Season win totals are often framed in terms of best-case and worst-case scenarios. Unscientific, sure, but it's a logical first step. Once a floor and ceiling are established for team performance, we can work within those parameters to estimate a specific number.
Take the Cleveland Cavaliers. If Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters thrive in their new off-ball roles, David Blatt's offense produces historically good results, Ray Allen seamlessly joins the team midseason (prompting myriad "Deep in The Q" exclamations from Austin Carr), and so on, the Cavs can probably win something like 65 games. If Irving gets hurt and they're unable to piece together a league-average defense, they'll most likely be in the low 50s.
Sam Hinkie isn't one for conventions, so it makes sense that it's difficult think about his rebuilding team in those terms. The Sixers' glaring lack of talent makes the team's baseline something close to reality. It's hard to say something will go wrong when very little is designed to go right.
As CBS Sports' Matt Moore said on a recent podcast, "You get 10 wins in the NBA for spelling your name right." I tend to think the Sixers are the rare exception to that rule and the number is something like seven or eight (many may disagree, in both directions). As for a ceiling, let's go with 20.
It says here that 20 wins with this roster would constitute a wildly successful season for Brett Brown. Regardless of what specific win total you have in mind as the best-case scenario, let's discuss what would happen if Brown did indeed get the most out of this season's team. Here's what I came up with:
- Michael Carter-Williams returns to the court fully healthy sometime in November. The shooting work that he has been able to do in practice pays off, and he creeps closer to respectability at 32 percent from behind the arc.
- Carter-Williams benefits from playing with an athletic big that can roll to the basket and catch lobs, his old pal Nerlens Noel. The second-year guard is able to keep his floor game at last year's level, an accomplishment considering Thaddeus Young and Spencer Hawes were traded but not really replaced.
- Noel stays generally healthy and plays around 70 games. While there are some growing pains offensively, his shot-blocking instincts and quick hands earn an All-Rookie First Team selection.
- Hinkie breaks Dario Saric out of Turkish prison just in time for a Rookie of the Year campaign (OK, that's not happening).
- Brown hits the breaks quite a bit, and the Sixers play at a place that is only slightly above league average. Fewer possessions allow for a little more variance, and the Sixers are able to win two or three more games because of it.
- Last year's frantic pace ends up accelerating the player development process. For example, Elliot Williams played seven times more than in Portland even before taking the sheer amount of possessions into account. With a year playing against a stacked deck already under their belt, the additional experience benefits the returning players.
- Hollis Thompson and K.J. McDaniels both make major strides toward becoming legit 3-and-D players. For Thompson, that means becoming a stronger all-around defender. For McDaniels, it's refining his three-point stroke.
- Now in his third season, Tony Wroten starts to develop another gear besides FULL SPEED AHEAD. Faced with the extremely difficult task of keeping the second-team offense afloat, he works around his poor shooting and consistently creates shots for players that can't on their own.
- Arnett Moultrie figures things out and puts his talent to good use as a rotation player. An athletic finisher with the ability to make midrange shots, he helps take some of the burden off Wroten in the pick-and-roll.
- Jason Richardson gives them a little something. Even if he can't really move, Carter-Williams and Wroten would surely welcome Richardson's shooting in five-minute doses.
- Miami's lack of shooting rears its ugly head, and Dwyane Wade can only return to peak form on so many nights. The Heat finish as the 8th seed in the Eastern Conference, get swept by Cleveland, and fork over the 15th pick in the 2015 NBA Draft to the Sixers.
- Fully healthy, Joel Embiid slides into uniform at some point in March. During his 15 minutes per game, Embiid shows flashes of becoming a dominant two-way big man.
- Embiid is so good that noted basketball fan Rihanna finally caves and sits courtside for an otherwise nondescript showdown against the Milwaukee Bucks on April 13th.
- (In all seriousness, I would accept zero major social media incidents from Embiid.)
If everything listed above happens, the Sixers will probably win more than 20 games. Of course, everything listed above won't happen, but I'm still holding out hope that some of them will. It sure beats thinking about Shved-Davies pick-and-rolls on the second night of back-to-back in February.