Since the departure of Sam Hinkie in March, the 76ers have by-and-large stayed the course of “The Process.” As Ben Simmons’ debut approaches, it’s time to put the right pieces in place or risk stunting the growth of the 76ers’ two young stars.
After three years of fielding a team of non-NBA talent, the Sixers finally got lucky and won the lottery on April 15. The Philadelphia area rejoiced, knowing that Sixers were finally going to get the superstar they deserved. Fans of Sam Hinkie and The Process, like myself, viewed it as validation for putting our faith in a man with a radical idea and for still believing that Sam Hinkie’s life as 76ers General Manager was cut short. After an excellent summer league performance, Simmons fractured his foot. What a blow to the fan base that waited so long to see The Process come to fruition!
Then, on October 26, after two years of waiting, Joel Embiid hit the floor against the Oklahoma City Thunder and hasn’t looked back since. It became apparent in a very short period of time that Embiid is everything that Sixers fans have wished for and more. Everything about Embiid reflects his star potential, from his hilarious antics on social media to his freakish athleticism, dancer-like footwork, and silky smooth jump shots on the basketball court. Currently, Joel Embiid is the leading candidate for Rookie of the Year, averaging 19.6 points, 7.6 rebounds, and 2.3 blocks per game, while playing only 25 minutes per game. Embiid’s Per 36 minute statistics are astonishing – 28 points, 10.8 rebounds, and 3.3 blocks. Embiid showed Sixers fans a light at the end of the tunnel and an end to the intentional tank.
At some point in the next few weeks, Ben Simmons is likely to make his NBA debut and it’s fair to ask where Bryan Colangelo plans to go from here. To me, it’s clear that now is a time for action and to build a team in the wake of The Process. I’m not proposing undoing all the great things Hinkie did for the franchise or advocating signing aging players to max contracts. I’m simply saying that the time is now to jettison talent that doesn’t fit and put the right pieces in place for the Sixers to succeed now and in the long-term. Here’s what I recommend:
1) Find out what Ben Simmons is going to be
Simmons was the crown jewel of last year’s draft class, but that doesn’t mean he’s a sure thing. For one, what position does Simmons play? There’s a lot of sentiment that Simmons will be playing point guard for the Sixers. That would be great, but can he assume full-time ball-handling responsibilities? Can Simmons develop a consistent jump shot from the outside? Simmons didn’t try a lot of three-point attempts at LSU, but his shooting struggles are well documented. If Simmons is to play point guard, developing a consistent jump shot will be key. Finding out what Ben Simmons is will enable the Sixers to build the team the right way. This is not to say the Sixers will know what Simmons will ultimately become, but the remainder of this season should serve as a good benchmark to start creating the roster. It’s important for management to make the right evaluation and not mistake Simmons for something he’s not.
Most likely, the answer to this question is somewhere in the middle. Offensively, Simmons will control the ball a majority of the time, but the Sixers will need a secondary ball handler who can assume those responsibilities even when Simmons is in the game. Defensively, Simmons would be best utilized covering someone on the wing. He has the potential to be a long and disruptive defender both on and off the ball. Coach Brown should, however, be careful that Simmons doesn’t chase smaller point guards up and down the court all game, every game. An ideal fit for Simmons would be a combo guard who can handle the ball, shoot well from the outside, and cover point guards defensively (cough, cough–Markelle Fultz).
2) Trade both Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor
The most frustrating parts of this season were the experimental lineups with Okafor and Noel playing alongside Embiid. It’s clear that Okafor is definitely not a fit and, most likely, Noel isn’t a fit either. Noel’s contract situation makes it unlikely that he will resign with the Sixers to be a back-up. Would the Sixers really lose Noel for nothing? I wouldn’t. The Sixers have said they don’t want to trade these players for nothing, but at this point, they have little to no trade value. This is about addition by subtraction. Get what you can for these two players and move on. The Sixers have an embarrassment of assets to deploy in the upcoming years. There’s no need to keep either of these players on the roster when there’s no minute restriction for Joel Embiid.
So what if Embiid gets hurt again? Richaun Holmes has proven himself to be an adequate back-up center in the NBA and can be effective in a limited role. While averaging only 16 minutes per game, Holmes has averaged 6.9 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 0.9 blocks (15.5 points, 9.7 rebounds, and 2 blocks per 36 minutes). Unlike Okafor and Noel, Holmes is not one-dimensional. He affects the game at both ends of the floor. Bryan Collangelo is in a unique situation, having not drafted either of these players. It would be a perfect opportunity for the Sixers to cut their losses and blame it on the previous regime.
3) Add a legitimate NBA veteran
Either via trade or free agency, the Sixers need to add a legitimate veteran leader to the roster. Not Elton Brand coming out of retirement, but a player that still has good basketball left in his career. Trading for Ersan Ilyasova was a good move, and has paid dividends for the team, but that is just the beginning. If the Sixers retain Ilyasova, he is a good fit at power forward next to Embiid. The Sixers will need to add another starting-level player at the one of the wing positions. Ideally, this is a player that’s both a good three-point shooter and wing defender. Signing free agents last year was premature, now that the young talent is on the roster, the Sixers need to add veteran leadership or risk stunting the growth of the young players on the roster.
4) Score big in the NBA draft
This year’s NBA draft class is loaded, and the Sixers should have two lottery picks. It’s important that the Sixers hit on both picks. Two complimentary wing players would go a long way to catapulting the Sixers into the playoff picture next season. With the litany of talent in this year’s draft you don’t want to be the team that selects this year’s Darko Milicic. The obvious fit, as mentioned above, would be Markelle Fultz from Washington, but other players such as Josh Jackson, Lonzo Ball, Malik Monk, Dennis Smith, and Jonathan Isaac could all help the team immediately in different ways.
The Sixers are primed for years of greatness. It’s up to them to make the right moves to win not one, but multiple championships. Bryan Colangelo was gifted young talent, cap flexibility, and a bounty of draft picks. It’s up to him where the team goes from here.