Despite missing out on LeBron James and the other starry names this summer, Sixers fans remain generally optimistic heading into this season. And why not? After decades* of unbearable Process-era losing, fans were treated to 52 wins last year, with another projected 50-plus-win campaign in the offing. The young stars should only improve moving forward. What a time to be alive as a basketball fan in Philadelphia.
* - The measurement of time for three to three-and-a-half years of losing during the Process continues to grow exponentially in the minds of the Talking Heads.
Still, despite the optimism being fully warranted for a successful Sixers season, and Philadelphia’s recent City of Champions status, some small, nagging part of my brain keeps envisioning ways in which things could go wrong. I suppose it’s my defense mechanism built up after 30-plus years of Philadelphia fandom and all its attendant heartbreaks.
Even the Process Godfather himself, Sam Hinkie, espoused a tolerance of uncertainty, saying, “the uncertainties are savage. You have to find a way to get comfortable with that range of outcomes.” He was referring to basketball team building, but the same thinking can be applied to a team’s prospects over the course of a season. So as much to get these thoughts off my chest as anything, let’s run through some of the ways the Sixers hype train could derail this season, and then never think upon them again.
Throws salt over the shoulder. Knocks on wood. Spits. Here we go.
Joel Embiid can’t stay healthy
Joel Embiid has played just 94 career NBA regular season games across four seasons, yet thanks to a widely successful season that included an All-Star start and All-NBA second team honors, talk of his inherent injury risk has largely faded to the background. Sure, the orbital bone fracture was a freak accident, but the track record for seven-footers with previous back, foot, and knee injuries isn’t exactly pristine. People don’t talk about it much, but as every fan who holds his or her breath whenever Embiid falls awkwardly to the floor knows, that elevated injury risk for the team’s superstar big man is ever-present.
Ben Simmons’ growth stagnates
Boston laid out the blueprint for how to defend Ben Simmons last spring, channeling the sage wisdom of Stan Van Gundy and forming a wall at the foul line. Granted, not every team has the same deep roster of versatile defenders to effectively put it into practice, but it’s not unreasonable to expect Simmons might find things more difficult going forward.
That is, unless he develops some sort of jumper. But there’s been no evidence of any improvement in that area this summer. In fact, with every talk show appearance where he mimes shooting with his right hand, or offseason scrimmage where he launches an awkward lefty jumper with the footwork of a right-handed shooter, the plot thickens that he’s using the wrong hand entirely.
Drew Hanlen is not a mystical combination of Herb McGee and Dr. Phil
Drew Hanlen would have us believe that Markelle Fultz is all set to take the league by storm. The former first overall pick has been locked in the shooting laboratory this summer, rebuilding from scratch the jumper that famously vanished from his repertoire heading into his rookie season. Anyone who has seen Fultz lately says he’s looking good. But you know who else looked good? A certain Washington Husky by the name of Markelle Fultz. The yips are a largely unexplained phenomenon, and even if Fultz has overcome them in the present, there’s no certainty they won’t crop up again in the future, maybe under the stress of actual NBA games.
Father Time catches up with JJ Redick
JJ Redick is 34 years old. Without a doubt, he’ll still be able to hit open jumpers as a 50-year-old podcaster at his local YMCA. However, a big part of what he brings to the table is his ability to run opponents off a series of screens and occupy the attention of the entire defense. If Redick loses a step or two with age, he becomes that much easier to defend, draining much of his value beyond being a mere stationary floor spacer. We also saw him exploited on the defensive end in the playoffs. Any loss in athleticism would only exacerbate those issues. Is this the year the undefeated Father Time seizes victory?
The team’s depleted wing depth comes back to haunt them
The rookie injury curse could play a bigger role in the season’s fortunes than people anticipate. The Sixers let Marco Belinelli go in free agency, and traded away both Justin Anderson and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot. I’m sure the team was expecting its two first round picks, Zhaire Smith and Landry Shamet, to pick up at least some of the slack within the wing rotation. While Shamet should be available to start the year and Smith is expected back sometime around December or January, both rookies missed out on valuable developmental time over the summer (while also missing training camp in Smith’s case).
It’s hard enough for rookies to contribute right away, but it becomes an even taller when they miss out on that gradual ramp up to NBA-level competition that the summer provides. As a result, the Sixers could find themselves with too thin a wing rotation, especially if some of my previously mentioned concerns prove true, or Wilson Chandler, another potential lose-a-step candidate, isn’t able to assume a heavy burden on the wing.
Furksanity was a one-night-only event
Furkan Korkmaz might not emerge as a human flamethrower capable of dropping 40 points on any given night. Oh, who am I kidding? That’s a lock.
OK, I feel much better. Let’s get this 82-0 campaign started.