Team name: Philadelphia 76ers
2013-14 Record: 19-63, last in Atlantic Division, 14th in Eastern Conference
Key Additions: Joel Embiid, Jerami Grant, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, K.J. McDaniels, Nerlens Noel (missed all of 2013-14 due to injury), Alexey Shved
Key Losses: James Anderson, Thaddeus Young
What significant moves were made this offseason?
Much to the dismay of their season-ticket holders, the two most important players that the 76ers added this summer may not play a single minute in the NBA this year.
In June, the Sixers rolled the dice by drafting injured Kansas center Joel Embiid, and there's a non-zero chance that he sits out the entire season, much like Nerlens Noel did last year. The 7'0", 250-pound Embiid has the potential to be a franchise-defining star, and 76ers' GM Sam Hinkie is more than willing to sacrifice short-term success in exchange for a much larger payoff down the road.
Conversely, we know for certain that 6'10" Croatian star Dario Saric won't suit up for the Sixers this season. While his performance at this year's FIBA World Cup showed that he's talented enough to play in the NBA right now, Saric - the No. 12 pick in this year's draft - is currently committed to Anadolu Efes in the Turkish Basketball League. Saric is reportedly unhappy with his role on his new club, but there's virtually no chance that he leaves Turkey until 2015 at the earliest.
When it comes to those who will play for the 76ers this year, the smart money says that second-round draft pick K.J. McDaniels should have the most impact. The former Clemson star led the ACC in blocks last season, and the 6'6" swingman has the tools to be one of the league's better young perimeter defenders.
The arrival of Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (acquired in the trade that sent Sixers' stalwart Thaddeus Young to Minnesota) brings much-needed veteran leadership to a roster that was the youngest in NBA history last season, and former Timberwolves' guard Alexey Shved is an intriguing option who figures to provide depth at both PG and SG.
What are the team's biggest strengths?
"Young Run Fun Dunk" is more than just the tagline for the 76ers' 2014-15 ad campaign: It's a fairly accurate (albeit clunky) description of what to expect from the team this season. The Sixers' youth is both a gift and a curse, but on the positive side of the ledger, they have enough energy to run with virtually anyone in the league.
Per SportVU data, the Sixers covered 1,438.8 miles on the court last season, second in the league to the eventual champion San Antonio Spurs. 2013-14 Rookie of the Year Michael Carter-Williams - who led all first-year players in scoring (16.7 PPG), rebounding (6.3 RPG) and assists (6.2 APG) - traveled approximately 2.6 miles per game, and his 4.6 MPH average was the highest mark of any starting point guard in the NBA.
No team in the Eastern Conference attacked the basket more than the Sixers did last season (29.3 drives per game), and if they continue to play at a breakneck speed (99.2 possessions per game in 2013-14, first in the NBA), they'll steal a few wins from unsuspecting teams this year.
Pace aside, the 76ers boast two of the NBA's best 23-and-under prospects in Noel and Carter-Williams, a solid (if unspectacular) perimeter threat in SG/SF Hollis Thompson, and a combo guard - Tony Wroten - who could make a legitimate run at the league's Sixth Man of the Year award (if he doesn't end up starting at SG). Center Henry Sims showed promise in a limited stint last year (11.8 PPG, 7.0 RPG in 25 games), and perhaps a change of scenery is what Alexey Shved needs to finally break out of a two-year funk. If head coach Brett Brown can coax a bit more focus out of his team on the defensive end, 25-28 wins isn't out of the question.
What are the team's biggest weaknesses?
The Sixers' problems begin and end with talent - specifically, their lack of it.
Simply put, the 76ers don't have enough players who can make things happen on the offensive end of the court. Last season, the team ranked in the bottom half of the league in shooting efficiency on drives, close shots, pull up shots, and catch and shoot opportunities.
But other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?
Things are a bit more promising defensively: Noel will give the Sixers the first bonafide rim protector they've had since Dikembe Mutombo, and McDaniels is the type of player who will make life difficult for opposing wings. Other than that, the news isn't good: No player on the roster had a Defensive Rating lower than 107 in 2013-14.
For what it's worth, the Sixers did a pretty decent job of forcing turnovers last season (9.3 steals per game, first in the NBA), but most of that was negated by their carelessness with the ball on the offensive end (16.9 turnovers per game, also first in the NBA).
In sum, this is a better group than the 15 players who were on the roster at the end of last season. Even so, Brett Brown will be forced to bring the proverbial knife to a gun fight this season - the Sixers are still a year or two away from being a formidable threat on a nightly basis.
What are the goals for this team?
This season is all about the continued evolution of the team's core - most notably, Carter-Williams and Noel. If the pair takes a significant step forward in their development - regardless of the 76ers' record - then the 2014-15 campaign should be deemed a success.
There are a few others - Wroten, Thompson, McDaniels - who figure to be a part of the Sixers' near-term plans, and their growth as players is also a prime objective of both Hinkie's and Brown's respective agendas.
Fortunately for Brown, he's in the enviable position of not having to worry about the two most important metrics used to evaluate head coaches - wins and losses - and is free to focus on skill-building and simply teaching his young charges how to be professionals. It's a rare luxury, and it's one that won't be afforded to him (in the same measure) next season.
How long will it be before the Sixers turn the corner?
It's not all doom and gloom for the 76ers: Much of the action over the next six months will be painful to watch, but there is the sense that the ship is, in fact, in the process of being righted. That light at the end of the tunnel doesn't appear to be a train, but we won't know for certain until at least two years from now.
With so many questions surrounding the Sixers, it's difficult to offer a definitive statement about the future. Some of the answers (MCW's jump shot, Noel's ability to play the 4) may very well come this season, while others (Embiid's health, Saric's ability to adapt to the NBA) figure to be at least a year or two away. Given the likelihood of yet another top-5 pick being added to the mix next summer, the player who will ultimately lead the Sixers out of the doldrums and into contention may not even be on the roster yet.
Slowly but surely, it will all come into focus soon, though not soon enough for those opposed to Hinkie's unabashed teardown worthy of the DIY network. One thing everyone can agree on is that the Sixers have a clear direction for the first time in years, and their unwavering commitment to that vision should count for something. Unfortunately, the one place it won't count is in the standings. At least not yet, anyway.