The 2016-17 season was highly transformative for the Philadelphia 76ers.
Of course, the main impetus for this surge was the impact of rookie center Joel Embiid. After missing his first two seasons in the league due to recurring foot issues, Embiid exploded onto the national scene last year, albeit in just 31 games. Accompanying Embiid this season will be a pair of rookies, also possessing seemingly limitless potential.
The entire city of Philadelphia has been waiting for this moment to arrive, occurring nearly after a decade of agony from our beloved 76ers. We are finally here. We can starting thinking about the playoffs for the first time in years. It is all because of the promising young group of guys consisting of Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid, Markelle Fultz, and to a lesser degree Dario Saric. All these players have shown from their college days that they are capable of leading an NBA team. However, due to injuries, it is prevented them taking the court at the same time. In this article, I want to give an overview of each player. In a later article, I will talk about the two preseason games so far. There are certain takeaways from the games that show glimpses of what this 76ers team will look like on the court.
The starting five will be the following: Markelle Fultz, JJ Redick, Robert Covington, Ben Simmons, and Joel Embiid.
Markelle Fultz: Drafting Fultz makes the starting point guard spot easy to figure out. The Washington product is among the best guard talents entering the league in years, boasting an all-around offensive game with markedly fewer holes than many of his counterparts in this year’s draft. A team that has lacked production and talent in the backcountry for several years now, Fultz will be able to fill the void.
At 6-4 with a 6-10 wingspan, Fultz’s physical gifts are evident; His quick first step, shifty ball handling and incredible body control allows him to create space and contort his body in traffic with ease, giving him the ability to generate shot opportunities with ease at all three levels. He resorts to the spin move often, using misdirection and fluidity to surpass opponents. What is concerning is that the Sixers have been working with Fultz’s shot; however, he was able to hit on 41.3 percent of threes in his lone season at Washington. I am not concerned about his shot and I do not think that it should be altered.
JJ Redick: More than anything, Redick brings veteran leadership in the young Sixers locker room. His ability to shoot the three ball stretches the floor, creating easy inside opportunities for Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. Redick’s shooting abilities complement Simmon’s passing abilities, as he is able to find teammates from anywhere on the court. Through the two summer league games, we have already seen Ben Simmons running the point guard position; in transition, he has been able to find wide open teammates for threes. When Simmon’s can find someone like JJ Reddick in the open court, who can down the open shot, it makes it easier for the young rookie.
In my belief, the shooting guard position will be split between JJ Redick and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot .Last season, Luwawu set the groundwork for a career that could project well. While he won’t be a star, he showed all the necessary signs of developing into a highly skilled two-way piece — and one that could round out the Sixers’ rotation nicely. He displays excellent instincts off the ball, making smart cuts to the basket while excelling in Brett Brown’s screen-heavy, motion-laden offense. His perimeter shooting was inconsistent, but the basis for improvement is there
Robert Covington: Covington was a major piece to the Sixers core last year. He protected the weak side, guarding the opposition’s best player on the perimeter. His defense is admired by Coach Brown who emphasizes the defensive side of the game. Also, Covington shot a career low three point percent; therefore, I look for him rebound by shooting in the mid thirty percents. His above average three point shot makes him a nice fit in the sixers offense. With the talents of Markelle Fultz and Ben Simmons, Covington will not have to carry the offense this year. He will be able to go back to his role of a catch and shoot player because he will not have to create his own shot. Last season, Covington was forced to create his own shot, causing him to take bad shots. Now, he will be able to go back to what he is best at which is a stand up shooter.
Ben Simmons: After missing last season due a Jones fracture, Simmons makes his debut this season as a fully healthy player. Simmons will take the court alongside Markelle Fultz, a player with whom he will share the responsibilities of the offense.
The 2016 first overall pick will be part of the league’s most dynamic rookie duo alongside Markelle Fultz, a player with whom he’ll share both the playmaking load and a sizable chunk of playing time.
It’s rare to find a player with Simmons’ physical gifts, much less the innate skill that accompanies them. He’s able to push the ball like a guard in transition, boasting one of the quickest end-to-end speeds in last year’s class while handling with abnormal fluidity for a natural four. His strength made him an elite rebounder as well, while his generational court vision allows him to create for others in a manner few, if any, NBA players can. In the first two NBA games, it is clear that Ben Simmons has been able to get the rebound and run the court, using his vision to find wide open teammates. His feel for the game allows him to see plays develop even before they begin to transpire, creating opportunities before the defense has time to get set.
There’s an obvious hitch in his shot, and that lack of shooting is likely his biggest hurdle at the next level. A lot of that potential, though, still hinges on his jumper. If defenders are able to sag off of him when he’s operating outside of 15-feet, that’s going to put a significant dent in Brett Brown’s offensive schemes. A player with the caliber of Simmons is usually able to figure out his shot once he becomes acclimated to the NBA. The talent, however, remains present regardless of that jumper. He has excellent and heavily underrated scoring touch around the basket, finishing with both hands in a variety of ways in the painted area. He’s also stellar when operating as a passer out of the high post, using his height advantage to see plays develop and pinpoint his passes across the spectrum. I look forward to seeing Ben Simmons taking full control of the offense, playing point guard on offense while defending the power forward.
Joel Embiid: Before talking about Embiid’s basketball abilities, I want to talk about his special connection to the Philadelphia sports fans. Joel Embiid simply understands the city of Philadelphia to a greater extent than anyone else who has played here. He shares the same passion and drive we have for our team’s, understanding why we hold them to such high standards. We fans are loyal and support our teams even in times of bad play because we truly love our teams. Joel Embiid understands the fans to the point where he fits in with us, acting as an ordinary individual rather than separating himself from the public.
Barring injury, Embiid has already established himself as one of the league’s most dominant big men. Standing at 7-2 with a 7-6 wingspan, Embiid’s ability to impact plays in several different areas, on both sides of the ball, is downright unnatural.
He was among the league leaders in blocks last season, tallying 2.5 per game while operating under a heavy minutes restriction. He makes quick recoveries off of drives when switched onto the perimeter, while his lateral quickness allows him to rotate and alter shots with impressive quickness underneath the rim. He’s also a quality rebounder, something that will manifest in the box score more often once he gets his feet under him and plays in a more extensive minute load.
On the offensive end, there’s reason to believe he’ll be the continued focal point as Fultz works himself into an NBA groove. Boasting scoring touch at all three levels, Embiid is a dynamic finisher as the roll man, while his shooting touch was a viable threat throughout his limited rookie run.
He’s also among the more polished interior scorers in the league, using his size and footwork to carve out space and score in a variety of ways on the low block. Considering he was relatively new to basketball upon entering Kansas a few years back, his growth curve has been nothing short of incredible to witness.
Conclusion: As Sixers fans, we have something to look forward to because this is the start of something special. The young talent on the Sixers roster gives us hope that sooner than later we will be once again, competing for the championship. For now, our goal should be to make the playoffs, as that is reasonable for the young team which is filled with talent.