It’s safe to say that this season began the exact opposite way that any basketball fan expected it to for the Philadelphia 76ers. After a shocking win and historical debut for rookie point guard Michael Carter-Williams against the two-time defending champion Miami Heat at home, the Sixers went on the road to defeat the Washington Wizards and traveled back home to shock the world again by handling the Chicago Bulls, who were thought to be title contenders at the time.
Then it was back to reality. After their 3-0 start, the Sixers have faltered to an 11-28 record since. It wasn’t all bad though. Most fans and people involved in the organization were realistic, and knew that the best way to sustain success down the road would be to struggle now as the young players develop and Sam Hinkie and his braintrust rack up draft picks.
With all of that said, one thing is clear: the Sixers have a bright future.
1. Emergance of MCW/Potential of Noel
Most were skeptical of Michael Carter-Williams coming out of Syracuse, and for good reason. Carter-Williams struggled mightily shooting the ball at the college level and everyone knows that Jim Boeheim’s 2-3 zone defense masks some of the worst on-ball defenders in the nation. Instead, MCW has been the best rookie on the planet. His jump shot is a work in progress, but there is no question that he has made an improvement in that area. He looks a whole lot more comfortable when shooting with his feet set now than he ever did at Syracuse. Outside of his inconsistent shot, Carter-Williams impacts a game in countless ways, whether it be rebounding, playmaking for others, intercepting passes, or the intangible hustle plays. Regardless, Jrue Holiday has quickly become an afterthought.
In addition, the Sixers picked up their center-of-the-future in Nerlens Noel and a first-round pick in this summer’s draft in exchange for Holiday. Nerlens has yet to play a game yet at the NBA level due to the torn ACL he suffered during his lone college season at Kentucky a year ago. Despite the fact that Noel has yet to make his debut, those around the franchise seem confident that they secured their franchise big man when they traded for him.
2. Upcoming draft picks
Now, at the midpoint of the season and the Sixers still struggling, it becomes more apparent that they will have a rather high draft pick of their own this June as well as New Orleans’ as long as they stay out of the top-five. With the Pelicans struggling as well, there is a good chance that the Sixers could very well end up with two lottery picks, perhaps even two of the top-ten.
Simply put, this draft class is projected to be one of the deepest in a very long time, perhaps since 2003 when LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh among other entered the Association. With potential superstars in Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid, Jabari Parker, and Julius Randle at the top of team’s draft boards, there is no secret that general managers of struggling teams are confident that they can change their misfortunes around quickly. It’s not just a top-heavy draft class however. In fact, it is extremely deep, with good value almost certainly slipping into the mid-second round.
3. Salary cap flexibility
That all sounds great if you root for the Sixers, but the hope and belief doesn’t stop there. Sam Hinkie and company have more salary cap room than anyone in the NBA to work with. With over $11 million remaining this year, it will only grow significantly from there heading into the summer. At least one of Thaddeus Young, Evan Turner, or Spencer Hawes will be traded before the February deadline. If for some unforeseen reason they are not, Turner and Hawes likely will be wearing a different uniform regardless, both set to become free agents. The Sixers could retain the right to match any offer sheet that a team signs Turner to but would need to offer him a qualifying offer of nearly $9 million to do so. Given the analytic, frugal approach that Hinkie has taken, that is extremely unlikely. Also, they could clear Lavoy Allen off their books if they wish to, or they could offer him a qualifying offer of $3.8 million.
4. Young talent/Good contracts
Most importantly, they will have young pieces in Carter-Williams, Noel, their two first-rounders this year, and even the emerging Tony Wroten all locked up for some time. MCW and Noel are locked up for four years before Hinkie even needs to think about free agency. At that point, they will still be able to match any offer sheet that either of them sign. It will be the same scenario for the two picks this summer, simply a year later. Wroten, on the other hand, will be the off-season before Noel and Carter-Williams are eligible.
As you can see, while the games are muddy to say the least this season, and may be the same next year, the Sixers now have a direction, and they have set themselves up nicely for sustained success. All the franchise needs to do now is draft well and potentially sign one quality free agent to surround perhaps four of the better young players in the game. “The City of Brotherly Love” can love their Sixers once again.