NBA free agency is drying up, Kawhi Leonard has finally been traded (sadly, not to Philly — or thankfully, depending on who you’re talking to) and Summer League feels like a distant memory. The yearly NBA calendar is hitting a rare dead period — how dead? The Sixers are maybe the most intriguing franchise because they have yet to name a new GM and are involved in dealings of role players. Yes, the Sixers are the most interesting team of the current NBA climate because they haven’t named a GM and have names like Mike Muscala, Justin Anderson and Timothé Luwawu-Cabarrot on their transaction sheets (or they can be expected to have those names on their transaction sheets in the near future, as the Muscala deal is yet to be made official).
One benefit of being in such a lull though, is that one can take a look at a team and assess their standing respective to the rest of the league without having to do it all over again in a day when Player X is traded for Player Y and Player Z signs with Team A over the expected destination in Team B. (Or if that type of movement does happen, at this point it involves relatively less impactful players.) ESPN and NBC Sport’s Pro Basketball Talk took on those assessments in the form of generating Summer power rankings of the 30 NBA squads following the offseason’s most significant moves. Both outlets think highly of the Sixers, despite their failed efforts to score a primo free agent.
NBC Sport’s Kurt Helin brought the Sixers in at 4th overall, trailing only the Golden State Warriors, Boston Celtics and Houston Rockets, in that order:
They wanted Kawhi Leonard. They went big game hunting all summer. They didn’t get anybody, but they still got Ben Simmons, they still got Joel Embiid, they still got Dario Saric, they’re going to add Markelle Fultz. All these young players are going to get better. It works for them.
ESPN’s top 4 wasn’t any different. Of their 4th place ranking of the Sixers, Chris Forsberg writes:
Philadelphia didn’t make the big splash its fan base might have hoped for — either on the court (no LeBron, Paul George or Kawhi) or in the front office. And, yet, much like Boston, the 76ers are still well positioned to be a conference front-runner with only minor tweaks. The Sixers brought back JJ Redick, traded for Wilson Chandler and added a pair of first-rounders in Zhaire Smith and Landry Shamet. Joel Embiid will certainly believe his team is the East favorite.
Unfortunately, there aren’t any other notable power rankings to survey. But the two above seem to be high on the Sixers based primarily on the development of their core. And it makes a lot of sense. Joel Embiid is in the midst of his first fully healthy offseason, and like Markelle Fultz, is working with Drew Hanlen to finely tune his offensive tool kit. Ben Simmons should build on a dominant rookie campaign — where he looked less like a rookie and more like a budding All-Star — knowing exactly what he needs to add to his game. Dario Saric already took one massive season-to-season leap, and though it would be unfair to expect a similar year 3 jump, the Croatian forward has proven to be dedicated to transforming his game. Maybe Robert Covington is what he is at this point, and that’s a damn good, all-defensive player. JJ Redick is back to round out what was one of the most effective high usage lineups in basketball last year. And while the Sixers weren’t able to add outside star power, Markelle Fultz could make up for the swing-and-miss if you’re into the rumors trickling out from summer workouts.
Although it is a modest confidence boost to see national observers have such respect for the Sixers, I’d really like to see tiers added to these power rankings. How far off of the elite are the Sixers viewed nationally? And who is on their tail? Golden State is in a league of their own. And if we’re talking strictly Eastern Conference, Boston has wedged a gap from the next group of contenders, which would include Philly and Toronto. But it’s not inconceivable to imagine the Sixers climbing passed the Celtics at some point in the season. That scenario would largely depend on the growth of Markelle Fultz, possibly a development where Fultz replaces Redick in the starting lineup.