Joel Embiid finally arrived. The No. 3 pick of the 2014 draft suited up for the 76ers on Oct. 4, Embiid's first basketball game in 948 days, since he was at Kansas. Not only did the 7-foot Embiid play, but he also played well, showing that his skills didn't erode while he was sidelined with foot injuries. But just as Embiid came back, another young star exited in Philadelphia: Top pick Ben Simmons suffered a Jones fracture in his right foot and isn't likely to see the court for several months.
As welcome as Embiid's return is, it does create one problem: Even with Simmons out, Philadelphia has a glut of highly touted (and highly drafted) big men. Nerlens Noel, 22, is a defensive presence off the bench, but his lack of shooting should rule him out as a power forward. Jahlil Okafor, 21, is a poor defender but an elite low-post scorer, which might make him the most likely big man to be moved. And rookie Dario Šarić, 22, has shown the potential to be a solid stretch four.
Before making a move, the Sixers can allow coach Brett Brown to try different frontcourt combinations in what will no doubt be another losing season. But if the 22-year-old Embiid stays healthy—and continues to flash the talent that made him such an exciting prospect—they can call 2016--17 a qualified success.
PROJECTED LINEUP | 2015--16 stats
COACH BRETT BROWN (4th season with 76ers)
2015--16 RECORD 10--72 (5th in Atlantic)
PG JERRYD BAYLESS*
10.4 PPG; 3.1 APG; 42.3 FG%; 43.7 3FG%
SG GERALD HENDERSON*
8.7 PPG; 2.9 RPG; 43.9 FG%; 35.3 3FG%
SF ROBERT COVINGTON
12.8 PPG; 6.3 RPG; 38.5 FG%; 35.3 3FG%
PF DARIO ŠARIĆ (R)
11.7 PPG; 5.8 RPG; 50.0 FG%; 40.3 3FG%
C JOEL EMBIID (R)†
11.2 PPG; 8.1 RPG; 1.4 APG; 62.6 FG%
C JAHLIL OKAFOR
17.5 PPG; 7.0 RPG; 1.2 BPG; 50.8 FG%
SF JERAMI GRANT
9.7 PPG; 4.7 RPG; 1.6 BPG; 41.9 FG%
PF NERLENS NOEL
11.1 PPG; 8.1 RPG; 1.8 SPG; 52.1 FG%
*NEW ACQUISITION (R) ROOKIE, EUROPEAN STATS (R)† ROOKIE, 2013--14 COLLEGE STATS
TELLING NUMBER 948
A rival scout sizes up Philadelphia
I think they want to start Jahlil Okafor at power forward and Nerlens Noel at center, but it's not gonna work. Okafor has to have the block; he's as good a low-post scorer as there is in the league, but his defense is a glaring flaw. Noel can't shoot, so his [baskets] are going to come around the rim. It's going to be a hard, hard match to make work.... Joel Embiid is such an unknown too. Everybody says he's really good, but he's had two foot injuries, and what's to say he's not going to have another one? I have to believe that in the first third of the season, they trade one of their three bigs. It will probably be Noel. He can defend but he's really light in the ass—very thin. Maybe it's to Boston for a wing player. Philadelphia is just so bad in the backcourt.... Another thing: If Dario Šarić is as good as they say he is as a stretch big, he's gonna need minutes, too.... Obviously Ben Simmons is going to be a star once he recovers from his [right] foot injury. He's got guard skills and his vision is incredible for his size [6'10"]. He's a great passer, not a very good shooter. He will guard the threes and will do a lot of three stuff, but I can see them playing him at point guard to hide his lack of scoring.... There are mostly stopgaps on the perimeter. Gerald Henderson improves their backcourt, but he's not long-term. Jerryd Bayless will probably start but he's not long-term. Sergio Rodriguez has never had much success in the NBA. T.J. McConnell, I don't like at all. Nik Stauskas has done nothing since he came into the league.
Process this: The engaging Sixers are no longer the worst team in the league.