What if the Sixers never drafted Joel Embiid?


The drafting of Joel Embiid in 2014 is what most people view as the most important piece to the 76ers rebuild. Literally nicknamed “The Process”, Embiid completely turned a dying franchise around. He’s now a 3x All-Star, a 2x All-NBA Second Team member, and a 2x All-NBA Defensive Second Team member.  Without him, it’s unlikely the Sixers ever even make it out of the first round.

So, what if the selection never happened? What if, instead of Sam Hinkie and the Sixers front office taking a stab on an injured center from Kansas, they opted to write a different name on the draft card? 

In the third installment of our “What if?” series, we look at just how bad things may have turned out if Embiid never landed in Philadelphia. 

*We’re assuming the Sixers didn’t want Embiid, NOT that he was drafted prior to the team’s pick*

Aaron Gordon at #3 Overall

The Sixers owned the third overall pick in the 2014 NBA draft. With the top two teams being pretty set on who their guys were (Andrew Wiggins to the Cavs, Jabari Parker to the Bucks), the 76ers would have an honest decision to make when the draft clock started ticking on them.

Outside of “JoJo”, the next three names on the board were Aaron Gordon, Dante Exum, and Marcus Smart. All three were extremely highly rated coming into the draft. While Hinkie did have a special love for foreign-based players, he also really liked drafting bigs early in his tenure as GM. 

In our timeline, Hinkie still ultimately ends up adding to the front court, this time bringing in power forward Aaron Gordon. With both Nerlnes Noel and Gordon owning freakish amounts of athleticism, it wouldn’t have been crazy to think that the Process was already off to a fairly successful start.

Who Becomes the Franchise Star?

Gordon proved to be super raw coming out of college, less developed as a scorer than most scouts expected. In real life, Gordon struggled to stay healthy his rookie season and averaged just 5.2 points per game when he did play. Considering the absurd lack of a supporting cast he would have experienced in Philly, it’s reasonable to assume this same situation would have happened.

This means the Sixers still would have opted to draft Jahlil Oakfor in 2015, creating an uber-crowded front court the following year. Noel, Gordon, and Okafor, all top picks in recent years, all with their own claims for being the team’s franchise cornerstone moving forward.

This is where things really start to veer down a different path. As we all know, Noel and Okafor didn’t last in Philly, with Hinkie opting to trade away both in order to focus on Embiid. In our timeline, with Gordon struggling early on and Okafor looking like a bust, Noel is the one who gets to be the franchise “star”.

Just two years into his tenure as a Sixer, Aaron Gordon would be packing his bags, leaving the keys to the franchise with Nerlens Noel of all people.

Further Mediocrity

If you read my piece on Noel and what he’s up to now (check that out: here), you’ll know that he hasn’t necessarily lived up to those first round expectations. Even if the 76ers drafted Ben Simmons in 2017, it’s hard to imagine much success would have followed. Noel was simply just never good enough to carry a team the way Embiid has.

Hinkie still made some really good roster moves following the 2014 draft, and a core of Simmons-Dario-RoCo-Noel could still easily make the playoffs. The issues would only start arising when it came to actually competing in said playoffs. In a league driven by star-power, Ben Simmons on his own just wouldn’t cut it.

This could have led to some serious spending in the free agent market, or some super aggressive trading in an attempt to pair up talent with Simmons. In sports, acting out of desperation usually doesn’t end up working out long term..


Ultimately, the Sixers should be extremely grateful that they landed with Embiid. If teams could re-do the 2014 draft, he wouldn’t have even made it past #1. 

Instead of messing around with the likes of Aaron Gordon or Nerlens Noel, the 76ers were blessed with having a franchise superstar who loves the city. Not only has Embiid been phenomenal on the court, but he’s been picture perfect off the court, embodying what it means to be a “star”.

Just recently, Embiid donated $500k of his own personal money to help pay for Wells Fargo Arena-related employees. These are the types of things a GM dreams about when drafting a player in the top three.

While Embiid has yet to “complete” the Process by bringing a championship to Philly, his presence no doubt makes that idea a lot more fathomable.

Check out some of the other entries in our “What if?” series:

What if the Sixers drafted Kristaps Porzingis?: https://phillysportsnetwork.com/2020/04/05/what-if-the-sixers-drafted-kristaps-porzingis/

What if the Sixers never traded up for Markelle Fultz?: https://phillysportsnetwork.com/2020/04/04/what-if-the-sixers-never-traded-up-for-markelle-fultz/

Mandatory Credit – © Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports