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Oct 28 2015

5-on-5: Preparing For Another 60-loss Season

1. Grade the Sixers’ offseason.

Eric Goldwein: C/INC. They didn’t eff up. At least, it’s not clear that they did quite yet. It’s possible that Jahlil Okafor wasn’t the right pick — we won’t know for a few years. But it’s not as if there was a guaranteed star at No. 3 that they could’ve taken instead. The trade for Stauskas + a 1st + two pick swaps was a heist, and Sam Hinkie ought to get some credit for understanding the market and taking full advantage of Vivek. What he did with the rest of their cap space (Christian Wood! Kendall Marshall! Warriors pick swap!) was less impressive. Oh, and he probably could’ve handled the Joel Embiid situation a little better.

Bryan Toporek: C-. If not for the Sacramento Kings, this grade would be far lower. Luckily, they shelled out Nik Stauskas and the rights to swap first-round picks in each of the next two years for salary relief, which Sam Hinkie wisely exploited. Beyond that, though, not much went right for our loveable losers, starting with the Lakers’ decision to bypass Jahlil Okafor in favor of D’Angelo Russell. The Sixers completely struck out in free agency once again, while Joel Embiid underwent a second surgery on his right foot, casting legitimate doubt over his long-term chances of becoming a productive NBA player. It was rarely sunny in Philadelphia this summer.

Xylon Dimoff: C: I like the smaller moves — most notably adding Kendall Marshall and Christian Wood for essentially zilch, and acquiring Nik Stauskas and picks from Sacramento for a turkey sandwich. But this grade mostly focuses on drafting Okafor, whose relic of a skillset drastically sets back the franchise in a philosophical sense — a move that may ultimately force the team to choose between Okafor and Nerlens Noel.

Marc Nemcik: C. I’ve gone on record with my feelings regarding the draft. I also predicted on draft night that the Sixers weren’t going to be very active in free agency, which ultimately turned out to be true. It’s not fair to blame them for not wanting to overpay considering the current status of the franchise. Kendall Marshall could be a really sneaky addition that fits the Philly mold. Ultimately it is a little discouraging to see no drastic progress, but the Sacramento trade and addition of Jahlil Okafor should certainly be enough to remain positive.

Drew Stone: A+. Sure, they didn’t grab any notable free agents. There are questions about whether Okafor is a good fit in the offense and, already, his long-term future with the team. The injuries were depressing, even if Embiid seems to be the only player completely left for dead. Hell, you could make a strong argument that the roster has regressed from where it was even at the end of last year. But I called that Kings trade one of the best I’ve ever seen, and I stand by it. They got Sauce effing Castillo and a respectable amount of draft flexibility for dead cap space. Sure, there’s a chance that trade could manifest into nothing, but it’s a risk-free move that could also become EVERYTHING. So let’s ignore all that pesky other stuff – especially since this is a team not currently designed to go after big-name free agents anyway.

2. The Sixers will win ___ games.

Goldwein: 24. They have shooters. They have athletes. They might even have a point guard in Kendall Marshall. Add it all up and, well, this is still a bad basketball team. But one that could maybe get out of the Eastern Conference cellar. 

What’s happened in the last few weeks is cause for concern. Robert Covington is hurt, and that could cost the Sixers big time early on. If preseason is any indication, Jahlil Okafor will have some major growing pains. And there’s not a starter-quality point guard on the roster. That said, the Sixers might have an all-star in Nerlens Noel. If he progresses at half the rate he did a year ago, he could be one of the Eastern Conference’s best players. If that happens, look out — for a 30-win season.  

Toporek: 24. The Sixers have more talent on the roster than they began the year with in 2014-15, but that isn’t saying much. While I don’t expect another 0-17 start to the season, 0-10 isn’t outside the realm of possibility. Until Kendall Marshall and Tony Wroten return from their respective injuries, the Sixers’ lack of point guard depth is likely to decimate their chances of staying competitive on a nightly basis. A few meaningless late-season wins will help them just barely surpass their 21.5 over/under.

Dimoff: 19. It’s only a one-game bump, but I don’t feel this team is much better in the larger context of the league. Many of last year’s shamed lower class — the Knicks, Lakers, and Wolves — will improve this season via roster additions and/or health. Other teams will surely meet the Sixers at the bottom once again, but my major worry is the adjusting to a new style surrounding Okafor, the defense taking a step back, and the Sixers being the league’s youngest team by a mile.

Nemcik: 22. Despite the frustrating lack of point guard depth, this team can’t be worse than last year. The Sixers will improve, in particular due to Okafor and the continued progress of Nerlens Noel. Philadelphia should be satisfied for at least another season as long as the young guys continue to get better, regardless of record.

Stone: 24, and that’s being damn optimistic. The start of this season, before the guards and wings get healthy, is going to be ugly. The lack of any true veterans to serve as glue guys in their stead, much as Jason Richardon and Luc Mbah a Moute did the past two years, means they are going to lose a lot at the start against a brutal schedule. But if and when Marshall, Stauskas, Covington, and the bigs all get on the floor together at the same time, this team could be explosive enough on offense to make things fun, and potentially go on a bit of a winning streak.

3. When will the Sixers get their first win?

Goldwein: Tonight at Boston — a game where the Sixers are 11.5 underdogs.

Toporek: Nov. 16 vs. Dallas. The schedule-makers weren’t kind to the Sixers, with eight of their first 10 games coming against 2015 playoff teams, and the other two have them pitted against plucky upstarts (the Utah Jazz and Orlando Magic). Their best chance of an early-season win will come on Nov. 16, as the injury-ravaged Dallas Mavericks come to town. Wes Matthews and Chandler Parsons may be playing by then, but both could still be on minutes limits. Dallas’ frontcourt depth, meanwhile, doesn’t inspire much confidence. Nerlens Noel will go off for 22 points, 14 rebounds and four blocks to lead the Sixers to their first win of the year.

Dimoff: Monday, November 2nd vs. Cleveland. Don’t ask me why.

Nemcik: Nov. 4 at Milwaukee. Beating Michael Carter-Williams should be enough motivation.

Stone: Saturday, November 14 at San Antonio, a.k.a. the first night Popovich rests everyone.

4. What has to happen for this season to be considered a success?

Goldwein: It’ll be a success if seven of the following 10 things happen:

1. Nerlens Noel remains healthy.
2. Noel’s jumper and foul shooting improve.
3. Joel Embiid has no setbacks.
4. Jahlil Okafor’s defense improves.
5. Jahlil Okafor’s foul shooting improves.
6. Lakers’s pick falls between 4 and 10.
7. Kings pick is swapped.
8. Sixers win 25+ games.
9. A starter-level player is acquired, without surrendering own 1sts, Lakers 1st, SAC 1st, Noel, Okafor, Saric, Covington or Embiid.
10. Kendall Marshall, Tony Wroten, Isaiah Canaan .. or some other low-cost player develops into a top 25 PG..

Toporek: Noel and Okafor need to learn how to complement each other on both ends of the court. Given the long-term concerns about Embiid, these two may very well be the Sixers’ frontcourt of the future, but their fit alongside one another remains questionable. Nerlens needs to continue developing a mid-range jumper to help draw opponents away from double-teaming Big Jah, while the Duke product must become a far better defender than he was during his college days. Creating a complementary frontcourt rotation will be Brett Brown’s greatest challenge this year, but it’s the one that may make or break the Sixers’ ongoing rebuild.

Dimoff: Jahilil Okafor either a) shows some semblance of being an unforced fit with Nerlens or b) is dealt at the deadline for an asset of equivalent or higher quality than 2015 Draft’s third pick — a la MCW’s departure last February; Noel receives DPOY consideration; Bobby Covington is this year’s Khris Middleton; Kendall Marshall and Okafor successfully stop a pick-and-roll action; T.J. McConnell is sacrificed to the basketball gods for a new foot for Embiid; Philadelphia gets the first pick in the 2016 Draft.

Nemcik: There needs to be steady improvement in all of the young players. Sports Illustrated mentioned that Brett Brown’s standing with the Sixers might not be as solid as most pundits believe. I personally don’t care how many games this team wins as long as there is clear progress in most players. For that to happen everyone needs to stay healthy, obviously. It also just wouldn’t be fun if Hinkie didn’t make a bunch of roster moves.

Stone: “Success” is such a loosely-defined term nowadays. I think you simply need to see some more wins this year. My prediction of 24 wins, a five-game improvement over last year, would be the bare minimum needed to make fans and increasingly discouraged management continue to believe that this team is moving in the right direction. At some point, the development for players like Noel and Covington has to become less the result of individual stats and more the product of actually learning how to win together. Another sub-20 win season simply wouldn’t sit well for anyone involved.

5. My bold prediction is ___.

Goldwein: Nerlens Noel will be an all-star, Nik Stauskas will be in the 3-point shootout, and Furkan Aldemir will be an NBA champion.

Toporek: The Sixers will trade Okafor on draft night next June. He’s going to fall just short of Rookie of the Year honors, losing out to Emmanuel Mudiay, but his pace-inflated stats will intrigue some big man-needy team. With Embiid’s rehab going according to plan this time around, the Sixers will decide they’re best suited to build around a Noel-Embiid-Dario Saric frontcourt. They’ll thus package Okafor with one of their four first-round draft picks to either move up in the draft or acquire a perimeter player to complement their young frontcourt.

Dimoff: Dario Saric, Jahlil Okafor, and one of the Lakers’ or Sixers’ 2016 first round picks are all dealt at some point by Draft Night.

Nemcik: The Sixers will not trade Jahlil Okafor. Noel and Okafor will gel better than expected, leaving no desire to move either unless the offer is too enticing.

Stone: Hollis Thompson will be named the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year. I’m not sure whether to drop the mic or commit myself.

  • Robby Bonfire

    Of course the Stauskas inclusion is the worst part of the Stauskas deal, as of now, to my thinking. We may never know, but I would bet, since SAC was trying to dump Stauskas, that they insisted we take Stauskas off their hands, in exchange for the nice concessions we got from them to round out the deal.

    I do not see Hinkie acquiring Stauskas as a coup for Hinkie. However, as regards the rest of the deal, from a Philadelphia standpoint, what is not to like?

    If Stauskas does well, this will be seen as a Hinkie steal. I will see it as Hinkie catching lightning in a bottle, which, as we know, he doesn’t always do. Anyway, I hope Stauskas finds his game, somehow, desperate as we are for back court production.

  • Nick S.

    I’m a little disappointed with all of the C offseason grades. The Stauskas trade alone should give them a B-, it was an absolute heist for a team like the Sixers. I understand to an extent the dissatisfaction with the team’s passivity in free agency, what with the growing salary cap, but I don’t think that should be a major factor in evaluating the offseason. There simply weren’t many players worth entering a bidding war for that we had a realistic chance at getting. It’s a rebuilding team- there will be a time when it becomes crucial that we snare a few good free agents, but it’s not now.

    • disqus_XdXkhqXTht

      Drew here. Agree with you completely. I was obviously joking to an extent with the A+ – the Stauskas deal was an A+ though – but I don’t think id have given any lower than a B+ regardless.. Like you said, the team isn’t in the position yet to go after free agents, so it’s not like they missed out on anyone. They did their due diligence in offering deals to guys they knew they wouldn’t end up with, like Kawhi and Butler. And unless they really knew something was wrong with Embiid, the injuries are largely out of their hands. So I think the biggest debate is the selection of Okafor, and I understand it doesn’t readily jibe with their on-court philosophy, but Hinkie has been a “best player available” guy from day 1.It’s completely in line with his philosophy.

    • Bryan Toporek

      If not for Embiid, I’d have given them a B or B-. Assuming that recent Cauldron report is true, though, and the team couldn’t stop him from going to summer league (against their wishes), which may have caused a delay in his surgery… that’s not great. Love the SAC trade, but the Embiid stuff + not getting a real PG (barring Kendall Marshall, maybe) brings the grade to just below average in my books.

      • Nick S.

        The Embiid trouble is certainly concerning, but I wouldn’t have given it much weight in grading the Sixers’ offseason in terms of what they could control. The front office could have handled Embiid better, but the only concrete effect their treatment had was delaying the surgery for a month, which doesn’t matter a lot since he’ll probably be missing this whole season anyway. The rest- questions about Embiid’s work ethic, how much control the team should have over its players’ off-court activities- doesn’t play into my evaluation of the offseason.

        • Bryan Toporek

          Assuming that Cauldron report is true, the team’s lack of control over its supposed franchise cornerstone is highly concerning, IMO. They couldn’t even get him to wear a walking boot? That doesn’t exactly bode well for his latest recovery unless something drastic changes.

          As for PG, agree that they didn’t need to sign some veteran retread like Jameer Nelson, but they’re putting a lot of chips in Kendall Marshall’s basket. The No. 1 goal for this year needs to be the development of Noel & Okafor, so they need a PG who can reliably feed them down low. Would have liked to see them re-sign Ish Smith, given how much Noel enjoyed playing with him last year, or someone like Jeremy Lin, perhaps.

          • egoldwein

            I agree with most of the things said here. My “C” wasn’t really a knock on anything they did .. but I’m just not quite ready to give them a good grade for doing nothing.

            Perhaps they should get credit for their handling of Embiid. There’s so much reports — false and not — out there that it’s hard to tell. The approach they’re taking certainly isn’t popular. Of course, that doesn’t mean it’s the wrong approach — just not willing to call it a success yet.

          • Nick S.

            The lack of control is concerning, but I read the supposed situation more as a player with persistent work ethic issues, not an organization that grossly mishandled their player. Should the Sixers be judged on Embiid’s immaturity? How much should teams interfere with the players’ lives off the court anyway?

            I have a big problem with Ish Smith, who had great chemistry with Noel and was aesthetically pleasing, but put up awful numbers. Glad we didn’t resign him. Lin on a short-term deal, maybe.

      • Nick S.

        Also I kind of liked what the team did at PG, in a weird way. Signing a young guy like Marshall with some upside, then holding tryouts to figure out the backups, feels like a very Sixersy thing to do. No reason to find a veteran PG just for the sake of filling out a lineup/stealing a few wins