By Liam McKeone
For the past four years, the Philadelphia 76ers have been the laughingstock of the NBA. The 76ers’ master plan to acquire a star was to lose badly during the regular season in order to get a higher draft pick. This would increase their chances of getting that one star player. With the guidance of its general manager Sam Hinkie, the team finished with close to the worst record in the NBA three seasons in a row. Meanwhile, the team traded away any decent players it had for draft picks, filling its roster with players nobody has ever heard of. Hinkie was fired before the beginning of this season, and many abandoned the notion of “The Process” having any real value. Yet, suddenly the Sixers have won eight of their last 10 games and stayed competitive every night. For a team that was regularly blown out and scoffed at for three consecutive years, this is a huge deal.
So, how did it happen? How did the league-wide punchline become a threat?
Naturally, it all starts with the fruits of “The Process.” Joel Embiid, the seven-foot big man drafted #3 overall in 2014 out of Kansas, is the real deal. He’s bigger than almost anyone else on the court; he can dribble like a point guard, shoot the three and defend as well as any big man in the game. After being injured for two seasons due to foot issues, Embiid finally made his anticipated debut this season and has impressed beyond all expectations. He is averaging 20 points, eight rebounds and nearly three blocks per game on only an average of 25 minutes a game. Compared to true superstars like LeBron James and Russell Westbrook, who are averaging more than 35 minutes a game, Embiid’s potential seems endless.
Embiid has exceeded expectations so far, but his teammates are beginning to make a difference and swing the Sixers back towards their winning ways. Dario Saric and Nerlens Noel are early first round draft picks who have turned into two valuable results of The Process. Noel is a defensive stalwart who, when paired with Embiid on defense, contributes to one of the best defensive front courts in the entire league. Saric is a stretch forward who has begun to hit his stride recently, showing ability to both hit the three and score off the dribble. When combined with the ascension of T.J. McConnell as the team’s starting point guard, the Sixers have a young core that could make waves as early as this season in the playoffs if things go right.
This is a team that could be extremely dangerous down the road. Embiid looks good now, and he is only 22 years old. Provided he stays healthy, Embiid has the potential to be dominant on both ends of the floor and be the generational superstar that the Sixers and Sam Hinkie have been looking for. They have the outright talent on the team now with Embiid, Noel and Saric, and once they start filling the roster around them to complement their playing styles, the Sixers could soon be a force in the Eastern Conference.