It’s been awhile since Philadelphia has had a good NBA basketball team. The last time they were in the playoffs was 2012, when their best player was Andre Iguodala – who now plays for the Golden State Warriors. The last time the 76ers were great was almost 20 years ago, back when Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal were in the middle of a three-peat. Now led by Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, the Philadelphia 76ers playoffs draught is looking like to end this season. But are the 76ers truly back for good?
Are the Philadelphia 76ers Back?
In 2001, Allen Iverson – who averaged over 30 points during the regular season while no other 76ers player averaged more than 13 – carried the Sixers to the NBA finals. Philadelphia was by all accounts, a great team, but what was supposed to be their break-out season turned out to be their peak. The 76ers would never again have deep playoff success with Iverson.
Following the cyclical process that all NBA teams must, Philly was destined for mediocrity once Iverson left the franchise. Attendance plummeted and the team failed to draft any true difference-makers. Between 2004 and 2011, any Philadelphia playoff appearances ended with first-round exits.
After the 76ers cashed in on Derrick Rose’s career-altering injury in a first-round series against Chicago in 2012 (winning it in 6 games), they went on to face the Celtics, losing in 7 games. Andre Iguodala’s versatile play and the emergence of Jrue Holiday and Louis Williams gave hope to Sixers fans once again. However, the following year with Iguodala gone, the 76ers were in need of leadership.
The 76ers have not made the playoffs since. Like all bad teams, Philly had the opportunity to rebuild in the draft. Prospects with high hopes like Michael Carter-Williams and Nerlens Noel are both no longer on the team. The 76ers gambled on a young center from Kansas named Joel Embiid, who had injury problems that concerned other teams. He would be a project and certainly didn’t represent a quick change for the 76ers.
Trust the Process
From this frustrating and abnormally long rebuilding period, 76ers General Manager Sam Hinkie asked fans to “trust the process”. In 2016, when the 76ers won the NBA Draft Lottery, there was optimism, but it was cautious. Australian phenom Ben Simmons was likely going to be the first player chosen, but 76ers fans were cautious. Soon after Simmons was chosen by Philadelphia, he began turning heads in Summer League. It was almost unbelievable when it was announced that Simmons would not play during the 2016-17 season. After badly rolling his ankle during practice, Simmons would join Embiid as recent high-profile draft selections that would spend significant time on the IR.
While Simmons was receiving attention, Philly’s project was finally ready to play. Joel Embiid, playing for the first-time last season, led the team in points per game, even with a minutes restriction. He averaged close to 8 rebounds per game along with 2.5 blocks. Embiid emerged as one of the best big men in the NBA. A player like Embiid, though skilled, had fans considered with his injury history.
The modern NBA demands shooting and versatile lineups. Big men often have trouble guarding against smaller, faster-opposing players. Despite this, Embiid showed his value night after night. Proving that 7-footers could still be difference makers, Embiid showcases his outside shooting touch and tremendous footwork. Something rarely found in someone his size.
Embiid did his part, but the Sixers continued to lose. Luckily, Philly landed the number one overall pick once again in the 2017 NBA Draft, giving them one more chance to land a star. They chose the offensive-minded point guard Markelle Fultz from the University of Washington.
With the emergence of Embiid last season and Simmons’ rookie campaign finally set to begin, the 76ers would have the league’s attention. What garnered interest was that the 6’10″ Simmons would play point guard, making him the tallest in the league at that position.
The 76ers, under new GM Brian Colangelo, made moves to surround their young stars with shooting and experience. Acquiring sharp-shooter JJ Redick to play alongside Simmons, and veteran Jerryd Bayless to back him up. Also adding Amir Johnson to help Embiid and power forward stud Dario Saric in the frontcourt.
Philly still has lottery selection, Jahlil Okafor, although a lack of defensive effort has landed him a new role on the bench. Former Michigan star Nik Stauskas, as well as Justin Anderson and the recently-extended Robert Covington, are all solid wing players who can shoot.
Competing in the Eastern Conference
The 76ers finally have a well-balanced roster capable of competing and realistically making the playoffs. Right now, the 76ers have a record of 8-6 but as the season progresses, the chemistry between Simmons and Embiid will only improve.
Ben Simmons leads all rookies in points, rebounds, and assists per game and is in top consideration for Rookie of the Year. Embiid is averaging a double-double and having a major impact on both offense and defense. In a recent game against the Lakers, Embiid had an impressive 46 points, 15 rebounds, 7 assists, and 7 blocks.
The aforementioned role players plugged in alongside Philly’s stars are no-doubt contributing to the team’s success, but Simmons and Embiid are running the show. If they stay together, they will become one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference, and soon enough, the NBA.
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