WASHINGTON, DC – Expectations are high, and the promise is real, but as the 76ers prepare to set out on their 2017-2018 82-game regular season journey Wednesday in Washington (7:00 PM EST; ESPN, 97.5 FM The Fanatic / Sixers Radio Network), one factor more than others, particularly at this early stage of the year, figures to serve as a guiding light.
There’s no debating that over the summer, the Sixers experienced a swoon in talent. First, there was the acquisition of the top pick in the draft, purposefully used on potent combo guard Markelle Fultz.
A few weeks later, Bryan Colangelo and his staff succeeded in making an aggressive push to land proven free agents JJ Redick and Amir Johnson. Around the same time, skilled and intriguing 2016 first-rounder Furkan Korkmaz decided to join the Sixers, rather than stay overseas.
In recent months, the club has also regained its health, with Jerryd Bayless, Joel Embiid, and Ben Simmons all looking primed to contribute.
Yes, compared to previous seasons, it does appear as if Brett Brown will indeed have more to work with, at least on paper. But, as he enters his fifth year with the Sixers, and 17th overall in the league, the even-keeled head coach recognizes the lay of the land. Games and reps will, in all likelihood, be needed to help his group gel.
Again, patience figures to be an overarching theme.
“It has to, doesn’t it?,” Brown said this week. “We all get excited when you get a first pick. You get excited when Joel is healthy. You get excited when Bryan does a hell of a job and brings in Amir and JJ. There’s reasons to be excited all over the place, and then there’s also the reality that there’s a newness that you can’t dismiss.
“There has to be some temperance, there has to be some patience, and since I’m the head coach, I hope it comes from me.”
To date, it has, with Brown, more than ever before, doing his best to walk the fine line between winning and player development.
“You’re not going to skip steps,” Brown has reminded his club.
And while Brown’s players are clearly bullish on the prospects for the season ahead, they very much seem to be heeding their mentor’s words.
“I went through that my first three years, and it’s all about patience,” said Joel Embiid, who as a rookie last season churned out 20.2 points, 7.8 rebounds, 2.1 assists, and 2.5 blocks in 25.4 minutes per game. “It’s not going to come all together in the first game. I think we just got to stay strong mentally, and I’m sure we’re going to be fine.”
In respect to the Sixers building towards an optimal level of performance, getting reacclimated to Embiid could very well be one of the leading items on the team’s initial to-do list. At least that’s an opinion held by Robert Covington, who, with 204 games played, ranks as the longest-tenured member of the roster.
“JoJo’s only played with us a little bit,” Covington said Tuesday, referring to the big man’s two pre-season appearances. “The right rotations, different movements, the flow of our offense, now that we’re throwing him in there, it’s going to be a lot different. Jo commands a lot of attention, so the way teams play us now, it’s going to be a lot more open shots. There’s going to be a lot more that teams will have to do to guard us.”
Embiid, of course, isn’t the only weapon Sixers’ opponents will have to account for this season. There’s also Covington himself, a bonafide 3-and-D threat; the versatile Simmons; offensively-gifted Fultz; dangerous marksman JJ Redick; willing-to-do-anything Dario Saric; and a bolstered reserve corps boasting depth, energy, toughness, and experience.
“It’s here now, so it’s ours for the taking,” Simmons said of the new season. “We have a young team, some great vets. It’s going to be a learning experience for us.”
The terrain of the long – at times gruelling – road ahead could very well take some getting used to, especially at the outset. The Sixers, however, don’t plan to lose sight of the end destination.
“Let’s just keep putting in great days,” Brown said this week, when discussing his marching orders. “I’ve learned that they do add up.”
With 49 victories last season, the Washington Wizards posted their highest win total in over four decades. Perhaps not so coincidentally, John Wall (who this summer signed a lucrative contract extension) enjoyed his strongest statistical year, averaging 23.1 points, 10.7 assists, and 2.0 steals.
While Ben Simmons figures to start at point for the Sixers Wednesday at Capital One Arena, don’t expect to see him be Wall’s primary defender.
“That species, that athlete of John Wall, Russell Westbrook, and Derrick Rose, those ‘roadrunners,’ I don’t like doing that to Ben now,” Brett Brown said Tuesday. “The smaller, more deliberate guards, I think Ben’s size can bother them, and I hope to be able to learn more about it over the course of the season.”
The Sixers, of course, will also have to account for Bradley Beal. Healthy a season ago, the guard put up a career-best 23.1 points per game himself.
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