For the first time in years, Philadelphia 76ers’ fans have had legitimate reasons to be excited. As it turns out, Joel “The Process” Embiid is more than just a mysterious YouTube and social media sensation. Embiid has taken the league by storm and shown consistent flashes of greatness that draw comparisons to Hakeem Olajuwon, who, for the record, was three inches and twenty-five pounds smaller than Embiid.
Embiid has made some of the best big men in the world look helpless by forcing them to guard him out to the three-point arc. His leadership, scoring ability, and elite defensive presence have given the Sixers a +67 point differential with him on the court. Before I get caught up talking about Embiid’s eye-popping per 36 minute numbers, let’s discuss the promising future of the Sixers.
With 31 games left to play, the Sixers sit with an 18-33 record. They currently have the 4th lowest winning percentage in the NBA. However, given the lack of talent in the East, the Sixers remain only a handful of games removed from a playoff spot. This interesting scenario has many Sixers’ fans torn, asking the same question that has tirelessly been asked for what feels like decades: process or progress? Should the Sixers continue to trust the process and put themselves in a position to get a top draft pick or should they progress and win as many games as possible for a chance to compete in the playoffs?
New General Manager, Bryan Colangelo, has yet to reveal what side of the argument he is on. It is a huge decision and regardless of what direction he chooses, expect pushback from the passionate Philadelphia fan base. With 31 games remaining, let’s examine the implications of each scenario:
The Sixers are already showing significant signs of progress. After a 4-18 start to the season, the Sixers have managed to turn their season around, most recently going 10-5 in the month of January. Aside from Embiid, Dario Saric has emerged as one of the few promising rookies in this class. Players such as TJ McConnell and Robert Covington have proven to have real NBA talent and deserve to play in the league. Impending free agents Nerlens Noel (restricted) and Ersan Ilyasova (unrestricted) are also having breakout seasons.
With Ben Simmons almost ready to make his NBA debut, it is not a long shot to think the Sixers have the opportunity to make the playoffs. Making the playoffs would give this young Sixers team a taste of winning and satisfy a starving fanbase that has desperately waited for a competitive team since the Iverson era.
The Sixers have a ton of valuable assets including the option to swap picks with the Sacramento Kings and they also have the rights to the Lakers pick (top three protected) in the upcoming draft. With all these assets do the Sixers really need to tank again? That leads me to the next argument: should the Sixers trust the process for one last year?
Ever since the Iverson era ended, year in and year out, the Sixers consistently finished in the middle of the pack. They frequently found themselves scratching and clawing their way into the playoffs, only to be eliminated in the first round. Signings such as Chris Webber and Elton Brand made the Sixers competitive but far from contenders.
On June 27th, 2013, former Sixers GM Sam Hinkie looked to change all of that immediately. The shocking trade of Jrue Holiday marked the beginning of what would later be called “the process.” Collecting assets and tanking for high draft picks began.
Fast forward three and a half years and the Sixers have been able to turn some of those awful seasons into high draft picks, attaining Joel Embiid, Jahlil Okafor, and Ben Simmons. With a loaded draft coming up, tanking for one last stretch could put them in a position to acquire mega-talents such as freshmen Markelle Fultz, Dennis Smith Jr., Josh Jackson, Lonzo Ball and Malik Monk.
Anybody that watches college basketball knows that these freshmen have tremendous talent. NBA scouts around the league are projecting them to be potential all-stars. This is considered to be one of the best drafts in quite a few years and the Sixers are in a position to capitalize in a big way. Drafting any of them would fulfill a major need for the Sixers at the guard position. With a little bit of lottery ball luck (helped by a few losses), the Sixers could quickly become one of the most talented teams in the NBA.
Like many Sixers fans, I am getting sick and tired of watching the team lose year after year. It would be incredible to see the Sixers make a late-season run and make the playoffs. The fans are getting restless and all indications are that Simmons and Embiid have every bit of talent to make the Sixers a team to be feared for years to come.
However, with very few games left on the schedule, I would rather the Sixers see the process through and give them the best possible chance at adding another generation talent to their core. A good comparison would be like a kid getting braces. Nobody wants to wear braces- it’s ugly and feels like a never ending process, but when it’s all said and done, you will be eternally grateful for enduring those tough years.
If this were projected to be a weak draft coming up, I may feel differently, but this draft class is loaded. These freshmen phenoms have been remarkable and it doesn’t take a wild imagination to picture them taking over the NBA. With Lebron James getting older, the Sixers are in the perfect position to set themselves up to dominate the east for a very long time. Picture this starting lineup: Markelle Fultz, Malik Monk (Lakers pick), Robert Covington, Ben Simmons, and Joel Embiid. The Sixers are a few ping pong balls away from putting that lineup on the floor.
The worst thing you can be in the NBA is mediocre. Mediocrity is the purgatory of the NBA. Nobody wants to be the Atlanta Hawks or Indiana Pacers of the league. The process has been set into motion by Sam Hinkie and the franchise is now in the hands of Bryan Colangelo. Your move, B.C.