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October 26, 2016

One not so bold Sixers prediction: Joel Embiid will win NBA Rookie of the Year

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When it came time to aggregate the national forecasts for the Flyers a few weeks ago, the focus was on the team’s record. The Orange and Black figure to be in the thick of the playoff race all season, with a decent range of realistic outcomes. It was a worthwhile exercise to note where everyone around the country forecasted them finishing.

As for the Sixers, not so much. There’s really no need to go through all of the predictions, because Brett Brown’s team won’t be there. It would be surprising if anyone, inside or outside Philly, projected them to play after the regular season finale April 12 at Madison Square Garden. The Sixers are again going to be an extremely young team, which almost by default means they’re going to be a bad team. They figure to be in the hunt for another top draft pick, maybe two if the Lakers win a few more games than expected.

My official guess is 20-62.

The Sixers still got some love in the previews put out by national outlets, mainly in the rookie of the year predictions:

ESPN: Ten of the 28 forecasters predicted Joel Embiid to win rookie of the year, while three like Dario Saric’s chances. Embiid started fourth on the rookie ladder, a conservative estimate, and Saric seventh. Embiid did garner seven of 15 ROY votes in this poll, though. Embiid got two of five rookie of the year votes while Saric received one.

Fox Sports likes Embiid to win the award.

Sports on Earth had Embiid as top rook, and Basketball Insiders chose him as the frontrunner.

In trying to gauge most NBA teams, the preseason is a fairly useless exercise. Once the draft and free agency end, we can safely start projecting how the standings will shake out. The same can largely be said for the Sixers as a whole, but in the case of Embiid, we needed to see what he brought to the table after sitting out two years.

We got our answer: There are understandably a lot of kinks to work out, but the kid should make an impact from the jump.

Most importantly, Embiid looks healthy. Mike Sielski wrote a good column that mentioned the 7-foot-2 center going 1-on-5 against a bunch of coaches at the end of practice the other day. I saw that drill. Was there much basketball value in it? Didn’t seem like it. Was it slightly risky to allow a guy coming off multiple foot surgeries go through it? Maybe.

But here was my takeaway from the scene: The Sixers aren’t going to operate scared of Embiid’s feet when he’s out on the floor, and neither is he. And honestly, that is of far greater importance than the big guy’s nonexistent assist rate through the first seven (fake) games of his career.

If you watched Embiid at Kansas, it was remarkable how much improvement he showed week to week. Embiid scored two points in 20 minutes while Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker dueled in November of 2013. But by the time conference play rolled around, he was a monster. Progression does not usually happen this fast:

The NBA is the best league in the world, so you likely won’t see that type of trajectory out of the gate. But as Embiid gets more comfortable with the speed of the game, sophisticated NBA defenses, and playing with his teammates, it says here that we’re going to see a lot of improvement. 

The guy that you see in January should be a decent bit better than the one you see tonight. And the guy tonight is already pretty darn good.

Embiid’s health is going to be a question mark for his entire career, but for the first time in two years, he’s in a good place. On what should be another bad Sixers team, I expect him to take full advantage.

Follow Rich on Twitter: @rich_hofmann