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.