One of the biggest trades this season was the exchange of draft picks between the Boston Celtics and the Philadelphia 76ers. The Celtics traded down to get the 76ers’ No 3 pick and a future first-round pick. The 76ers got the Celtics’ No 1 pick which turned out to be Markelle Fultz, the man most likely to be the best player from the 2017 draft class.
Fultz joins a team which already has 2016 No 1 pick Ben Simmons, 2016-17 Rookie of the year finalist Dario Saric and 2014 No 3 pick Joel Embiid. All of them have superstar potential. But more importantly, they are young and have the opportunity to grow as a team.
We have seen many a franchise try to build a 'super team' by buying established superstars. And that rarely works out for the simple reason that it’s a team game and unless all the players are working together, you’ll only see flashes of brilliance and not sustained success.
The 76ers have the right idea though, as they are building through the draft. And the best bit is that they haven’t stockpiled the same type of players. Fultz will run the backcourt and will be tasked with scoring a majority of the team’s points. He can shoot from all across the floor and was the sixth-ranked scorer in college-level basketball last season.
Simmons is the lock-in at small forward. While he scores a fair number of points, it is his playmaking ability which turns heads. Once he and Fultz adapt to each other, they could run havoc with their pick and roll game. Simmons is an immense athlete with a forward’s size and a guard’s brain and ability. If he can sort out his jump shot, he will be one of the most dangerous players in the league.
Then there is Saric, the Croatian power forward who had an excellent first season with the 76ers. Saric is a decent scorer who can throw in some really delicious assists. And his high basketball IQ allows him to play smart defense as well.
At centre for the 76ers plays the man who is “The Process”. Embiid is a seven-foot shot-blocking behemoth who scored over 20 points a game last season while grabbing 7.8 rebounds a game. But Embiid is so much more than his numbers. He is the sort of centre who makes the opposite team’s players really reconsider their decision of driving to the basket. He is big, jumps high and can be really aggressive on his swats.
The 76ers have the core of a really good team. They do need a good shooting guard who can shoot the three ball to complete a scary starting five. But the bigger problem is injuries. Embiid could only play 31 games in his first three seasons. Simmons did not play even a single game in his first season after being drafted. If these two are not healthy through the season, then any chance of the team being good goes down the drain. Also, the bench strength is modest at best.
Still, this is a team on the rise because of its young core. They are very pass-happy and will create opportunities for each other. And this is why the 76ers have the potential to be one of the best teams in the league. Once the team gets comfortable with each other, there will be a ton of easy opportunities as all of them are excellent passers and can finish very well around the basket. The three-point shooting needs work and that is where a trade for a good shooting guard becomes so important. If that piece of the puzzle falls into place, then this team will be a handful for any opponent.
Playing in the weaker Eastern Conference means that playoffs is a distinct possibility for the 76ers. How far they go into the post-season is another question altogether. But just the mere fact that fourth-worst team from last season could suddenly be giving problems to the likes of the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers is what makes the NBA so entertaining.
Such a turnaround would be unfathomable in another sport like football. Could you ever imagine a Watford suddenly competing with a Chelsea or a Manchester City? The way that talented players make their way across the league is so different in the NBA and the European football leagues. In football, skillful youngsters will always be picked to the top teams who can afford to pay massive wages and transfer fees, which in turn means that the lower teams need a big slice of luck and radical coaching philosophies to make an impact. In comparison, the NBA is practically communist in nature as it ensures that the lowest-ranked teams get the best new talent.
This is also why dynasties are so special in basketball. Because unlike a Real Madrid or a Juventus whose success ensures that the best talent flocks to them, NBA teams need clever trades, a smart front office, developing second-round draft picks and many other factors to succeed in the long term.
The 76ers are benefiting from some shrewd trades to now be in a position where they can dream big. The moves are already paying dividends as they have broken the team record for season tickets and will probably sell out all of their home games. If they can keep their players on the court and not at the doctor’s, they will definitely be one of the most exciting teams to watch in the foreseeable future.
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Updated Date: Jun 29, 2017 15:01:57 IST