It’s almost time for the 2015-16 NBA season and here at Philly Sports Network, we are going to preview this year’s Sixers team. What to expect, a breakdown of impact players including their strengths, weaknesses and roles within the team for the upcoming season. We’ll also take a look at who’s going to be on the roster, who will be a developmental project and some under the radar players you should keep an eye on. We’ll also examine if this year’s team is ready to put the Hinkie plan in place or if we’re still a year or two away.
The 76ers this year have 2 of the 3 core pieces in place in Nerlen’s Noel and sensational rookie Jahlil Okafor. The missing piece could well be Joel Embiid who is expected to miss the full season due to the fractures in his foot not healing properly. But how will that impact this years lineup?
So let’s start examining the core piece to the 76ers future and the impact he will have. That person is no other than Jahlil Okafor. The number 3 overall pick in this years draft was considered the top pick all season long and may have the Minnesota Timberwolves (drafted Karl Anthony-Towns-Kentucky) and Los Angeles Lakers (drafted DeAngelo Russell-Ohio State) regretting not getting the former Duke standout.
Okafor as he looks to be a future star in the NBA and already possesses the frame at a young age of 19 at 6’11, 275 lbs. He is very physical and will be able to hold his own down in the block with the rest of the NBA bigs whilst presenting matchup problems for smaller, under-sized Centers and Power Forwards across the league.
Okafor is arguably the most polished of the NBA big’s coming out this year and has the most talent. His soft hands and touch around the rim make him a formidable talent around the rim. He positions himself well to get offensive rebounds, put backs and tip in’s but has struggled when rebounding in the Sixers opening pre-season games.
The Duke product has a decent mid range game and pull up jumper. This area will need improvement but most bigs coming out of college will get practice time with coaches to help develop and round out their games.
Okafor shot 66% at Duke which is an impressive number for the type of competition being faced in the ACC with teams like UNC, Wake Forest, Virginia, Syracuse, Pitt, Notre Dame, Louisville, and Miami. Some of “Big Jah”‘s concentration for improvement will be his free throw shooting. He shot 51% on the season in his freshman year at Duke and needs to get into the mid 60 range to take his game to the next level of stardom. His other minor setback is his on the ball Defense. Sometime’s his footwork seems sluggish, allowing the player he’s guarding to get the first step on him when driving to the rim.
Okafor isn’t known as a above the rim player like a Nerlens Noel type, but gets his rebounds off of positioning. He averaged 1.4 blocks per game in college and had 54 in 38 games played. While that number is impressive, it will go down in the NBA because the competition will be bigger, faster and possess better shot selection. Okafor’s a smart kid with a good work ethic so I do see him developing his game to the next level and fixing some of the flaws that all college players come in with coming into the league.
Moving to Power Forward. This is where we meet Nerlens Noel. After a long and dreadful team season last year, “the rookie who wasn’t a rookie” was one of the bright spots. The Will Smith flat top speaks Philadelphia to the core and his amazing athletic ability makes the city proud. Coming off missing a full NBA Season for all intensive purposes this was Noel’s rookie/debut season.
The 21 year old showed the league he is an above the rim player especially on the defensive side of the ball and didn’t lose a beat from college where he dominated at Kentucky. Noel averaged 1.9 blocks per game and rapidly became one of the games most elite shot blockers. He has the ability to alter shots coming into the lane, a stat that doesn’t translate or reflect in the stat line, but affects the outcome of a game. He also averaged 8.1 rebounds per game using all of his 6’11, 228 lbs frame and freak athletic ability.
The flaw against Noel is his offensive game. Whilst a much more complete package in comparison to Okafor, he averaged a shade under 10 ppg at 9.9..shooting 46% on the season. A stat which needs to improve if the Sixers are to improve on last year. Noel is very skinny and could use some more build to his frame so he doesn’t get pushed around in the paint. He usually recovers with his length and phenomenal athletic ability. Noel reminds me of a Tyson Chandler type and being only 21 years of age and has tremendous upside.
I want to cover a player we likely won’t see for the 2015-16 season but who is an important piece moving forward to the core of the 76ers and that’s Joel Embiid. Embiid was taken #3 overall by the 76ers in the 2014 NBA draft. In the day’s leading up to the draft it was discovered that Embiid fractured his foot and was expected to be a number one pick until the news broke. Ultimately Andrew Wiggins went #1 to the Wolves and Jabari Parker went #2 to the Milwaukee Bucks leaving Embiid to fall to the Sixers at #3 overall.
Embiid was a standout at Kansas due to his soft hands around the rim, dominating size, blocking ability, elite post moves and a great hook shot. He has even seen comparisons to Hakeem Olajuwon for his low post play and touch with the ball around the rim. Coming out of college, it’s arguable that he was more polished and well rounded than Okafor, Noel, Anthony-Towns, Wiggins, Parker, and Russell.. a few of the top lottery picks in recent years.
His upside is tremendous but the scary part is his injury history. It’s going to be 2 years out before we hope to see him in game action. The most we know of Embiid as a 76er is his choice to run after pop culture stars Rihanna and Kim Kardashian on twitter. We hold our breath in Philly with our most recent big man acquisition who never even suited up in a Sixers uniform in Andrew Bynum. Or even worse, we don’t want to have a Greg Oden situation where he is a shell of his former self and we never get to see his true potential. With his talent and upside when he gets his health right will be a force to be reckoned with. Cross your fingers on this one.
As we move to Small Forward the talent level drops off a bit. The projected starter is Robert Covington, now in his third year. We won’t go into old news and will look forward but Covington actually proved to be a formidable young talent who could sink the open three. Covington averaged 13.5 ppg on a bad 76ers team on 39% shooting so take that for what it’s worth. Points have got to come from somewhere and last season Covington was willing to provide that need even with a horrific shooting percentage. This will be a position of need in the future.
Shooting guard is an interesting position. The Sixers acquired Nik Stauskas from Sacramento, a 6’6 205 lbs. The SG from Michigan and former #8 overall pick didn’t hit expectations in his one season with the Kings, becoming a salary dump so they could pay some big name players in the future like DeMarcus Cousins, Rudy Gay, Ben McLemore and Rajon Rondo. “Sauce” was known as a solid 3 point threat who could hit the clutch 3 and possessed a solid mid range game. Stauskas has good slashing ability and finishing technique. Having proved himself as a role player, he wasn’t given much of an opportunity in Sacramento so hopefully there impatience will lead to a diamond in the rough for the Sixers in a low risk high reward situation. I see Dan Marjle upside with Stauskas to Jimmer Fredette downside. Let’s hope for the latter.
Now for the Point guard position. This is where we will have our biggest battle, deciding the floor general of this team. We have Kendall Marshall a 4th year veteran journeyman (Spent time in his young career with Phoenix, Los Angeles Lakers, and Milwaukee Bucks), Tony Wroten (Averaged 16.9 on 40% shooting), and Isaiah Canaan (9.2 ppg on 37% shooting).
Marshall is a well traveled veteran, career backup who provides great on the ball defense and good game managing skills. His downfall is that he isn’t much of an offensive threat and doesn’t drive to the rim well, allowing other players with easier opportunities.
Next is Tony Wroten. Wroten put up big numbers last year but again on a bad 76ers team with a low shooting percentage. Some people are expecting big things from a playr who is so passionate about the city on social media whilst others remain sceptical..the potential is there, it’s just a case of whether Brown can harness it.
Finally Isaiah Canaan, who as a reserve put up 9 ppg and was a decent player coming off the bench who played like an average defender. He possesses low shooting percentage and not a lot of upside. I think the opening night starter should be Tony Wroten backed by Kendall Marshall. Also for a defensive stop at the end of a close game Marshall should be the guy with the game on the line. This will be another position of need in the future whether free agency or the draft. With the Sixers, likely the draft. We miss you MCW.
Key players coming off the bench.
Carl Landry– A solid, reliable veteran. Could fill in for an injured player, or when he is hot keep in the starting lineup. He is naturally a team leader who sets the example for his teammates and always plays hard but could be used as a trade chip around the deadline for those oh so famous draft picks we come to love in Philly.
Kendall Marshall– Assuming he isn’t named the starter, Marshall brings more veteran presence off the bench. A Leader like Landry who could manage the game and give direction to younger players. Marshall is dangerous in the paint if left untouched and is also a consistent defender.
Hollis Thompson– Thompson is a solid small forward backup who could really contribute off the bench and provide an offensive spark. He posses good size and ability and could well develop into a starter if Covington struggles.
Over Sea’s talent (Our farm system)
Our prized oversea project Dario Saric the 6’10 Croatian will be playing for the Anadola Efes, a Turkish team that plays in the top oversea’s league, the Euroleague. Last year he was named Euroleague MVP for November averaging 15.5 ppg, 7.7 rpg and 56.1 fg% . Impressive numbers from the #12 pick acquired from Orlando. This is our prized up and coming talent.
Jordan McRae The 58th overall pick acquired from the Spurs plays in Australia and leads the league in scoring at 22.7 ppg. He is shooting 36.1 from behind the arc, that number needs to go up a few percentage points to be effective in the NBA. His assists are very low at 2.6 and his turnovers are high at 2.4 per game. He is shooting 48.4 on the floor which is impressive. Some work still needed.
Vasilije Micic 51st overall pick in 2014 is playing for the FC Bayern Munich team in the Euroleague. He was injured last year with an elbow injury but the 6’6 guard averaged 7.5 ppg, 3.2 assists and 1.5 rpg in 18 minutes of play.
Arsalan Kazemi 2013 draft pick by the Wizards traded to the 76ers is playing for the Congqing Fly Dragon’s of the Chinese Basketball Association. He averaged 14.1 ppg, 14.3 rpg and 3.8 apg against lower level competition.
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