The 2016-17 regular season was supposed to be one filled with excitement for the 76ers.
As the season opens Wednesday night against the Oklahoma City Thunder, that excitement has been tempered a bit.
The Sixers weren’t expected to make the playoffs, but they were supposed to be much improved. At some point in the future, they will be better.
As of now, the Sixers are an injury-riddled group. Instead of looking at matchups, head coach Brett Brown is forced to handle minute restrictions for up-and-coming players.
It all adds up to another difficult marathon for Sixers fans, who have watched the team win just 47 games combined over the last three seasons, including a miniscule 10 last season.
However, some pieces have been put in place for success down the road. There will be enjoyable moments for sure. Here are three things to be excited about:
C and Jo Jo
Center Joel Embiid played an entire preseason and came through it healthy. Every time the big man hits the floor, every fan in the Delaware Valley has to be concerned. When you miss two full seasons with foot injuries, it’s a natural reaction. Embiid displayed flashes of brilliance in the preseason with a variety of offensive moves in the post and defensive prowess as well. There were silly turnovers and rustiness, but all that must be expected. Embiid’s minutes will be monitored, but he’s a franchise cornerstone and worth watching the whole way.
Simmons set to return … eventually
Ben Simmons will rejoin the team eventually, most likely after January while he recovers from a Jones fracture in his right foot. The former LSU standout was the Sixers’ No. 1 overall pick and an early candidate for Rookie of the Year. The injury sustained during training camp doesn’t diminish his future impact. If he can get on the court in the second half of the season, it would give the fans a major lift heading into the 2017-18 season.
From Croatia with love
Dario Saric finally joined the Sixers after being selected in the first round (12th overall) in the 2014 draft. Almost immediately, Saric showed why he was so sought-after with the ability to knock down 3-pointers, sweep rebounds and run the court. He’ll be a valuable addition and will receive more minutes with injuries to Nerlens Noel and Simmons. Coming off a long international season, Saric may have to rest at times, but he’ll be a factor in the team’s success.
Here are three things to be equally concerned about:
Twin tower issues
Noel and Jahlil Okafor aren’t healthy. Noel, who recently expressed his displeasure with the glut of big men on the roster, will be out at least three-to-five weeks following left knee surgery. When healthy, Noel is inconsistent at best on offense and defense, so this injury has to be considered a setback. Okafor had knee surgery and missed a chunk of time at the end of last season. Even now, he’s still on the mend and not ready for 35 minutes per night. The Sixers need these two players to be healthy with a minute restriction on Embiid.
What's the point?
Point guard has been a troubling position over the past three seasons. The Sixers brought in Jerryd Bayless for stability, but a ligament issue in his left wrist will have him sidelined for at least two weeks, maybe longer. So much for point guard depth. Sergio Rodriguez and T.J. McConnell will have to split the duties, but without Bayless, depth is a huge problem now.
The Sixers have lost 199 games over the last three seasons and the losing culture has certainly hurt the young players. If the Sixers get off to a miserable start once again, how will Brown rally them? He’s done an amazing job thus far in a near impossible situation. Some wins along the way will help the young group. If it goes sour early, will the losses be too much to stomach?
In a perfect world, with a healthy team filled with young talent, the Sixers might exceed the 30-win mark. With the litany of injuries and lack of depth, the Sixers will struggle to find their rhythm, especially on the road. There will be improvement in certain areas, but the result won’t be immediately noticeable on the scoreboard. Look for the Sixers to win 25 games and wind up back in the lottery.