The 76ers’ Future: Playoffs? Don’t Talk About Playoffs! Playoffs?!
Slow your roll there JoJo. Last month, after beating the Nets 105-95, the Sixers’ star center Joel Embiid said in an interview that they were, “thinking about playoffs.” Now, in my 19 years of life, I have only seen one Philly sports team bring home a title(2008 is still the best year of my life), so when any Philadelphia team has playoffs and their name in the same sentence, I get excited. But, unfortunately, it’s looking like the playoffs might be a pipedream for this young team. It makes sense that after the games against Minnesota, New York, and Portland, which all featured buzzer beater shots to win the game, and defeating a top team like the Raptors, the Sixers would be feeling good about themselves and a chance for a playoff spot. But, regardless of how they feel about themselves, the Sixers sadly are not looking like a playoff team—this year. There is no question that the talent is there, but rather do they have enough of it? Let’s check some stats, and see just how close the Sixers really are to a playoff berth.
The obvious player to start off with is Joel Embiid. To say he’s good is to vastly understate what he’s done for the young team. While he isn’t a true rookie, being drafted two years ago and sitting out the last two seasons with foot injuries, Embiid is a shoo-in for Rookie of the Year. Embiid has played with a minute restriction all season, averaging only 25.4 minutes per game. But in those 25 minutes, Embiid averages 20.2 points per game and 7.8 rebounds per game. To put that into perspective, Miami Heat center Hassan Whiteside averages almost eight minutes more than Embiid, with four less points and seven more rebounds. In those eight minutes, Embiid would not only smash Whiteside’s average point numbers but would almost definitely overtake Whiteside in rebounds as well. Rebounding is probably the worst part of Embiid’s game, with only 243 total rebounds this season, not a desirable number even with the minute restriction. Perhaps the most incredible thing about Embiid is that his game seems to know no limits. Embiid knows how to drive, how to post, and most impressively how to shoot 3’s. Embiid’s 3-point percentage this year is 36.7%, with an astonishing 98 3-pointers attempted. Since most bigs in the league aren’t shooting too many 3’s today, we’ll compare that number to a shooter everyone is familiar with: Steph Curry. Embiid’s 36.7% 3-point average is only 5% worse than Curry’s, a 41.2%. Of course, that isn’t a very practical comparison, as Curry has attempted 529 3’s, but the point is clear. Embiid does a lot of things right. Talent? Check. Playoff caliber? Pretty damn close, but not quite. Next player, Dario Saric.
Saric is a Croatian PF/SF, in his first year playing in America. Drafted 12th overall by the Magic in 2014, his rights were traded to the Sixers along with a 2015 and 2017 pick for guard Elfrid Payton, which ended up being a huge steal. Saric comes off the bench in almost every game, and I don’t think he’d have it any other way. In 24.3 minutes per game, the Croat has 10.6 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 1.8 assists per game. To give a little perspective on those numbers, Lou Williams, winner of the sixth man award in 2015, averages 18.4 points, 2.3 rebounds, and 3.1 assists per game in almost the exact same amount of minutes. Williams is a guard, so his numbers will be a bit different from Saric’s, but the idea is the same. Saric isn’t far off from those numbers, and while Williams is in his 12th year in the league, Saric has a long career ahead of him. But, while numbers are all well and good, something that will never be quantified is Saric’s work ethic. To say there is a player who works harder on the court than him would be a false statement. Saric will often be seen fighting for balls, making key steals, and coming up with huge blocks(if you haven’t seen his double block against the Raptors, I highly encourage you watch it). Dario is well aware he doesn’t have the same technical skill as some players, and he works 10 times as hard because of it. To go along with his hard work, Saric’s court vision is impeccable. It is safe to say Saric benefits the most from Brett Brown’s, and really Gregg Popovich’s mantra of sharing the ball. Saric will get a steal and start a fast break, only to pull up at the top of the key and find one of his teammates for the easy 3 ball. Most players would drive right to the hoop and take the layup, but Saric’s mind goes beyond that, and thinks about the players trailing behind him, and where they’ll end up. Brett Brown has really had a positive impact on this young player, and Saric will soon become a household name. Talent? Check. Playoff caliber? Maybe not just yet. Next up, T.J. McConnell.
There’s no question that everyone has heard of this young player. In his second year with the NBA, McConnell, known as the Floor General, has really come into his own as the starting point guard for the Sixers. Averaging 24.8 minutes per game, T.J. has 6.2 points, 3 rebounds, and 6.1 assists. While most know him for his game-winning shot over Carmelo Anthony to beat the Knicks in south Philly, those who watch the game closely will see McConnell is so much more than just a player with one moment of fame. T.J. does not let his nickname go to waste, as he directs the offense incredibly well for an undrafted point guard. Much like Saric, McConnell passes the ball magnificently, finding his teammates almost every time. T.J. also embodies the spirit of the city, often displaying his pride in playing for the Sixers with heartfelt, determined interviews, most recently being quoted as saying, “You’re not gonna overlook us…we aren’t a guaranteed win for teams anymore…we’re a damn good team.” The last line on the resume of McConnell is the recent interest from the Cavaliers, who wanted to bring T.J. in as a playmaker for the likes of Lebron James and Kyrie Irving. Talent? Check. Playoff caliber? Not quite, but he, along with the rest of the team, is very close.
Those three players are a sample size of what the Sixers offer, and the rest of the team looks just as promising. And of course, all of this is without taking into account the chosen one Ben Simmons, potentially set to make his career debut after the All-Star break. The Sixers won’t make the playoffs this year, currently sitting 15 games back from first place in the Atlantic Division, and third to last in the Eastern Conference. However, if you aren’t watching Sixers basketball, then you’re really missing out on something special, because this is a team you will want to watch grow and turn into an Eastern Conference powerhouse. The only team that could possibly match up with the Sixers in the next few years may be the Celtics, who, after this upcoming draft, will potentially have one of the greatest backcourts in history. The playoffs may not be in the cards this year for Philadelphia, but somewhere in the next five years, South Philly will be celebrating another championship.