How would you summarize the 2016-17 Philadelphia 76ers in one sentence? Whatever the answer, it probably ends with "until they weren't." They were awesome until they weren't; they were more fun than they've been in forever, until they weren't; they were proof that the process was smart and justified and totally totally worth it forever -- until they weren't. The '16-'17 76ers answered all the questions, and then asked them all over again, leaving us more confused than ever before. Is this the team of the NBA's future, or a cautionary tale whose anti-fairytale ending has already been predetermined? We won't know until we get there, and when (or if) we're actually ever gonna get there isn't that clear, either.
Consequently, judging the Sixers' overall '16-'17 season in one all-encompassing grade is virtually impossible. Breaking it down player-by-player? Still incredibly problematic, but at least a little more manageable. Let's give it the old college try, in any event -- it's what Nerlens would've wanted. In alphabetical order, only judging players still on the roster at season's end, and finishing with our coach and GM:
Justin Anderson entered Process Trusters' lives kind of like their divorced dad's new girlfriend -- the primary return in the Sixers', um, controversial trade-deadline dealing of well-loved big man Nerlens Noel, it was definitely always gonna be on him to endear himself to the fans. Anderson had his moments, certainly: His arm-waving-psycho distraction D was fun in its sporadic appearances, his putback slams were the stuff of urban legend, and he clearly enjoyed flummoxing Carmelo Anthony and the Knicks with his commitment to needless over-exertion. Still, he is what he is -- an athletic wing whose sticktoitiveness has to be pretty overwhelming to make up for a convincing lack of offensive skill. If he's the best bid we could get for Nerlens, the auction wasn't worth holding.
For Next Year: Maybe just stick him in a film room with Robert Covington for five hours a day until he starts reading opposing offenses, cutting off the ball, and attacking closeouts nearly as well as Young Cov has learned to. But then again, we don't want these two spending so much time together that the Sixers start to view them as interchangeable -- particularly not as one becomes significantly more expensive the next summer.
There's never a good time to miss an entire season with injury, but if you're going to do it, may as well do it the same time as the player you were brought in to complement is also imitating Stephan Jenkins. Bayless' best use with the Sixers will always be as a spot-up shooter and secondary playmaker flanking Ben Simmons; on the '16-'17 Sixers, I'm not sure T.J. McConnell would've had anything to worry about. We'll see next year whether he was worth spending one of our spare Veteran Leadership roster spots and a disproportionately large percentage of our cap space on. In the meantime, shrug emoji.
For Next Year: Rest up that wrist, and maybe buy a spare meniscus just in case.
2017 was truly the Year of Our Lord, as Lord Covington turned the page on the calendar year with greater gusto than all the #F--k2016 hashtags combined. From January on, RoCo was absolute money, averaging 15 and 7 while shooting 37% from deep -- solid numbers that became formidable when you factored in his All-NBA worthy defense, picking up two swipes a game, leading the league in deflections and pacing ESPN's entire defensive RPM rankings for non-bigs. Of course, he ended the season in True Sixer fashion, tearing his meniscus and missing the final eight games -- all Sixers Ls, in case you wondered who the team's most irreplaceable on-court contributor was this year. You hope that it doesn't end up being two steps forward, three steps back for Lord Covington, but if he's the same player at the end of '17 that he was at its beginning, he'll get his long-overdue payday, and he'll deserve it.
For Next Year: Be wary of too much time spent with Justin Anderson.
Ooh boy. On the one hand, an A+ would be woefully insufficient to express just how much of a gift The Process was to Sixers fans in his 31 games on the active roster. On the other hand, an F would seem similarly inarticulate in voicing just how much of a bummer it was to have to spend most of another season without Joel, as the team's medical staff got tired of the Sixers fans in the backseat asking when he was coming back and decided to turn the car around altogether. But you know what? At the end of the day/season, even getting just a couple months of Basketball Santa duckwalking around the NBA, daring you to question his realness, means way more than any amount of ensuing tragedy -- at least in the space of one season -- ever could. 31 games of dream-realizing (and Dream-realizing) greatness, when we thought we might never even get to see dude on a basketball court? Dayenu.
For Next Year: Just do you, JoJo. We're more ideologically committed to you than any NBA fanbase ever has been to their franchise star, and for better and worse, we're with you until the end of the line now.
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Gerald Henderson's season as the least-discussed player on the world's most captivating 28-win team confirms what we always basically knew about him -- his basketball destiny is to be one of those players whose names always appears on "Best Players Never to Make the Postseason" lists, even though he's technically made the playoffs twice already. For a while there, Gerald did seem like he would make an unnatural jump in three-point percentage -- through January, he was bombing at a 41% clip, borderline elite for a two-guard -- threatening to give his Sixers season a definable storyline. But that number sagged in the teams' space-cramped final days, ultimately ending at 35.3%, his exact percentage from the year before. Everything in its right place.
For Next Year: Hopefully the team won't pick up his $9 million option for next season. Or maybe they should. Either way, we probably won't really remember he was ever a Sixer a half-decade from now.
Richaun vacillated between underrated and overrated (and underutilized and overexposed) often enough this season to cause Process Whiplash -- one second, he's dunking on half the Pacific Division and giving Secret Master Plan credibility to the Nerlens Noel trade, the next he's grabbing three rebounds in 29 minutes and you're having trouble remembering what it was that he ever did well. I'm still not sure if Rich Holmie Chaun is a legitimate piece or a fun distraction, but he improved significantly in nearly every statistical category this year, and even showed off some wildly unforeseen stretchiness as a five, coming two games away from being the Sixers' best three-point shooter by percentage. Hard to say this season was anything but a success for the Bowling Green Massacre.
For Next Year: Learning to box out would be nice, though that almost feels greedy to ask of a Sixers big man.
It never stopped being hilarious to me how good Shawn Long was. I mean, maybe not really: There were serious defensive concerns, certainly, though it's hard to imagine anyone on the Sixers was that concerned with anyone's defense by the time in the season we were playing Shawn Long 20 minutes a night. Still, look at those friggin' per 36 numbers: 23 points and 13 rebounds! On 56% shooting! And 37% from three! I argued with my dad last weekend over whether there was any conceivable justification for Jahlil Okafor being on this roster next season instead of Shawn Long. He argued that Jahlil was still much younger, and much more higher-ceilinged than Long was. My counter was that Long was already way better than Jahlil would ever be. Prove me wrong, kids.
For Next Year: At least come back for the summer and really make 'em think about it, Shawnnie.
All you really need to know about the general progression of the Sixers' season was that Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, a player who many predicted would spend his entire rookie season in the Sixers' farm system, ended the year leading the big-league squad in scoring for the month of April. That wasn't great for the Sixers, but it might've been great for TLC, who ended his first-year campaign with subpar stats but impressive two-way potential, seeming like exactly the kind of smart, skilled, modern wing the Sixers will need as a complementary piece going forward. The thought of him and Cov stalking the perimeter in tandem for the next half decade definitely has its appeal.
For Next Year: Bulk up a little and get that that three-point stroke humming.
Timothy John McConnell teaches us many things as NBA fans, but none moreso than this: Shooting from distance in the NBA must be really, really hard, because if it was even slightly easy, he would've gotten way good at it by now. McConnell is as heady and capable a point guard as I've ever seen on the Sixers; my favorite part of watching him this year was noticing how he'd hold onto the ball that extra step beat longer in transition than most PGs, because he wanted to take the defender with him and give BFF Nik Stauskas that extra step of free space to get his shot off once T.J. kicked out to him behind the arc. But alas, the shooting is not there and maybe never will be: In 2017, Teej racked up 381 assists and only five made triples. It's just not tenable for any ball-handler in the NBA, let alone one soon to be expected to space the floor for Ben Simmons. If he ever manages to master that, though, he's Steve Nash with defense.
For Next Year: Enjoy married life, T.J. Let us know how many Wiz Khalifa references Nik works into his wedding toast.
The reason for the "+" and not "-" in the grade to follow here is mostly just because dude was an amazingly good sport about the Sixers treating him like Jerry from Parks & Recreation for most of February, a humiliation no basketball player deserves to bear from their own front office -- especially when the team then asks him to go back out and put a good face on the whole thing afterwards. That was unquestionably terrible, but unfortunately, so was Jahlil this season; regressing in most of the areas where he desperately needed to show improvement, getting put on Twitter blast, losing a whole lotta games to knee soreness that shoulda gone away a long time ago, and ultimately rating out as one of the league's least productive players. He's a solid guy, probably, but he's just not that guy -- not with this team, anyway.
For Next Year: Let's hope his Processing days are over, for everyone's sake.
Man, did I ride hard for that 2014 Kentucky team that made it to the NCAA finals as an 8 seed. Poythress was one of my favorite guys on that squad, and it was a treat to see him get a six-game run with the Sixers, showing explosive athleticism, impressive tenacity, and a total inability to reliably put ball in basket from anywhere on the court. If nothing else, he served as a useful reminder that when it comes to exciting, raw wings with no discernible offensive gifts, you can get them for free pretty much whenever -- as opposed to, say, trading one of your young blue-chip big men for 'em.
For Next Year: Probably won't be back with the Sixers, but hopefully we'll write him a glowing letter of recommendation for his next stop.
I got very, very sick of Sergio Rodriguez as the season went on, and his shooting got brickier while his defense slipped from lacking to sunk cost. His two-point, one-assist game against the Knicks in February was about as bad as I can remember seeing someone play the point guard position; at least Jrue Holiday looked like he was really trying, goddamn it in his infamous 2 for 24 game in Charlotte. Still, he was acceptable enough at season's start and did get weirdly hot in his final two weeks before going down for the year with... did we ever even bother to find out? I dunno. Ultimately, we needed a point guard to kill some time with, and that having been accomplished, it's time to cue the Jane's Addiction.
For Next Year: Let's get this guy to Dallas or San Antonio, where he can anchor second units and somehow not have his defensive deficiencies matter.
Nothing really to say about The Homie that I haven't already: Essentially, he saved the season from complete damnation -- until, of course, he didn't. I still think he's probably best as a sixth man on these Sixers and I still think that's totally fine; I also think he'll get better at shooting every year, and that his ingenuity and toughness will provide as much of this team's identity as Brett Brown soul brother Manu Ginobili's right-brained hard-headedness did in San Antonio. His lousy final two weeks may have have cost him the Rookie of the Year, and he probably didn't deserve it anyway -- not that Malcolm Brogdon does either, mind you. But his debut season will stick in the minds of Sixers fans for many moons to come as the reason the team was finally able to keep Bad Times at bay until April.
For Next Year: Rest, and lots. Dario wants to play all 82 next year, and we want him to be able to do so without running dry on gas in game 70-something.
It'll always be one of the moments I remember the most fondly about the 2016-'17 Sixers; Watching them live in Brooklyn and going "Wait a minute, #47? Who's that...?" and then just starting to shriek as I realized the most likely explanation: "TIAAAAAGOOOOOOOO!!!!" Little of his on-court production actually justified such fanboying -- he's a step slow on both ends now, and was obviously rusty after having missed a season and a half with various maladies -- though he did still put up 19 and 10 per 36 and actually went 2-6 from deep after going 0-8 on threes over his first six NBA seasons. He doesn't much seem like a Sixer, but he does seem like he's probably still an NBA player, at least.
For Next Year: Bet he ends up in Utah, for some reason.
Rooting for Evan Turner for three and a half years should have left us better prepared for Nik Stauskas, another player where a 10% lack of athleticism seems to make all the difference between him being an elite prospect and him being a borderline NBA rotation guy. At least Nik should have shooting as one unquestionable NBA-caliber skill to lean on, and maybe he does -- he improved from 33% to 37% from deep this year -- though it would be nice if he was a little more proficient shooting off the dribble or in tight spaces. (Just like it would be nice if his apparent playmaking skills led to more assists and fewer turnovers.) As is, you always see the potential for him to become a legitimate NBA contributor, but damn, you really wish he actually contributed more often.
For Next Year: Just hope he sticks around long enough to finally get to play with Ben Simmons, who should get him all the clean looks at three he could ever want (and never get with the Sixers as currently constituted).
I already made the case about a month ago for why Brett Brown should win Coach of the Year, MVP, and maybe Sixth Man of the Year while he's at it. Since then, the team went in the tank, and he arguably deserves credit for that too -- it's not every year that your team can show all the demonstrable progress you'd ever want to see from them, and then also contend for the top pick in the draft -- though somewhat selfishly, I did want to see them get to 30 wins, rather than stalling at 28. Brett definitely ran out of secret sauce once Covington checked out, but even still: As an in-game tactician, a locker-room manager and a culture creator, we saw absolutely everything we needed to see from our coach this season. You just hope this team actually gets good before it kills him.
For Next Year: Serenity now, Brett.
It was definitely an Other Than That, Mrs. Colangelo, How Was the Trade Deadline? kind of season for BC in his first full year as steward of the Sixers franchise. For the most part, he did fine: His veteran pickups provided stability (if not a ton else), he did well to deal for Ersan Ilyasova and then sell high on him at the deadline, and though only one of his three first-round draft picks actually played this year, he proved to be one of the bigger steals of the late first round. But there that was one thing that we really, really wanted him not to do, and of course he went and did it.
While the relatively strong post-deadline play of Richaun Holmes (and the strong post-deadline relief expressed by our former big man) takes about 7% of the sting out of the insultingly dumb Nerlens Noel trade, that other 93% still smarts like the dickens, and darkly overshadows the rest of Colangelo's generally acceptable dealings. Throw in some of the super-shady misdirection (if not outright misinformation) he delivered as Embiid and Simmons were both out longer than expected and then just out altogether, and it's pretty clear that we're just never gonna be able to trust this guy the way we trusted Our Once and Always Dark Lord. Partly, that's not Colangelo's fault, of course -- but partly, it is.
For Next Year: Go two-for-two with don't-mess-this-up drafts, cut bait with Jahlil, don't resign anyone you don't need to resign or splurge on anyone it doesn't particularly behoove us to splurge on. And most importantly: Don't tell a lie on us, and we won't tell the truth 'bout you.