Is This 2018 NBA Team Any Good?: Philadelphia 76ers

by Fox Doucette

Is it time for the Process to finally bear fruit? And if so, how much value is found in ending up as a 7 or 8 seed in the playoffs, getting smacked around by Boston or Cleveland, then relying on all the pieces to gel as the team starts to age into its prime?

It’s a real question for the Sixers, as they project as a 39.5-win team in Vegas, making them the projected 8 seed in the East if everything goes according to Hoyle. Joel Embiid is about to play his 32nd career NBA game in four seasons, Markelle Fultz came over from Boston in exchange for the third pick and some assets, and Ben Simmons is finally out on the floor playing actual meaningful games after missing what was supposed to be his rookie year as the first pick in the 2016 draft.

In other words, a bunch of young dudes who can’t stay healthy and are somehow supposed to take the world by storm. Trust the process, I guess…seriously, this is the biggest collection of red flags and rosy projections started with the tenuous use of the word “if” to come along in quite awhile.

Basketball Reference has the stats. Sports Insights has the over/under. And I’ll have a provolone wit’out:

2016-17 record: 28-54
2018 over/under: 39.5

The Fultz Problem

For the third time in the past decade and a half or so, the first overall pick in the draft will start the season on the bench rather than in the starting lineup.

The last two guys about whom you could say that? Andrea Bargnani and Anthony Bennett.

Uh-oh…did Philly just buy a lemon? After all, the first overall pick is supposed to be the one voted most likely to make the Hall of Fame in the yearbook, and he couldn’t beat out Jerryd Bayless for a starting job.

That janky shot he’s been “working on” in preseason and which may be hiding a busted shoulder can’t help either. Last thing Philly needs is another perimeter shooter who can’t shoot.

This is not a situation like in Boston, where Fultz would undoubtedly have ended up behind Isaiah Thomas or Kyrie Irving depending on how the rest of the offseason went had the Celtics made different decisions on draft night or in free agency. Being the first overall pick and going to the conference No. 1 seed is apples-to-oranges compared to Bargnani and Bennett.

This is a situation where a nine-year NBA journeyman who is a career 41.4 percent shooter from the field and can’t pass the ball is going to be a starting point guard for a lottery team and the anointed first overall pick couldn’t supplant him.

Seriously…is Markelle Fultz a dud?

Yes, He’s Good, But Big Deal If He’s Hurt

Make no mistake. If Joel Embiid didn’t have a massive injury red flag shrouding everything in his career, his performance in those 31 games would’ve been enough to suggest that he’s the greatest Philly center since Moses Malone.

And no, that’s not hyperbole. As a rookie, Embiid averaged 38.9 points per 100 possessions, put up a 102 Defensive Rating, was a force of nature on the defensive glass (a 25,6 Defensive Rebounding Percentage, which is just fantastic especially for a guy his age), and tossed up a 24.1 PER while throwing up a .466/.367/.783 slash line right out of a competent small forward’s stat pack.

But again, this is a fourth-year player who just signed a giant rookie contract extension despite having played in only 31 NBA games.

Is this the new normal for Philly? Because if Embiid’s injuries keep nagging at him, he’s about to become an expensive doorstop on the salary cap.

As Shall It Be, Ben Simmons

I don’t even have stats for Simmons. There are town guards in Skyrim who have healthier bodies than a tall guy who has foot problems before his first game in the league.

Big guys in the NBA don’t easily get over foot trouble. Kevin McHale’s career got cut short after his foot problems in 1987; sure, he held on another five years, but he wasn’t the McHale who did battle with Kurt Rambis in the ’84 Finals or make a consistent sidekick to Larry Bird like the Celtics’ own version of Scottie Pippen.

He is recovering from a Jones fracture. He’s got a point guard’s game in a power forward’s body. And if he gets hurt again, the Sixers are truly screwed.

Oh, and there’s also the fact that NBA 2K18 has Simmons rated the fourth-worst shooter on open 3s in their player ratings, giving him a 56 in that stat. If he’s supposed to experiment with playing guard, that’s not going to mesh well in any offense coach Brett Brown could devise.

THE VERDICT!

Look, I’m straight-up not sold on these guys. I think Fultz has bust written all over him after that horrid shooting in preseason, Embiid and Simmons are going to be constant injury risks, and you can’t tell me that the likes of TJ McConnell and Nik Stauskas are playoff-caliber players. Jahlil Okafor sucks, Nerlens Noel is in a Dallas Mavericks uniform just as he’s starting to evolve into the All-Star caliber player (if he stays healthy…what is it with Philly and injury-prone high picks?) the Sixers hoped he would be…

What I see here is echoes of the complete fucking moron (to steal a line from Rex Tillerson) that Sam Hinkie was during his tenure in Philly, the Donald Trump of NBA executives.

The Sixers aren’t repairing this damage anytime soon. They might make the playoffs if everyone stays healthy.

Everyone will not stay healthy. But “they might make the playoffs”, so what the hell, the pieces are there to hedge my bet and call this Plausible even as I personally think they’ll go 28-54 again.

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