1. What’s the Sixers first semester grade?
Daniel Christian: B. Before the season started I said if the 76ers could just squeeze out some signs of hope from a roster this weak on paper, then the year would be a success. Michael Carter-Williams has given much more than a sign of hope; he’s given an indication of a bright future that will only get brighter as the 76ers continue to gather young talent. I would like to give an A, but that just seems irresponsible considering the team has lost exactly twice as many games as they’ve won.
Eric Goldwein: A- for player development with Michael Carter-Williams and Tony Wroten playing about as well as anybody could have hoped, but a B- overall**. I say this half-seriously: the 14 wins are a disaster. Yes, the lottery is a crapshoot for a crapshoot; there’s no guarantee that losses will net a top pick, and there’s no guarantee that a top pick becomes a star. But on average, more pingpong balls → higher draft picks → better production. That is not debatable. That is math.
The Sixers have the fourth-worst record (with the Lakers, Kings, Pelicans, Knicks (!), Celtics and Cavaliers not far behind), which would give them a 12 percent shot of the first pick if the season ended today. More importantly, it gives them a 50-plus percent shot of landing a pick outside the top-4. That’d a terrible payout for a wasted season. **Grade is based on result, not process. The Sixers have the point differential of a 9-33 team.
Kyle Neubeck: As badly as I want to give them a big fat F as retribution for the dismal basketball we’ve had to watch, this season is far from a failure. Michael Carter-Williams has far exceeded my wildest expectations, and the team is chugging along (mostly) losing games in a race for the bottom. The only box not checked from my offseason wish list is the selling off of players not in the team’s long-term plans, but I think those moves are coming soon. I’ll give them a B, only because they aren’t in the tanking pole position,
Wesley Share: A. MCW is living up to my bold prediction, Noel’s knee is coming along well, we’ve got a gem in Coach Brown and we’re just a couple fluky Orlando wins from the second-worst record in the league.
Tom Sunnergren: A-. On the personnel front, things have gone as well as could reasonably have been expected–and certainly much better than I thought they would on one of those unseasonably warm mid-October nights when I brooded long and hard about the team. Michael Carter-Williams was supposed to struggle mightily and he’s been the best rookie in basketball and appears to be a foundational piece. Evan Turner, Thaddeus Young, and Spencer Hawes have each–in their own way–exceeded expectations and inflated their respective trade values. Tony Wroten has been consistently interesting. What knocks their grade down half a notch are the consequences of this overachievment: namely, all those wins.
2. Are the wheels falling off?
Christian: Not necessarily. Things haven’t been as rosy as they were to start the season, but this team is now performing about as well as most initially expected. It isn’t always pretty to watch, but keep in mind this team was never supposed to be as good as they looked early on. Reality is just catching up.
Goldwein: Every time I think they’re headed for a collapse, they do something like beating the Knicks. OK, anybody could beat the ‘Bockers, but to win that game coming off three bad losses is a testament to Brett Brown’s coaching and the team’s work ethic. It’s a poorly constructed roster — that’s why they’re 14-28. The wheels won’t fall off until Sam Hinkie removes them. So, soon.
Neubeck: Rather than the wheels falling off, you’re probably seeing regression to the mean. The early season saw MCW equaling the production of Magic Johnson, Spencer Hawes masquerading as a three-point assassin, and Evan Turner looking like a brand new man. Fast forward to now, and you’re probably seeing more of the team that experts thought would be a train wreck entering the season. No reason to fret – this is what we signed up for!
Share: No, not really. Aside from a few fluky wins, this is who the Sixers have been all along. This is nothing more than regression to the mean.
Sunnergren: Not to the extent many would like. The Sixers–and this is the last time I’m ever going to make this lazy, obvious reference; readers, please hold me to this–ARE WHO WE THOUGHT THEY WERE. They play hard and fast, lose blowouts, get blitzed from 3-points, and grit and grind their way to more close wins than they should.
3. The Sixers held on to the (likely) soon-to-be traded Evan Turner and Spencer Hawes (and maybe Thad Young?), arguably in an effort to maximize their return. Was it worth it?
Christian: Trading Turner and Hawes after hot starts might have made sense to fans at the time, but I’m not sure other GMs were ready to ride and die with these guys after two months of solid production. I think Hinkie is waiting for the right deal to present itself. When he sees it he’ll take it.
Goldwein: The three or so wins Turner and Hawes added over the last couple months could mean 50+ pingpong balls, which might be the difference between (no longer consensus #1) Andrew Wiggins and say, Dante Exum. It’s a close call, but I trust the Hinkie braintrust knows what it’s doing.
Neubeck: This is almost impossible to answer. We can look at the recent drop off in play from Turner and Hawes and theorize that their value has taken a hit, but what do we really know? I find that it’s usually counter-productive for teams who want to trade guys to strike when the rumors are swirling. Unless you’re dealing a superstar, playing the waiting game and picking your spot is much more important than having an ALL VETS MUST GO firesale for the sake of trading guys. Trade negotiations are basically a high stakes game of Chicken – I trust Hinkie to be the guy who comes out of this scratch free.
Share: Holding off on trading Turner and Hawes was a clear mistake. It was clear in November that they’d reached their peak and regression was about to rear its ugly head. Trading them early in the season would’ve certainly maximized their return. Holding off on Thad hasn’t been a mistake though. Let teams duke it out for him in a bidding war at the deadline and take the best offer. Unfortunately, I don’t see much of a bidding war coming for Turner/Hawes in mid-February.
Sunnergren: I think so. You could fashion an argument–and I would–that the Sixers would have won a few fewer games had they jettisoned their veteran troika earlier in the season, but I think Hawes/Turner/Young are playing well enough (superficially, at least) and consequently improving their standing around the league sufficiently that it might be worth it in the end. I’d add this caveat: Thad Young’s value was already quite high (because he’s really good) and keeping him around pads the Sixers win total (because he’s really good.) Keeping him around is costing the Sixers lottery standing without necessarily increasing Young’s value sufficiently to offset this. I think Hinkie may come to regret not having sent him packing sooner.
4. Would a Nerlens Noel-Joel Embiid frontcourt work?
Christian: There would be obvious spacing questions, but defensively, the potential is pretty intriguing. Given MCW’s reliance on slashing and the fact that both Embiid and Noel are most effective around the basket, there could be legitimate offensive problems. I won’t commit one way or the other though, because I think a creative coach could probably make it work to a reasonable degree.
Goldwein: Who knows, but I’m sure as hell down to try it. I see the potential spacing problems and now more than ever it’s a 3-point shooter’s league, but if a Marc Gasol-Zach Randolph pairing could get to the WCF finals, a Noel-Embiid “no easy buckets” pairing could find a way to get it done.
Neubeck: I think it’s certainly possible, but unless the Sixers acquire more shooters, it’s a risky proposition at best. It’s one thing to have two guys who operate best around the basket, but they need players who can space the floor around them or teams would just double them to death in the paint. Defensively, it’s a coach’s dream to have two hyper-athletic bigs patrolling the paint, and we could see the most dramatic one-year turnaround in history on that end. But there are two sides of the court for a reason, and I’m just not convinced that the Sixers can make enough moves to have this partnership work.
Share: With a slash-happy point guard like MCW, it’d be dicey, and potentially Asik-Howard esque. Dubs needs those driving lanes to score at the rim and the Sixers need more comfortable spacing than that. If anyone can convince me it would work, however, I’m all ears, because I really want it to work. Embiid is an old school center with potential through the roof. If it could work, that’ll one day be a frontcourt that’s feared around the league.
Sunnergren: Maybe. It’s hard to have a top-notch offense in 2014 with two guys who need to hang around the basket, but if the Sixers succeed in remaking Noel’s jump-shot, who knows? They might be able to make it work. There’s also this: we don’t know what this Sixers team is going to look like going forward, and we’re much too early in the roster building process to worry our heads about which guy slots into which position. The thing to do, and I suspect this is Hinkie’s attitude, is to draft the best player available, and figure out the rest later. If the Sixers think Embiid is the best future NBA player on the board when they’re number comes up, they should select him.
5. The Pelicans (16-25) are sinking fast without Jrue Holiday and Ryan Anderson, and the Sixers own their top-5 protected first-round pick. What’s your ideal Pelican win total?
Christian: However many gets Philly the sixth pick.
Goldwein: Whatever gives them the seventh-worst record (30?). That would give the Sixers an 85 percent chance of landing a top-10 pick. If you’re feeling lucky, the sixth-worst record could result in a better pick, but also has a 29.2 percent shot of hitting the top three, forcing the Sixers to forfeit the pick.
Neubeck: Whatever amount of wins puts them in position to draft sixth. Get ready to sweat bullets on the night of the lottery
Share: However many wins puts them in the 6-8 range on lottery night. May 20 is going to be an emotional roller coaster.
Sunnergren: 30 feels about right to me, which should put the Pels in the No. 6 to No. 9 range. Honestly, I’m trying not to think too much about it. If it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be.