Well, the 76ers are already 0-for-2015 and this NBA season looks like it could be even worse than the last two seasons, and we all know how bad they were. So, once again Sixers fans are being asked to be patient and have faith that the people in charge of this laughingstock of a franchise know what they’re doing.
The Sixers already have two big (literally) pieces in Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor, who is the best rookie the Sixers have had since Allen Iverson in 1996. Okafor is just a 19-year-old kid who already has a complete offensive game and should be a centerpiece of the franchise for the next decade. Now we have to trust that Sixers general manager Sam Hinkie and company will make the most of the fistful of high draft picks the Sixers have coming in the next two years. And, for argument’s sake, we’ll assume they do and the 76ers end up with two or three All-Star players.
But that’s in the future and we have no idea how that will work out and neither, really, does Hinkie – and master plans and grand schemes have a tendency not to. But there is something Hinkie could have controlled better than he has and that’s improving the rest of the roster. We understand the Sixers want to lose to get another top draft pick and they’re very good at it. But they also should have spent these three wasteland seasons doing something constructive, like acquiring solid role players who can contribute when Hinkie’s scheming pays off and all the young superstars finally land in South Philly.
Everyone knows you need those All-Star players to win NBA championships (name the last champion that didn’t have at least two), but you also need seasoned role players who don’t mind doing the dirty work so the marquee players can shine. It’s not glamorous, but it is necessary.
Look at the last two 76ers teams that made it to the NBA Finals. The 1983 squad had Hall-of-Fame players Julius Erving and Moses Malone, but it also had blue-collar players like Maurice Cheeks and Bobby Jones and Clint Richardson. And the 2001 squad had the league’s MVP that season, the high-scoring Iverson, as well as the NBA’s defensive player of the year and leading rebounder in Dikembe Mutombo. But it also had versatile and unselfish veterans like Aaron McKie and Eric Snow and Tyrone Hill and George Lynch, and – just like the 1983 team – that team wouldn’t have reached the NBA Finals without those guys, the ones who pass and rebound and play defense and set screens and do all the things that separate winners from losers.
So far, this Sixers team doesn’t have many of those guys. They traded with Sacramento for Nik Stauskas, a designated shooter, but unfortunately he hasn’t shot very well in his brief time in the NBA. Last year as a rookie with the Kings, he shot just 36.5 from the field in 73 games and 32.2 percent from the three-point circle. And in his first eight games with the 76ers – including seven starts – he’s averaging 12.3 points, but shooting just 34.5 from the field and 28.6 from three-point land.
The Sixers have a couple other decent players, guys who play a lot now but will eventually be bench players, such as Jerami Grant, Hollis Thompson and Tony Wroten. But there’s also a good chance none of those players will still be on the team when the Sixers finally turn it around.
Assuming, of course, they do.
Acquiring those kinds of role players takes real talent evaluation. It’s easy to pick an Okafor or some other blue-chip player who scored a zillion points for a big-time college. Finding guys who can excel without the ball and are willing and able to become key role players is much more difficult. And no matter how many Jahlil Okafors the Sixers draft in the next couple of years, they’ll never be a champion again until they also get a few Aaron McKies.