The Philadelphia 76ers exercised their options to extend the rookie contracts of Joel Embiid, Jahlil Okafor, and Ben Simmons over a month ago, on October 26th, 2016. At the time, the move was simply the jurisprudence of an NBA locking in their discounted options for young players.
The tradition of Sam Hinkie’s tenure as president of the Philadelphia 76ers has been the vigilance of keeping an eye to the future. What will be alongside what is.
Yes. The “is” is simply a team extending rookie contracts at the start of an NBA season. But this is a roster that has, is, and will undergoing countless remakes and redirections. In fact, it may only be this year, with the strong showing of rookie center Joel Embiid, that the team finally begins to anchor players into position and build around those core players.
The thrill of these sweeping changes yet-to-come rests in the anticipation. So let’s join the party! Who joins the Core?
Jun 24, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers number one overall draft pick Ben Simmons (R) is greeted by center Joel Embiid (L) during a press conference at the Philadelphia College Of Osteopathic Medicine. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Embiid Simmons Are The Core.
Before we get too intoxicated one what may be, let’s agree to what is. The Core is not 20 players, not 15 players, not 10 players.
The Core is the smallest number of players whose future with the team has been predetermined to be the best fit.
Joel Embiid is clearly the player the team is enamored with, and for good reason. He is simply the clear front runner for NBA Rookie of the Year. He is a stretch – five, likely the NBA’s first of his kind.
Ben Simmons is also the ipso facto player to be waived onto core status. Much like Embiid as a stretch-five, Simmons is on track to become the NBA’s first 6-foot-10 point guard. It’s not simply to be unique, but rather fitting Simmons into the role that most optimizes his skill set. Simmons has fluid motion on the court, superior basketball IQ, precision passing, and a solid move to the basket to score.
Dec 2, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid (21) and center Jahlil Okafor (8) defend against Orlando Magic center Bismack Biyombo (11) during the second quarter at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Okafor Is Core Material
Jahlil Okafor is the first debatable player in this select group. But he has earned the consideration to be a member not only from what he’s done, but what he hasn’t done.
Jahlil Okafor’s name has been included in the cast of trade-able centers, more than Nerlens Noel. Rather than call out the front office, or even sulk, he has embraced his role with the team, no matter what that role may be. That role may be to pair up with Joel Embiid to create a dominating front court.
But assembling the tall roster gives the team an incredible advantage. Of 32 teams, only the Philadelphia 76ers would boast that dimension. Each game would give the team more familiarity with the league and with each other. Opponents would only see this team infrequently throughout the 82 game season.
Nov 28, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Philadelphia 76ers forward Dario Saric (9) controls the ball against Toronto Raptors in the second half at Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
More For The Core
To compliment this roster, the team will need versatility, size, solid outside shooting, and resolve to step up bigger in big games. That is the summary of Dario Saric’s resume.
To be fair, Saric could play virtually any position on a basketball team. He is the epitome of “Jack of All Trades, Master of None” syndrome. But don’t discount what that gives to head coach Brett Brown.
Saric is sporadic, which is the symptom of simply being a bona fide NBA rookie. He will grow out of it. And that is why he should be considered part of the core.
On any given night, Saric can score 20 plus points, pull down 10 plus rebounds, dish out 5 or more assists, strip the ball from opponents 3 or more times, block 2 or more shots, and all the while shooting at 50 percent or better from three point range.
Imagine when he starts to do all of these things simultaneously?
This is a young man who has just completed 20 games, and was forced to start 10 of those games. He faces the NBA’s best on any given night. Each game is a learning process, and Saric has much to learn as he faces each team, each player for the first time.
At some point, the polarity will trend the other way. Saric will see players and teams again, and will have experience when facing them. Consistency is his biggest struggle so far. Over time, he will master that as well.
Dec 3, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers guard Nik Stauskas (11) drives to the basket against the Boston Celtics during the fourth quarter at Wells Fargo Center. The Celtics defeated the 76ers 107-106. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports
Get The Sauce, But Only If It’s Hot Enough
Nik Stauskas, a.k.a. “Sauce Castillo”, is a shooting guard who perplexes Philadelphia 76ers fans. He is dedicated to his profession, putting in long hours to work on his shooting. After all, he is an NBA “shooting” guard. His play has been excellent at times, scoring 21 points in five of six shooting from three point range. But just as suddenly, he can struggle in a two out of seven night from the same distance.
But like Saric, Sauce is inconsistent. Unlike Saric, this is his third year in the NBA. So far this season, his shooting from the perimeter is a very respectable 41.5 percent. But two of eleven shooting from three point range in the month of December 2016 has squelched optimism that the Sauce is hot in Philly.
When Ben Simmons arrives, he will need shooters who are dependably accurate if they get the open shot. Through November 2016, he had his three-shot up to 45 percent. But a cold December has cooled that hot shooting to 41.5 percent. Stauskas could be a huge asset to this team, but only if he’s hot.
Dec 3, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4) and Philadelphia 76ers guard Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot (20) battle for the ball during the second quarter at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports
TLC For TLC
Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, or TLC, was drafted in the 2016 NBA at 24. He is a raw and undisciplined wing man whose potential for the enviable “3 and D” role on this team is very high.
For now, he is buried on the roster behind Gerald Henderson, and Nik Stauskas. But of the bunch, I am most optimistic about his long term role for this team.
TLC does not get many opportunities with this team. On a team with virtually every other player averaging better than 15 minutes per game, TLC is averaging 6. Of those appearances, he arrives at the end of the game, well after the competitive aspects of the contest have been decided. For the season, he has scored a total of 27 points, and hit on just one of seven shots from three-point range.
So let me admit it here and now. I am biased.
I loved the pick then, and I love the player now. Despite coming in as the janitor to games, he arrives with such energy and staunch defense that he is a joy to watch. He has excellent movement without the ball, and does not back down when facing any NBA player. In fact, he is showing lots of discipline on defense when playing even very limited minutes.
His preseason contests were a completely different story, when he averaged over three personal fouls per contest.
But it’s his potential when paired with fellow 2016 draft selectee Ben Simmons that holds the most promise in my mind. Joining the NBA side by side, developing as an NBA back court together, holds huge upside. It will take superhuman patience to see it to fruition, but they could be ideally suited for one another.
In the end, this team has a long journey ahead of it. To make the journey, the front office will need to identify the Philadelphia core today. No matter who gets on the bus over time, players will need to join the Embiid Simmons Bus. Next stop, champion city.