It feels like a long time ago that the 76ers were playing regular season basketball. After Joel Embiid went down for the season at the end of January, the 76ers still played some meaningful and competitive basketball, including wins over the Clippers and Celtics. Richaun Holmes flashed, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot had his moments and Dario Saric was the focal point of the offense. With the Philadelphia season set to begin Wednesday night, I decided I will write on this site regularly about most 76ers games I watch. There will be gifs, thoughts and just random observations.
This post will detail 15 players in order of the excitement each brings to this year’s team. The 76ers made plenty of moves this off-season, making this year’s team the most anticipated one in a very long time. 14,000 season tickets sold, two No. 1 picks making their debut and Embiid’s game on and off (Twitter, that is) the court. Even with the Eagles at 5-1, the 76ers will be a major story Wednesday night regionally as the squad opens on national television for the second straight year.
Playoffs are expected. The over/under win total was over 42 at one point. Joel Embiid got paid. Head coach Brett Brown grew a beard only to shave it off the day before the season opener. It’s basketball time again in Philadelphia. Enjoy it!
15. Nik Stauskas – Stauskas shouldn’t play much this year. He hasn’t earned it over the past two years, and he’s been slumping all preseason. It’s a shame, but it appears Stauskas won’t ever become a rotation player, again, in Philadelphia. This will be the last year he’s here.
14. Amir Johnson – He’s definitely going to help the culture of the 76ers. Here’s a veteran who has been around several different personalities during his career. Fun fact about Amir Johnson: he’s the last player to be drafted straight out of high school. The Pistons drafted him in 2006. Johnson’s an expensive bench player, but he could be used early in the season with Richaun Holmes dealing with an injury. Don’t expect much from Johnson.
13. Jerryd Bayless – Bayless will need to make shots as a heavy rotation guy, but let’s be real: there’s not much excitement surrounding Bayless. He shot a career high from three the season before Philadelphia offered him a three-year, $27 million contract in the summer of 2016. Last year, however, Bayless barely played due to a wrist injury. He’s probably going to start Wednesday night, and for much of the first couple weeks of the season. It’s essential he knocks down open threes. Headbands aren’t terrible, either.
12. Jahlil Okafor– Skinny Okafor made its social media rounds once training camp began. Jahlil cut back on dairy and picked up a vegan diet, and it showed during the preseason. He just looks in better shape. I’ve been on team Okafor for a long time. It was miserable watching the 76ers win 10 games two years ago, but Okafor provided at least a glimmer of hope with his ability to score the basketball. Head coach Brett Brown played Dario Saric at back-up five once Richaun Holmes went down with an injury last week, but there will be minutes for Okafor during the early stages of the season, especially with Holmes out and Embiid most likely not playing back-to-back games. Amir Johnson will be there, too, of course, but Okafor will find some minutes. Defense remains Okafor’s biggest weakness, but it’s impossible not to at least cheer for Okafor a little bit after reading this profile.
11. Timothe Luwawu-Cabbarot – Many fans were disappointed TLC didn’t dominate in summer league, but that’s not his style. He’s never going to be a high volume offensive player, and that’s fine because he shouldn’t be on this roster. TLC does a terrific job moving without the ball. Vividly I remember watching the 2016 summer league where TLC and Ben Simmons had chemistry. TLC shined towards the end of the season, gaining some interest to winning Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month in April. There are only so many wing minutes, and the guy at the 10 spot will probably garner more of them. The guy at 9 will also be right there, waiting to take advantage of any mishaps.
10. Justin Anderson – It wasn’t that long ago that a James Anderson started for the 76ers in the Process-era. Anyway, Justin, has a nickname Simba, and should be counted on as back-up wing option. Anderson’s three-point shot looked much better during this preseason than in his two months in Philadelphia last year. The roster is thin on wing depth, so Anderson needs to be a consistent option for Brett Brown to lean on.
9. Furkan Korkmaz – Korkmaz will spend plenty of time in Delaware this year, but I’m intrigued by what he can do in the NBA. He’s a sharpshooter with limitless range, it appears, at least in FIBA and limited preseason action. He’s won a dunk contest wearing a Darth Vader get-up. It’s unclear when he’ll actually play minutes for the 76ers, but I promise he’ll be well worth the wait.
8. TJ McConnell – Murmurs suggest McConnell, and not Bayless, should start for the 76ers come Wednesday, but that would not be smart. McConnell plays effective defense, makes more spinning shots than Ed Bysiek on a Friday at the Richter and overall makes an impact on this team. When Fultz was drafted, some wondered what that meant for McConnell. No, McConnell isn’t better than Fultz, but rookies tend not to win, and McConnell, in this third year, should provide the necessary skill set to push Philadelphia’s second units. He’s just a real fun player to watch.
7. Richaun Holmes – Holmes would probably rank higher on this list if I just went with personal preference. I love Richaun Holmes. I swear he’s money from three, and he’ll average a yam a week on some helpless defender. His defense is a working in progress, especially against bigger guys, but that’ll come. He tries to block every shot, or at least he did during his first two years of his career. Unfortunately, he’s out for a couple more weeks. But him and Okafor’s situation is similar to the Kings with Jimmer and Isaiah Thomas: second round pick being better than the first round pick from the same draft.
6. Dario Saric – Saric is a luxury on this team. The 76ers already have several guys who can initiate the offense, and Saric is another one off the bench. He’s without question one of my favorite players to watch. His passing ability jumps out above everything else. He’s usually in the right spot offensively, so aesthetically speaking it’s a joy to watch Saric play offense. Defensive is a bit of a different story. He tries hard, and the 76ers did use him at center against the Brooklyn Nets and Miami Heat to close the preseason (with Ben Simmons at four). That lineup would be deadly offensively, but god-awful defensively. Brett Brown would probably only use it against inferior back-up bigs. I don’t think that pairing would struggle rebounding, though, unless they faced an Enes Kanter-type back-up big man. If Saric improves his three-point shot, Philly’s second units could be some of the best in the league.
5. Robert Covington – Covington will get paid in about a month when he’s eligible for a contract extension, and it couldn’t come to a more deserving guy. He makes the second biggest impact defensively on the roster. The starting lineup has a chance to be a top-10 defensive unit, and that’s largely to do with Joel Embiid. But Covington’s the strongest perimeter defender, and he makes things difficult with his length and his intelligence in playing the passing lanes.
4. JJ Redick – JJ barely missed from three this preseason. Watching him fighting through, around and underneath screen will be a treat all season long. Not since Kyle Korver have the 76ers have had a shooter quite like Redick. He might be the linchpin to Philly’s postseason chances.
3. Markelle Fultz – I chose not to write about Fultz’ puzzling preseason struggles. It’s clear his shoulder is in his head as he oddly chose to change shooting mechanics altogether. There’s plenty of pressure on Fultz, especially with Jayson Tatum starting for the Celtics and the buzz surrounding Dennis Smith and Lonzo Ball’s Rookie of the Year candidacies. There’s a reason why Fultz went first overall. The excitement is still there. He’ll make people forget about his early struggles. It might take some time, though.
2. Ben Simmons – I was tempted to put Simmons first. Preseason shouldn’t indicate regular season performance, but objectively speaking, Simmons will be one of the best passers in the NBA as a rookie. He’s lightning quick with the ball and he’s able to spot three-point shooters at all different angels. It was a blessing Simmons missed last season, because he matured, developed and is ready to rock and roll as a seasoned rookie.
1.Joel Embiid – As tempted as it was to put Simmons first, how could the top of any list 76er related not include The Process? Embiid decided to salute Allen Iverson with cornrows for Tuesday’s practice. He also called the expected minutes restriction on him effing bullshit. Embiid is the best thing to happen to 76ers basketball since Iverson stepping over a current Eastern Conference head coach in June 2001.