It’s hard to believe the NBA season begins soon. It feels like yesterday Kyrie Irving sunk a 3-pointer that ultimately gave Cleveland a championship. This year, similar to how I’m writing about the Eagles after each game, I’m going to write exclusively about the 76ers. Not many teams have as much excitement surrounding them as the 76ers. Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Dario Saric all make their NBA debuts on the same damn night. It’s a beautiful time to be a Philadelphia fan.
Heading into last season fans wanted to know two things. Could Jahlil Okafor and Nerlens Noel co-exist? Who plays point guard?
There are now several things, or questions, rather, that enliven fans. Who will be traded? How many minutes per game will Embiid play? Could Saric and Simmons start together? And then, since the 76ers signed proven NBA veterans, how many games could this team actually win?
It’s a laundry list of things that should make the 76ers one of the more intriguing NBA teams. Even the season opener will be nationally televised on ESPN. It feels like a long time since Chris Johnson started the season opener two seasons ago, but here the 76ers are with enough young talent to begin building towards a very bright future.
Lots will be made of Simmons and Embiid this season. Simmons’s game, which head coach Brett Brown labeled, as “someone who wants to be great,” will be analyzed on a nightly basis. Was he aggressive enough? Does his jump shot look better? Will he give effort on defense? Just the dynamic of Simmons and Embiid sharing the floor together will stir conversations.
Embiid, who hasn’t played since before the first Divergent movie debuted, will have the entire Twitter-verse buzzing the second he steps into an actual NBA game. The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor profiled just how dominate Embiid could be, and how damning it would be for the rest of the NBA if he stays healthy, and plays as advertised. Defensively he’ll probably make the most immediate impact, just because his offensive role won’t be established right away. Philadelphia had a clear agenda on offense when Sam Hinkie served as team president and general manager. The 76ers attempted the seventh most three-pointers last season even though, out of players who actually attempted more than a handful, three players made at least 35 percent of them. Jerryd Bayless and Gerald Henderson should help space the floor, even if Henderson’s more of a slasher than outside shooter. Bayless, historically an average shooter from deep, reached a career high in 3-point percentage last year. The 76ers are hopeful he’ll produce at a similar clip this season, but it’s not a definite, considering his inconsistency just two seasons ago.
It’s no guarantee Bryan Colangelo trades Noel or Okafor before the season begins, and with Embiid beginning the season on a very public minutes restriction, it actually might be prevalent both stay until Embiid finds his footing. Embiid last played a real basketball game on March 1, 2014, so, as you’d imagine, he might not be in basketball-game shape. That doesn’t happen in simulated scrimmages, or even preseason games. Embiid will have to work his tail off in the minutes he does play, and then slowly he’ll re-gain basketball shape. Noel has spoken publicly about his situation, and shocking to no one Noel loathes it. It doesn’t make sense to have three centers. It never made any sense to have three centers. I don’t know when Hinkie planned to trade one of the big men, but Colangelo, despite reports saying Philly fielded offers for Noel/Okafor, remains non-committal in actively trying to trade Noel or Okafor. With Embiid not playing back-to-backs, and even when he does play only playing 15-20 minutes a game, there will be opportunity for Noel to play center. It’s easy to see how frustrating last season was for Noel. He played for two straight seasons on an absolutely abysmal team. He vocally expressed his desire to play center alongside a pass-first point guard, and he received that wish when Philly signed Ish Smith after trading Michael Carter-Williams two seasons ago. With Okafor in the fold last season, however, Noel played second fiddle. He was out of position, and it was no surprise that the games Okafor did miss, Philadelphia played even better because there wasn’t a logjam inside, and also because Noel is just a really solid center if he’s surrounded by solid perimeter guys. A Robert Covington-Simmons-Noel front-court sounds absolutely amazing, and it’s hopefully how Philly starts each game.
The talent Philly possesses will shine brightly from the first preseason game. It’ll take time for players to figure out their teammates, but this season represents hope and promise, not necessarily in wins, but in progress. Coach Brown has a tremendous challenge ahead. How will this all come together? What type of team will this year’s 76ers be? The last two and half seasons, after Philadelphia traded Spencer Hawes and Evan Turner at the deadline, had unproven second-round and undrafted players fighting for minutes and NBA relevancy. The script has changed. Sergio Rodriguez was a star in Europe, Dario Saric had big moments in the 2016 Olympics, Gerald Henderson played meaningful minutes for a Western Conference playoff team and Simmons was the No. 1 draft pick. It’s different. The entire feel for this season is different. And it’s a really good kind of different.
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