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Sixers season ends with some success

Michael Tipton, flickr.com

Michael Tipton, flickr.com

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The first round of the NBA playoffs are underway, and while 16 teams are battling for the championship, the other 16 teams are focused on next season, whether it’s through the draft, trades, free agency, or simply hitting the gym. Even if the team finished 14th in the Eastern Conference, this past season will be one to remember, for the good, not the bad.

Ever since 2013 when the Sixers began rebuilding, watching the team has been horrible for die-hard fans. This season was a different story. Although the team finished 28-54, it was exciting for once. Yes, the Sixers don’t have that all-star firepower, but they have a young core that showed a spark of what it could be in the future. In a city where players will get driven out if they don’t give it their all, this team showed no sign of that. Ever since the first game of the season when they were getting absolutely destroyed, they continued to work hard and they showed some heart.

One Archbishop Ryan student believed it was a successful season overall.

“This season was the best I’ve experienced over the best 10 years,” stated junior Christian Shoemaker. “Although we still had a bad record and didn’t make the playoffs, it was nice to see them actually be a bit competitive and put on a show for the fans.”

Heading into the season, the Sixers had everything they could have hoped for. After waiting years to get their hands on the No. 1 pick, they finally landed it in the lottery. With that selection, they drafted forward Ben Simmons out of LSU. Watching him in the summer league was a delight to fans across the NBA, as they watched him rack up his assist totals. Head coach Brett Brown was seriously considering putting the seven footer at point guard, but two weeks before the season Simmons sustained a fracture in his foot, and was ruled out indefinitely. This was a massive blow to the team which was expecting him to step in and make an immediate impact.

The team also addressed other issues in the draft. With the 24th pick in the draft, the Sixers selected French guard Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot and with the 26th pick, they selected another guard in Furkan Korkmaz, who is from Turkey. Throughout the course of the season, TLC was bounced around from D-League affiliate Delaware 87ers and the Sixers. Late in the season, he proved to be a valuable asset to the team and played well. Korkmaz on the other hand, stayed in Turkey to play overseas for another year. Because the Sixers retain his draft rights, Korkmaz will be able to come over whenever he is ready.

The start of the season wasn’t pretty. The Sixers started out 1-9 and it looked as if it was going to be another dreadful season. However, the team turned it around fast. In the month of January alone, the Sixers became relevant. A 10-5 record in that month matched their win total from all of last season. People genuinely believed they could be one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference.

“I really believed they had a chance to make the playoffs,” junior Kevin Montoya stated. “I remember them being only a couple games out of the last playoff spot and they were on a roll.”

After the all-star break, Brett Brown and the team continued to focus on development and defense and it paid off. They ranked fourth in defensive efficiency for a couple of weeks and their offense was looking smooth.

The only big issue the team was having was the logjam at center. With Joel Embiid, Jahlil Okafor, Nerlens Noel and Richaun Holmes on the roster, a change was needed. Most people assumed Jahlil Okafor would go back to his home city Chicago or be shipped to a playoff contender that needed a big man, but on deadline day, the team’s best rim protector, Nerlens Noel, was traded to the Dallas Mavericks for small forward Justin Anderson, center Andrew Bogut, and two second round picks in the upcoming draft. Bogut’s contract was bought out before he even stepped a minute on the floor.

“I was kind of upset we gave away Nerlens,” junior Ryan Maloney stated. “He showed a ton of potential with the team and it looked as if him and Embiid would be a frontcourt duo. Of course he goes to Dallas and he’s playing really, really well.”

This wasn’t the only trade. Forward Ersan Ilyasova was sent to the Atlanta Hawks for center Tiago Splitter and another set of second round picks. Although Ilyasova was a liability on the defensive end, his three-point shooting made up for it. There was a period of time in January and February where he racked up consecutive player of the game awards.

As the season was wrapping up, the coaching staff decided to sit some of the players with injury concerns as the team was already out of playoff contention. The season didn’t end of the brightest note as the Sixers went on a multiple game losing streak, but they were competitive in almost every game. When most of the team was injured, players such as Alex Poythress and Shawn Long stepped up and got the minutes they deserved.

One of the many bright spots of the season was big man Joel Embiid. Although he was injured both of his first two seasons and was coming off multiple surgeries, he showed what was to come in future seasons. The Kansas product went on to average 20.2 ppg, 7.8 rpg, and 2.5 blkpg in only 24 minutes.

Those are monster numbers. Even though he only played 31 games all season, Embiid should seriously be considered for rookie of the year. Even after being snubbed for the all-star game, he dominated the center position and solidified himself as one of the association’s best young players.

“Joel Embiid was without a doubt the best player on the team,” junior Dom Young stated. “If it wasn’t for him, they surely wouldn’t have had the same record.”

Even though the Sixers were 13 games out of the last playoff spot, the team continued to progress. With the likes of TJ McConnell, Dario Saric, Robert Covington, and Nik Stauskas sticking around for next season, the team has a legitimate shot of making it even further. Guard Jerryd Bayless will be returning next season after sitting out the whole season from injury. With the amount of cap space they have, the Sixers will be able to splash in on any free agent. In the upcoming draft, they will be able to take a top college talent and might be able to land Markelle Fultz, Lonzo Ball, Josh Jackson, and Malik Monk, among others.

“Just keep trusting the process,” junior George Montag stated. “Things will come together.”

 

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