It's another season of tanking for the Sixers. How many more seasons can we expect the team to compete for a high lottery pick rather than wins?
I may be an optimist (and I say that because I think I've eliminated my former homerism from my writing and analysis, you've gotta stay rational during a TANK, man...), but I think this team has a backdoor chance of grabbing a 7th or 8th seed in the East next season. The Nets are about to fall apart. Who knows when Boston or New York will be able to truly compete again. Atlanta might collapse depending on what happens with Millsap and Horford, etc. A healthy Joel Embiid, MCW in his third year, Nerlens Noel in a secondary role, K.J. McDaniels plus whatever top-five pick they add this year? That team should be able to win 38-40 games in the East in 2015-16.
The coming changes to the Draft are geared to stop, or at least limit, the kind of rebuilding strategy that Philly has implemented. Are the Sixers being unfairly targeted and what do you think of the Draft changes?
I wouldn't say the Sixers are being unfairly targeted, I think it's more that the league's efforts against tanking are simply more reactionary than productive. And honestly, I don't think tanking is bad. The Sixers being absolutely terrible has a lot of benefits to the league, even though it doesn't really result in cold, hard cash for the owners. It's actually a good thing for teams have an opportunity to rest stars against them. And we make jokes all the time about their turnstyle of a roster, but when you really think about it, Sam Hinkie has given about two dozen players an opportunity to prove themselves to 30 NBA teams that might not necessarily have had that chance. That's pretty cool, and pretty great for basketball players everywhere. I've talked to a lot of agents who love what Hinkie's doing in Philly for that particular reason: giving fringe, bottom-of-the-barrel players an chance to prove their worth doesn't really happen in every city and with every team.
After missing all of last season, Nerlens Noel is finally getting his chance to play. He missed Sunday's game but is expected to suit-up against the Mavericks. What have been your early impressions of him?
Nerlens is as advertised: he's a skinny, athletic freak of nature that is extremely raw offensively and is really only interested in blocking shots on defense. Yea, he doesn't really know how to rebound quite yet. I actually find it pretty astounding that people in Philly, myself included, used to think Nerlens was the center of the future for the Sixers and the team should have targeted a wing player at No. 3. He's just simply not thick enough to compete with beefy 7-footers. This season is essentially throwing Nerlens into the fire a year ahead of Joel Embiid joining him in the front court. It's like your parents easing off on your curfew the summer before your freshman year of college: Let him run wild and free and learn his limitations before it really matters.
Philadelphia is very cautious when it comes to the health of their players. However, the team seems to be laden with injuries this year. Is it concerning that players such as Michael Carter-Williams, Noel, and Joel Embiid, who are the cornerstones of the franchise's future, have been sidelined so much this early in their careers?
I think those injuries are all unique and mutually exclusive situations. Carter-Williams' shoulder injury dated all the way back to his freshman year at Syracuse. Embiid's fractured navicular bone is a relatively uncommon and, from my experience with stress fractures (I sustained one on 8th grade), I think it was largely due to being overworked on the court trying to prepare for the draft. Remember, Embiid has only been playing basketball for a few years, his body is still getting adjusted to the pounding. Lastly, with Nerlens' ankle injury, I am a little worried about his future health. He's so frail and fragile right now, like I mentioned above. I think he'll continue to be an injury concern until he adds 20 pounds of muscle to his frame. You can't weigh less than 220 pounds and expect to survive in the paint in the NBA.
Other than the players already mentioned and Tony Wroten, who stands out to you on the Sixers' roster?
Man, I love K.J. McDaniels. I've been developing a man-crush on him ever since he fell to the Sixers at 32. I thought he was going to be a top-20 pick in the draft. He's a defensive savant, ridiculously athletic and just a super sweet kid. The excitement he exudes is very similar to Andre Iguodala as a rookie. They're certainly not the same player, but K.J.'s bringing the same level of excitement. Also, everyone in Philly is a big fan of Hollis Thompson. I really think he can develop into a bench 3-and-D specialist for a contending team. I really do.
Is there any chance the Sixers can notch their first win of the season against the Mavericks?
The Sixers are coming off of four days rest- plenty of time to refresh and relax from the thumping they got in Toronto on Sunday night. But I think Dallas' offensive schemes are way too lethal for this team to keep up with and ultimately stop for 48 minutes. They will eventually, but this team really shouldn't win a game this year. They won't be favored once, and they should't be. Playing in Dallas against a deep and talented Mavericks team certainly won't do them any favors.