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.

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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.

Are playoffs possible?


In reality the playoffs are possible, especially since Philadelphia presently sits 5.5 games out of the eight seed. But it’s highly unlikely Philadelphia makes the playoffs this season. Last night’s win against Toronto, however, feels like a validation for the Philadelphia 76ers. The Raptors played their second game in as many nights, but Kyle Lowry took the first one off. The Raptors trail only the Warriors in offense this season, but Philadelphia held them to 89 points (which was only the second time they didn’t reach 90 points in a game this season). Yesterday I wrote the potential of Ben Simmons coming back next Friday, and of course later in the day ESPN’s Chris Haynes reported Simmons could come back soon after the All-Star Break, but there’s still no guarantee he’d play this season. That’s not the news 76er fans wanted to hear, but at least there’s a clearer indicator of when Simmons might be back. It’s not like the 76ers need him right now, anyway. The last time Philadelphia won six out of eight games was November 2012. But unlike that team that crumpled in Doug Collins final season, this team’s trending up, playing their best ball of the season with the only signs of slowing down happening with Joel Embiid off the court.

If Embiid misses the game, opponents have a really solid chance to win. If when Embiid leaves the game, and it’s a really close game, opponents have a really solid chance to win. screen-shot-2017-01-19-at-8-04-15-am

Philadelphia has several back-to-backs coming up, and that doesn’t bound too well for their playoff chances. It’d be a shame if Philly didn’t make the playoffs solely because of Embiid’s restrictions, but it’s completely acceptable for Embiid to continue to miss games to higher his chance of staying healthy. He’s been one of the best players in the NBA in January. It’s staggering how he’s impacted Philly’s defense. Check out this graphic (credit to reddit user: tomx312):

Screen Shot 2017-01-18 at 9.46.35 PM.png

He challenged DeMar DeRozan several times in the first half, and DeRozan struggled to get going. It wasn’t until the second half that DeRozan had success and unsurprisingly it was mostly against Philadelphia defenders not named Embiid. Embiid also switched on Lowry a few times, and the 44 percent 3-point shooter couldn’t make it over Embiid’s stretch-out arms and then Embiid’s block on Lowry basically sealed the game with 20 seconds remaining. (Quick shout out to Robert Covington who has been tremendous on defense all season for blocking Lowry’s first attempt on that same possession).

An underrated aspect of judging a player is their desire. It’s nearly impossible to qualify, because other factors, namely money and fame, enter the view once a player reaches the professional level. Dario Saric was labeled a below-average defender. He doesn’t have the quickness to defend small forwards in the NBA, and that’s an entirely fair assessment. But what Saric did on one possession created this playoff-type atmosphere in the building that probably shocked many people considering how the player generated the buzz. Nobody would be surprised if Saric had hit back-to-back threes followed by a highlight behind the back pass. But he stuffed two players at the rim. These weren’t ordinary blocks. Saric first met Norman Powell’s incredible force just in the nick of time. And then Saric perfectly timed Jared Sullinger’s attempt, cause the ball to hit off Sullinger. Immediately Nerlens Noel and Gerald Henderson pushed Saric towards the 76er bench, and Saric wore a face comparable to any classic competitor. It was his moment, and he knew it. And Embiid even jumped up from his typical floor position to, for some unknown reason, squeeze Saric’s butt. Even more than Embiid’s fourth quarter dominance, Saric’s defensive stand will be remembered most from this game.

The city has embraced this team wholeheartedly. Now it could stem from the notion that the 76ers were the NBA’s punchline for three straight years, and this team now resembles actual, competent basketball. But for some reason, it appears deeper than that. This team’s actually good right now. They’re extremely confident, and who knows how long that’ll last, but the very best Zach Lowe tweeted this out this morning. And that’s encouraging moving forward. TJ McConnell and Nik Stauskas weren’t supposed to be the starting backcourt in January, but things happen, and for right now, it’s working for Philadelphia.

Ersan Ilyasova deserves so much credit. He’s been a fresh of breath air since Bryan Colangelo traded for him a week into the season. Colangelo deserves all the credit for making that happen, and it’s really changed the direction of this team. Ilyasova might not be here next month, or next year, but his imprint on this season has already been noted: The 76ers are 12-12 when Ilyasova starts.  And 11-7 when Embiid and Ilyasova both start.

It’s not likely the 76ers make the postseason this year, and that’s fine. They’re brought an excitement to this city that didn’t seem possible this time last year. A year ago today Philadelphia had a 5-38 record with little hope. They’re now 6-2 this month. 

 

 

The Return of Ben Simmons: It might be next week


It’s unclear when Ben Simmons will return. Yesterday the league announced Philly’s game against Houston next Friday night will be changed to 8 p.m. on ESPN. Moments later Simmons posted this on Instagram: Screen Shot 2017-01-18 at 8.15.35 AM.png

He’s coming soon, but could this mean Simmons will make his debut on national television as originally scheduled in October?

Brett Brown prematurely told reporters Simmons would be back sometime in January. He clarified, claiming his excitement for Simmons to return and he didn’t know when exactly Simmons would be back. Unlike Nerlens Noel and Joel Embiid in the past, Simmons will definitely play this season. It’s a matter of time, of course, he’s already practiced 5-on-0, and who knows what he’s done since then. It’s happening. And even though Philly’s playing their best basketball in half a decade, it’s OK if they take a step back to welcome the top pick of 2016.

With Jerryd Bayless out for the season, TJ McConnell really stepped up as point guard. His numbers since being the de facto starting point guard have been phenomenal. Many speculated McConnell was like any other undrafted player Sam Hinkie signed solely to fill out a roster, but he’s been super impressive for even a late first-round pick let alone an undrafted guy. The best thing about McConnell is he’ll bring it no matter his situation, or the team situation. He loves forcing turnovers immediately after the 76ers score. He’s a terrible shooter, so maybe he and Simmons won’t be able to play together right away, but he’ll serve as a solid back-up point guard.

Simmons, as Brown said before, will play point guard. I’m sure it won’t be exclusive. He’ll log sometime at the wing on offense. But he’s the best player on the team with the ball in his hands, and he should be used as such. It’s hard to tell what Brown will do with the defense, however. Things changed once Ersan Ilyasova arrived. Before it appeared the starting line-up would be Bayless, Gerald Henderson, Robert Covington, Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. But Ilyasova makes that more difficult to access, and what guard compliments Simmons best with Bayless out?  I don’t even want to speculate on what Brown will do. It’s a tough challenge, especially with Dario Saric needing minutes at forward, too. But that’ll be figured out, and even though Simmons coming back won’t automatically solve the logjam at center, it’ll be nice to watch the top pick play basketball, especially with Embiid.

It’s easy to say Philly made the right decision drafting Simmons over Brandon Ingram. Ingram hasn’t impressed, but he’s also younger than Simmons. It’s also easy to forget about Simmons because of Embiid and this suddenly winning team. But he’s there. He averaged 19.2 points, 11.8 rebounds and 4.8 assists per game in college which, according to Sports-Reference, no other player has done since at least 1992. His time might have disappointed, and at times Simmons might not have fit the bill as this superstar, but he impressed throughout his lone season at LSU. He’s coming back soon. And that’s an exciting thing for Philadelphia fans.