contributions moving forward are going to be largely reliant on the availability of Embiid. But the Sixers will be content in the knowledge that they have found a more than adequate backup center in the form of Holmes.
Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Any team with a nucleus of Embiid and Saric in the frontcourt is going to be excited and optimistic for the future. And with potentially two of the top four selections of this year’s upcoming draft, the Sixers’ talent could be as deep as it has been in recent years.
However, depending on what selections are made, some decisions are going to be needed to be made on some of the aforementioned players. Okafor is now somewhat superfluous with the presence of Embiid, and a move elsewhere could be productive for both the player and the franchise. Furthermore, the development of Holmes could make the transition away from Okafor easier than previously envisioned.
As alluded to earlier, Covington is another for whom the Sixers will need to decide upon quite soon, possibly was early as this summer. With a boatload of salary cap space, a big splash on a free agent such as Otto Porter of the Washington Wizards could spell the end for Covington.