Everyone knew the Philadelphia 76ers were going to stink to high-heaven again this season. It was a fact. A lock. Their destiny if you will — one which they seem intent in fulfilling. But it hasn’t all been sad faces, lack of rainbows and downtrodden gutter-like feelings for the Sixers. There have been some (small) glimmering flashes of hope for a better future.
Not being able to speak directly to the state of mind or patience left for those who root for the Sixers, fans are obviously going to need to remain patient. If not for Sam Hinkie’s plan, for their sanity. No matter, though. If humans feel obliged to continue to force their eyeballs to consume Philadelphia, let’s look at some bright spots which should hold them over until…well, something good happens.
Starting with the obvious:
Okafor has been mostly tremendous. Obviously he’s not helping this version of the Sixers win any games, but that has little to do with him and much more to do with the fact that borderline NBA players get tangible minutes on the floor.
Through the small sample size of four games, Okafor is averaging 20.3 points, 5.5 boards and a block. More impressive than that, though, might be the fact that he’s logging over 33 minutes per game. Not bad for a guy whose largest concern was his weight, fitness and fatigue.
He’s turned over the ball more than you would prefer for a big (3.3 per), yet he’s got the ball in his hands a lot. Also worth pointing out that he’s only attempting four free throws a game. Again, that’s nitpicking, but a behemoth of a man needs to get to the charity stripe a tad bit more.
That said, he looks to be a complete man underneath:
Finally, the best — and somewhat surprising — aspect of his game is how far ahead his game is when he’s facing the basket. Everyone knew (assumed) he’d be solid with his back to the bucket, but few expected him to look this solid with the rock in his hands, with his mug facing directly towards the rim, then being able to do something productive.
The future is bright for Okafor, obviously. It seems as if Philly has a legit future superstar to build around.
Noel might be the most underrated player in the league. Yes, he plays for an abomination of a team. Sure, he’s limited offensively. Still, he’s a gifted shot-deterrence difference maker, which is highlighted nearly every night when his less gifted teammates allow a guard to get to the bucket as if they were simply going to take out the garbage and not put points on the board.
Last season Noel could’ve won Rookie of the Year, and this season he’s improved upon his debut campaign. Averaging 13.3 points, 10.8 boards and two blocks is nothing to sneeze at:
I’ve long thought of Nerlens Noel as a poor man’s Marcus Camby. It’s meant as a compliment, too. His offensive game is far worse than Camby’s, but if he can ever develop the mid-range game Camby had Noel would just be silly.
The Combination of the Two
It might seem like I’m cheating here, but I’m not. Unlike other versions of “The Plan,” where there are few legitimate signs of hope, Noel and Okafor should provide fans with a real sense of optimism for the future.
Simply because much of the rest of the league is going smaller, Hinkie has been drafting according to projected value. That’s why these two men — along with an injured lover of fine mixed-drinks — are all on the same roster. The potential for this panning out in a positive way is high.
Noel helps with Okafor’s defensive deficiencies much in the same way Okafor will make up for the former’s inability to create offense. They’re a true one-two punch…or, a four-five punch given their positions.
While the guards on the roster more resemble an iffy-college backcourt, those two giants will have to hold down the fort best they can until help arrives. Luckily…
Dario Saric is a Comin’
You won’t find a larger Dario Saric truther on the planet than me. Two years ago I had him pegged as a future top 15 player in the league. Now that time has passed, some have forgotten about the hype, but I’ll double-down on that idea.
Let’s pretend I’m wrong, which is likely. Let’s simply assume that Saric isn’t going to adjust in all the ways I imagine, and he’s only a competent offensive player who isn’t as great at creating his own shot as he’s been overseas. So what?
With Okafor being a enormous fellow underneath, and even despite Noel’s inability to stretch the floor at all, Saric’s range can be on display thanks to teams doubling Okafor. It can give him easier looks at the bucket.
Also, you know, he can actually be a very good player. Again, maybe not a future top 15 guy in the league, but an All-Star type guy. One who should provide the Sixers with some much-needed offense. It won’t hurt that Philly will have 6’10” or larger humans from the 3 to the 5 on the floor at any given time. As the league continues to go small, the Sixers should at least dominate the post…or at least one would think.
That might be cheating, as Saric isn’t on the roster now. However, he’s reportedly coming next year. That’s just in time to join the two other lottery players currently on the roster in Noel and Okafor, as well as a new horde of first-round picks in the next draft. They could have FOUR!
The Plan is Working!
No really, it is. The issue with Sam Hinkie’s plan has never been the plan itself, but the execution of it. If anything, when/if Hinkie gets fired it won’t be because his plan to build the roster through being horrible was a bad idea. It’ll be because he’s bad at evaluating talent.
Hinkie has been using second-round picks in a way more teams should. He throws as many picks against the wall to see what sticks. Hoping — praying probably — that he hits the next diamond in the rough. While none of the guys on the roster now are going to elevate to Draymond Green status, it’s still better than overpaying for a washed-up aging guard whose only value to the team would be the name on the back of his jersey. Only reason people haven’t thought that his second-round picking splurge is a great idea is because all the players, ugh, stink.
This is where believers in the plan need to believe it even more. With Okafor and Noel being legitimate building blocks for the next 10 years, and with Saric bringing his talents to Philly next season, there are reasons to believe that AFTER Hinkie drafts a few more first-rounders, next offseason can see Philly attempt to get players of consequence to help with — the by-then more developed and ready for prime time — two galactic powers underneath and a potential-filled Saric roaming around the wing as a 3.
So, yeah, I guess three out of the five reasons to be pumped about the Sixers this season are actually about next season, but that’s the plan!
My goodness is Sam Hinkie a genius if only for providing himself with the greatest job security in the world because of his own plan to be horrible. Good for him. I like it!