Competitive Sixers now face the ultimate ‘Process’ Conundrum

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The Sixers are in unfamiliar territories. They’re winning games. While they’re 11-25 on the season, Philadelphia has won four of their last five. Through 36 games, they’ve won more than they did all year. The last time the Sixers accomplished such a simple feat was actually from Dec. 29, 2013 through Jan. 6, 2014. That year was also the last time the Sixers had more wins by January 12th than they do this season.

This season, now almost half way through, has proven to be different from the past three. In the past, there was a clear difference in talent between the Sixers and other teams. But now, Philadelphia is playing competitive basketball. Without jinxing anything or trying to sound absurd, the Sixers have been fun to watch. They still have the occasional blowout loss now and again, but for the most part, the Sixers keep games close. Philly has played the Cleveland Cavaliers twice this season, and lost both games by a combined five points.

The Sixers haven’t played competitive basketball since the Jrue Holiday trade. Trading Holiday, a first time all star, in exchange for Nerlens Noel and a first round pick which eventually turned out to be Dario Saric, proved to be the jarring move that unveiled Hinkie’s extreme rebuilding plan. It’s about time they take the next step out of oblivion and abysmal play. The Sixers were the laughing stock of not just the NBA, but of all professional sports; the level of ineptness was discussed in the same sentence as the Cleveland Browns. Fans have endured enough losses, enough trades for second round picks, and enough pleas to trust the process.

And yet, true Sixers fans and believers in the process, should hope to see more losses again this season.

With the way the Sixers have drafted in recent years it has left the team with numerous positions in the air. Philadelphia has their two franchise cornerstones in Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. While Embiid is clearly a center, Simmons’ position remains up in the air. Head coach Brett Brown has said they anticipate using him as a point guard and even if that’s true, the biggest hole is still in the guard position.

Assuming some college freshmen enter the draft, this will be a guard heavy draft lottery. University of Washington’s star point guard Markelle Fultz looks like he’ll be the top pick come June. He’s the prized jewel of this class. The Washington guard is averaging 22 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists per game. Fultz is the most polished guard to enter the draft since Kyrie Irving in 2011. Irving was not coincidentally the last true point guard to be the first overall pick.

While Fultz is the top prospect, there are plenty other top tier point guards that other teams would be lucky to have as consolation prizes including Lonzo Ball (UCLA), Dennis Smith Jr. (NC St.), De’Aaron Fox (Kentucky), and Frank Ntilikina (France). There hasn’t been a draft class of point guards like this in over a decade. Of these guards, Fultz is clearly the best, followed by Ball and Smith Jr, with Fox realistically being fourth in line, whereas Ntilikina is the most unknown. Standing at 6 foot 5 inches, with an almost 7 foot wingspan, he’ll be drafted at only eighteen years old so expect him to continue growing. His ascension into greatness could mimic the path of Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Fultz is a bonafide star and will change a franchise’s path for the next decade. Putting him with Embiid and Simmons would immediately put them in playoff contention starting next year. As a guard who can distribute but also create his own shot, he would pair up perfectly in the backcourt. The three young franchise players could make up one of the best “Big Threes” organically grown since Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. But, baring some Draft Lottery magic, the Sixers will be winning their way out of contention for the first overall pick.

It’s safe to say that the team have moved on from “The Process”, but it still echoes around Wells Fargo on game nights and has created an incredible atmosphere. It’s given players and fans alike a reason to believe and showed the world that even after all the turmoil, the team can and will win competitive games. The question is, has the plug been pulled too soon?

Sixers fans have witnessed such putrid, and there’s finally the light of competitiveness at the end of the tunnel. However, there is a clear star in the waiting that teams should be tanking for. Fultz is the guard that Hinkie was sought after for so long. Now that he’s available, Hinkieism suggests tanking for this year to get that top selection. But, after having a taste of success, can that happen, and would it be right to allow it?

 

Mandatory Credit: Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

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