Although the team-building philosophies of the teams on the court matter not to the players engaging in tonight's affair, it's hard to not to make tonight's 76ers-Magic game preview into a referendum on team-building. The Sixers do everything possible to achieve their long-term goals and are willing to compromise in the short-term, while Orlando has long-term goals but wants some cake short-term, too.
Here's a great example of the philosophical differences: on Monday night, 2014 Magic draft pick Aaron Gordon, picked one spot behind Joel Embiid was taken by the Sixers, played just four minutes in a Magic victory over the still-winless Pelicans. Gordon, a super-athlete with a high skill level in everything but shooting coming into the NBA, is averaging 19 points and 10 rebounds per 36 minutes and is already an impact defender.
But he sat most of Monday behind Jason Smith. Yes, the former Sixer maybe most famous for a hip check that one time played ahead of a potential franchise pillar during a close game. Gordon is averaging just 19 minutes per game this year. Playing Smith once over Gordon won't set back the entire rebuild, but it evolving into a consistent playing time issue would be a major team-building hurdle.
On the other hand, excluding games where he left due to injury, Nerlens Noel has not played fewer than 21 minutes in a game. In his NBA career.
Orlando's coach is Scott Skiles, who in his fourth NBA head coaching stop has a well-established modus operandi - he installs his defense and gets a short-term improvement out of the players he uses, which tends to marginalize young players who make mistakes for veterans who can execute consistently and don't help the long-term outlook of the roster. He gets under everyone's skin and burns out his players after a few years. Rinse and repeat.
Some things have changed with Skiles since he first coached an NBA team in 1999. It's something of a credit to him that he's able to stick around. Skiles has actually been mostly on board with other changes in basketball. The Magic start a four-out lineup, and his teams in Milwaukee played an up-tempo pace with shooting and spacing. He's not Doug Collins in that respect, at least.
But even a partial focus on individual wins and losses, instead of on the end goal of becoming a consistent championship contender, is what separates the Sixers and the Magic.
Expect Gordon to play more than four minutes, hopefully, along with a steady dose of Elfrid Payton, Victor Oladipo, Evan Fournier, and other Magic youngsters. Mario Hezonja better also play like a billion minutes. There is a bunch of talent here, more than the Sixers have while effectively two years earlier in beginning their rebuild.
However: Orlando does not have a building block with the future upside of either Nerlens Noel or Jahlil Okafor, who have in their own ways dominated thus far this season despite the Sixers' winless record. Orlando-Philly games in recent years have been chores - I'm pretty sure I've had game duties for at least four of them - but this should be a fun game where young legs hopefully can overcome a back-to-back for both teams.
Brett Brown kept Noel, Okafor, and Stauskas on the court for at least 36 minutes each last night. Considering the Sixers' devotion to sports science and the recent devotion to resting players across the league, the minutes numbers on the season are somewhat eye-popping. The team hasn't had a back-to-back yet but also plays two-thirds of their schedule on the road over the first two months of the season. It'll be a test for a younger team that could definitely use a win, even if Orlando might be more devoted to instant gratification.