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Partly Sunny but Mostly Cloudy 2016-2017 Sixers Preview

Three seasons.

199 losses.

Multiple top-5 picks.

… and a Process that gave us all belief something was being built.

Five days from now, the Philadelphia 76ers begin game one of the next step in this new chapter entitled “A.H.: After Hinkie”. Some things have changed. Sam Hinkie is no longer the general manager. Joel Embiid is finally seeing NBA action for the first time since he was drafted in 2014. Dario Šarić is finally in the United States after several years at Anadolu Efes in Turkey. The fan base is fueled with the “power of positivity” similar to fans of my favorite WWE tag team: The New Day.

There are some dark clouds around this team, however. There is a growing situation with Sixers center Nerlens Noel. Ben Simmons is out until at least February while he recovers from surgery to repair a Jones fracture in his foot. There is still a little bit of question mark at the point guard position, and if the Sixers start sluggish, Brett Brown could find the heat increasing where he sits.

This year should be an interesting one for the Sixers as they enter this transition to the A.H. era. Why don’t we go through some of the more pertinent questions heading into 2016-2017 thanks to followers of the Total Sports Live Twitter and Facebook?

What should be made of the Nerlens Noel situation?

A philly.com article came out this week stating that the Sixers and Nerlens Noel have not had any talks about contract extension. Noel is on the last year of his rookie deal, and there’s the growing assumption he’s going to be the big man that inevitably gets moved by the trade deadline.

Do we have to resign to the fact that Noel will not be in a Sixers uniform next season? Not necessarily. It’s pretty common that players in the last year of their rookie deals don’t do contract extensions before the start of their last season. Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo and Portland’s C.J. McCollum did, but those are exceptions. My thought is that Noel is doing what the majority of players in his situation have always done: play out that last year and bet on themselves for a larger pay-day in the off-season.

Nerlens Noel. Jahlil Okafor. Who gets traded?

The smart money has been coming in on Noel being the guy the Sixers trade since the beginning of Summer League. Lots has been made of Noel’s Twitter avatar and his comments on having three big men at the beginning of the season as being “ridiculous”. You’re right, Nerlens. It is ridiculous, and I’ll tell you why.

Jahlil Okafor should have been traded at draft night.

I have been banging the drum for #TeamNerlens on Total Sports Live for the better part of two years all by my lonesome. The reason for that is simple. Nerlens Noel is a much more rare commodity than Jahlil Okafor. That’s why he has so much more value. It’s much harder to find a guy who can (theoretically) guard all five positions, rebound very effectively (career 14.6% total rebound percentage), and be a defensive force at the rim (242 blocks in two seasons). Noel has accumulated over 200 blocks and 200 steals in his first two seasons. The only other player to ever do that: Tim Duncan.

When you’re mentioned in the same breath as Tim Duncan on any level, that’s special, and the Sixers should keep him.

The Sixers should look at what the Oklahoma City Thunder did with Enes Kanter last year. Kanter played about 21 minutes per game and averaged 12.7 points and 8.1 rebounds while feasting on second unit defenses. That, in my opinion, is how Okafor is best used right now. Noel and Embiid should be the starting front court when all three are fresh and healthy. Pay Nerlens what he is worth. (I don’t think he’s worth the max, but $14-16 million per season is fair.) After that is settled, run Okafor through his rookie deal, and hope he’ll settle into that Enes Kanter-type role.

What should we expect from Joel Embiid?

(A run of “big man” questions. I guess I should’ve expected this.)

It’s definitely encouraging that the Sixers and head coach Brett Brown have increased Embiid’s minutes pretty steadily. He was playing fifteen minutes to begin with, and then he played 18 minutes last week. I still don’t think he plays more than 25 until at least December. By then, he’ll have a little over a month or so of actual NBA experience. Once that happens, we’ll see what Jojo can be when he’s completely comfortable with his health and the skill level of other NBA big men.

Embiid averaged 11.2 points, 8.1 rebounds, and 2.6 blocks during his one year at Kansas. It will definitely be around there if not higher. His per 40 minute stats are insane: 19.4 points, 14.0 rebounds, 4.5 blocks. He won’t average that in year one because that would be wildly unlikely. Take the average of those two lines, and you get 15.3 points, 11.0 rebounds, 3.5 blocks. That’s slightly more reasonable and semi-achievable. Karl-Anthony Towns averaged a double-double in his first year of NBA action (18.3 ppg, 10.5 rpg). Granted, Towns was 100 percent healthy and never needed multiple foot surgeries, but Embiid could definitely average the double-double in his rookie season.

Does Simmons continue the streak of Sixers first rounders sitting out a full year?

Earlier this month, Jake Pavorsky of Liberty Ballers wrote a piece on this subject. He mentioned that Keith Pompey hinted the Sixers should “redshirt” Simmons in the same way they did with Nerlens Noel and Joel Embiid.

The Jones fracture is a tricky one, and multiple players have had to deal with it — most recently and notably Kevin Durant. Durant had the surgery done, but he was rushed back by the Thunder for a playoff run — which was a terrible idea on all fronts. He’s 100 percent, now, but there is a history of players going through this surgery and being fine when FULLY recovered (i.e. Durant, Brook Lopez, and C.J. McCollum).

Simmons’s agent, Rich Paul, has a lot of money riding on Simmons’s success. Nike has already signed Simmons to a five-year, $20 million contract — which balloons to $40 million if he is the phenom everyone says he is. Paul’s thought is to sit Simmons for the whole year — a situation all too familiar with Sixers fans. Here’s the thing. I don’t know if SIMMONS wants to do that. If Simmons is completely healthy by January/February (which is the prognosis), I doubt very highly Simmons is going to sit out the rest of the season.

How dire is the point guard situation? Do we need to trade for one?

The short answers to those questions are “not very” and “no”.

When you look at the Sixers depth chart at point guard, you see Sergio Rodriguez and T.J. McConnell. Jerryd Bayless looks to be out of the lineup for a significant amount of time. The names on that list aren’t sexy, but they’re serviceable. T.J. gets a lot of crap on Sixers Twitter and message boards, but he’s not nearly as terrible as folks make him out to be. His per game numbers aren’t earth shattering (6.1 ppg, 4.5 apg), but his per 100 possessions stats make me believe there is SOMETHING there with his game (15.0 ppg, 11.2 apg). His defensive rating (DRtg) of 108 isn’t ideal, but when you have Embiid and Nerlens behind you, there can be some room for error.

“Sergio Rodriguez. Why are we talking about a soccer player?”

That’s a verbatim sentence given from my brother when talking about Rodriguez. Jokes aside, Sergio can be a decent enough point guard for the Sixers. You’re seeing it in the preseason as he is second in the league in assists behind only Houston’s James Harden. Yeah, I know. It’s the preseason, but Rodriguez has looked good enough to warrant his one-year, $8 million contract. If it turns out he stinks, it’s not a back breaker.

The Sixers can ride the wave with T.J. and Sergio until rookie Ben Simmons returns from his injury — since Simmons was likely going to be the primary facilitator on offense, anyway. Lastly, why is this even a discussion? Is anyone really thinking, “Hey. If we only had a point guard, we could win a championship.” That’s not what you should be thinking since this year is the first new step in this rebuild. Looking at the point guard situation, take a breath and to quote Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers: “R-E-L-A-X. Relax.”

Predict Dario Šarić’s ppg/asts/rebs/3P%.

This is a tricky question because it depends on how much playing time he gets over a full season.

Right now, Šarić would be the ideal Sixers sixth man. He can run the second unit offense and has an improved jump shot which helps space the floor. With Ben Simmons injured, Šarić will no doubt get more minutes from October to December than was originally planned, so his numbers in the first few months could be on the high-end.

Last year, “The Homie” averaged 11.7 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 1.5 apg, and shot 40 percent from three playing for Anadolu Efes Istanbul. He did that averaging 22.5 minutes per game. That minute average seems about right for him, but I think his stats will be increased because of Simmons’s injury causing Šarić to get slightly more minutes. At the end of the year, he’ll likely have averages of 13/6/6 shooting 37-40% from deep.

Does Robert Covington have a rebound year?

Yes! Yes.  A thousand percent yes.

These were Covington’s numbers for the last two years where he got significant playing time:

Per Game Table
Age Tm Lg Pos G GS MP FG FGA FG% 3P 3PA 3P% 2P 2PA 2P% eFG% FT FTA FT% ORB DRB TRB AST STL BLK TOV PF PTS
24 PHI NBA SF 70 49 27.9 4.3 10.8 .396 2.4 6.4 .374 1.9 4.4 .426 .506 2.5 3.1 .820 0.9 3.6 4.5 1.5 1.4 0.4 1.8 2.7 13.5
25 PHI NBA SF 67 49 28.4 4.1 10.6 .385 2.5 7.2 .353 1.6 3.4 .452 .504 2.1 2.6 .791 1.0 5.3 6.3 1.4 1.6 0.6 2.1 3.5 12.8
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 10/19/2016.

The Sixers have a little more of a complete NBA team now with Noel, Embiid, Saric, Simmons (when healthy), T.J., and Sergio Rodriguez. You’re definitely going to get a return to his 2014-2015 campaign where he shot closer to 40 percent from three versus closer to 35 percent last year. Covington is going to have a lot more open looks this year as a result of teams double teaming Embiid or Okafor, and when Simmons is healthy, RoCo can thrive on Simmons’s drive-and-kick abilities.

In fact, I’m so confident in Covington’s possible resurgence that I’ll make a bold prediction. Robert Covington will be the NBA’s Most Improved Player for the 2016-2017 season.

If the team starts is terrible again (spoiler alert: they will be), will Brett Brown be in the hot seat and possible fired?

Whether you like it or not, Sixers head coach Brett Brown has been given a pass for the last three years for multiple reasons. He hasn’t had a decent roster. He hasn’t had all of his first round picks together at one time. Choose your excuse.

The Sixers started 1-19 last season. If there was ever a time the organization could have fired Brown, it would have been after that since he never started THAT BAD. Now, the Sixers have some players. Embiid is back. Okafor is healthy(ish). Nerlens remains. Covington, Jerami Grant, and Richaun Holmes are all decent. Gerald Henderson, Sergio Rodriguez, and Jerryd Bayless look like solid additions (even if Bayless hasn’t played). I don’t think the Sixers start 1-19 in their first 20 games. The more likely outlook is maybe 6-14.

Anything worse than that, and Brett Brown’s seat region gets a little toasty.

Will any of Bryan Colangelo’s offseason signings look good?

Sergio. I’m very high on Sergio Rodriguez. He’s second in assists in the NBA preseason (as previously stated) and led Real Madrid in assists per game last season for his club (6.1). There’s definitely potential there. It’s unclear if he’ll be the starting point guard on opening night (quick point: He should be), but “El Chacho” is my pick for “Best Colangelo Free Agent Signing”.

Gerald Henderson has looked subpar in the preseason. That could be a result of, “Hey. It’s the preseason, and he’s just getting ready for the regular season. He’ll be fine.” It’s not a terrible argument, and as long as he’s connecting on more than 35 percent of his three pointers, there’s nothing to worry about with him. Bayless, however, is the player that gives me pause since he’s been hurt the entire preseason, and there’s no definitive answer on his return. Bayless signed on a three-year deal, so him not producing for one of those years is a bit of a sting no one expected.

Westgate SuperBook in Las Vegas set the over/under for wins at 21.5. Over or under?

Before the Simmons injury, I would have said “confidently over”. Now that Simmons is out of the lineup until at least February, I’m a little more tempered. I’m not ready to say “under”, though. The Sixers can get 20 wins with the roster they have left, so you’re just asking for two more games. 22-25 wins seems about right for this team this year, and I think they’ll hit that.

(SIDE NOTE: For easy money, take the Brooklyn under. It’s 28.5 right now, and the Nets are one Brook Lopez trade away from free fall.)

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