2018-19 season all about internal growth for Sixers
The 2018-19 NBA season will be all about internal growth for the Philadelphia 76ers.
Outside of bringing back J.J. Redick and Amir Johnson and adding Wilson Chandler and Mike Muscala, the Sixers didn’t do much over the offseason in terms of roster alterations. Thus, rather than shake things up too much, the team will look to build off of the momentum that they generated last season when they finished third in the Eastern Conference with a 52-30 record and advanced to the conference semifinals.
It is important to emphasize just how wet behind the ears the Sixers were last season, as they were one of the youngest teams in the entire league. It was Ben Simmons’ first season of playing NBA basketball, and Markelle Fultz’s first as well (even though it didn’t go quite as planned). It was the second season for Joel Embiid (who had just 31 games of experience before the season) and Dario Saric. It was the first season that the starting five of Embiid, Simmons, Saric, Redick, and Covington played together, and the first season that head coach Brett Brown was tasked with winning after several season of tanking talent development.
Not to state the overly-obvious here, but with a year of experience behind them, the Sixers should be better – both individually and as a cohesive unit – just as the team, and Simmons, were both better at the end of last season than they were at the beginning.
For the first time since he was selected by the Sixers back in 2014, Embiid has an entire offseason to work on his game unencumbered by injury issues. His on-court conditioning should directly benefit as a result. He still had to work with play restrictions during the first portion of last season. Those will be gone this year.
Similarly, a summer spent working on his shot (the only glaring hole in his game after his rookie campaign) could work to catapult Simmons to another level in his second season. Point guards typically grow and improve with experience, and Simmons should be no different. Considering how good he was a rookie, you can’t help but to think that he has only scratched the surface of his potential.
And then there’s Markelle Fultz, whose work this offseason with trainer Drew Hanlen has been well-documented.
The Sixers drafted Fultz to be a high-impact backcourt player that could play off of Simmons with the capability of stretching defenses and knocking down shots, while also having the ability to generate his own offense. Things obviously didn’t work out that way during his rookie campaign, but Fultz, who is not yet old enough to consume alcohol on Main Street in Manayunk - is still oozing with potential. He became the youngest player in NBA history to record a triple-double last season, and if you’re on social media you’ve undoubtedly seen the videos of him jumping out of the gym.
*If* - and this is a big if, and something we won’t know until we see him out on the floor – Fultz is able to put the shooting and confidence issues that plagued him last season behind him and become the player that the Sixers drafted him to be, the team could be adding a third star – or at least a very solid contributor – this season.
Zhaire Smith – who Brett Brown compared to Kawhi Leonard – will also get an opportunity to be an on-court contributor
Landing a big-time free agent over the offseason would have been nice, and the Sixers will try their luck in the open market again next summer. But, giving a [very] young team that won 50+ games in its first year together another year to develop is also nice. Look for Embiid, Simmons, and potentially Fultz, to take major steps forward next season.
Follow Michael Kaskey-Blomain on Twitter @therealmikekb.