There is no doubt that for the third straight season, the Philadelphia 76ers will be one of the worst teams in the NBA, if not the worst. This rebuilding process has, and will continue to be painful, but hopefully this season will provide light at the end of the tunnel.
If there is a light, it’ll be Jahil Okafor’s play, which is the biggest thing to watch this season. Okafor, drafted third overall by the Sixers in June, needs to prove he has the potential to become their new franchise player and ultimately a top-10 NBA player. History shows us that the Sixers will most likely need one of these players in order to become a legitimate championship contender.
There are sure to be times when Okafor shows flashes of what he can become, and other times when he struggles mightily. His character and toughness will be tested when he realizes how arduous it is to succeed in the NBA.
But if he can average roughly 14 points, seven rebounds, and have a shooting percentage in the high 40s, I would be satisfied with those numbers coming from someone who played one year in college. Defensively, it would be nice if he proves he’s not a complete liability.
Nerlens Noel also needs to take the next step in his evolution of being an interior defensive force. Less foul trouble and a combination of five steals and blocks would suffice. Offensively, he needs to start knocking down mid-range jumpers and have more fluidity in the post in order to become a consistent double-digit scorer.
Nik Stauskas is another player to watch. For Okafor to be truly successful, he’ll need player who can space the floor with outside shooting, and Stauskas, who had a disappointing rookie season, will have the opportunity to prove his worth as an outside shooter.
This season will be more about individual progression than wins and losses, but an improvement from back-to-back sub-20-win seasons should be expected. The question is how much.
Unfortunately, the Sixers should get off to a slow start, as Tony Wroten, Kendall Marshall, Carl Landry, and Robert Covington are all injured to start the season. Covington should be back within a couple weeks, but the other three won’t be back until December.
When the team gets healthier, we should expect them to be better offensively than last year, when they shot a league-worst 40.8 percent. But until the Sixers’ perimeter players prove themselves, opponents won’t hesitate to crowd Okafor, forcing others to make plays and forcing the Sixers’ rookie to make the right decisions in uncomfortable situations.
The Sixers’ individual play will be the most important gauge of optimism, but in terms of wins, expect 24 of them this season.