By Julie Glass
It’s only July 16, and Sixers training camp doesn’t start for another two and a half months, but it’s clear that the Process has a goal of the playoffs in sight for the first time in six years!
They just acquired the No. 1 pick in the draft, used it to select a player who filled their biggest need, signed one of the best shooters of all-time and a big man who consistently makes his team better. And in addition to bringing in Markelle Fultz , JJ Redick andAmir Johnson , they should finally have last year’s No. 1 pick, Ben Simmons (above), in the lineup. All of a sudden, this is a balanced team with depth and incredible upside. No big deal.
Before the June 22 draft, Philly was projected as the 12th-best team in the East with 36.9 wins. After all their moves this summer, the Sixers are projected to be the No. 5 seed in the weak conference, with 41.5 wins, a 4.6-win improvement (and a significant increase of 45 percent in their chance of making the postseason to 50.6 percent).
The Eastern Conference is wide open.
Philly performed like a playoff team when Joel Embiid was on the court last season, and now it is better in most every area. Most young teams that receive similar hype struggle because they can’t get stops, but there are a bunch of plus defenders on the roster — Embiid, Robert Covington , Johnson and Redick — plus a bunch of versatile young players who could be solid on that end.
If Embiid gets hurt again, there is no defensive anchor or offensive focal point. All of the excitement surrounding this team must be tempered by the fact that its most important player has played only 31 games since being drafted in 2014. Sorry about being a downer.
Simmons is one of the league’s most fascinating players because of his superstar potential and the glaring holes in his game. Unless he has transformed his jump shot in the past year, teams are going to dare him to shoot from the perimeter. How he handles that, as well as how he grasps nuances of team defense, will go a long way in determining Philly’s ceiling in the short term. There’s a chance he wins Rookie of the Year, but there’s also a chance it takes him a while to find his place.
They most likely will make the playoffs in the weak East. Everyone loves their starting five, but just as important is the fact that the guys who often started last year — Dario Saric , Richaun Holmes , T.J. McConnell, Nik Stauskas , Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot — will look much better as reserves. If they stay healthy, this could be the beginning of something special.