Evan Turner: Is he for real this time?

Evan Turner: Is he for real this time?

Seven games into the 2013-14 NBA season, and Evan Turner is still straight killing it. It started opening night, where his team-high 26 points on 10-19 shooting were largely overshadowed by the historic debut performance of shiny new teammate Michael Carter-Williams, but were still enormous in the Sixers' shocking upset of the Miami Heat. And it's gone right up until Saturday's game against the Cleveland Cavaliers, where ET scored a career-high 31 to go with ten rebounds, and helped force double OT against a team that seemed like it had long since taken care of business. Most surprisingly, there hasn't been a bum outing in between them--seven straight games of Good Evan.

It's long been concluded that as a #2 overall pick, Evan Turner has been a disappointment at best, and an outright bust at worst. Through three NBA seasons, his production has been uniformly below average, and though his superficial numbers have gotten bigger with more playing time and more offensive responsibility, his advanced stats have stayed thoroughly unimpressive, with the Extraterrestrial yet to post a PER over 13 (15 is about league average) or an Offensive Win Shares above zero (not sure what league average is, but it's definitely higher than zero) for a full season. Considering that names like DeMarcus Cousins, Greg Monroe and Paul George were still available when the Sixers took Turner--even if neither the Sixers nor anyone else who might've drafted #2 that year would've given serious thought to picking them--Evan's drafting certainly seems like a black mark on the previous Sixers administration.

But hey. Let's imagine that on draft night 2010, you said that seven games into his fourth season with the 76ers, Evan would be averaging about 23 points and seven rebounds a game, shooting over 50% from the field, and logging a PER over 21. That'd be OK for your #2 overall pick, right? Especially if you mentioned that those numbers helped get a young Sixers squad off to a 4-3 start, including wins over the defending-champ Heat and much-vaunted Chicago Bulls? It should at least be enough to get any potential bust talk off the table, right?

Well, it should, but hold on as second, because there's more to Evan Turner's numbers those first three years. They may seem mediocre (or slightly worse) on the surface, but they mask runs of absolute brilliance that Evan has gone on for weeks at a time, only to revert to his worst-case self shortly thereafter--giving Sixer fans the sneaking suspicion that no hot streak of ET's will ever truly last. Consider the evidence:

EXHIBIT A: MARCH 7TH, 2012 to MARCH 16TH, 2012

Number of Games: 5

Stats: 20.0 PPG, 9.8 RPG, 3.8 APG, 60% FG

Marquee Performance: A 24-point (on 9-14 shooting), 15-rebound outing against the Knicks at MSG, leading Philly to a 106-94 victory over their Atlantic Division rivals.

Why It Felt Different: Evan had just been thrust into a starting role, and after a rough first outing as a starter against the Bucks--2 points on 1-12 shooting--he seemed to finally find his groove, perhaps getting back into his Ohio State comfort zone at long last.

Gushing Quote From Me at the Time: "That’s three games in a row now of incredible play from Turner—three more than he’d had in nearly two months leading up to the Boston game...His 66 points combined in the last three games are more than he had in the 14 leading up to them, and his 11 free throws (!!) made in the last three are as many as he had in the 21 games (!!!!) before that. To do it today on the road, against a division rival, in a team win…you can’t say enough about it."

What Happened Next:  Evan averaged six points a game on 30% shooting over his next five starts--only cracking double digits once--while his boards dropped to five a game and he started averaging more turnovers (2.2) than assists (1.8)

EXHIBIT B: NOVEMBER 24TH, 2012 to DECEMBER 18TH, 2012

Number of Games: 13

Stats: 19.1 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 4.2 APG, 46.7% FG, 48.6% 3PT FG

Marquee Performance: A 26-point, ten-rebound, five-assist night against the Celtics in Boston, including the game-winning jumper--his first as a pro--in overtime.

Why It Felt Different: 13 games was by far the longest consistently productive stretch of Evan's career as a pro, and it included the new threat of Evan being lights out from downtown--though the fact that he admitted his improvement was due to actively doing nothing was a minor cause for worry.

Gushing Quote From Me at the Time: "Evan’s offensive production has been too good for too long now to be considered fluky. This is ET’s 13th straight game scoring double-digit points—his previous-best streak was just five games. We’ve got ourselves a legit NBA starter on our hands with ET, and someone who might have a better chance of making a future All-Star team than we ever would have thought a year ago."

What Happened Next: Evan's next 13 games would see him average just 10.7 a game on 40% shooting, including three games of five points or fewer, while his improved outside shooting stroke essentially disappeared, dropping to 24% (6-25) from deep over the stretch.

EXHIBIT C: JANUARY 21ST, 2013 to JANUARY 28TH, 2013

Number of Games: 4

Stats: 22.0 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 6.0 APG, 54.5% FG, 60% 3PT FG

Marquee Performance: 27 points, a non-garbage-time career-high for Turner, on 12-18 shooting, to go with seven assists and just one turnover in a close loss to the West-contending Memphis Grizzlies.

Why It Felt Different: Not really sure that it did, to be honest, but it was Evan's last really, really good week of play for the Sixers before this season, so we clung to it for dear life anyway.

Gushing Quote From Me at the Time: "Evan Turner was a marvel tonight, scoring from all over the court on the way to his season-high 27 points and seven assists...it’s worth pointing out that after slumping for about a month straight, the Extraterrestrial is finally back up in space."

What Happened Next: ET shot 26% over his next four games, including a 1-10 outing against the Pacers, failing to crack double digits in a single one. (By then, no one was really surprised.)

--

So, with all this, you'd of course forgive Sixer fans for being a little gunshy on declaring this seven-game hot stretch of Evan's the emergence of the Real Evan Turner, the guy we drafted back in 2010 but who for reasons unknown decided to burn three seasons before letting us glimpse his true colors. It's reflexive now to distrust any positive developments with Evan, to not believe any All-Star-caliber glimpses he shows, until we actually see him throwing alley-oops to LeBron James at the actual All-Star Game. Then, maybe we can talk in declarative sentences.

Still, this time it feels different. Of course, it always feels different this time with Evan. But maybe this time it feels different because it really is different? Let's examine Evan's case for You Guys I Really Mean It This Time:

1. He's doing it to start the season. That's a first for Evan, who aside from his first-ever game in the NBA--a promising 16-point, seven-board outing in a blowout loss to the Miami Heat--has traditionally gotten off to a pretty slow start at season's beginning. Here's Evan's yearly numbers for the first seven games of the NBA season:

'10-'11: 9.3 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 2.6 APG, 47.5% FG, 2.4 TOV
'11-'12: 9.9 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 2.6 APG, 46.8% FG, 1.3 TOV
'12-'13:  11.7 PPG, 8.7 RPG, 3.6 APG, 37.8% FG, 2.3 TOV

So to go from those types of numbers to the All-Pro-caliber numbers he's putting up to start this season--after a fairly strong pre-season as well, it should be mentioned--leads one to believe that the improvement with ET came over the summer, and has quickly manifested itself in his league play.

2. He's doing it by getting to the line. Free-throw shooting has never been a particular forte of Evan's--he doesn't get there that much (average of under two attempts a game before this season) and he doesn't shoot particularly well for a wing once there (74% before this season). Getting to the line wasn't a particularly big part of Evan's success in the hot stretches listed above, either, since he didn't average more than 3.5 attempts a game over any of them.

This year, though, he's living on the line like his name was Joey Fatone. Evan's taken over six FTs a game since the season started, including a career-high 13 attempts in Cleveland on Saturday night, and shooting a Nash-ian (or at least Billups-ian) 86% from the line once there. What's more, he's actually looking for the contact now, taking it hard on drives to the basket, and even pump-faking defenders to get them in the air, then jumping into them--a nasty little trick that just about any good volume scorer in the league has in his arsenal.

Free throws are the key to efficient scoring, for a couple reasons--mostly because it's basically free points that don't count against your shot attempts, but also because it's indicative of a more aggressive offensive mentality, something ET occasionally lacked during his first three NBA seasons, but which he appears to have in much higher gear so far this year.

3. He's NOT doing it by draining threes. When Evan admitted that the reason his three-point stroke showed in such full force during his long hot stretch last season was essentially for no reason at all, it confirmed what a lot of us had feared about his sudden marksmanship from deep--that it was a weird fluke and would not likely be sustained. Indeed, after shooting a ridiculous 48.6% from three over that stretch, Evan shot just 32% from three for the rest of the season, leaving his overall rate a middling 36.5%.

Going into this season, if you heard Evan was back to producing like an All-Star, you might figure he was just hitting his threes for a minute again, and that once his numbers from beyond regressed to the mean, so would his scoring output. But in fact, the Extraterrestrial's been pretty lousy from deep--just 3-17 for the year, including a two-make night last time out against the Cavs. So this time, it's the grunt work he's doing on offense that's allowing him to rack up points--which means if he ever does get hot with his stroke at some point season, watch the f--- out everybody.

4. He's doing it at the basket. NBA stat guru John Schumann did a pretty vicious takeout piece on Turner about a month back, where he broke down all the ways ET was hurting the Sixers with his inefficient scoring--the most notable of which was his shooting 49.4% at the basket, ten percent worse than league average, and worse than all but eight of the 236 players who took at least 100 shots in the restricted area last year. For a player whose jumper is as erratic as Evan's, to also be that miserable from up close is pretty damning--it's hard to help your team as a primary offensive option when you can't get easy buckets anywhere on the court.

So far this year, that's all turned around. Take a look at his shot chart from last year as reference, courtesy of NBA Stats:

On these charts, shooting yellow from a range means you're shooting about league average, shooting red means you're below average, and green means you're above. So you can see here that Evan didn't have a lot of hot spots last year--along the baseline and the top of the key, and that's about it--while he was absolutely miserable around the basket. But look what he's up to this year:

He's absolutely red-hot at close range, shooting a staggering 68%--22% better than last year!--around the basket, and maintaining that right baseline area as his ultimate sweet spot, hitting 11-15 from there so far this season. You can see that he's also cold as Foreigner from long range, but that's OK, because he's barely shooting from there at all--of the 119 shots he's taken so far this year, 50 have come at the basket, 28 along the two sides of the baseline, and no other range accounts for more than seven attempts.

This year, Evan's not only taking high-percentage shots, he's making them at a high percentage, which is pretty much the definition of an efficient scorer--and just about everything his game seemed in direct opposition to for his first three years in the league.

--

So let's accept for a minute that it actually is true--that this hot streak of Evan's is due to legitimate improvement as a basketball player, and that even if it ends up coming down a little, it won't disappear completely like it has every time before this. There'd have to be some sort of explanation, right? Inefficient 13-point scorers don't become efficient 23-point scorers just with a change in wind direction--there has to be something accounting for this, right?

Let's take a look at all the possible explanations and see if any of them are potentially satisfying:

1. He's grown into a role of responsibility. The hardest thing for Evan coming out of college was ceding responsibility at the pro level. At Ohio State, he was The Man times infinity, the guy who the Buckeyes sank or swam with in basically every single game, and in the pros, he didn't have the game yet to come in and demand the same kind of ownership of the Sixers from day one. He was stuck behind Andre Iguodala in the starting lineup, then he was stuck playing second fiddle to Jrue Holiday once the Damaja emerged as an All-Star, and with new star acquisition Andrew Bynum lurking in the background as a threat to take over the team if he could ever get both of his legs moving at the same time.

This year, Iguodala, Holiday and Bynum are all gone, and just about all that's left is the Extraterrestrial. Now that he's the team's unquestioned #1 offensive option, and also somehow one of the oldest, most experienced dudes on the team now, he seems to have slipped back into his natural leadership role, which perhaps forced him to take a good hard look in the mirror and figure out what he needed to do to improve his scoring and attacking to help the team that was now basically his. He's still only 25, and a lot of players need time to grow up and adjust to the pro level, mentally and physically. Perhaps this is just the year he turns those corners.

2. He's got better teammates for his style. Hard to say this to be conclusively true, given that he lost his best teammate (and closest friend) in the off-season when Jrue was traded to the Pelicans, but this season, he has had the benefit of playing with the Rookie of the Year front-runner in Michael Carter-Williams, a pass-first point guard who can score but doesn't demand the ball in his hands on every possession. He's also got James Anderson locking down the two-guard position, meaning he can consistently play the three, where he's more comfortable and can play closer to the basket--one of the reasons why he's not shooting as many threes this year.

Perhaps most importantly, he's got a team that's running again, getting him clear looks in transition and allowing him to do some operating before opposing defenses are totally set. The Sixers rank 4th in league pace this year after finishing 20th the year before, and are fifth in fast-break points, up from 17th last year. That's a lot of easy points to go around, and Evan's claiming a whole bunch of those.

3. He's got smarter coaching / management. I wrote a piece in early October pleading with Philly fans not to write Evan off before this season, even though most had mentally traded him away by the time of the draft. I thought he deserved a chance to show us what he could do with a larger offensive role, and more importantly, what he could do outside of Doug Collins' conservative, low-efficiency, stat-wary offense, and on a team now engineered by two efficiency-minded thinkers in Brett Brown and Sam Hinkie.

Well, not gonna say I told you so, but...looks like I might not have been crazy, at least. You have to see a little of Brown and Hinkie's influence in the way Evan now seems to operate with his shot chart in his head at all times, thinking "No, not from there, that's not a good look," when he previously would hoist a contested sixteen-foot pull-up jumper in transition. It wouldn't be the only way the Sixers' new staff has maximized the potential of this seemingly super-limited roster, but it might end up being the most consequential.

"I certainly hope that Brown and Hinkie give Turner a fair and true chance," I wrote in that article. "[That they] work with him to help him understand what he needs to do to help the team run more efficiently, and allow him to show that the Doug Collins stink can wash off him enough for him to become a net positive player on offense again." So far, so good, guys. Thanks for making me look smart for once.

4. He's in a contract year. Would probably be naive to deny the import here. This being Evan's fourth season, his rookie deal is finally coming to an end, and given that he and the Sixers failed to work out an extension before the Oct. 31st deadline (and by all accounts, they didn't try particularly hard), ET will become a restricted free agent in July. He'll have a chance to go out and claim as much money and as many years as the open market dictates, and the Sixers will then have the opportunity to say word or no thanks.

That's not to say Evan's been dogging it the three years he's been under contract in Philly, or that he'll suddenly play harder now that there's loot to be gotten--he takes umbrage at the implication, and I don't really blame him, since a lack of trying has never appeared to be one of his faults as a player. But still, moneymoneymoneymoneyMOOOONEYYYYY has historically been a powerful motivator, and if Evan's agent went to him at some point in the off-season after making some underwhelming preliminary phone calls and said yo ET get that PER up, he'd have a pretty good reason to want to get that done.

--

Do you buy any of 'em? Do you buy any of it in general? Personally, I really want to--of course--and with an efficiency-minded gun to my head, I'd say that at least some of this improvement has to be real, has to mean something. He just looks too different, is doing too many things that he never did before, for the entire run to be just considered an anomaly. In his 13-game hot stretch last year, I kept thinking "HOW IS HE DOING THIS???" This year, it's more like "WHY DIDN'T HE DO THIS EARLIER???" There's a difference there, I think.

Still, we're only seven games into the season, and just as sure as the Sixers won't stay champions of the Atlantic Division all season, there are going to be stretches this year where our faith in New Totally Good Evan will be put to the test. I can handle that, I think, but I don't know if I could handle another complete disappearing act from ET. Please, please stick around this time, NTGE. My heart won't be able to take any more sad-in-retrospect Gushing Quotes From Me at the Time.

NBC Sports Philadelphia Internship - Advertising/Sales

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NBC Sports Philadelphia Internship - Advertising/Sales

Position Title: Intern
Department: Advertising/Sales
Company: NBC Sports Philadelphia
# of hours / week: 10 – 20 hours

Deadline: November 20

Basic Function

This position will work closely with the Vice President of Sales in generating revenue through commercial advertisements and sponsorship sales. The intern will gain first-hand sales experience through working with Sales Assistants and AEs on pitches, sales-calls and recapping material.

Duties and Responsibilities

• Assist Account Executive on preparation of Sales Presentations
• Cultivate new account leads for local sales
• Track sponsorships in specified programs
• Assist as point of contact with sponsors on game night set up and pre-game hospitality elements.
• Assist with collection of all proof of performance materials.
• Perform Competitive Network Analysis
• Update Customer database
• Other various projects as assigned

Requirements

1. Good oral and written communication skills.
2. Knowledge of sports.
3. Ability to work non-traditional hours, weekends & holidays
4. Ability to work in a fast-paced, high-pressure environment
5. Must be 19 years of age or older
6. Must be a student in pursuit of an Associate, Bachelor, Master or Juris Doctor degree
7. Must have unrestricted authorization to work in the US
8. Must have sophomore standing or above
9. Must have a 3.0 GPA

Interested students should apply here and specify they're interested in the ad/sales internship.

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2017-18 Sixers: How badly do we want to finally start winning?

2017-18 Sixers: How badly do we want to finally start winning?

For a team that hasn't spent a season not already out of playoff contention by the end of December since at least 2012, there certainly are a lot of expectations for the Philadelphia 76ers this season. 

As has frequently been the case with the Sixers since Our Once and Always Dark Lord Sam Hinkie took over five summers ago, it's hard to remember another NBA team being quite in this position. Philly has not sniffed a winning record in ages, and only won 29 games last year. But despite not adding a star to the roster in the offseason anywhere near the caliber of a Jimmy Butler or Paul George -- hell, even a Paul Millsap -- the Sixers' over/under for wins this season was projected by Vegas at 42.5, nearly a 50% bump in wins from '16-'17. 

The number is explicable. Ben Simmons, consensus No. 1 overall pick in 2016 who missed the entire '16-'17 season after suffering a broken foot two Septembers ago, is finally healthy and in the lineup, as (most likely) is Markelle Fultz, the consensus No. 1 overall pick in 2017, who the Sixers traded up to select as the final piece of their burgeoning prospect core. And the anchor of that, center Joel Embiid, seems to be healthy enough after a season-ending meniscus tear limited him to 31 games last year -- that the Sixers felt relatively secure handing him a contract worth nearly $150 million over the next five years. Add to that a couple lineup-stabilizing veteran signings in swingman sharpshooter J.J. Redick and solid advanced-stats frontcourt fave Amir Johnson, and why shouldn't the Sixers win 40+ and threaten the playoffs this season? 

The team themselves certainly think it's within reach. Both coach Brett Brown and a number of the squad's marquee players have mentioned the "P" word as a goal for the season, in a way that feels like more than either fan service or optimism-because-what's-the-alternative. After four seasons at an average of over 60 losses a year, it's hard to blame Brown for grasping at immediate success as a goal -- where just two seasons ago the team was starting a combination of Ish Smith, Nik Stauskas, Hollis Thompson, Jerami Grant and Jahlil Okafor, Brown now can look at his roster and pencil in two No. 1 overall picks, a proven star in Embiid, perfect complementary wings in Redick and Robert Covington, and a legitimate bench behind all of 'em. Assuming things broke the team's way a little for once health-wise, there's no reason why the postseason should be an impossible goal this season. 

But it's also fair to ask if making the playoffs should really be the priority this season -- or if the pursuit of postseason basketball for the first time since Obama's first term may end up short-changing the team's long-term future. 

Let's start from here: Assuming health for all involved -- so obviously perilous an assumption it's barely worth still superstitiously qualifying, but sure, knock on a whole lumberyard -- the Sixers already have three spots in their starting lineup and overall rotation as secure as secure can be. Joel Embiid, Robert Covington and J.J. Redick can absolutely be three of three five starters on a contending Philly squad as soon as this season. Embiid is simply a world-conqueror; he makes everyone better and everything better by virtue of being on (or even near) the court. And Redick and Covington both do what they do as well as anyone in the NBA -- shooting and off-ball gravity from J.J., perimeter defense and wing rebounding from RoCo -- without giving much, if anything, back with their relatively complete all-around games. With those three dudes in their starting lineup, the Sixers will be in a position to succeed right away. 

What to do with the other two spots is a matter for debate that's not getting settled anytime soon. Common sense would dictate that the two slots should go to our two No. 1 picks, Fultz and Simmons, who slot logically sizewise among the other three dudes, while also creating considerable matchup problems with Simmons' ball-handling and passing at the ostensible power-forward spot. In a perfect world, Fultz would be one of four potential knockdown shooters around the ball-dominant Simmons, as well as a secondary playmaker in the backcourt -- a future that the Sixers certainly envisioned when they traded a future Lakers (or Kings) pick to move up two spots in the draft and grab Fultz. 

It's tough to envision those two dudes adding much to winning early, though. Aside from the time-honored truism that rookies -- sweet, sweet, Embiid aside -- rarely produce positively on the NBA court, there are glaring deficiencies in both dudes' games at the moment that will make forming a coherent lineup around them tricky. Simmons not only has no jumper -- and may even be shooting with the wrong hand, according to some -- but he also has no floater or clear touch around the basket, and he converted free throws at an alarmingly low rate this preseason. He is fatal to opposing defenses in transition, can cause scrambles by posting up smaller players down low, and a couple times a game can just bull his way to the basket with near-Blake Griffin size and athleticism. But he cannot convincingly run a half-court offense at the moment, when defenders know to play off him, keep passing lanes congested, and force him to shoot over the top, with nearly any spot on the floor being out of his range right now.

Fultz's role on the team is similarly problematic at the moment. Our off-ball shooter and secondary playmaker declined shooting in basically any capacity this preseason, bothered by a shoulder injury that forced (or at least inspired) him to rejigger his shooting motion into an ugly, nearly two-handed hoist which he had understandably zero confidence in -- and without Simmons' imposing physicality or panic-inducing first step to the basket, Fultz had very little to offer the offense while his jumper-less game proved eminently predictable and counterable. He missed the final two games of the preseason -- arguably should have missed more than that if his shoulder was really screwing him up -- and was largely ineffective in the two games he did play. 

So at the season's outset, Brett Brown has the unenviable task of integrating two rookies with fundamental mechanical issues into a rotation that should already have its share of challenges -- juggling minutes for a crowded frontcourt, acclimating other new pieces in Redick, Johnson and less-ballyhooed rook Furkan Korkmaz to the system, and dealing with the likely shuttling in and out of the lineup of Embiid, who is sure to miss games here and there throughout the season (and we'll be extremely lucky if that's all he misses). Brown has already announced that he'll opt to start the steadier shooter (but less dynamic playmaker) Jerryd Bayless over Fultz to start the season, pointing to the latter's time missed this preseason and a desire to bring him along slowly. 

From a purely 5-on-5 standpoint, the move certainly makes sense. An offense can potentially survive one ball-handler who refuses to shoot, but two is a guaranteed disaster, and right now Simmons and Fultz just aren't playable together for extended periods. Meanwhile, though Simmons certainly had his preseason moments -- his passing in the opener was electric, and he was the best player on the floor against Miami in the final game, with a 19-7-5 performance that was his most complete yet -- there will undoubtedly be stretches, even whole games, where he strangles the Sixers' offense entirely with his own lack of shooting. Hell, if he doesn't get his free-throw shooting above Andre Drummond territory, there might even be nights where opposing coaches force Simmons off the floor by playing Hack-a-Ben. 

Of course, none of this is unfamiliar for the Sixers, who've faced the challenge of integrating freshman with incomplete games basically every year since the Process started -- the only thing really new is that Over/Under. But that might change the entire balance of the equation for Brown, who will be faced with nightly choices tantamount to deciding whether the team's priority is growing their young core or winning the damn basketball game. 

If Fultz gets healthy but the starting five is still more productive with Bayless in it, will he continue to come off the bench? If all the advanced metrics show that the Sixers rate better with T.J. McConnell -- unquestionably the team's most effective point guard in the preseason -- than Simmons running the show, who'll get the majority of crunch time minutes bringing up the ball? If the Sixers are down two with one possession to go, will either rookie even be out there, or will Brett trust instead in the floor-spacing and decision-making of Dario Saric and one of his veteran PGs? And of course, we haven't even talked about defense, where both first-year players are also works in progress -- how often will one or both of 'em end up getting pulled for matchup reasons? 

Despite finally having a team consisting almost entirely of pro-caliber players, this may still end up being Brett Brown's most hair-pulling season yet on the Sixers' bench. For 82 out of 82 games, he will have to make difficult personnel calls that will leave him damned either way. Lean mostly on the vets to win him games, and he'll get flamed on the Internet for selling his young core out long-term. Play the rookies big minutes and damn all the rest, and he'll alienate an increasingly impatient base of season-ticket holders as the team racks up struggle-through-it Ls -- and potentially risk his own job, if ownership decides that another year of hard losing requires a scapegoat to fall. Brown will have to walk the tightrope, and hope that Embiid's brilliance is enough to cover up for any peripheral irritation. 

And speaking of Embiid -- at this point, it would probably be irresponsible not to mention once more that if Joel isn't healthy this season, none of the rest of this matters. We may have two No. 1 overall picks on our roster, and a handful of trustworthy vets surrounding them, but there's still only one player on the roster that's irreplaceable, only one player that really makes the difference in this roster being closer to a contending team than a rebuilding one. If JoJo proves broken -- still far from an impossibility after just 31 games in three seasons -- trade Fultz and Simmons, fire Brown, turn the Wells Fargo Center into a mini-golf course. When it comes to this Sixers season, the success flow chart from last year definitely still applies. 

But assuming Embiid actually stays healthy for a majority of games, what should the focus of this season be? Bringing along the young guys, or getting the team officially over the tanking hump? I don't think the answer is as simple as some may think, and I think a good deal of it will depend on the players themselves, and whether they're willing to put in the potentially painful work of fixing their jumpers, committing on the defensive end and/or learning to properly diversify their offensive games, to allow themselves to be playable at most times in most lineups. The fact that the team is relatively loaded at this point, with the potential to be good even without their contributions, could end up influencing them in either direction -- either they hustle to catch up, or they get frustrated and fall further behind. 

Does it matter whether the team actually does turn the corner with their win-loss record this year, though? Well, in the grand scheme of things maybe not, except that the team has to start caring about winning at some point, and obviously it would benefit our head coach (who we generally like and want to keep around) for that point to come this season. Not to mention that with J.J. on a one-year deal, making a playoff push may impact how likely he is to want to re-sign in the offseason -- or, dreaming a little bigger, a step towards contention could play a big role in attracting legit stars to Wawa country in free agency, or in keeping them around should we swing a blockbuster deal for one on an expiring contract. 

Is any of that more important than developing Fultz and Simmons? Probably not, but the rookies will have to meet the team halfway. The Sixers are pot-committed enough to fielding a competitive squad this season that if the two aren't producing, and aren't making the kind of strides the team needs them to make, big minutes will not be guaranteed for them simply because of their draft slot. The most positive sign for the duo might be that Embiid has taken an early shine to both, with JoJo spending the offseason gassing up Simmons (and vice versa), and recently raving about Fultz's quiet demeanor, even claiming responsibility for the frosh's progress. The future is still first and foremost about doing whatever it takes to put Embiid in a place to succeed, so it'd behoove all other prospects to make getting on Joel's good side on and off the court a priority.

Regardless of how our rotation shakes out, it's a pretty remarkable situation for the Sixers to be in; to essentially have too many players is still a pretty novel concern for a franchise that started Chris Johnson and Henry Sims not that many opening nights ago. Having to develop so many young guys and still trying to win every night is going to be a new experience for this team, but with a little injury karma maybe finally owed our way, it should be doable: We already saw in those last two preseason blowouts how potent this team is with Joel just being available, and if the team can start out on close to that level and buy Brett & Co. a little breathing room, you just have to hope the rest kinda falls into place from there. Trust the process, and trust The Process.