The Philadelphia Sixers season can be summed up with the often-used phrase “two steps forward, one step back.” After a majority of the season has been played, the Sixers have shown significant growth in comparison to past years. They finally look like a legitimate NBA caliber team. Philadelphia’s progress has even developed over the length of the season. But, the team’s evolution has been suspended and there has been certain regression.
The Sixers’ improvements over the course of the season can be demonstrated through their performance. They are currently 22-38 with a .367 win percentage. Philadelphia is on pace to win 30 games. The Sixers have not won more than 19 games since the 2012-2013 season. Philadelphia finished the month of January with a record of 10-5. They haven’t won double digits games in a single month since January of 2012 when they had 13.
One of the brightest positives so far this season has been the stardom of Joel Embiid. The hype surrounding Embiid was astonishing. This 22-year old from Cameroon proved to be the real deal. He instantly was a rim-protector with a defensive prowess. On the other side of the ball, Embiid showed a wide variety of moves to get to the basket. Embiid’s jump shot was also a pleasant surprise having shot 36.7% from three point range. The rookie is averaging 20.2 points and 7.8 rebounds a game.
Joel Embiid’s social media presence has also proved to be superb. Between the different Instagram posts and tweets, he became a star and this city fell in love with him. Embiid even went to social media to promote his failed all-star bid campaign. His teammates, and even rapper Meek Mill tweeted on behalf of the rookie.
But that “one step back” occurred with the torn meniscus he suffered last month. Embiid’s injury is well documented. Every time he fell or slipped the whole city would collectively gasp and hold their breath. When he’d dive into the second row to save the loose ball, every fan would close their eyes hoping and praying that he’d get back up and rejoin the team. But he’s not anymore.
Joel Embiid has been shut down for the rest of the season. Every Sixers fans’ worst nightmare has come true. Embiid’s rookie season has been cut short due to injury, again. He missed his first two seasons with the team recovering from a broken foot, and now another serious injury. He’s played in 31 games out of a potential 246 (or three whole seasons), that’s 12%. Embiid’s time on the court has been limited to say the least, but the potential superstardom he’s shown has been remarkable. He has looked like a top five center already. But it seems like the Greg Oden comparison are inevitably coming and every game he misses they’ll get louder and louder.
The Sixers also got very lucky last year when they won the NBA Draft Lottery and were awarded with the first overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft. They were able to select point forward Ben Simmons. Simmons is 6’10” but plays like a 6’4” point guard. He has the passing abilities of guard like T.J. McConnell with the size of Dario Saric. He will unquestionably make a positive impact on this team going forward. But, Simmons broke his foot a month before the season began. He was expected to miss a couple months.
Similarly to his rookie counterpart, Ben Simmons will miss the rest of the season. While there are plenty of positives that come out of him sitting out, they feel all secondary to the pain and sadness that are accompanied by the knowledge of another injured rookie who’s ailment was handled incorrectly. Of the five Sixers’ first round picks of the last four years – Nerlens Noel, Embiid, Saric, Jahlil Okafor, and Simmons – only Okafor played the season after he was drafted.
The Sixers biggest problem of The Process has been their dumbfounded and inexplicable accumulation of young centers. The team had Embiid – a clear star, Noel – a defensive specialist, Okafor – a skilled scorer and Richaun Holmes – a second year energizer. Philadelphia seemed to identify a smart course of action when they had Embiid as the starter with Noel coming in off the bench. Okafor and Holmes were getting few minutes if any. Noel was finally happy in his role even though he was coming off the bench.
The obvious next step was to trade Okafor to free up the logjam at the trade deadline. There were rumors of first round picks in the mix. Getting any first round pick would be worth giving up Okafor. He’s a good offensive player but doesn’t fit in with this team. The question seemed to be more of a “where’s he going?” instead of “is he’s going?” But General Manager Bryan Colangelo had different plans.
On the trade deadline, the Sixers sent Nerlens Noel to Dallas in exchange for two second round picks, Justin Anderson, and Andrew Bogut. The trade still seems bad. Unless Anderson or one of those picks turns into a valuable contributor, the Sixers probably got the worse end of the deal. The other big unknown is Noel’s impending free agency. He is going to command $17-20 million a season. If the Sixers weren’t willing to give him that or expected him to go elsewhere, trading him was the right thing to do. But they could’ve easily gotten more in return. The end of the deadline seemed off as soon as it happened.
The Sixers have made tremendous progress this season. The strides Embiid, Saric, McConnell and so many other players have made has been incredible to watch. It’s given the city hope again for their basketball team. But of course, when anything positive went well, the front office was able to screw it up somehow. The team’s management has proven to be somewhat inept in how to operate but hopefully their incompetence can be overcome by their luck.