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The Philadelphia 76ers and the Final Stretch of the Season

No team had a rougher trade deadline than the Philadelphia 76ers. First, it was the puzzling Nerlens Noel trade, trading him to Dallas for essentially Justin Anderson and two second-round draft picks, currently masquerading as a top-18 protected first round pick.

Then, rookie forward Ben Simmons was ruled out for the rest of the season after not healing properly from a Jones fracture suffered in the preseason. Simmons, expected to play the uber point forward role for the Sixers, will have to wait until the 2017-18 regular season to make his debut in a Philadelphia uniform.

And finally, Joel Embiid was ruled out for the remainder of the season with a knee injury – effectively ending a stellar rookie year.

Already a fleeting season, the Sixers will have to endure the final 25 games of the season without their star center or a glimpse of their future starting point guard. Despite those huge losses, Philadelphia is still in good position to make something of the rest of the season. 

The first is the group of players already on the roster. Gone are the days of Philadelphia using the D-League to fill up the roster, hoping one or two could eventually break out and evolve into potential rotation players. After a handful of draft classes, Philadelphia has some legitimate talent on the roster and will get a good look at them in this season’s final stretch run.

Look no further than rookie forward Dario Šarić. With Philadelphia’s trade of Ersan Illyasova to Atlanta, Šarić was the biggest benefiter of that move, adding more minutes to his plate. The result? 17.0 points, 7.9 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game in the month of February and 20.0 points, 11.0 rebounds and 5.3 assists in his first four games after the all-star break. Both guys Philadelphia waited two additional seasons for have lived up to their billings. 

Outside of shooting – 31 percent from beyond the arc – Šarić has flashed a bit of everything. He can score and create for himself, he can create for others in decent doses, and he shows good size on the glass. Šarić, like most rookies, isn’t a good defender, but he has good size and athleticism to defend along the perimeter. Moving him to the power forward – small-ball four spot – and placing him alongside Embiid would mask two of his biggest weaknesses. 

Philadelphia’s surplus of frontcourt talent doesn’t stop at Saric. Richaun Holmes is another talented big man who will be getting more minutes in the final stretch of the season. Noel’s departure and Embiid’s injury opened up time for Jahlil Okafor to start, but after Philadelphia wanted to trade him, his playing time is merely to help in assisting a future trade down the road. Holmes, however, will be the true winner as he gets more minutes to show his skills.

His PER 36 minute numbers – 15.3 points, 9.4 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.3 steals and 2.2 blocks with a 17.6 PER – suggest that he’s been quite underrated for a while now. He’s a quality backup center who can block shots and make plays on the defensive end. Once the 76ers find a taker for Okafor, Holmes will ascend into a backup role behind Embiid, giving Philadelphia two dynamic centers who can patrol the rim and make splash plays on defense.

I’m also a bit curious about Philadelphia’s wing depth. Robert Covington has already solidified himself as the team’s starting small forward, but that shooting guard spot is wide open for the future. The aforementioned Anderson has a chance to make moves and blossom into a rotation player if he can develop a consistent long-range shot. Same goes for rookie Timothé Luwawu-Cabarrot. After two years of figuring it out, Nik Stauskas is evolving into a steady creator and floor spacer as well.

In a league where 3-and-D wings are at a premium, the 76ers have one legitimate one in Covington and two potential ones in Anderson and Luwawu-Cabarrott. Both should receive a ton of playing time, just to see if they can make any steps toward living up to that billing.

Lastly, Philadelphia will be looking to secure two lottery picks in this year’s draft class.

At 22-37, the 76ers are the fifth-worst team in the league, but tied with the Orlando Magic for fourth. Their first round pick is secured. The second, however, is Los Angeles’ first round pick. The Lakers, at 19-41, sit third from the bottom. However, if they fall out of the top three of the draft, Philadelphia earns their pick.

The embarrassment of riches if Philadelphia can earn two of the top four picks in this class and Simmons next season. That could be an elite knockdown shooter (Kentucky’s Malik Monk), a do-it-all forward (Florida State’s Jonathan Isaac) or even this year’s international man of mystery: France’s Frank Ntilikina. Maybe, if the Sixers are lucky, they can pluck one of Washington’s Markelle Fultz or UCLA’s Lonzo Ball.

Philadelphia lost two players that will be huge pieces to their future, but all is not lost compared to other previous seasons. Between Šarić and Holmes getting minutes, an abundance of potential two-way wings getting playing time and a chance to add one more lottery pick, the 76ers have plenty to watch out for and develop in the final stretch run of the regular season. 

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