The start of a new season almost always begins with hope, but that hadn’t really been the case with the Philadelphia 76ers in recent years. We knew there would be lots of losses. It was all part of “the process,” we were told. Well, that original process is now over – or has, at the very least, transformed into a very different, more exciting phase.
With Ben Simmons finally making his Sixers regular-season debut, newcomer J.J. Redick in the fold, not to mention this year’s top overall pick Markelle Fultz, the Sixers have a real shot at a winning record and an Eastern Conference playoff berth.
Of course, we all know that the real key to how far the 76ers go this season is tied to the health of that 7-foot-2 guy in the middle. Joel Embiid averaged 20.2 points and 7.8 rebounds (in just 25.4 minutes a game) in his two-years-delayed, 31-game rookie season, but here we are tipping off the 2017-18 campaign and we’re being told he’s on an even more-stringent minutes restriction, at least for the first part of the season.
That’s the big mystery in trying to project how Brett Brown’s squad will do. Will Embiid play 30 or so games again this season, or will it be 55-60 or more? (Hey, we can dream, can’t we?) Will he ever be a 30-minute-a-game guy? Will he play on back-to-back nights?
Yes, that’s the huge question, but there are plenty of others to ponder, too. Will Ben Simmons truly be the generational player that a lot of fans seem to think he will be? Will Fultz figure out what’s going on with his shot? Will Dario Saric build on his impressive rookie season? How will Brett Brown divvy up the playing time among Fultz, T.J. McConnell, Jerryd Bayless, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, Justin Anderson and Nik Stauskas? Is Jahlil Okafor going to be a contributor, or will the Sixers end up trading him for a new ball rack?
Mixing all of that into my prognostication pot and stirring it all around, here’s my fearless forecast: Simmons won’t win any shooting contests but will be a very nice set-the-table guy; Fultz will struggle early on but get better as the season goes along; Redick, Saric and the underrated Robert Covington will all be solid contributors; T.J. McConnell will get more playing time than you might have expected; and Joel Embiid will play about 50 to 55 games and be pretty great much of the time he’s out there.
The 76ers will take some lumps October through December, but will be a real force come January, just as they were last season. But this time around, they’ll continue to build on that momentum beyond then.
Put it all together, and look for the Sixers to go 43-39, good enough for a No. 6 seed in a weak Eastern Conference. After that? We shall see. –Jim “Chet” Chesko
(Note: My radio partner Bill Furman isn’t quite that optimistic; he says 37 wins and “a borderline 8th seed.” Boooooo!!!)