Additions: Wilson Chandler, Mike Muscala, Zhaire Smith, Landry Shamet, Jonah Bolden
Subtractions: Ersan Ilyasova, Marco Belinelli, Justin Anderson, Richaun Holmes, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot
Projected Starting Lineup:
PG: Ben Simmons
SG: Markelle Fultz
SF: Robert Covington
PF: Dario Saric
C: Joel Embiid
Key Bench Players: JJ Redick, Wilson Chandler, Mike Muscala, TJ McConnell, Landry Shamet, Amir Johnson, Jonah Bolden, Furkan Korkmaz
This is the team I have been waiting for the most: my hometown Philadelphia 76ers. To all of you analysts, experts, and Twitter GMs, the 76ers did NOT, as a matter of fact, get worse over the offseason with the losses of Ersan Ilyasova and Marco Belinelli. The Sixers had a phenomenal, underrated offseason that nobody is talking about. Joel Embiid has had his first fully healthy offseason in his professional career and is a top candidate for MVP this season. Ben Simmons is the second-best true point guard in the NBA after Chris Paul (By true point guard, I mean a pass-first guard, not like Steph Curry, Russell Westbrook, Kyrie Irving, etc). Markelle Fultz has trained all summer with shooting coach Drew Hanlen who is also Embiid’s personal trainer (more on Fultz later). Philly had a great draft and shored up their depth through free agency and trades. With continued improvement throughout the offseason, the 76ers will once again be at the top of the Eastern Conference.
Ilyasova and Bellineli provided vital shooting off the bench last season in a playoff run, but their defensive deficiencies will not be missed. Yes, Ersan Ilyasova is continually ranked at the top of the league in charges taken, but other than that, is a very forgettable defender. Instead, former interim-GM and now only head coach Brett Brown traded cash considerations for combo forward Wilson Chandler and a future second round pick from the Denver Nuggets and stretch-big man Mike Muscala was brought in from the Atlanta Hawks in a three-team deal with Atlanta and OKC, while giving away Justin Anderson and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot. They also resigned backup big man Amir Johnson and brought over the athletic, floor spacing big man Jonah Bolden, the 36th overall pick in 2016 who played with Maccabi Tel Aviv in the Israeli League and also whose father was actually a teammate of Simmons’ dad, David Simmons, with the Sydney Kings in Australia. The three new guys in Chandler, Muscala, and Bolden are already much better than Ilyasova and Belinelli.
Draft night brought a night of surprise and anger to the Philadelphia fanbase after drafting a Philly native, Mikal Bridges, out of Villanova and then later dealing him to the Phoenix Suns in exchange for the 16th overall pick who would become Zhaire Smith and an unprotected 2021 first round pick from the Miami Heat. Many were mad because Bridges was a Philly native, who played college ball at a local school, and seemingly fit the 76ers system rather well. I personally loved the move for Smith, whose ceiling is leaps and bounds above Bridges and picked up a first round pick from a team stuck in mediocrity. Out of Texas Tech, Zhaire Smith may have been the most athletic player in the 2018 draft. He was a nightly highlight reel in his lone year in the Big 12 and even flashed the potential to be an above-average perimeter shooter. Already a stud in transition and ferocious defender, Smith can make an impact right away for the 76ers once he returns from a fractured foot injury. They also selected Landry Shamet, a combo guard out of Wichita State, with the 26th overall pick of the draft. A career 43.7% shooter from deep with the Shockers, he will take over a three point specialist role off the bench and I fully expect him to contribute on a nightly basis.
Now it is time to come at the neck of every single Markelle Fultz hater. Yes, Fultz would still be my number one overall pick if there were to be a 2017 redraft. Yes, even over Donovan Mitchell, Jayson Tatum, Kyle Kuzma, and Lonzo Ball. May we take a look at his college stat line? 23.2 PPG on 47.6% from the field and 41.3% from three, 5.7 RPG, 5.9 APG, 1.6 SPG, and 1.2 BPG in one year at Washington. In his rookie year, he became the youngest player in NBA history to record a triple double and flashed his inside scoring ability, playmaking, defense, and astounding athleticism in only 14 games. After a full offseason working with shooting guru Drew Hanlen, Fultz rebuilt his jumper from scratch, changing his release point and overall form, and seems to have gained that confidence and swagger back that he showed off in college. Throughout the preseason Fultz, looks much more comfortable spotting up from outside and pulling up in the midrange. I am not expecting ‘Kelle to be knocking down 40% of his threes this season, but close to the 33% mark where he can keep defenses honest will be a success in my eyes. He is already a dangerous scorer in transition, at the rim, and from the midrange. Adding that reliable outside jumper will solidify himself in the 76ers Big Three alongside Embiid and Simmons. Brett Brown loves what he sees so much from Fultz that the second year guard will line up alongside Simmons as the starting shooting guard, relegating sniper JJ Redick to the 6th Man role. Fultz is one of my top candidates for the Most Improved Player award. Keep proving the haters wrong, Markelle.
The duo of Dario Saric and Robert Covington will return to the 76ers starting five as two extremely important role players. Saric is one of the best role players in the entire game with a 39.3% conversion rate from deep, 6.7 rebounds, 2.6 assists, and quality help defense on top of his 14+ points per game. RoCo was a first team NBA All-Defense member last season and remains at the top of the league in steals and deflections while serving as a quality marksman from outside with a 35.8% career success rate but can take some terrible shots that lead to inefficiency. Solving that problem will do wonders for this team, as too many offensive possessions can be squandered. Forget his playoff defense against Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. Covington will be fine. These two are the perfect complements for Embiid, Simmons, and now Fultz.
Off the bench will be JJ Redick in the sixth man role alongside Wilson Chandler and Mike Muscala at the forward positions. These three will be the primary backups for this squad and will provide shooting and defense. Redick is not a great defender, but he works hard, has smart positioning, and understands the concept of team defense. TJ McConnell will serve as Simmons’ primary backup at the lead guard position for his playmaking and defense. Look out for Landry Shamet who could steal some minutes from McConnell with his shooting stroke, but is better suited as a shooting guard. Rounding out the wings is Furkan Korkmaz, who had a huge Summer League with the 76ers, dropping 40 points in their opening game, and then starred with Turkey in the FIBA qualifiers over the summer. Other big men off the bench include Amir Johnson, who is mostly an energizer, and Jonah Bolden. Bolden has the potential to play both the power forward and center positions if he can build more muscle. Already a fantastic athlete with an emerging perimeter game, Bolden can shoot, defend both wings and big men, and swat shots away at the rim. He most likely will not get many minutes unless one of Muscala or Johnson goes down with an injury, but look for him to take on a bigger role in 2019-20.
On the backs of Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, the 76ers will be a top-two team in the East and will push 60 wins. With Fultz continuously improving and a revamped bench, this team is even better than the one who fell to the Celtics in the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals. This year, I expect Philly to compete in the Eastern Conference Finals with an extremely good chance to play Golden State in the NBA Finals. With The Process and the Fresh Prince leading the team, anything is possible and always Trust The Process (copyright apparently pending).
Pictures Courtesy of:
*For yesterday’s article on the Orlando Magic, click here
Up next tomorrow: Phoenix Suns
University of South Carolina ’21