There’s a solid segment of Sixers fans who believe that by coming away with the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s NBA Draft, former GM Sam Hinkie has been vindicated, and The Process worked as planned.
But nothing could be further from the truth.
Those top draft picks don’t mean much if the players they turn into don’t end up becoming NBA stars, or if injuries derail their careers before they can even get started. This brings us to Joel Embiid, who was selected by Philadelphia with the third overall pick in 2014.
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It was known before the draft that Embiid would require surgery to repair a foot fracture, and that he’d likely miss his entire rookie season. That was just fine with the Sixers because it meant a second consecutive lost season, which would once again give them strong odds of landing a high lottery pick. But stress fractures and big men haven’t historically been a great combination, and once Embiid broke the same bone in his foot a year later (causing him to miss a second straight season), it became immediately uncertain whether he’d ever become the type of transcendent talent the franchise envisioned.
Embiid’s recovery has been coming along slowly because the Sixers aren’t going to do anything that might result in another setback. But with Embiid expected to begin playing two-on-two this week, the decision to hold him out of Summer League two months from now feels as though the team is being unnecessarily overly cautious.
Summer League would seem like the perfect time to get Embiid acclimated to the speed of the NBA game, and he’d get to do so against some weak competition. If he can play in a controlled setting now, getting him some real court time in about eight weeks would seem like the wisest course of action, as opposed to waiting until the NBA preseason where the talent level is significantly stronger.
Whenever Embiid does make it back, he won’t immediately solve any problems. The Sixers selected big men in three straight drafts, and Jahlil Okafor and Nerlens Noel will need just as many minutes as Embiid will to develop.
If Embiid does eventually emerge as an All-Star talent, there will be those who will continue to believe that bottoming out year after year to obtain top draft picks is the right way to build in today’s NBA. But it’s far from guaranteed that Embiid (or Noel, or Okafor) will ever become a dominant professional force, and The Process and all of the losing that went along with it couldn’t be allowed to go on indefinitely — which is ultimately the reason that Hinkie is gone.