Sunday Column: Are the Sixers Ready for the Next Step?

The Sixers roster doesn’t make much sense now, but does it really matter? 

The Philadelphia Sixers have been a polarizing thought experience for NBA fans. The path to returning to NBA glory is one with many avenues, but the way the Sixers have gone about have left lots to question the method. Under the management of Sam Hinkie, the Sixers depleted their roster in an attempt to land the highest draft picks, but never landed the number one pick until the owners of the team were fed up with the current plan. In this time, the Sixers were able to acquire Nerlens Noel, Joel Embiid, Jahlil Okafor, Ben Simmons, and Dario Saric. They also were able to find a few gems later in the draft such as Robert Covington, Richaun Holmes, Jerami Grant, and Hollis Thompson. In order to infuse some veteran leadership, new GM Bryan Colangelo brought in Jerryd Baylesss and Gerald Henderson to aid in the backcourt. Without any immediate moves on the horizon, here’s a snapshot of the Sixers depth chart:

FINAL Philly Depth Chart



The guys highlighted are the core players that the Sixers most likely value highly due to their draft status and roles they played. As you may have noticed, the roles of these players are highly overlapped, specifically in the swing (Forward positions), and bigs position, where the Sixers currently have 3 lottery level centers. Picking the best players available was still the right move, but three years later, the new roster seems to have more questions than answers. Or do they?


The rebuild is still the main focus, and having a jammed roster is common place for teams at this stage of the development. The difference now, is that for the first time, the Sixers will finally be going into the season with Ben Simmons, Dario Saric, and the return of Joel Embiid, who many believe will be the franchise star. The trio are the highest upside players on the Sixers roster, and are the players who the Sixers will most likely shape their offense around in the future. However, the Sixers still have players like Jahlil Okafor, Nerlens Noel, Jerami Grant, and to a lesser extent Hollis Thompson, Robert Covington, and T.J McConell who they are interested in developing. That’s a lot of young guys, and things get a little more tricky when you consider guys like Bayless and Henderson didn’t come over to be sidelined.

The Sixers have accumulated a lot of talent, so the objective has shifted from simply  losing, to putting together a tangible product on the court. To the delight of Brett Brown, (who’s done a fabulous job of getting the most out of a limited roster), the Sixers will finally have guys who can create offensively, and create easier looks for guys like Robert Covington, Hollis Thompson, and Jerryd Bayless. Last season, Noel and Okafor were in theory perfect compliments to each other in the frontcourt, but simply didn’t work last season. Okafor showed some promise as a consistent post scorer and potential shooter in the 10 to 16ft range where he shot 35.6%. However, his defense was putrid, and he often seemed overwhelmed when forced to defend outside the paint. For Noel, it was the complete opposite, his defense was top-notch, ranking in the top 10 in DRPM amongst power forwards, but his offense made no real leaps, and there is legit concern that he may have capped out on that end. If Embiid can provide some two-way productivity in that role, the Sixers could move one of their other bigs to the bench, most likely Jahlil Okafor, who despite being an offensive threat, is too much of a liability defensively to make sense in a starting unit. A potential lineup of Bayless-Covington-Simmons-Embiid-Noel could provide a nice blend of length, shooting, and versatility if Embiid shows a nice touch from the perimeter.


The Saric-Simmons combination is intriguing, but the two will most likely need to be kept on the court at different times until one of them can become a consistent shooter, even if it’s just in the corner. The two are both forwards who are great as playmakers with the ball in their hands, but have limited productivity when forced to move off the ball. Having Simmons start and then Saric leading the charge in the second unit in a Joe Ingles type role could be best for both of their developments. A second unit of McConnell-Henderson-Saric-Grant-Okafor could be an interesting change of pace where the lack of shooting won’t be as big of an issue, and having a consistent post option plus creators could make it easier for a good off-ball cutters like Henderson and Grant.

The Sixers will have their problems. Brown will have to get a young group of guys to buy into roles and in some cases diminished play time despite the team not consistently winning. There’s also the question of Joel Embiid who will be playing professional basketball for the first time after a two-year hold up due to injuries. Despite his impressive fundamentals and touch coming out of college, Embiid was widely viewed as a raw prospect that needed time to develop before he could reach his peak– that was two years ago. No one is entirely sure what two years away from the game will do to Embiid’s overall upside, but the Sixers will need to see promising signs right off the bat since they’ll need to make a decision on Nerlens Noel by the end of the season. Lucky for the Sixers, they still have future Lakers, Kings, and their own picks to look forward to down the road. Only now, the Sixers will be have a tangible system to welcome their players in. The easy part for the Sixers is done, the Hinkie era will never be greeted with a consensus feeling, but no one can argue that it’s set the Sixers up to build a team with prolonged success. Now it’s time to see if it translates to tangible on-court performance.


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1 Response

  1. NIce precis about post process Sixers which I’m sending to my Sixer fan friends. I grew up a Celtics fan in suburban Philly and had the last laugh more often than not as even the year after the Sixers best teams ever, the Celtics won the championship the very next year.

    The plethora of teams and diminishing of divisional rivalries makes this much less fun than when they played each other many times a year. Regardless, I need a relevant Sixers team for the C’s to meet in the playoffs.


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