1. When will the Sixers pick up their first win?
Eric Goldwein: Game one. These aren’t the Pacers of yesteryear; Paul George’s leg is snapped in half and Lance Stephenson is ballin in Charlotte, leaving C.J. Miles,
George Hill, and 55-year-old David West (update: injured) in control of an offense that wasn’t any good to begin with. Even at their best, Indiana struggled against the Sixers; the Pacers won all three of last season’s games by single digits. This game has all the makings up an upset.
Wesley Share: Opening night in Indiana. Indy is banged up, and Philly will be in better physical shape and run them to death as they did to Miami on opening night last year. Tony Wroten will smile a lot and it will be delightful.
Bryan Toporek: I’m with Eric & Wes here: Just like last year, the Sixers are kicking off the 2014-15 campaign with a big W. As if the loss of Paul George and Lance Stephenson wasn’t enough for Indiana to overcome, they’ll now be down David West, George Hill and C.J. Watson, as all three are already injured. We know the Sixers’ starting lineup is comically bad, but Indiana’s might be on Philly’s level without West, Hill and Watson.
Xylon Dimoff: Nov. 5 against Orlando. Considering the Magic will probably be exhausted from playing in Chicago the night before and should still be without Channing Frye and Victor Oladipo, this one should be a gimme. Unless of course former Sixer Elfrid Payton decides to turn this into a revenge game and drops 50
on Marquis Teague (update: cut).
Ben Smolen: Nov. 5. Orlando is on the second game of a road back-to-back, and the Sixers will be well rested. I hope I’m right, because, after that, there isn’t a truly winnable game until Nov. 19 against the Celtics.
2. This season, Nerlens Noel will play ___ games.
Goldwein: 65. The Sixers will handle Noel with kid gloves, sitting him in some back-to-backs and managing his minutes. The rookie, nearly two years removed from his ACL tear, may succumb to the wear and tear of an 82-game season, but he should be in the lineup most nights.
Share: 50. The Sixers have 21 back-to-backs, and I suspect they’ll sit him for a lot of those. Plus, being as valuable an asset as he is, they’ll err on the side of caution, seeing as winning regular season games isn’t a priority. Even the most minor of injuries could force him out of the lineup.
Toporek: I’ll optimistically say at least 60, although his preseason usage might suggest otherwise. The Sixers clearly won’t put him in harm’s way and play him through a litany of minor ailments, as seeing him go down with another major injury is the team’s worst-case scenario this year. Fingers crossed, let’s go with 68.
Dimoff: I don’t predict he’ll sit all of the 21 back-to-backs as the Sixers may want to help him adapt to the NBA schedule, but the team will probably also be exceedingly cautious with any potential injury. A stubbed toe keeping him out for three games.
Smolen: Enough. As long as the man stays healthy and swats 20-25 balls ten rows deep, I’m all smiles. Practically speaking, I expect the Sixers rookie will sit most of the back-to-backs. Add in five to seven more games for minor injuries and three to five more games for high-top fade maintenance and that takes us to the 50-55 range.
3. What’s one bold Sixers prediction for the upcoming season?
Goldwein: Philly will have a top-20 defense. The roster is filled with athletes who are desperate for NBA contracts. That alone wouldn’t yield results in a playoff setting, but in an 82-game regular season, where players take nights off — sometimes literally — it could be enough to catch some teams off guard.
Share: K.J. McDaniels will make an all-rookie team, and maybe even play in the Rising Stars Challenge. He’ll be playing for a contract, seeing loads of PT and getting plenty touches. No reason he can’t block at least one shot per night, either.
Toporek: Let’s go for gold here: Nerlens Noel will be the Rookie of the Year. Jabari Parker enters the season as the clear ROY favorite, but he’s unlikely to be much of a factor defensively. If Noel stays healthy and shows flashes of legitimate offensive competence, his stat-stuffing on defense could help push him over Parker in the ROY race. His flat top should earn him at least 20 first-place votes on its own.
Dimoff: The Sixers will be a top-3 team in both steals and blocks. With guys like Wroten and Carter-Williams lunging out of position at every pass like a cat pounces at a laser pointer, they could lead the league in steals again. And the additions of McDaniels and Noel should turn Philly into one of the league’s best swatting teams. This won’t translate to actual good defense, but it’ll at least make this dreadful team a bit more entertaining.
Smolen: The Sixers will have a three game winning streak. That’s right. Not one, not two, but three full games in a row that AREN’T losses. It will immediately be followed by reporters patronizing the team’s “success,” George Karl saying something particularly stupid, and a double digit losing streak.
4. Will Joel Embiid play this season?
Goldwein: NBA basketball? No. With our hearts? Probably. The Sixers may not immediately their prized rookie out for season, and that’ll get our hopes up. But odds are that, like Noel, we’ll have to wait until year two for Embiid’s debut.
Share: Some in the national media seem to think the Sixers will play him late in the season to show the fans they care. But with more riding on his health than anything else in the organization and….you know what, this doesn’t even seem necessary. No, he won’t play this season.
Toporek: No way. Hinkie was around in Houston for Yao Ming’s foot troubles. In a piece for ESPN Insider, one of the Rockets’ former team physicians, Dr. Mark Adickes, noted how Yao suffered three injuries to the navicular bone in his left foot over a three-year span. There’s no way Hinkie allows Embiid, who’s dealing with the same type of foot fracture, to take the court at any point this season and risk re-injury.
Dimoff: Nope. Hinkie said in his post-draft press conference that it could take Joel up to eight months to recover from surgery, which would place his return date at some point in February. We can assume though that Embiid won’t exactly be in NBA shape at this point after spending the better part of the season off of his feet and devouring countless Shirley Temples, and we can assume that the team will be overly cautious with its most prized possession anyway.
Smolen: Short answer: No. Longer answer: No, he will not. I just can’t see them rushing back a potential building block and risk further injury. Expect them to go the Noel route, i.e. word will come out that Embiid is 100 percent, we all salivate watching the leaked practice footage, but have to wait until the next Summer League.
5. The Sixers will win ____ games this year.
Goldwein: 20. Ten wins because of the defense, three because of unsustainably hot shooting performances, and seven because of tanking/resting/lazy opponents. With Noel and McDaniels added to the rotation, the pack-the-paint defense will take a giant leap forward. The offense? Well, that’s a different story. But NBA regular season wins are low-hanging fruit, which the Sixers have the length to grab.
Share: 21. The defense will be improved this season, and although losing three veterans is a thing that matters, I’m not so sure how much they really moved the needle in the first place; take this with a grain of salt, but Turner and Hawes combined for only three win shares last year. Losing Thad obviously hurts, but I’m optimistic, for whatever reason.
Toporek: 17. With Noel manning the middle, the Sixers’ defense won’t be as abysmal as it was last year. However, the squad lacks the requisite firepower to stay competitive on most nights. They’ll catch a few opponents sleeping and score a handful of upsets over the course of the season, but let’s not delude ourselves: The Sixers will be trotting out below-replacement-level talent in their starting five most nights. That’s not a recipe for short-term success. (The long-term potential, however, makes the bevy of losses worthwhile.)
Dimoff: 13. I know that seems low, but let’s keep in mind that the two best players in Noel and Carter-Williams may miss a decent chunk of the season. This offense might be historically bad too; Hollis Thompson and Jason Richardson’s corpses are the only players on the roster who can shoot, and TONY WROTEN will see extended minutes at point guard. And let’s not forget that the veterans – as frustrating as they may have been at times – who played major roles in getting all those early-season wins last year are now gone.
Smolen: 20. One more than last year. They are a national punchline–their stinkatude was almost single-handedly responsible for a change in league rules–but guess what? They will be better than last year. Sure, Evan Turner is no longer here, but, on the plus side, Evan Turner is no longer here. With a year of development for MCW, the addition of Noel, and more time for Brown to implement his system, the Sixers will shock the world and get out of the teens!