For the third straight year, casual fans of the Philadelphia 76ers may find it difficult to watch their favorite team on a nightly basis.
Sure... there's a healthy subset of devotees who are curious to see how the Nerlens Noel/Jahlil Okafor tandem will perform together. But how many people who don't consider themselves diehards can/will/should commit themselves to 82 nights of Sixers' basketball?
Fear not, true believers: The Liberty Ballers staff is here to save you some time/energy/aggravation by telling you exactly how the 2015-16 campaign will play out, game by painful game. Using the most sophisticated prediction software that we could afford given our budget (read: NBA 2K16 on Playstation 4), I manually simulated the entire season via the MyGM feature.
A caveat: As we all know, video game simulations are funny sometimes. In a separate MyPlayer mode instance, the beginning of the 2016-17 season saw the Sixers trot out the following starters for the opener: Pierre Jackson/Tony Wroten/Robert Covington/Carl Landry/Jahlil Okafor. Noel and Embiid were the first two bigs off of the bench, and the team didn't pick up Stauskas's option. Oh... and Embiid earned Second Team All-Rookie honors the previous year. So there's that.
Anyway, in the interest of accuracy, I used the following guidelines during the simulation:
- I went with the roster that shipped with the game, so no Christian Wood, no Scottie Wilbekin, no T.J. McConnell, no Jordan McRae and no J.P. Tokoto.
- Due to their real-life injuries, I held Kendall Marshall and Tony Wroten out until mid-October. And even though Joel Embiid is completely healthy in the game, I kept him on the inactive list all year (DNP - Shirley Temple-induced hangover).
- I didn't make any trades. That's probably unrealistic given the team's general manager, but making deals just for the sake of it didn't make sense, either. I made it clear to other teams that Carl Landry was available, but none of the deals I was offered were even remotely feasible. However, several other trades were presented to me, and I'll note a couple of those in the summary below.
- Offensively, I began the season by playing/simulating a more restrained pace than last year given the presence of Okafor. Halfway through the year, the 76ers' pace was nearly dead last in the league, so I changed the strategy to be a little more free-flowing on offense.
- Defensively, I always made it a point to match Nerlens Noel up against the other team's best big.
Here's how it all played out...
October - December
Despite two early losses to the Cleveland Cavaliers, I was able to get out to a 5-8 start. During the November 14 game against the San Antonio Spurs, Tony Wroten broke his leg, forcing him out of action for a good seven weeks.
The injuries didn't stop there: Noel went on the shelf for about 10 days in late November with a sprained ankle, and Okafor missed a week in December with a strained hip. Ironically enough, both players came into my office in mid-December complaining that Brett Brown (and, by extension, yours truly) was going too easy on the troops in practice.
On New Year's Eve, I received a directive from the team's owner - in this case, a fine older fellow named Terrence Gambin - to trade or release Carl Landry ASAP. Landry had made it clear to the front office that practice was too HARD, and Mr. Gambin didn't want that negative attitude around the younger players. I told him that I would try to make a move, but that I couldn't promise anything.
A three-game losing streak at the end of December left the Sixers record at 12-22 heading into 2016. Okafor was putting up 20/10/3 on a consistent basis, and Nik Stauskas (13.5 PPG) was the only other player on the team averaging double figures.
The best/worst trade offer received during this stretch? Jarrett Jack and the rights to Boston's 2017 1st-round pick in exchange for Joel Embiid and Miami's 2016 1st-round selection. There was also a Shabazz Muhammad/Nemaja Bjelica for Robert Covington/Carl Landry deal that I thought about A LOT before passing on.
January - February
A strained patella for Isaiah Canaan in early January shut him down for the year, but Kendall Marshall and a healthy Tony Wroten held down the fort rather admirably at the point. Nik Stauskas had an outstanding January, highlighted by a career-high 33 points in a 112-104 win over the Portland Trail Blazers.
Once again, Okafor came into my office complaining that practice was too easy. Considering that he took home Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month honors in November, December and January, I passed his suggestion along to Coach Brown.
Four Sixers: Noel, Okafor, Stauskas and JaKarr Sampson (!!) were named to the Rising Stars Challenge, and Big Jah even earned an All-Star nod (3 boards and 1 assist in 10 minutes of action).
Before the deadline, the Chicago Bulls (who had virtually everyone available for trade) offered Joakim Noah and a 2016 first-round pick in exchange for Noel, but I didn't bite. At the end of February, the Sixers ripped off a four-game winning streak (sparked by a 144-113 win over Detroit on February 24) to finish the month at 21-39.
March - April
A 10-game losing streak in late March and early April led 10,000 fans to sign an online petition suggesting that I should be relieved of my duties. And just when we started to turn things around, Okafor suffered a pinched nerve in his back and had to be shut down for the rest of the year.
A season-ending 112-86 loss to the Chicago Bulls meant that my Sixers would wrap up the year with a 26-56 record and the third-best odds of landing the No. 1 pick. The Washington Wizards (19-63; Bradley Beal was out for a while) and Denver Nuggets (25-57; they were just terrible) had worse records than the 76ers, while the Los Angeles Lakers (28-54) and Boston Celtics (31-51) finished slightly farther up the track.
Wrap-Up / Offseason
Despite an early end to his rookie campaign, Jahlil Okafor was able to capture ROY honors with an impressive stat line (19.0 PPG, 10.3 RPG, 3.1 APG, 1.6 BPG, 53.3 FG%, 52.3 FT%, 23.3 PER, 43 double-doubles in 69 games). Teammate Nik Stauskas (15.2 PPG, 2.0 RPG, 1.4 APG, 1.3 SPG, 36.5 FG%, 32.3 3PT%, 173 made 3s) was the surprise winner of the league's Most Improved Player Award presented by Kia Motors.
Wroten (12.9 PPG, 19.1 PER) and Marshall (10.1 PPG, team-high 7.7 APG, 10 double-doubles) were the only other Sixers to average double figures in scoring. Noel's numbers were all over the map (8.5 PPG, 10.2 RPG, 2.1 RPG, 43.3 FG%), but he did finish the year with 21 double-doubles. Meanwhile, Robert Covington couldn't hit the broad side of a barn (9.2 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 36.3 FG%, 33.7 3PT%).
That said, the team stats were fairly reasonable: 97.6 ORating, 104.5 DRating, 24.4 assists/game, 16.7 turnovers/game, 7.8 steals/game, 6.8 blocks/game, 42.8 FG%, 33.3 3PT%. NBA 2K16 as a whole has an issue with simulations and pace: The 76ers ended the season with a Pace Factor of 99.3, good enough for 20th in the NBA. Last year, Golden State led the league with a pace of 98.3.
For what it's worth, the Chicago Bulls swept the Oklahoma City Thunder in the NBA Finals to win the title. It should also be noted that the SACRAMENTO KINGS MADE THE PLAYOFFS, so any hopes of a pick swap probably died somewhere around the All-Star break.
Speaking of picks, one of the goals of the exercise was to see how the draft lottery played out. And for the third year in a row, Lady Luck was not on the Sixers' side.
Everything held to form until the final four envelopes when the top-3 protected pick owed to the 76ers from the Lakers (naturally) jumped into the top 3. Ultimately, Denver wound up with the No. 1 pick, Los Angeles ended up at No. 2, and Washington fell to No. 3 with the Sixers at No. 4. So, to recap: No Lakers pick, no swap with the Kings, but the Heat and Thunder picks both conveyed. Thanks to the Jason Thompson deal, I'm pretty sure the Miami pick would have been swapped with Golden State's selection - the Heat somehow wound up with the top seed in the East.
Regardless, all of this probably means no Skal Labissiere, no Ben Simmons and maybe no Brandon Ingram. Enjoy (insert one here: Jaylen Brown/Dragan Bender/Jamal Murray) everyone.