Philadelphia have lost just nine games since the turn of the year. They are 20-21 against teams with a record over .500 for the season and boast a 20-10 home record. The Sixers are breaking records this season as the team finally comes out the other side of the rebuild.
Ben Simmons is the heavy favourite to win Rookie of the Year. Joel Embiid is healthy and playing in back-to-backs. Markelle Fultz’s problematic shoulder is a worry still, but the first overall pick is shooting again.
Fultz is a great unknown at the moment. He has played a grand total of 76 minutes this NBA season. In that time we saw his shooting collapse, but since then he has not played a single minute. Given that a championship is out of Philly’s reach this season, you could well understand if the Sixers opted to sit out their prized asset for the remainder of this campaign.
The later it is left into the season, the more pressure, the more gazing eyes there will be on Fultz’s return. I find it hard to envisage a scenario where it can be worth it. Getting Fultz to a place where he feels comfortable shooting is as important as anything else for the organisation.
If this were a team whose clock is ticking it would be different. Philadelphia are quite the opposite; time really is on their side.
Even without Fultz, the 76ers are 2.5 games out of third in the Eastern Conference. Only the Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors are scoring at a higher rate in the East (ppg). This is already a good team. Without Fultz, without a big name free agent, that is.
Philadelphia are impossible to ignore in free agency. Cap space is not even remotely close to being an issue, and it is already clear that they can contend. That’s perhaps the most daunting thing for the rest of the East, though. Ignore the potential free agents who could head to Wells Fargo Center this summer, and Philly are still one of the favourites in 2018/19.
This is the least Sixers fans deserve after the bleak five years previous. They had little choice but to Trust the Process, now they are set up perfectly to reap the rewards. Those years languishing at the bottom of the conference will be worth it if Philadelphia are contenders through 2022.
The 2018 playoffs will not end in street parties like the Philadelphia Eagles had. It will be significant, however, as a young team gains a first taste of playoff basketball, and we see just how competitive they are right now. The Sixers will certainly fancy their chances, especially if they can avoid Boston, Cleveland or Toronto in the first round. Their return to the playoffs may well begin a lengthy streak of postseason appearances, too.
— Joel Embiid (@JoelEmbiid) March 3, 2018
Making a good team is challenging. Making that team into perennial title contenders is another leap. The 76ers are likely to improve even if the status quo remains, but becoming a great, rather than good, team is where the mammoth task lies.
Their immediate future is littered with uncertainties. From Fultz to free agency, from a certain four-time MVP to Embiid’s health, we do not know enough about the Sixers right now to know how lucrative The Process will have been.
More clues will be revealed in the coming months. Starting with the playoffs.