In this article, Step-Back J takes a look at the Philadelphia 76ers under Sam Hinkie’s stewardship, how they have evolved and what the future may hold.
Another year has passed and the 76ers were back in the lottery. The all-out tank process implemented by Sam Hinkie has generated mix results. The team seems to have a future, good prospects, potential all-stars (looking at you Embiid (proving that he gets healthy), Noel (develops an offensive game) and Okafor (just stay on course)) and probably a top pick this upcoming season (Ben Simmons, Kris Dunn, Jaylen Brown). However when is the future? 2-3 years from now? 5-6?
Hired in May 2013, Hinkie’s first moves were made during the 2013 NBA draft. Trading away Jrue Holiday for the pick used on Nerlens Noel, and drafting Michael Carter-Williams (MCW) can be viewed as solid moves. Holiday, despite being an All-Star that season and still young, has not been able to stay healthy since, playing 74 games in 2 seasons.
MCW would go on to win ROY due to a very weak showing by other rookies in his draft class and usage inflated stats (16.7 ppg/6.2rpg /6.3 apg), nonetheless putting him in a pretty exclusive club (only 2 other players sustained averages of 16, 6 and 6 during rookie season: Oscar Robertson and Magic Johnson). He would be traded the following season to the Milwaukee Bucks for a protected 1st round pick by the Lakers (that would not be conveyed that season) in what was viewed as a clear tanking move. However let’s be honest: in today’s NBA a point guard with no reliable jump shot (career 40% shooter from the field and 25% from 3 point range) doesn’t figure to be much of a contributor. He can still defend and is pretty big for a point guard, which will likely be well utilized by Jason Kidd (if there is reason for hope for MCW is being coached by a ex-player like Kidd).
Noel, despite missing his first year, was a pleasant surprise in his first year of play. 9.9ppg, 8.1 rpg, 1.8 spg and 1.9 bpg are pretty solid numbers for a rookie that did not play for a year. Although he had a pretty decent defensive season, offense was an issue, as his inability to consistently hit mid-range and 3’s figure to be a spacing nightmare if he is used at the 4. However, according to philly.com Keith Pompey, he has been working on his jumpshot this summer with his manager, Chris Driscoll, and former Boston Celtics coach John Carroll at a rate of 500 jumpers per day. As the worst shooter of their “BIG 3” (Okafor, Embiid and Noel) this figures to be extremely important for Noel to solidify a starting spot and add the needed spacing.
Lets not forget the adding of Brett Brown. He is probably the individual that deserves the least amount of blame. He has been handed a roster full of D-league/end of bench type of players and still has avoided the number 1 lottery pick. Now seriously, one thing you can’t say about the 76ers is that they don’t play hard, despite the results not being the best. So far, the jury is still out on this head coach until he is given a decent roster to compete.
This off-season it was all expected to go according to plan. Minnesota would take one of the two big prized men (Towns and Okafor) and Los Angeles would get the one left. Philadelphia would draft young point guard, D’Angelo Russel and start resembling an NBA team with star potential at 3 positions (point, power forward and center). Minnesota did their part. Los Angeles decided to act smart and take Russell with the 2nd pick, leaving Philly with a choice to make: Draft the best available player (Okafor) or draft a player that fits a need (a Mudiay, Winslow or Stanley Johnson). Hinkie went with the best available talent in Okafor and that cannot be blamed. Most people were confused by drafting three franchise big men in three straight drafts, as it does not seem to make much sense unless a trade is coming. However, the Gods decided to throw him a blessing, and a crippling blow by hitting Joel Embiid again, who is set to miss his 2nd straight season after being taken 3rd overall in the 2014 NBA draft. (just a little point here that I would like you to imagine: Imagine Embiid as the defensive force he’s projected to be. Now imagine the Cavaliers taking Embiid number 1, which isn’t that much of a reach, in terms of potential he was regarded the one with the highest ceiling. Now put Lebron + Kyrie + Embiid. That’s pretty scary right? Wiggins slips to the Bucks and Parker in Philly). It is sad indeed, but, assuming it’s not career ending, it will give time to Hinkie to see if he can deploy a Noel and Okafor together.
Now lets go to the pick itself. Okafor was considered by his fellow rookies to be the one with some of the highest upside and most ready to instantly contribute. Easy to see why: excellent footwork, NBA ready body and post skills that surpass most of his NBA peers. He seems primed to be a star in this league, multiple all-stars and 20-10 seasons, or so most analysts believe. He’s definitely a keeper if he develops as expected. In the Summer League he averaged a solid 15.8 points and 8.4 rebounds, despite committing 4.6 turnovers per game. Defense is also an aspect to be concerned, as many considered he did not show enough flashes to be considered even an average defender, which is a pretty big deal for a center (these deficiencies may be compensated if either Noel or Embiid develops into to a defensive force). He justified the hype surrounding and, provided that he can keep those turnovers low, he should be a lock to win Rookie of the Year.
As expected this season no big names were signed by the 76ers in free agency in what was a very calm off-season (only with what seems a ridiculously good trade with Sacramento: Getting Stauskas, Landry, Thompson, future top 10 protected 1st round pick (2018 or later) and right to swap 1st round picks in 2016 and 2017 for 2nd round picks currently in Europe and a future second round pick) since no star would like to join a rebuild as aggressive as this one. But beware of the 76ers in the next ones: a flood of cap space and with few deals on the books don’t be surprised to see a splash.
What the Future Holds:
Indeed the future seems bright. Three players whose ultimate ceiling could be one of franchise players is pretty good. An insane amount of cap space also calls for attention. Guaranteed possible top pick next draft and a slum of other 1st and 2nd rounders are intriguing for both player potential and trade potential.
However Philadelphia is not used to this much losing. The rebuild is taking more time than usual and the “trusting the process” moto is starting to fade. It still is not at a point of concern for the front office, but seeing some results this season or the next should be considered a priority with the risk of losing the fan base. With another season under his legs and an NBA ready game, respectively, Noel and Okafor could, provided they can work together, give the 76ers a pretty good frontcourt and wins should follow.
As 76ers legend Julius Erving put it in July on Sirius XM, “the team had discussed a seven year timetable to be good, to be formidable, to be a contender”. This would happen in the 2018-2019 season where the frontcourt logjam should already be solved and it is not far-fetched to imagine the Sixer’s contending that season, provided Okafor, Embiid and/or Noel develop to their ultimate potential.
By: Step-Back J
Edited By: Mac Crowe, @Mac_Truck17