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Looking Back at how the Sixers Dodged several Bullets

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NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Philadelphia 76ers Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Being an action/sci-fi nerd enthusiast, one of my favorite movies of the last 20 years is “The Matrix”. (Hold up. Lemme check the math. Yup. Still within twenty years.)

I’ll spare you from my boring explanation of the plot. In short, computers take over the world, and there is a handful of humans fighting to preserve the human race. The movie was more a greater special effects masterpiece than story-making one with the use of “bullet time” -- which is simply Warner Bros. trademark for what’s more commonly known as flow motion or time slice.

One of the best scenes using that camera technique comes close to the end of The Matrix where Neo (played by Keanu Reeves) is dodging bullets from an Agent (a random computer that has assimilated a “body” like “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” or something).

Granted, Neo doesn’t dodge ALL of the bullets since the last two graze him, but hey, nobody’s perfect. A GIF of that scene is probably my favorite to use when dodging Twitter trolls -- next to the one of Muhammad Ali dodging what seems like infinity punches from George Foreman.

I use this setup as a preface to a Philadelphia 76ers piece about how the Sixers absolutely “Neo”-ed the 2014 NBA Draft.

As the Sixers head up to Toronto to face the best team in the Eastern Conference -- the Toronto Raptors -- they do so with a cornerstone in Joel Embiid they drafted in 2014. It’s funny because it could have gone much differently.

That year, the Sixers had the second-best odds at the #1 pick. The consensus #1 pick that year was Andrew Wiggins -- who now plays for the Minnesota Timberwolves. Wiggins was drafted by the Cleveland Cavaliers, but he was dealt to Minnesota in the deal that brought Kevin Love to the Cavs.

The Milwaukee Bucks had the #2 pick and took Jabari Parker out of Duke University.

The Philadelphia 76ers selected Joel Embiid with the very next pick. (Cue iconic photo).

Fast forward to 2018 where all three are (technically) in their fifth season.

Andrew Wiggins is still with the Timberwolves. Wiggins had a decent first three years and won Rookie of the Year, but holy lord have his statistics taken a nosedive since then.

First three years:

  • 36.2 MPG
  • 20.4 PPG
  • 4.1 RPG
  • 2.1 APG
  • .532 TS%
  • 10.3 WS
  • -0.9 VORP
  • 105 ORtg/114 DRtg

Last two years:

  • 35.6 MPG
  • 17.2 PPG
  • 4.2 RPG
  • 2.0 APG
  • .498 TS%
  • 2.1 WS
  • -0.5 VORP
  • 100 ORtg/108 DRtg

(I would like to point out, now, that Wiggins is shooting 38% on two-point field goals. Yikes!)

Wiggins has not yet lived up to any hype at all. Even if Wiggins got the smallest amount of hype (let alone the giant hype he got coming out of the University of Kansas), he wouldn’t be living up to that, either, at this point.

(Hey, Timberwolves fans. You’re paying $25.5 million this season to a guy whose TS% is .467. I don’t mean to pour more salt on that wound, but you’re also paying him $122.1 million over the next four.)

The Timberwolves are paying $122.1 million over the next four years for a guy who may or not shoot better than some of us who play in rec leagues or adult leagues in the city. Am I being a jerk towards Mr. Wiggins? Perhaps. Is this position even a little bit justified? Oh, yeah, it is.

Let’s move on two the #2 pick -- Mr. Jabari Parker.

Parker was called the most “NBA ready” prospect because of his scoring -- even if Parker only averaged 19.0 PPG versus Wiggins’s 17.1. I guess that 1.9 points really makes a difference. The debate with Parker (at least my internal debate at the time) was what position does Parker play? Is he a traditional 3? Is he an undersized 4?

As it turns out, the answer is still a giant shrug emoji -- a giant shrug emoji followed by a band-aid emoji. Parker has only played 70+ games once in his career. In the other three years with Milwaukee, Parker was recovering from multiple ACL surgeries in the same knee (left).

Where is Parker, now? He’s back in his hometown of Chicago on a two-year, $40 million contract. Technically, it’s one year with a team option for an additional $20 million next season. He’s played in all 24 games for the Bulls, so that’s a start, but he’s only started in 17 of those games.

With Aaron Gordon, Dante Exum, Marcus Smart, and Julius Randle on the board at #3, then general manager Samuel Blake Hinkie selected Joel Embiid out of the University of Kansas. After the selection, Jay Bilas said Embiid (not Wiggins, not Parker) was the #1 prospect in the draft class.

Damn. Don’t you just love it when you’re right, Jay Bilas?

Embiid didn’t play in his first two seasons dealing with different ailments that I choose not to rehash at this time. Once he started playing, the world saw how special this kid is, and he hasn’t stopped improving.

In just three seasons, Embiid has put up those numbers, accounted for 11.6 total win shares, and a 4.5 VORP. That’s higher than the number you get if you combine Wiggins and Parker’s VORP … then double that. Embiid has also named an All-Star, a member of the 2017-2018 All-NBA Defensive team, and was an All-NBA center. He’s the second best big man in the NBA. (Sorry, folks. Anthony Davis is better, but to be fair, Embiid is tailgating him like rush hour traffic on I-95.)

This year, Embiid is and should be in the MVP discussion. He would be the first Sixer to enter the MVP discussion since Iverson, and if the craziest thing happens, he’d be the first big man to win the MVP since Dirk Nowitzki in 2007.

All of this was made possible because Hinkie in his most “Neo”-like impersonation dodged the bullets of Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker to take a kid who had not played basketball for very long. The old cliche’ is “hindsight is 20/20”, but most of Sixers Nation believes that Hinkie had foresight in this pick.

Hinkie sifted through the nonsense and code that is the “NBA Matrix” and made the right choice for us, and we’ll continue to enjoy the benefits …

… and chuckle at the Timberwolves and Bulls/Bucks for a little bit. Maybe, that’s just me, however.