What’s the Plan? is a weekly series where we look at the long-term outlooks for teams that aren’t immediately contending for a championship. We’ve already looked at the Sixers here, but let’s take another look at their situation now that one of their key draft picks, Joel Embiid, has suffered a major setback and will miss his second straight NBA season.
With Joel Embiid missing another season to foot surgery, the Philadelphia 76ers’ drastic rebuilding plan is looking less and less appealing. What good is tanking for draft picks if those picks don’t turn into players who help the team win? While the Embiid injury is a setback for the Sixers, it doesn’t single-handedly prove that what the Sixers are doing won’t work.
Not every draft pick is going to pan out, and expecting so much is hardly a realistic way of looking at draft picks as assets. Obviously teams expect higher draft picks to be more reliable than later picks, but sometimes the reward a prospect provides is worth the risk.
Every player has risks associated with them, and Embiid’s injury concerns were no secret when the Sixers picked him third overall in the 2014 draft. He was a high-upside pick that came with a lot of risk. If he overcame the injury, he could become the type of franchise-changing player Philadelphia has been seeking in this rebuilding process. He can still become that franchise-changing player, as he’ll only be 22 at the start of the 2016-2017 season. However, the more setbacks he suffers, the less hopeful we should be about his future.
Philadelphia has already begun to hedge against the possibility that Embiid is unable to overcome his injuries by drafting Jahlil Okafor. Okafor, like Embiid, was selected third overall by Philadelphia, giving the team three big men with big-time pedigrees from the last three drafts on the roster, (Nerlens Noel, Embiid and Okafor). And don’t forget, the Sixers also have Dario Saric stashed overseas, and he’ll be coming over sometime in the next few years. Philly has depth in its frontcourt prospects and won’t be too devastated if Embiid doesn’t pan out.
Even with Embiid’s injuries being worse than we thought at the time, the upside of the pick was too high for Philadelphia to pass up. Even now, with the big man facing his second season-ending foot surgery, I can’t name a player taken after him in the 2014 draft that has as high of a ceiling as him. That doesn’t make him more valuable of an asset than the players taken in that draft, but for a team like Philly trying to find a franchise-altering player, he’s exactly what they’re looking for.
The Sixers are going to keep doing what they’ve been doing: hoarding assets and not worrying about winning games. Until they’re ready to start competing at a meaningful level, it doesn’t make sense for them to win and hurt their chances in the draft. They’ll have a high pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, and if the player with the highest upside comes with some risk, they’ll roll the dice again and hope it works out. When you’re as bad as the Sixers, you need a big difference maker to get you into title contention.