The 76ers Rookies are Playing Like Vets

Jan 11, 2017; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid (21) warms up before action against the New York Knicks at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 11, 2017; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid (21) warms up before action against the New York Knicks at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports /

The Philadelphia 76ers have three rookies who are playing well beyond their years. Have you ever seen anything like it in franchise history?

Philadelphia 76ers rookies Joel Embiid, Dario Saric, and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot have only played about a half of one NBA season, but their instincts on the court may tell you otherwise; and isn’t it ironic that the first overall selection in the 2016 NBA Draft hasn’t played one regular-season minute yet and this is still a thing?

If you were to tell a friend or coworker that Joel Embiid had the ability to turn into a great NBA player, responses you’d receive, while surrounded by a load of “yeah but” would be fairly consistent. You wouldn’t be crazy to point out that he has the body and athleticism to be a dominant player in stretches. He has the touch around the rim to rack up a ton of points. He has the length and quick feet to be a good defender.

When you watched Dario Saric in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio, you could see that he had skills that would serve him well, but how well? How would it translate against the best teams in the world?

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Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot was the 24th pick in this most recent draft, and unlike Embiid or Saric, the rookie from France wasn’t in contact with the 76ers prior to them picking him like the two other rookies mentioned. Saric was playing overseas in Turkey, but his rights were held by Philadelphia. As Brett Brown said on numerous occasions, he and the Croatian stretch-four were in constant contact. TLC didn’t have this privilege, but does it show?

TLC’s athleticism, both on offense and defense, is one of the most pleasantly surprising parts of the young 2016-17 season. If you binged on his YouTube highlights for the Mega Leks last season (like a lot of us did before and after the draft), it was pretty obvious that the dude could move quickly and jump high, but so could Rodney Carney.

Did anyone expect him to basically knock Hollis Thompson off of the team and cut into Gerald Henderson‘s minutes on some nights? We didn’t even know, at first, if he’d be playing in the USA right away after he was drafted. Or, maybe he’d spend most of his minutes with the 76ers D-League affiliate, Delaware 87ers. TLC has become a nice piece on the Sixers’ second unit and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him in the starting lineup in a year or two.

Much like TLC, there are parts of Dario Saric’s game that are surprising. If you told me that “The Homie” would average about 10 points and 6 rebounds, coming off the bench for 24 minutes per game, while shooting over 33 percent from beyond the 3-point arc, I’d have gotten very, very giddy.

But, even when you look past his 3-point range or the points and rebounds that he’s been posting, it’s his ability to push the ball, handle it, and make smart decisions with the basketball that leave you pleased. Coach Brown has even crowned him the team’s inbound specialist. It seems like a simple task, but ask Robert Covington and the Minnesota Timberwolves if you think inbound passes matter.

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Then there was “The Process.” The end. What else needs to be written?

To put things into perspective (which may be stupid to even try to do, since most of us run around like children every time he does something dazzling on the court), he’s being compared to Wilt Chamberlain, Shaquille O’Neal and Hakeen Olajuwon, and the numbers back those comparisons up.

To put it even more into perspective, people aren’t only comparing what he can become to those aforementioned big men, they’re comparing him right now to three Hall of Famers. Something as simple as his up-and-under move that he’s already perfected, where he draws the foul by attempting a shot up and through the defender’s arm, is what sets him apart from any rookie in recent franchise history.

Twice in the previous two paragraphs, I talked about putting things into “perspective.” So much of what the Sixers have done over the last few years is all a matter of perspective. It is a coach’s decision to use his perspective and give minutes to the players who deserve to be out on the court.

So, next time you see a lineup with Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot at shooting guard, Dario Saric at power forward, and Joel Embiid at center, try putting that into perspective. Also, remember how Brett Brown has been giving Saric some run at small forward? Well, a month from now, at one point in time, he may be out on the court playing the three, while Ben Simmons  (remember him?) is at the four. That’d be four rookies in at once.

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Also, remember how I told you that Embiid, Saric and TLC play well beyond their years? Ben Simmons has been compared by many experts (already) to Magic Johnson. Try putting that into perspective.