Here we go again. The Philadelphia 76ers are going into another NBA season with one of their top picks, 2016 number one overall pick Ben Simmons, out with injury. To make matters worse, and a bit more ironic, Simmons is dealing with a foot injury, something his teammate and 2014 number three overall pick Joel Embiid has been sidelined with for two years. Obviously this is a disappointing situation for both Simmons and the Sixers, who were hoping for a stellar year from their top pick, but what does this injury mean for Philly when looking at the fast-approaching 2016-’17 year?
A team filled with talented youth and a solid mix of veterans, I expected the Sixers to win at least 24 games this year, especially with the addition of Simmons as a primary ball handler. Now that Simmons is hurt, many are already condemning Philly to another horrid season, I say hold on a minute. Yes the absence of a skilled point-forward such as Simmons will hurt the dynamic strength of Philadelphia’s front court, but I honestly still think this team can win 24 or even up to 27 games this year.
The point guard situation was somewhat dealt with this offseason with the additions of vet guards Jerryd Bayless and overseas sensation Sergio Rodriguez; with Simmons out of the lineup, these points are going to be held accountable for facilitating a large part of the offense, while also being able to score at a consistent rate. If Bayless and Rodriguez, as well as T.J. McConnell, can be semi-effective while staying healthy throughout the year, I think that they will help the Sixers be a relatively respectable Eastern Conference team.
The shooting guards for Philly also have their work cut out for them, and I expect Gerald Henderson to be as steady a presence on court as he is off the court. I’m excited to see a full season of French rook Timothe Luwawu, as well as a consistent Hollis Thompson providing big minutes for the Sixers at the off-guard position. As for Nik Stauskas, entering his third season after being the eight overall pick in 2014, I really hope for him to take a leap forward as a defender and more consistent three-point threat.
For the small forwards in Philly, debatably the most intriguing position on the team, I believe two key guys will step up this year. Robert Covington has been a solid three-and-d player in this League for two solid years, that’s not gonna change so he wont be featured now. Right now, I’m focusing on Jerami Grant out of Syracuse, and Dario Saric out of Turkey. Grant is the second best perimeter defender on the 76ers, and I believe he has the athletic ability and intangibles to be one of the best overall defenders in the league. With a phenomenal leaping ability and a solid rebounding skill set, five per game last year, if Grant can keep up his defensive prowess, two blocks and almost a steal in ’15-’16, I think he has a real chance of starting for Philly come late October. As for Saric, the display of strong defense and a skilled offensive touch at the Olympics was exciting, and I expect him to get a lot of minutes at the three with Simmons sidelined for what could be eight weeks.
Finally, we reach the Philly frontcourt. Loaded with talent and youth, Philadelphia’s frontcourt has been crowded for the past three years but I finally feel confident in the core Brett Brown has helped assemble. With Embiid, 22, finally suiting up for Philadelphia since 2014, I am excited to see what he can do in the NBA. Embiid has supposedly developed a bit of an outside game, and if this is true and he is consistent with it, that just makes the Sixers bigs even more dangerous. I expect Joel to come off the bench for the majority of the season, but if his play is as good as has been touted, I can also imagine Embiid starting a few games. Jahlil Okafor, 20, is, in my opinion, the future of the 76ers center position; having an elite post game that was on full display in his rookie campaign, 17.5 points in 53 games, if Okafor can improve his lackluster rebounding, seven boards, I think he’s an All-Star in the East. Granted that could take a few years, Okafor has all the tools to do it. As for Nerlens Noel, 22, the Sixers best defender, I think he should be the starting power-forward without question. An extremely agile big with quick hands, 1.5 blocks per game and two steals in ’15-’16, Noel is already an elite NBA defender with the rare ability to guard every position on the floor. If he can keep up his average of about ten points and eight boards, while remaining a great defender, teams will have a hard time scoring on Philly.
Philly is without their top pick for some time, but this doesn’t have to sink the ship, in fact I believe it can rally this young team. With a great coach like Brown who has an uncanny ability to motivate and inspire young players, I know Philadelphia will improve this year, and I also believe it starts with defense. Lets see how this all plays out.
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