Last season: The Sixers were in year one of an admitted full-fledged rebuild, which involved not even trying to win basketball games. The plan was to bottom out, and work on acquiring and developing young talent that has superstar potential to lead the team back to respectability, and restoring it to the status of contender for years to come. Michael Carter-Williams winning Rookie of the Year was a nice start in that regard, but even a 26-game losing streak didn’t help the team finish with the league’s worst record; the Milwaukee Bucks were somehow worse.
Signature highlight from last season: Ending that 26-game losing streak against the Pistons helped Philadelphia avoid history, and showed that sometimes, a youthful group of talented players can come together to produce something special.
Key offseason moves: The Sixers continued their plan of drafting what they feel are the best players available, even if they won’t be ready to contribute in the upcoming season. Joel Embiid (injury) and Dario Saric (Europe) were nice additions, though neither is expected to play this year. The team’s last solid veteran player in Thaddeus Young was traded as part of the Kevin Love deal, with Alexey Shved and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute coming back in return — and both expected to be a part of the rotation.
Keys to the Sixers season:
Embrace the tank: Philadelphia won’t be good, but that’s by design. The decision has been made to have solely young and developing players on the roster — both as a plan for long-term improvement, as well as a way to take advantage of the draft lottery system that’s currently in place by losing enough games to get a chance at landing one of the top picks in next summer’s draft.
Nerlens Noel: The Sixers prize of the 2013 draft sat out all of last season, even though from a health standpoint he was ready to go, and could have played in games that counted in the latter part of the season. Head coach Brett Brown could often be seen on the main court working out Noel personally on game nights, which is rare for head coaches at the NBA level. But it shows just how much player development is in the forefront in this current incarnation of the Sixers, and now we’ll see whether or not the entire season of rehabilitation and teaching has paid off, along with finding out just how good Noel’s prospects are of being one of the franchise’s long sought after cornerstones.
Michael Carter-Williams: As the rebuilding plan begins its second year, Carter-Williams will be the canary in the coal mine that tells you whether or not it’s off to a positive start. The point guard’s averages of 16.7 points, 6.2 rebounds and 6.3 assists per game were indeed impressive, but it’s worth wondering if the strength of those numbers was dependent on the team being so dismal. Carter-Williams will be worth watching closely to see if the development is taking place as scheduled, because with Noel in place, those assist numbers have a chance to jump significantly. But whether they do or they don’t, his shooting percentages — both from beyond the three-point arc (26.4 percent) and overall (40.5 percent) must begin to show marked improvement in order for him to begin to realize the potential he’s already shown.
Why you should watch: Carter-Williams and Noel should be all kinds of fun, and if Embiid gets on the court at some point later in the year (unlikely), that’s a lot of young talent with star potential that you can begin to follow in its extremely early stages.
Prediction: Pain. But only in the short-term, and only because that’s the mandate from the front office.