The Sixers season is mercifully over. After 82 grueling games, only 31 of which featured Joel Embiid and none of which featured No. 1 overall pick Ben Simmons, the Sixers won just 28 games, losing 54, finishing with the fourth-worst record in the league. The Lakers finished with the third-worst record, meaning just one team has to jump them in order for the Sixers to get two lottery picks this year. Sacramento finished with the eighth-worst record, and the Sixers have the right to swap picks with the Kings, so the Sixers have a great chance at a top 3 pick and, perhaps, two in the top 5.
In losing, the Sixers became winners, but when considering the expectations the team had entering this season, it’s hard to not feel tired of being perennial NBA losers. Heck, halfway through the year, with Embiid still healthy and the team starting to win games, there was hope of making the playoffs. Then Embiid went down with a knee injury, hopes of the playoffs went wayward and the team went into full-on tank mode, trading or shutting down almost their active roster by season’s end.
In the first game of the year, Brett Brown had a starting lineup of Joel Embiid, Gerald Henderson, Dario Saric, Robert Covington and Sergio Rodriguez. In the final game of the regular season, Brown put out a starting lineup of Richaun Holmes, T.J. McConnell, Timothy Luwawu-Cabarrot, Justin Anderson and Alex Poythress.
In all, 21 different players suited up for the Sixers this season, and 16 different guys started, with 11 starting more than 20 percent of the team’s games. This is what Brown had to work with all season.
And still, tanking late in the year and everything, the Sixers had nearly three times as many wins as last season — a remarkable feat, all things considered. Here is an exhaustive list of the Sixers’ winners and losers this year.
Winner: Dario Saric
Saric should be the Rookie of the Year in the NBA this season, and the only reason he may not win is because some NBA writers have convinced themselves that either A) Malcolm Brogdon is a more worthy candidate or B) Embiid still deserves to win the award.
Saric is the only rookie to score more than 1,000 points — actually the only to score more than 900 — while leading all rookies in rebounds and sixth in assists. Brogdon led all rookies in assists and steals, and shot 45.6 percent from the field, but it’s hard to believe he’ll beat out Saric for this award. Unless Embiid gets some of those Saric votes. And that would be dumb.
Saric is surely the biggest bright spot of the Sixers’ season. For people who never thought he’d come to the NBA, he’s here, and he’s a solid piece of the future. Unless he gets traded. Which could totally happen. Ugh.
Loser: Ben Simmons
Simmons is finally healthy, just in time for season to be over.
Simmons played a total of zero games in his rookie season, despite several suggestions he was going to be ready by the All-Star break, or mid-February, or perhaps early March or…never. Turns out, Simmons is a “slow healer,” which is why the Jones fracture that heals in a few months for most people took Simmons the entire season from which to recover fully. He is, from a health standpoint, this season’s biggest loser.
Winner: Joel Embiid
Embiid played just 31 games, but he was a dynamic force on both ends of the floor. Embiid averaged 20.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game — all rookie bests. The next highest-scoring rookie in the NBA was Saric with 12.8 points per game. When he was on the court, it wasn’t even close who the best rookie — and in some cases who the best big man— was this year.
Loser: Joel Embiid
Embiid played in just 31 games.
The Sixers played nearly 4,000 minutes this season and Embiid was on the court for just 786 of them. When he went down for the year, the season was lost, and given he never saw the floor at all in his first two seasons in the NBA, it’s time to start worrying if he’s the next Greg Oden.
Winner: Brett Brown
At the risk of being redundant: Embiid played just 786 minutes. Simmons played zero minutes. Brown’s projected starting point guard, Jerryd Bayless, played in three games this season. Nerlens Noel was traded at the deadline. Jahlil Okafor was NOT traded at the deadline. He had 21 different players and, what, 75 different starting lineups? That’s probably a safe guess. Through all that, Brown managed to get the Sixers to nearly 30 wins and surely it could have been more had they actually been trying late in the season.
Brown also gets credit for developing the likes of Saric and Holmes, turning McConnell into a viable point guard, making Covington a solid NBA pro and maybe saving Nik Stauskas’s career.
He should be coach of the year in the NBA. More likely, though, he’ll get fired halfway through next season for Mark Jackson or a Van Gundy or something.
Loser: Bryan Colangelo
Colangelo drafted Simmons and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, who might turn out to be a pretty decent NBA player. But Simmons hasn’t played, and the handling of that injury situation falls squarely on Colangelo. He also bungled the Embiid situation by not being forthright the entire time, and failed to do the one thing at the trade deadline everyone want him to do: Trade Jahlil Okafor. The best move he made, trading for Ersan Ilyasova, he un-did before the deadline, and while Justin Anderson is probably a better player than many of us thought, Colangelo still dumped Nerlens Noel for cents on the dollar, then somehow left the Sixers with not enough big men to finish the season.
Wins and losses aside, trades and signings aside, it’s the deceitful nature of his tenure that’s made him a big loser in most fans’ eyes.
Winner: Nerlens Noel
Noel had elective surgery, rehabbed in Alabama and was benched by the franchise because of it. Then he got traded the heck out of town, giving him a chance to succeed in a market that has a much better recent history of competitive basketball. He’s a winner, for sure.
Loser: Jahlil Okafor
What must it feel like to be the player everyone in town hates? It’s not Okafor’s fault he’s a terrible defender, and it’s not like the Sixers didn’t know that when they drafted him. He’s exactly the player we thought he’d be, and it’s clear every day that goes by that the franchise panicked in picking him, thinking Embiid may never play, Noel would walk as a free agent and the Sixers would be left without a big man.
If the Sixers go on to win a championship during this regime, Okafor’s time in Philly will be a footnote in a great era of basketball. But if they don’t win — barring injury to Embiid and Simmons, of course — Okafor will be the guy people blame, for decades.
Winner: Robert Covington
Is Covington a starter on a good team? Probably not, but he’s a starter on the Sixers, leading the team in games started this season, before getting shut down for the year with his own knee issue. Covington is a streaky shooter, but when he’s on the Sixers are much better offensively. On the defensive end, he’s their primary stopper, the type of player every championship-caliber team needs on their roster. Think of it this way: Covington is kind of like Andre Iguodala. He’ll never be the team’s best player, and he shouldn’t be paid like one, but he’s a guy who might end up stealing an NBA Finals MVP at some point in his career.
Loser: Hollis Thompson
What happened to Trusting the Process? Thompson was with Brown from the start. Until he wasn’t.
Winner: Ersan Ilyasova
Ilyasova was only with the Sixers for 53 games, starting 40 and there was a case to be made for the journeyman being the Sixers’ best player for a long stretch of the season, especially with Embiid out.
Ultimately, Ilyasova got dealt at the deadline to make room for Saric in the starting lineup, but his time in Philly, coupled with his move to Atlanta, makes Ilyasova a winner, for sure.
Loser: Nate Robinson
The Sixers had Nik Stauskas playing back-up point guard for like 20 games. How in the world could Robinson, playing for the Delaware 87ers, not crack the Sixers roster once this season?
Winner: Zoo & Alaa
We profiled Marc Zumoff and Alaa Abdelnaby last week. Why are the TV guys winners this year? Not only are they two of the best announcers in the sport, they get an entire off-season off from calling D-League caliber NBA games now. Congrats, guys. Go rest.
Loser: Joshua Harris
(This gif is never not funny.)
The Sixers owner might truthfully be the biggest winner this season. He got a brand new practice facility and team office building from the state of New Jersey virtually for free. He got the top pick in last year’s draft and might be in line for two top-five picks in this year’s draft. Nobody on the team is making much money at all and for a ton of games this year the attendance was actually representative of an NBA franchise. He’s loving life, surely.
Only, the team is a mess, the medical staff seems incompetent and his GM was a nepotism hire made by a guy the NBA forced on Harris last year because the rest of the league’s owners were pissed at how the Sixers weren’t even trying to compete. And despite all that, people still love this team in Philly. So…winner.
But, wait. There’s that 144-332 record as owner. Loser.
Winner: Richaun Holmes
Holmes was buried so far down the depth chart at one point in the season that he was sent to the D-League just to get some minutes. He’s better than that, and he proved it with his play on both ends of the floor. He’s a bit undersized for a center, but a viable backup at the 4 or 5 position on what could be a deep team next year.
Loser: Gerald Henderson
Henderson went from being the starting two guard on a bad team to being ostensibly put on the shelf on a really bad team. Henderson has a team option for $9 million next season, with a $1 million buyout. He’s about to be a 30-year old shooting guard probably looking for a job.
Winner: TJ McConnell
When the Sixers signed Jerryd Bayless and Sergio Rodriguez this summer, it looked like McConnell’s days with the team were numbered. Instead, McConnell worked his way into becoming the team’s starting point guard, and the catalyst for Brown’s offense. His defense needs work, and he can’t shoot a lick, so it’ll be fascinating to see where he fits in when Simmons is running the point next season. But don’t count him out to start 50 games next season too. He’ll be ready to prove the doubters wrong again.
Loser: Sergio Rodriguez
Rodriguez was a good signing from Spain last off-season, but he never quite had the impact the team hoped, in part because the pieces around him were never healthy, before he, himself, got hurt. He went from the starter to the projected backup for Bayless to the starter to the backup for McConnell to out for the year. It would be a miracle if he’s back next season.
Winner: Nik Stauskas
Stauskas should have been cut in the preseason, but somehow managed to make the team and took advantage of that opportunity, playing 27 minutes per game and even starting 27 times, averaging 9.4 points per game. His NBA career was teetering in the summer, truly. This season probably bought him a decade more in the league.
Loser: Justin Anderson
Anderson, who the Sixers got in a trade with the Mavs for Noel, is actually a pretty decent player. It’s just, well, he’s playing for one of the worst teams in basketball. Maybe that turns out to be a good thing for him, but something tells me as the Sixers get better and better, Anderson’s time on the court will get shorter and shorter in the coming seasons.
Luwawu-Cabarrot wasn’t expected to play much this season, but his slashing style, coupled with everyone else getting hurt, conspired to give him more and more minutes. He played in just under 70 games, starting nearly 20 and averaged 6.3 points in 17 minutes per game.
Loser: Jerryd Bayless
Signed to be the starting point guard, a wrist injury kept him out of all but three games. But, hey, he did get his blood spun.