It was a script sure to play out once again in the Philadelphia 76ers-Toronto Raptors matchup Wednesday. The Atlantic Division leaders would mount a late comeback, thwarting the Sixers’ attempt at beating the Raptors for the first time in 15 games. Kyle Lowry scorned his hometown team over the years, making three-point jumpers look effortless and accentuating the talent deficiency between him and the Sixers point guards. This year, however, the gems of Sam Hinkie’s lauded 2014 draft class welcomed the Raptors to a new iteration of Sixers basketball.
Dario Saric transformed into Joel Embiid during one captivating defensive possession, with 8:00 to go in the fourth quarter, denying two Raptors shots at the rim followed by playful shoves from multiple teammates. The Wells Fargo Center, in a frenzy, displayed their admiration for the versatile rookie. Nearly seven-and-a-half minutes later, Embiid punctuated the Sixers win with a block of his own on Kyle Lowry.
As Kyle Neubeck acknowledged last week, individual, brilliant plays from Embiid and Saric hold significant importance and if it leads to weakening draft positioning than it’s due to their impact in games. Instead of a trepidatious campaign from Embiid, it’s being viewed in a completely different context. The 22-year-old rookie has everyone fixated on what he might do in the next game or what adversary he’ll make look amateurish on the defensive end.
The intrigue, purity and sheer entertainment surrounding Embiid’s game is a blessing to witness consistently. His definite imprint will correlate to wins in Philadelphia’s future. The team, already, is 6-2 this month. You can translate your tanking energy to a team over 2,454 miles away in Sacramento.
Team: Sacramento Kings (16-25)
Tankathon.com Ranking: ninth
Protections: In 2017, Philadelphia has the right to swap first-round picks with Sacramento if the Kings’ pick lands in the top 10 post-lottery.
Analysis/Pick Status: The Sixers ascension has coincided with a Kings collapse, as the royal purple donned squad is detonating, just 1-6 over its last seven games. A skid is just one of the team’s immediate concerns. Starting small forward Rudy Gay tore his achilles in his left leg in Sacramento’s 106-100 loss to Indiana Wednesday. A scarcity in scorers was already problematic; Gay’s season-ending injury compounds the issue.
Dave Joerger might go to a committee route at SF to collectively make up Gay’s widespread impact. A heavy reliance on Gay and DeMarcus Cousins previously will be a detriment, even though Gay’s injury was unforeseen. Sacramento’s lack of necessary depth could lead to a massive Kings implosion.
The disregard for developing youth also plays an intricate role here, with Skal Labissiere and Malachi Richardson receiving DNP-CDs on the regular. Willie Cauley-Stein and Ben McLemore appear to be moveable assets more than rotational pieces, given their time on the floor. At 15.1 MPG and 10.9 MPG, respectively, McLemore and Cauley-Stein’s minutes have dropped to career-lows.
Gay is almost irreplaceable, but it could lead to a necessary rotational shift with Dave Joerger tasking the aforementioned duo with heightened roles.
Chance of Pick Conveyance: The Sixers are 1.5 games behind Sacramento and, seemingly, are bound to pass them, considering Sacramento arguably lost its second-best talent for the season. Thank Samuel for the Sixers having optionality.
Team: Los Angeles Lakers (15-31)
Tankathon.com Ranking: fourth
Protections: 1-3 in 2017, unprotected in 2018
Analysis/Pick Status: Getting caught up in the question “are the Sixers too good?” was understandable. However, it’s the opposite question for Los Angeles at the moment. The Lakers have finally reached the prestigious No. 4 spot, 0-5 in the last five games, due to defensive ineptitude. Los Angeles is a tire fire defensively, last in opponent’s field goal percentage and among the bottom-feeders in a plethora of categories, that has difficulty playing 48 minutes of tough, inspired basketball.
Against Denver Tuesday, defense fueled a valiant Lakers comeback, down 17 in the fourth, but that effort was necessary 15-40 minutes earlier in the game. Sporadic efforts on that end led to 127-121 defeat at home against the Nuggets. A win was attainable, and the loss has manifested into fear. A home contest against the Pacers leads into a prime tanking stretch for the Lakers. Away games against Dallas (shifts role as a team needing to lose), Portland and Utah this week could have the Lakers entering the danger zone. We all know where that is.
Chance of Pick Conveyance: Currently at 62.2 percent, which could drop drastically. Here’s to hoping for a Brandon Ingram pure breakout.