April 17, 2017
Earlier today, I wrote a post detailing ten ways that the Sixers season was a success. As you may imagine, Joel Embiid figured into a few of those reasons.
But as we also wrote, “there was plenty of good and bad to go around in a season marked by wild fluctuations” for the Sixers in 2016-17. So, let’s go ahead and get to the bad.
Brett Brown believes Ben Simmons will be the Sixers' point guard, which the 2016 No. 1 overall pick certainly seems on board with. That said, the Sixers coach knows breaking in Simmons as the lead ball-handler of an NBA team will be a… process (pun intended).
“It’s my judgment, now, that I want to try this,” Brown said. “I feel like this is where he can help our team the most first from the offensive standpoint, and that really has been the evolution of where we are and where we were in regards to the decision to try to grow him.”
You get the sense that the Sixers fully realize Simmons will be a much trickier fit than Joel Embiid, and they lost 82 games that 6'10" Aussie could have used to go through his growing pains. That will have to take place next year.
Brown often talked about his main goal for the 2016-17 season, a top-15 defense. The Sixers fell just short of that number, but with the large chunk of time that Embiid missed, we can still probably call the year a relative success on that front.
Building an NBA champion generally requires both a top-10 offense and top-10 defense, though. And despite the fact that the Sixers showed improvement offensively for a second consecutive season, they still ranked 30th in the NBA for the fourth straight year. Brown’s team definitely has a long way to go on that end of the floor.
Even if there is an understanding that Simmons will struggle, the Sixers badly need his shot creation.
Embiid’s on-court performance can’t be overstated, as he was one of the best rookies of all-time when he played. But while the meniscus tear has been taken care of and is on track to be fully healed by this summer, we still haven’t seen Embiid come close to playing a full season of basketball yet.
Embiid’s talent is unquestionable, but his health is still anything but. On a positive note, I found this quote encouraging from Jackie MacMullan’s piece last week:
Embiid said he spent "a couple of days" on crutches. He already is working hard on rehabbing his knee and said he will devote his summer to strengthening his legs so he can better absorb the wear and tear of the NBA season.
"I realize I have to take better care of myself," he said. "I didn't realize how good I could be. Especially seeing what I accomplished this year ... I want to keep on getting better."
Bryan Colangelo defended the medical staff last week, but he isn’t pretending the Sixers are anything close to healthy at the moment.
“Unfortunately, we did have a string of injuries this year,” Colangelo said. “Some pretty high-profile and complex scenarios that, unfortunately, held us back from perhaps even obtaining more success.”
Embiid playing in the Houston game in late January still remains a complete head-scratcher. Even if the team simply experienced a run of terrible luck, the season-ending injuries quickly flipped the script on what was a tremendously fun month of hoops in January.
It’s probably fair to wonder if the Sixers held onto Noel too long this past offseason. It was telling the other day that when Brown talked about the seven “keepers” on his roster, he didn’t mention the player that the Sixers got back in a trade for Noel. Well, they also received a first-round pick that was never going to be a first-round pick.
I’m not giving up on Justin Anderson yet, but he definitely has a lot of work to do.
Richaun Holmes has played well and I understand the logic that the Sixers didn’t want to play close to $20 million for a backup big. That said, Noel’s unhappiness all year combined with the uninspiring return certainly wasn't a positive development.
Nerlens Noel and Joel Embiid played 8 minutes together.— Zach Lowe (@ZachLowe_NBA) February 23, 2017
It just would have been nice to see, that’s all.
Notice that Brown didn’t mention the No. 3 overall pick in last year’s draft as a keeper, either. Okafor is somehow still dealing with a three-month injury over a year later, and he doesn’t fit in with any part of the Sixers’ defense, pace, and space philosophy.
I actually think this was more of a net neutral, because outside of the Jerryd Bayless signing (one year too many for my liking), the Sixers did a nice job staying short-term with their deals. Gerald Henderson tailed off at the end, but when he wasn’t angering his opponents, the local product shot the ball well.
Essentially, they went 1-for-3 (2-for-4 if you also count the Ersan Ilyasova trade) as Bayless played only three games due to injuries and Sergio Rodriguez got significantly outplayed by T.J. McConnell. Again though, I still approve of the team’s approach in free agency even if the results were admittedly underwhelming. You get what you pay for.
This issue didn’t bother me quite as much as the fake first-round pick, but it certainly didn’t help the Sixers from a public relations standpoint.
“As I acknowledged at our previous event like this, we have some work to do with respect to communication and transparency,” Colangelo said last week. “But that has been worked on. It, I think, has gotten better since I last said that, and it will continue to get better.”
OK, I didn’t really have a good tenth reason.
Follow Rich on Twitter: @rich_hofmann
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