Philadelphia broke out at the tail end of last season, ending the year with 16 straight wins. It seemed too good to be true. Things faded in the playoffs, of course. Boston exposed Ben Simmons. Joel Embiid appeared out of shape. Markelle Fultz didn’t play a minute in the second round near sweep. The optimism for this season appears strong, though. It is clear Boston has more talent. Toronto has the better player if Kawhi Leonard returns to form. But still, the 76ers should be thinking Eastern Conference Champions, because how lame would it be if they didn’t.
Last year before the season began I highlighted the roster in order of least to most exciting, or intriguing. I’ll do the same exercise this year. I’m hoping to write more often about the team, but like anything else it’s based on my schedule. Disclaimer: Shake Milton and Demetrius Jackson are Philadelphia’s two-way players. They’re not included on this list. Shake Milton has the coolest name on the roster by far, however.
Jerryd Bayless— He’s still on the team, for now. We will always have his performance in a December win over the Nuggets in 2017.
Jonah Bolden— If Bolden arrived last season after such a strong summer league; he might creep up higher on this list. Bolden could serve in the Richaun Holmes role from last season. He did make a three in all four preseason games. He’s insurance for Amir Johnson and Mike Muscala (Muscala is already doubtful for opening night with an ankle injury).
Amir Johnson— Johnson re-worked his jumper, focusing on a quicker release. I think many Philadelphia fans eye rolled at the Johnson addition last season. I remember wanting Richaun Holmes to play over him as the season progressed. But Johnson really played well during stretches. He’s an essential player as Embiid’s primary back-up center. He’s not really usable as the 76ers hope to play deeper in the spring, but that doesn’t take away from his regular season value.
Mike Muscala— When Nemanja Bjelica spurred the 76ers as the Ersan Ilyasova replacement (he eventually joined the Kings, of all teams), there was plenty of confusion. Some praised the 76ers for adding a true stretch the floor four to come off the bench. Brett Brown excels at putting offensive players in positive situations, and it was easy to envision him doing the same with Bjelica. Unfortunately, it didn’t happen, but Philadelphia made out well a short while later, acquiring Muscala for TLC and Justin Anderson. His defense is something to keep an eye on as Ilyasova propelled second units last season. He won’t be asked to do much offensively, but if he’s able to consistently hit threes, he’ll be a welcomed addition.
Furkan Korkmaz— He lacks upper body strength, which makes it hard to envision Korkmaz playing a big role this season. He will have an opportunity, though. He definitely flashed his scoring ability in the Las Vegas Summer League. (HE DROPPED 40 one game!) The key to remember about Korkmaz is he’s only 21. He’s on his rookie deal for another two seasons after this one, so it’s a healthy situation for both moving forward. JJ Redick won’t be in Philadelphia forever. It’s imperative Korkmaz makes a contribution, but it might not be this season.
Landry Shamet— The sharpshooter should help immediately. He’s not much of a defender, but during the preseason he at least gave effort, which is always an encouraging sign. Shamet wasn’t expected to contribute all that much after being drafted at the end of the first round, but Philly traded away Justin Anderson and TLC and Zhaire Smith broke his foot. The door has opened for Shamet to play real minutes his rookie season. The former Wichita State Shocker can really shoot the ball, and that spacing should open things up for Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz.
Wilson Chandler— The knock on the 76ers offseason boiled down to the lack of star addition. Wilson Chandler should make the biggest impact among new players because of his defensive versatility and his secondary scoring ability. Unsurprising to anyone, Chandler will miss time to begin the season with a hamstring injury, which could stretch until December, possibly. Brett Brown said the other day Chandler was “a way’s away.” But that’s only because of the difficulties hamstring injuries present. The initial timeline was two-to-three weeks before Philadelphia left for China, so it could be soon he’s back in the rotation. Anyway, Chandler will make a real impact, way more real than the one Marco Belinelli made last season, despite people persisting otherwise.
T.J. McConnell— His role with the 76ers will be interesting. Obviously everybody remembers his memorial playoff series, or at least couple games, against the Celtics. Philadelphia might have taken the series six games if McConnell played more in Game 2. McConnell lost his back-up point guard spot to Fultz in March, and he was gracious with Brett Brown’s decision. With Fultz starting, it’s unclear how the affects McConnell. Somebody will pay him after the season, and unfortunately it’s probably not the 76ers.
Zhaire Smith— The 76ers drafted Smith because of how badly Philadelphia’s wings were exposed by the Celtics last May. Like clockwork, Smith broke his foot, joining Jahlil Okafor, Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Nerlens Noel as drafted 76ers to miss an extended part of their rookie season. Smith, however, should be back to possibly make a difference given when he broke his foot. The six-foot-two highflier should fit well alongside any collection of players given his cutting ability. His defense should translate right away. It might take time for his offense to stand out, especially with his robotic set-shot. Philadelphia took the long view trading for Smith on draft night, and acquiring an unprotected 2021 Heat first round pick. Smith is 19.
Robert Covington— Philadelphia fan base lost its collective mind after SI and ESPN ranked Covington higher than Saric in their annual best player rankings. Covington is better than Dario. His defense on the perimeter matters greatly. But in terms of excitement, Dario Saric takes the cake. Covington deserved his All-Defensive selection. Covington cooled off measurably after an unsustainable three-point shooting barrage to begin last season. He ended up shooting nearly 37 percent from deep. It’s clear why fans gave Covington flak last postseason. He couldn’t defend Boston’s guards and his made mistake after mistake offensively. Covington did play well enough in Game 2 against Boston, scoring 22 points (people like to forget that). His playmaking ability has always been suspect, but what do you expect from an undrafted player?
JJ Redick— For the first time in a long time Redick will come off the bench, at least to begin games. It makes sense for him to do so with the commitment the organization has in Fultz. Redick started second halves for the 76ers during their two games in China against the Mavericks, so there’s a real chance that continues into the regular season, depending on how Fultz plays. Redick was sensational last season, propelling the 76ers to wins on several occasions with his outside shooting. You know what to expect from Redick on both ends. Jayson Tatum did whatever he wanted against Redick in the postseason, which caused problems. It’s why drafting Smith proved to be necessary.
Dario Saric— Once the season ended, I mentioned on Twitter how I’d miss watching Dario play basketball most until October. There’s nobody like Dario Saric. Nobody. His goofiness, his spirit and the way he plays basketball. As disappointing as it was to watch Boston win four of five against the 76ers last May, it was a pleasure to watch Dario figure things out as the series progressed. He didn’t have it defensively early on, and the physicality of Boston’s defense wore him down, but he played terrific in the final two games, scoring 25 in Game 4 and 27 in Game 5. There’s real optimism for continued growth with Dario, especially on the defensive end. He’s 24! He’ll put in the work, because he’s Dario Saric. He embodies what it means to be a professional. And he did this:
Ben Simmons— The way his season ended shouldn’t be overlooked, but in terms of the regular season, Simmons will dominate again, flirting with a triple double average. It is unclear how he’ll play come April and May when a team game plans and employs specific strategies meant to slow down a non-shooter like Simmons, but for the sake of the regular season there aren’t many players better than Simmons. Of course, I’m curious to see how often he shoots from mid-range and how effective he is from the foul line. Based on preseason, it looks like Simmons will try and position himself as an All-NBA defensive candidate. It’s hard to believe, based on his rookie season, scouts questioned his defense as much as they did coming out of college. Then again, Simmons didn’t give a damn while at LSU.
Joel Embiid— He should probably be No. 1, but it’s hard to go against Fultz, even if the impact Fultz has this year might be limited. Embiid had a full off-season to get in shape. He feasted at times in the Boston series, but early on struggled to be the focal point. The NBA fan base slowly turned on Embiid as he trash talked Marcus Morris despite trailing the Celtics three games to zero, as he left Boston without shaking hands after losing the series and as he continued to post about “man bun” from the comfort of his coach as the Celtics played in the conference finals. That’s just Joel Embiid. He won’t talk trash every game, but he knows exactly what he’s doing. Embiid had a chance to give Philadelphia the win in Game 5, missing a bunny in the closing seconds. He’s one of the best 10 players in basketball. He’s a dark horse MVP candidate. All he has to do? Stay healthy.
He also owns Alex Len:
Markelle Fultz— His jumper might not be there, but just having him out there, playing a role means everything. The preseason schedule for the 76ers was incredibly wonky, so I don’t put too much stock in how Fultz played, especially in China. He defended well, which looks to be a real focal point this season for Fultz. His ability to connect on chase down blocks makes him such an exciting player on that end. Philadelphia, unlike most modern NBA teams, does not use the pick and roll often. If Fultz consistently attempts jumpers, Philadelphia will use it often.