Future 76er Josh Jackson?

I didn’t watch the lottery. Work got in the way of seeing the genius Sam Hinkie trade from two years ago come into fruition. The Sacramento Kings and Philadelphia swapped picks. It’s a beautiful thing to have happened. Of course one of my best friends cheers for the Celtics while the other loves the Lakers. And the same thing that happened last year happened this year as all three of our teams made the commercial break to guarantee a top-three pick in a loaded draft.  The results, however, were in reverse with Boston claiming the top pick, Lakers staying at second and Philly picking third. The attention immediately flips to who Philly will select third overall, especially after the presumption of Markelle Fultz and Lonzo Ball going one and two. It’s Josh Jackson, and I don’t think it’s particularly close.

Jayson Tatum’s name will surface. As will Malik Monk, De’Aaron Fox and Dennis Smith. But Jackson’s the guy for the Philadelphia 76ers to add to an already fascinating core. The potential perimeter defense of Robert Covington and Jackson appears substantial. Covington made waves as a dominant wing defender during last season, and Jackson’s defensive potential draws comparisons to former 76er Andre Iguodala. It’s a beautiful situation for Philadelphia to be in from a defensive standpoint. In today’s space and pace NBA, defensive flexibility is a must. Jackson makes too much sense for Philly’s efforts to become the best defensive team in the NBA. Head coach Brett Brown would be enthralled with the idea of pressuring teams with Covington and Jackson with Joel Embiid protecting the rim.  There’s another aspect of basketball, however. And on offense people will question whether Jackson’s the right selection or not.

Jackson shot the ball well from three during the second half of his lone season at Kansas. But it was a small sample size, and college three-point shooting success doesn’t always translate to NBA three-point shooting success. Free-throw shooting usually determines NBA three-point shooting at a more consistent rate, but Jackson struggled from the line. It wasn’t Aaron Gordon bad (42.2 percent), but it wasn’t much better (56.6 percent on 173 attempts) Philly fans probably cringe anytime they hear a prospects a jumper away from being a bona fide stud. Memories of Nerlens Noel working on his jumper, and Michael Carter-Williams clanking shot after shot come to mind. Yeah, Jackson has to re-tool his shot. It’s not a pretty from a mechanical perspective. Kevin O’Connor,  of the Ringer, provided this assessment of Jackson’s shooting mechanics: Poor shooting mechanics needing an overhaul: wide base, elbow out, brings ball to shot pocket early, low and slow release, has a hitch. (By the way, please check out Kevin O’Connor’s NBA Draft Guide, it’s tremendous. I trust Draft Express the most for NBA draft material, but the NBA Draft Guide better be bookmarked on your computers).

Can Jackson ever be an average three-point shooter? Will spacing work with non-shooter Ben Simmons? Don’t the 76ers need to draft Monk to be the team’s perimeter, go-to scorer? These are valid questions. Some won’t be answered until years from now. It takes the top-picks plenty of time to figure the NBA out. And Jackson won’t be any different. Jackson, however, has the superstar potential every NBA team desires. Jackson also isn’t just this athletic wing with little offensive diversity. Jackson was a playmaker at Kansas, averaging three assists per game. His ability to quickly drive by his defender and find a teammate with a solid pass will translate to the next level. The idea is for Embiid to remain healthy. Jackson doesn’t have to be the absolute workhorse on offense. Philly’s style of play will be team friendly. Everyone will get touches, and it’s Embiid who will be the focal offensive point. In that respect, Jackson makes more sense for Philly’s offense than a guy like Tatum. Tatum is a throwback, DeMar DeRozan-type scorer capable of scoring from all over expect from three. Jackson could play some power forward, too. I admit Monk would be the perfect offensive fit for Philly, but basketball is a two-way game, and Jackson’s just a much better overall prospect than the sharpshooting Kentucky freshman.

It’s unclear who Bryan Colangelo favors for the 76ers. Two years ago I tweeted something along the lines of: welcome to Philadelphia, DeAngelo Russell. I assumed Los Angeles would pick Jahlil Okafor. But we know how that ended. The Lakers are destined for Ball, but crazier things have happened. Embiid said after the lottery he expected Fultz and Ball to go one and two, and the two guys he thinks Philly would chose are Tatum and Jackson. I tend to agree with Embiid, but the guy has to be Josh Jackson.

And Jackson tweeted this out in January:

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Featured Image-Andy Lyons / Getty Images

NBA Draft Lottery

The NBA playoffs haven’t be super competitive. The Rockets/Spurs series ended in a dud of a  Game 6 while the Wizards/Celtics has been interesting to say the least. The best is yet to come as the eventual Cavaliers-Warriors Part 3 sets up in early June. But before the conference finals and NBA Finals begin, the marquee May event happens early next week: the NBA Draft Lottery. This year, between $495 sneakers and top-three protected picks, the lottery might be the most interesting it has ever been. The consensus seems there are several All-Star type players in this draft, but maybe only one clear superstar in the making: Markelle Fultz. Some teams, like the Los Angeles Lakers and the Orlando Magic, are apparently enamored with Lonzo Ball and his crazy but “smart” father. If all goes according to plan, this will be the last time the 76ers are in the lottery. Well, except for 2019 with an unprotected Kings pick or the unprotected 2018 Lakers pick. But besides Sam Hinkie’s second (and fourth?) greatest achievements, this could very well be Philadelphia’s final time in the lottery with their own pick. After four straight seasons with top-four odds of landing the top pick, it’s refreshing to know it’s finally over. Playoffs appear around the corner. But for now, let’s get ready for the lottery. I blame the curse of my friend’s house  for Philly selecting third in back-to-back lotteries. Over the years I’ve gone to their house for various events. It’s uncanny how often Philly sports have been eliminated when I’m over the Finnegan’s. The 2010 Phillies, the 2010 Flyers, the 2008 Eagles. I could go on and on. In 2008 I watched Game 5 of the World Series at their house. The game ended up delayed due to rain in the middle. The baseball gods knew the Phillies couldn’t win their second ever World Championship with me at the Finnegan’s. Two days later at the comfort of my own house the Phillies won. So, Philly fans, I apologize for stupidly watching the lottery at the Finnegan’s. It won’t happen again. Last year I watched the lottery with my brother in our basement. This year I have work during the lottery. I don’t know what to do. It’s just a city council meeting, so I can have my phone on for updates. This could be a great self-control practice if I’m able to keep my phone off for two hours and not know the results until afterwards. It’s going to be a game-time decision, for sure.

Like mentioned before, this lottery has major implications. The Lakers desperately want to keep their pick since it doesn’t appear they’ve drafted a franchise-altering player in the past three years. It’s top-three protected, and the Lakers have the third best odds to land the top pick. A real movie-like scenario for Philly would be if the Kings won the lottery. The 76ers would then swap picks with Sacramento, and one of the more dumbfounded trades in NBA history would somehow look even worse. It’s hard to find a more stressful situation than the NBA Lottery. There’s nothing leaked. I swear ESPN drags it out longer each and every year. Last year takes the cake as far as most stressful, especially given how brutal the rookie class played this year.

Joel Embiid represents the 76ers this year. There’s nobody I’d rather see on lottery night than Embiid. Embiid has been rehabbing, and beating Justin Anderson in Madden according to his Instagram. The key of the lottery is getting to the commercial break, and you’re golden. This year’s lottery feels different than ever before. Maybe it’s Boston having an opportunity to play a Eastern Conference Finals game the day before winning top pick. Maybe it’s Sacramento having the Pelicans top-three protected pick. Maybe it’s the loaded 2017 draft class that haul comparisons to 1984, 2003 and 2014.  Or maybe it’s the Lakers desperately wanting to keep their pick. Luke Walton assured Laker fans Los Angeles will keep its pick. He said Magic Johnson let him know. Embiid liked this tweet:

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CSN Philly says the 76ers have a 53 percent chance of getting the Lakers pick. A Philadelphia team already won a “coin flip” this year: The Eagles were awarded the 14th pick to select Tennessee’s Derek Barnett at the NFL combine.

Laker fans already created Lonzo Ball jerseys, even though apparently LaVar “don’t need no advice from Kobe Bryant.” Los Angeles want Ball to be its franchise savior. Philly’s in a weird spot because next year the Lakers pick becomes unprotected for the 76ers if it doesn’t convey this year. I’m sort of in the camp that just wants the pick this year to add a guy like Malik Monk or Jonathan Isaac. Mainly because I like the players in that 4-5 range, but also because the Lakers could acquire Paul George before next season begins, which makes their draft pick next season much better. Luke Walton had some interesting thoughts on tanking in January:

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It wasn’t as damning as people made it appear, at least in my opinion. He basically said Philly has some work to do, which is factual because the 76ers have yet to even sniff the postseason. The Lakers had 16 wins in mid January, and for most of the second half of the season it appeared they were all-out tanking for the worst record in basketball. But for some reason, I guess since Walton believes in good karma, began winning games in April. Los Angeles decided to go 5-2 in April for some reason. If the Lakers indeed lose their pick, they have themselves to blame.

Tuesday night franchises will learn their fate. It’s a silly event. Ping-pong balls play a vital role in the future of NBA successes. The Grizzlies just missed out on LeBron James. The worst NBA team in history just missed out on Anthony Davis. Every team in the lottery searches for the franchise-altering guy. Yeah, teams build successes in more ways than just the draft. Yeah, teams build success in more ways than just the beginning of the draft. But some team will learn it has the opportunity to draft Fultz by 8:30 Eastern on May 16. And maybe that franchise will be changed forever.

Dario Saric

It’s impossible to dislike Dario Saric. Seriously, try to think of reasons to dislike the Croatian. It’s impossible. People questioned whether he’d come over for this season or not. Drafted in 2014, Saric still had years left on his Turkey league contract. Like international players before, Saric could have stayed overseas for another season to renegotiate a contract to make more money. True to his word, Saric opted against staying overseas for another season. He’s the only 76er to play every game this season, and because Joel Embiid will play only 31 games this season Saric has a chance to win rookie of the year. Saric and T.J. McConnell formed the saying “trust the friendship,” because McConnell angered Dario by pouring cold water on his head following a win at Brooklyn. Mostly Dario cares about playing hard, making the right play and winning. Again, it’s impossible to dislike Dario Saric.

It didn’t click right away for Saric. It rarely does for players entering their debut NBA seasons. With Ben Simmons sidelined, Philly opened the season with Saric starting at power forward. He had a tough debut, missing 10 of his 12 attempts. It got better offensively as he poured in 21 points in a last-second loss to Orlando three games into the season. But it was going to take time for Saric to figure out the NBA. Not just the speed of the opponents, but Saric plays with his instincts. He has a feel for the game that few players possess, and it’s a beautiful thing to watch Saric play basketball. Players play basketball for an assortment of reasons. Not everyone grew up obsessing over the game. Not everyone had a hoop in their driveway. It wasn’t a way of life for some players, but basketball is a way of life for Saric, and it’s evident every time he touches the floor. He loves basketball. He was born to play it. The wrap around pass to Justin Anderson that won Philadelphia the game against New York, the behind the head pass to Jahlil Okafor against the Sacramento Kings, the not one but two blocks against the Raptors. He makes winning plays, and it’s not always because he’s the most talented or most athletic; it’s because he knows how to play. Saric needed time to adjust, not just to a new league but to new teammates. And conversely his teammates needed time to adjust to Saric, because Saric sees things other players simply do not see. Take his pass to Okafor.

Every now and then I re-watch this pass that eventually led to a Nik Stauskas three. Dario will probably make this pass dozens of more time during his career. There’s something magical about a pass in basketball.  A well-timed bounce pass to a player who didn’t appear open a second ago, a Kevin Love full-court outlet pass that hits a streaking LeBron James right in the numbers, a no-look dime that not only confuses the defense but the man who somehow caught the ball. One of the greatest players in NBA history was given the nickname Magic long ago. A big man, Nikola Jokic, quoted Magic Johnson last month. “Passing makes two people happy. Scoring only makes one person happy.” It’s a wise thing for Jokic to say, and even though it wasn’t Dario who said the Magic Johnson quote, I felt appropriate to include it while discussing Dario’s impact on the basketball court. Philly forced a Sacramento miss with 8:40 left in the fourth quarter. Saric began the play with a one-handed pass ahead to McConnell near half court. Philly led by two points when McConnell passed to the trailing Saric. Saric noticed Okafor before Jahlil dived inside. You could tell Saric was making that pass, but he needed to draw in more King defenders. The Kings had three players in the paint, so it wasn’t a clear path for Okafor to score a hoop. He wisely gathered himself and found an open Stauskas for a dagger.

It’s refreshing watching Dario play basketball. He’s full of energy, full of life. He plays every game like a college walk-on practices. He’ll learn the different NBA nuances as he continues to grow as a player, but everything’s there. He’s actually better than imagined. During the dark days of a 10-win 2015 campaign, it felt like the team trended backwards. Too many questions surrounded the 76ers at the tail end of last season. Will Embiid actually play? Will Dario actually come over? What if the Lakers pick doesn’t convey, and Philly doesn’t even win the lottery? The stance on Dario coming over seemed to flip every single day, but Dario was animated from the beginning, saying it was basically a guarantee he’d be over this season. But even when over a thousand people watched a live stream of Dario arriving in Philadelphia, it was possible to question whether Dario would even make an impact. Sure, he blocked Pau Gasol in the 2016 Olympics. He not once but twice won FIBA Europe Young Men’s Player of the Year. But Jonas Valanciunas won that twice, and Ricky Rubio won that three times, and neither has established a larger NBA role than a fringe stater. Dario feels destined for better things than Rubio and Valanciunas.

Dario did a recent interview with a popular Croatian newspaper. tabslabblue over on r/sixers did a service to all for translating the interview. It’s a joy to read Saric explain his rookie season, his teammates and getting better. Dario said great things about Embiid.

First of all, we lost our best offensive and defensive player, Joel Embiid. He is the future of the NBA and I am sorry he wasn’t part of the NBA All Star game this year already. He deserve it. I feel sad because of what happened to him because two of us clicked in the court and outside of the court, we are good friends. I took more important role now without him, but honestly, I would be happier if he’s healthy, playing, wins ROY and we winning more games.

Embiid and Saric began the season starting together, but once Philly traded for Ersan Ilyasova in the first month of the season Dario went to the bench. But Dario and Joel were dynamic on the court together. In November when Dario and Joel played together the 76ers only outscored opponents by 0.8 points per possession. In January the duo played 81 minutes together and had a net rating of 23.4. Before Embiid went down, the 76ers were building something incredible with the two rookies. Dario’s success paved way for Philly to trade Ilyasova months after acquiring him. Power forward was Dario’s position now.

Ilyasova helped Dario adjust to the NBA. Ilyasova entered the NBA out of Turkey years ago. He knows what it’s like to be away from home.

They trade Ersan to make more room for me and that’s why this month is maybe the most important month in my whole career. I got a good friend in Ilyasova, and a mentor. We talked a lot, he help my transition goes more smoothly and I am very thankful for that.

Ilyasova was set to be a free agent this summer. It didn’t make sense to keep him. But it also didn’t make sense to keep him because Saric found himself. And it was time for head coach Brett Brown to let Dario be the focal point of the offense with Simmons and Embiid sidelined.

The next six weeks will be painfully difficult for Philly fans. It might not be 10-win bad, but it’ll be hard to watch Philly play without Embiid, Ilyasova, Simmons and Nerlens Noel. But Dario really has a chance to grow as a player. Over the past 12 games, only five players are averaging at least 18 points, eight rebounds and 3.5 assists per game: LeBron James, Blake Griffin, DeMarcus Cousins, Russell Westbrook and Dario Saric. This season might be a wash for the 76ers, but at least they have something special in The Homie.

Bye Bye Nerlens

It’s a weird feeling seeing Nerlens Noel in another uniform but he deserved a new situation. It made sense why Philadelphia traded him. Of course fans believed it would be Jahlil Okafor donning a new jersey, but sometimes things work out differently. After watching Noel the past three years, there’s little doubt he’ll be dynamic in Dallas. He’ll protect the rim, finish alley-oops and swipe the ball away from opponents just about as well as anyone else in the NBA. He’s a highly skilled big man with unlimited potential. As a fan of basketball, I’m excited to see what type of player he will become. As a fan of Philadelphia, I’m saddened.

It appeared once the season began it was inevitable that Noel would be elsewhere. Many speculated, following volunteer knee surgery days before the season started, Noel had played his last game as a 76er. Noel finally returned to the roster, only to come off the bench in a  limited role. He spoke out against Bryan Colangelo and his lack of minutes following a brutal home loss to the Lakers on national television Dec. 16. Eventually Noel found his role, taking over for Okafor and helping lead Philadelphia’s second unit for most of January and February. With Embiid sidelined for a handful of games, Noel started seven times, and Philly won five of them. He’s a difference maker.

It did make sense to trade Noel for the right price. He’s a restricted free agent this summer, requesting at least $20 million per year. Dallas will pay him. Who knows what would’ve happened if Philadelphia kept Noel into the summer? Dallas still would’ve made an offer for his services. Maybe Boston would, too. And Colangelo wouldn’t have matched any offer. Blame Sam Hinkie all you want for creating this logjam at center. He deserves it for drafting Okafor third overall when he already had a defensive star in Noel and an injured big man. People defended Hinkie, saying he drafted Okafor solely for insurance in case Embiid never played. Last summer rumors surfaced connecting Philly to a number of points guards and draft picks for Noel or Okafor. Everybody in the NBA knew Colangelo wanted to trade one or both players. The public probably won’t ever know exactly what trade offers Colangelo presumably turned down. Maybe Philly could’ve received a lightly protected 2017 lottery pick. It doesn’t really matter at this point, because Noel’s gone. He’s in Dallas where he’ll be a force for the next several years.

All the smart NBA people wrote about how effective Noel has been during his career on defense. He still has room to grow, of course. People worry about his maturity. People worry he’s injury prone. It’s baffling he elected for surgery days before the 2016 season began, but it’s unclear who the driving force was behind that decision. Teams overrate their own players all the time. Fans definitely overrate their own players all the time. It’s hard to see what Colangelo was thinking, unless he believes Richaun Holmes could do what Noel does, or he really likes Justin Anderson. He has a plan, and fans won’t see his plan until this summer, because he clearly didn’t want to tie-up cap space to essentially a back-up big man. Anderson will take time to adjust to a new situation. There’s hope for him because he does show flashes of defensive potential, which Philly sorely needs on the wing, but there’s no way Anderson has a better career than Noel. Noel and Embiid could create a dynamic one-two punch, causing havoc to every offense, no matter what big man was on the court. Out of players under 25, Noel and Embiid would rank in the top-5, maybe even top-3 of rim protectors. Rudy Gobert would be slated at the top spot, but you could make an argument the next best two are Noel and Embiid, which makes this trade even harder to digest.

Noel didn’t contribute to many wins as a 76er, especially his first three years. The team struggled to form an identity because they lost games purposely. Yes, the team tried hard, but rookies and undrafted players simply do not win many games. In Noel’s rookie season, when Philadelphia won 18 games, the 76ers finished 12th in defensive rating. Noel was a major reason for that rating. Noel’s happy to be in Dallas, that’s certain. Along with Harrison Barnes, Noel is the future of the Mavericks. He wanted his own situation where it was him, and only him, as a team’s big man, and he’ll flourish in that role.



Top 10 plays at All-Star Break

The 76ers have doubled their win total (and then some) from last year before the All-Star break even began. With the increased win total, it’s clear Philadelphia has played better basketball. And when teams play better basketball they are more likely to make better plays. This season has already been filled with game winners, alley oops and breathtaking passes. Although the first half of the season has come and gone weeks ago, most people use the All-Star break to split the season into two. January was very good to the 76ers, but Philadelphia hit a mini speed bump without Joel Embiid in the line-up. Until the 76ers ended the first half winning three of four games even without Embiid. Questions surround Bryan Colangelo and how he’s handled the many situations involving Jahlil Okafor, Ben Simmons and Embiid, and those concerns are real, because fans and the public believe Colangelo has been far from honest. Few teams impressed as Philly did since the beginning of 2017. Of course Philly still only has 21 wins with little chance to make the postseason, but this year has been fun. And here are the 10 most memorable plays from season so far. (Disclaimer: I didn’t watch every single second of the 76ers this season, but I did see most seconds).

10. Joel Embiid’s first basket

This is sort of an honorary spot on the list. Embiid made a beautiful move to score his first NBA points, but it made this list to symbolize what Embiid playing has meant for this team. The excitement in Wells Fargo opening night’s hard to explain. During the three years Sam Hinkie managed the 76ers, the arena rocked on several different occasions, but Embiid’s debut was different. Philadelphia is ways away from competing in the Eastern Conference, but this basket against OKC began Embiid’s career, and that has to be one of the most important plays that happened this season.And he blocked Russell Westbrook on the following possession.

9. Sergio to Henderson to open the season

Probably the most surprising play on this list, but Philadelphia opened the season with an alley-oop from Sergio Rodriguez to Gerald Henderson, and it was awesome.

8. T.J. McConnell wins it in Orlando

It’s hard to be snubbed for a rising stars game, but that’s what happened with T.J. McConnell. McConnell has more win shares than any guard from the 2015 draft class. He’s outperformed all of them, and he wasn’t even drafted. It helps that McConnell has played more games and minutes than most of them, but he’s really turned the corner this season. It’s unclear what his long-term role on the 76ers will be, but for right now, without Ben Simmons playing, he’s been playing above average as lead guard. McConnell’s second game winner of the season wasn’t as exciting as his first, but it’s remarkable he won two games for the 76ers in the past six weeks.

7. Embiid dunks in Milwaukee

6.Dario Saric’s Best Pass

I want to put this at No. 1 because it was such a beautiful pass. The Spurs will do it. LeBron James and James Harden have a certain flare to their game. Saric has been a treat in the open court for most of this season. It takes time to develop the necessary chemistry and trust with your teammates, but Saric has a knack for the flashy pass. After seeing Saric make this pass against the Kings I immediately watched a Jason Williams highlight tape. Dunks and blocks are great, but there’s something mystical about a beautiful pass, even if it doesn’t register as an assist.

5. Joel Embiid dunks on Nene

Embiid hasn’t played a game since this dunk, but wow. Embiid opened a nationally televised game dunking all over Nene.

4. Dario blocks the Raptors

The thing about Dario is he’s a winner. He makes winning plays often. Just like he did in the Olympics against Pau Gasol, he seems to rise above in bigger moments. The Raptors win might have been Philly’s most impressive win this season, because the 76ers held one of the league’s best offenses to their second worst offensive performance on the season. Saric will never been confused with an all-NBA defender, but he acted like one during this possession against Toronto.

3. Joel Embiid ends Cody Zeller

This list could have just been 10 Embiid highlights, but luckily for Philadelphia fans other incredible plays took place during the first half of the season. Embiid chased down Cody Zeller for this emphatic block. Embiid had so many highlight blocks but I feel like this was his best block of the season.

2. Robert Covington Game Winners

Robert Covington heard lots of boos this year. It happened early in the season. I remember a game against Miami my friend Ryan Wellman actively rooted for him to miss because he knew fans would boo (Ryan once told our friend he was Chipper Jones fan just to upset him… he’s not much of a Philadelphia sports fan). The second Covington made the game-winner against Minnesota on Jan. 3 I let Ryan know Covington was the real deal. And he also made another one against Portland.

1. T.J. McConnell stuns the Knicks

The win over New York ranks as the most improbable of this first half considering the Knicks had a 10 points lead with 2:30 minutes left. Embiid did his thing. Covington hit a three. And McConnell hit the buzzer beater.

The End of Jahlil Okafor

Rarely are top-three picks traded two seasons into a career. It just doesn’t happen. Jahlil Okafor will be traded today or tomorrow or some day soon it appears. The likely destination seems to be New Orleans, and the return doesn’t fit Okafor’s value just 18 months ago. But lots of things changed over that time period. And that’s where the 76ers find themselves. Okafor and Michael Carter-Williams were the only first-round rookies Sam Hinkie drafted who actually played their rookie seasons, and they are both gone just like the guy who drafted them.

Fans won’t remember Okafor too kindly, and it’s not his fault. The situation should have been avoided if the Lakers just drafted Okafor second overall. But the Golden State Warriors winning the title playing small ball really impacted the NBA landscape, forcing teams to abandon back-to-the-basket big guys who couldn’t do much else. Timing is everything, and Okafor appears a few years late to make the type of impact needed from such a high draft pick. It’s silly to throw away the idea that Okafor will not or cannot be a vital piece to a championship contender. Okafor has some serious offensive skill, and most big men are lousy defenders at a young age. It’s concerning Okafor still struggles mightily at that end, sometimes looking disinterested, but he usually brings it on offense, and he’s handled his benching with class. He’s grown up a great deal since his rookie season’s debacle (speeding ticket and fight outside a Boston nightclub), and that has to be worth something.

Okafor did not choose Philadelphia. He wasn’t a free agent. He provided some necessary excitement last season on the offensive end, and even if it didn’t translate directly into wins, he had a first-team All-Rookie type season. Drafting Okafor never made sense. Playing Okafor and Nerlens Noel together never mad sense. Last year’s 10-win team was the worst 76er team in a very long time, and arguably ever. Okafor’s legacy in Philadelphia won’t be much of anything. People will scoff at his time here, but it’s really not his fault. Sure, he could have played better, but here’s a guy whose best skills are nearly outdated, and he had not one or two but three players (Noel, Joel Embiid and Richaun Holmes) who seemingly fit better in today’s NBA. He was set up to fail, and now Philadelphia will be lucky to get a lottery-protected 2018 pick from the Pelicans.

Photo credit to USA Today’s Bill Streicher

Embiid wasn’t snubbed but he’s still an all-star

Last night TNT announced the Eastern Conference coaches went with Paul Millsap instead of Embiid. It’s not the biggest surprise Embiid didn’t make it. Many people speculated Embiid would be left off the roster for two reasons: games missed and minutes played. It’s been written by people way smarter than me as to why Embiid deserves an all-star nod. He’s been one of the five most entertaining players the first half of the season. His existence propelled Philadelphia’s come-from-behind victory last Friday night against Portland. He didn’t play down the stretch for precautionary reasons, but that didn’t matter. Robert Covington made that go-ahead 3-pointer because Embiid wanted him to make it. That sounds stupid, and it most definitely is stupid, but what I mean by that is Embiid playing has given confidence to every single player on the team. Philadelphia never feels like they’re behind. Over the past three years, the 76ers entered every game feeling confident. They’re professional athletes. They trust their abilities, no matter the spread or the opponent. It’s one thing to feel confident but Philadelphia actually now is confident. It’s an action. It’s something that’s done every time Embiid steps on the floor. It’s easy to point to Ersan Ilyasova who has been money this month. He’s a reason why they’ve been successful. But Embiid is the reason.


Credit to Matt Slocum

The term superstar gets thrown around as much as a football at recess. The minute a player does a number of jaw-dropping highlights or puts together a ridiculous stat line, he’s the next superstar. Embiid’s first career basket was beautiful. It happened with 8:17 remaining in the first quarter. He caught the ball at the top of the key and ball faked. Embiid dribbled twice to his right and spun.  He gathered himself and swooshed a 16-footer, slightly fading away. The next possession he blocked Russell Westbrook. Embiid arrived.

Calling Embiid a superstar 30 games into his career seems premature. Embiid hasn’t play a back-to-back game. He hasn’t played more than 30 minutes in a game. Embiid flashed his brilliance early in the opening game, and little by little, he expanded his ability. Early in the season the 76ers lost a close game to Orlando, primarily because Embiid turned the ball over with six seconds left in a tied game. The moment escaped Embiid that November night. Nine days after Embiid blew the Orlando game, Philly won its first game of the season. Embiid missed 12 of his 18 attempts. He committed five turnovers. Embiid scored 25 points that night, missing only two of his 14 free throw attempts. With four minutes left in the fourth, his three-pointer gave Philadelphia the lead. The 76ers amazingly gave up a five-point lead in the final 25 seconds, as Indiana forced overtime. But Embiid made five of six free throws in the final two minutes of regulation and overtime.

Philadelphia won their last two games without Embiid playing. That’s further proof of his impact. TJ McConnell has been a revelation at point guard, Ersan lyasova couldn’t miss in the first half Wednesday against the Bucks and Gerald Henderson put up a season-high 20 points in that same win. Nerlens Noel hit the game winning 12-foot jumper as the shot clock nearly expired. Noel hitting the shot is a credit to hours and hours of hard work, and it should be a reason why Bryan Colangelo has to do everything in his power to keep him instead of Jahlil Okafor. But Embiid, even if he wasn’t with the team physically, has provided a level of confidence in his teammates that’s nearly impossible to describe. Henderson has been a pro for years now. He doesn’t need Embiid to make the big-time shot down the stretch against Milwaukee. But Henderson cannot do it himself, nor can Ilyasova. Embiid changed the culture of Philadelphia. Not veterans, not a general manager change, not loud, exuberant crowds. It’s Embiid. Embiid did it by himself. And even though he didn’t make the game, he’s still an all-star.