For the Philadelphia 76ers, it’s now about star developing

(Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)
(Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images) /

After failing to sign a star in free agency, the Philadelphia 76ers must now shift their focus to developing the stars they have.

Unless the Philadelphia 76ers somehow strike a deal with the Minnesota Timberwolves that lands Jimmy Butler to the City of Brotherly Love, it looks like ‘star hunting’ will officially be on hold until next summer. Instead of LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, and/or Paul George, the Sixers acquired Wilson Chandler and Mike Muscala. In other words, they’re going to run it back.

But to be fair, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

With the amount of young talent still in the process of realizing their potential, the Sixers are uniquely positioned as a good team that could become a great team without outside help. Sure, Brett Brown said the team was ‘star hunting’, but he also said they were ‘star developing’, and it’s the latter that the team must focus on in the forthcoming year.

First, let’s consider Joel Embiid, the player who, after being named an NBA All-Star starter, is probably the closest to realizing his full potential. Embiid will certainly continue to cause nightmares for opposing big men who rarely deal with such a developed low post game. His ability to step out and hit a jumper only makes him more dangerous, and, as everyone saw last season, he changes the entire game on the defensive end. He’s a star well on his way to becoming a superstar.

But what can Embiid improve on? Well, if there’s one area that stood out last year that could use some cleaning up, it has to be taking care of the ball.

Embiid tried to do too much at times, which resulted in ill-advised shots and turnovers. You want your star taking shots, but this team has enough pieces to facilitate smoother offensive possessions. The series with the Boston Celtics brought these issues to light, but really they were a problem all season long, they just happened to be masked by the Sixers winning games. If Embiid can make a dent in the amount of these poor offensive possessions, the Sixers will reap serious benefits.

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Then there’s Ben Simmons. Has there ever been a player so clearly destined to become a generational talent who still had so much room to grow? The ball handling, court vision, and size are easy to salivate over, and there were times when he looked like he could take the ball to the hoop at will. And yet, Simmons is far from a finished product.

The most glaring weakness to his game is his shooting or lack thereof. I refuse to believe Simmons can’t shoot, as I’ve seen plenty of tape of him knocking down jumpers. And while his stroke isn’t as smooth as, say, J.J. Redick‘s, it’s far from bad. Maybe it’s a little like The Process–he just has to trust it.

I’m not saying Simmons needs to transform into an elite outside shooter, far from it, all I’m saying is, if Simmons has a jumper defenders respect, they’re going to have a long day. If you thought he could blow by defenders this past year, wait until those guarding him have to worry a step back jumper or a corner three. Simply put, Ben Simmons with a respectable shot is scary.

Finally, there’s the X-factor in all of this: Markelle Fultz. The Sixers proved last year they don’t need Fultz to win games, as Embiid, Simmons, Redick, Robert Covington and Dario Saric formed a strong enough nucleus to compete in the Eastern Conference. That core returns this year, so, barring injuries, it’s hard to see this team not remaining competitive with or without a significant contribution from Fultz.

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But what if they do get a significant contribution from Fultz? What if Drew Hanlen worked some magic, as reports suggest.

What if the lackluster team defense he displayed in limited minutes last year was simply from lack of experience? What if the cure for the yips is simply playing more than 253 minutes of NBA basketball?

If Fultz gives the Sixers 15 points per game, takes care of the ball and uses his skills to his advantage on the defensive end, all of a sudden it’s like the team did add a star, only one who already happened to be on the team the entire time on a very team-friendly rookie contract.

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Developing these potential stars is paramount to the success of Brett Brown‘s squad moving forward, especially this year since no big names are joining the cast. If Embiid, Simmons, and Fultz can take some crucial steps–or leaps–forward, the Philadelphia 76ers should be able to go toe-to-toe with the best of the best in the Eastern Conference.