Philadelphia 76ers Season in Review: Has the Team Made any Progress Towards a Championship?


The Philadelphia 76ers are coming off one of the worst seasons in franchise history. For some reason, it seems that many people are actually feeling upbeat about how the season went, as if the team actually accomplished something.

Apparently, people are really pumped because the Sixers are behaving differently than most NBA teams. Sure, they might be crappy, and their methods might never lead to a championship, but at least they’re being somewhat interesting in their crappiness!

Admittedly, the team’s record was better than most people had predicted. Then again, before the season, some people thought that the team might challenge the 1973 76ers for the worst record in NBA history.

It’s amazing that for the second straight year, despite having what appeared to be the least talented roster in the league, the Sixers managed to avoid having the worst record. (This isn’t necessarily a good thing since it has lowered their chances at getting the top pick in the draft.)

Apr 13, 2015; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers head coach Brett Brown during the second half against the Milwaukee Bucks at Wells Fargo Center. The Bucks won 107-97. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

I think people underestimated just how many lousy teams there are in the league, and how many teams will rest players when matched up against a poor opponent. To the Sixers credit, they did win their fair share of those winnable games, and I think that speaks to the abilities of coach Brett Brown.

Brown might actually be the best thing to come out of these past two seasons. When he was first hired, most people assumed that he’d be long gone by the time the team was ready to contend. And while that’s probably true, based on his recent comments, it seems like his departure might be of his choosing.

Unfortunately, the coach looks like he has a brighter future than most of the players on the roster. Yes, the team overacheived this season. But really, how many players look like they could eventually be starters on a team that makes a deep playoff run? In my opinion, that list begins and ends with Nerlens Noel.

Noel is the Sixers’ big success story this season, but even his success comes with a caveat. Most of his playing time came at the center position. Going forward, if the plan is truly to have Noel team with Joel Embiid in the front court, then Noel will have to become more of a power forward.

It wasn’t like the team didn’t realize this, as they often tried to shift Noel to power forward. The problem was that he didn’t seem to play as well there.

That isn’t to say that he can’t play power forward. After all, this was only his rookie season. It isn’t the worst thing to allow him to get comfortable playing a more familiar role at center.

On the other hand, does Noel possess the shooting range that is expected out of a modern power forward? Does he have the ability to guard other “stretch fours?” And perhaps more importantly, does the team want him defending those stretch fours, essentially limiting his ability to block shots?

Apr 13, 2015; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid (right) laughs on the bench with Henry Sims (left) during the second half of a game against the Milwaukee Bucks at Wells Fargo Center. The Bucks won 107-97. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

As for the rest of the roster, there are some players who might be useful parts going forward, but nobody who you could definitively call a keeper. Robert Covington and Jerami Grant probably have a future in the league, but probably not as key components on a contender.

There is hope that Embiid and Dario Saric will eventually become core players. But one of them has already a long list of injury concerns, and young big men with injury problems don’t often get better as they age. The other one is playing in Europe and won’t even join the team for another year. At this point, it’s hard to know what to expect out of him.

The good news is that the Sixers have plenty of draft picks with which they can acquire better players. The bad news is, there are doubts that the Sixers will actually be able to obtain good players with those picks.

For instance, barring two teams bypassing the Lakers in the lottery, the Sixers won’t be getting their pick until next season. And once the Lakers undergo their inevitable offseason shopping spree, that “prize” pick which they received in exchange for Michael Carter-Williams isn’t going to look quite so good.

Once they eventually do receive their picks, do we have faith that the Sixers will be able to find quality players? Most criticisms about general manager Sam Hinkie revolve around him not being a “basketball guy.” Sure, he can obtain plenty of “assets,” but can he identify good players who can actually work together as a team? Those concerns might be overblown, but it’s still fair to be skeptical at this point.

If you want to be happy about the Sixers season because they played hard and exceeded expectations, that’s fine. But it’s also fine to look back at the season and wonder if any progress has actually been made towards the team’s supposed long-term goal.

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