Philadelphia 76ers Ready To Inject Youth Into East Playoff Race

— October 18th 2017 Philadelphia 76ers, Joel Embiid

Despite their youth, the Sixers may have the goods to sneak into the playoffs this season.

By: Connor Ulrey

The Process is finally ready to enter its next phase Wednesday night and Philadelphia is ready and rocking with excitement. Let’s look at where the team is and what fans can expect this season.

It’s no secret that the East continues to take a step back in balance when it comes to conferences. It seems like every year we joke that the West gets stronger and stronger. Jimmy Butler going from Chicago to Minnesota made that statement even easier to say on draft night.

That being said, that leaves a door open for Philadelphia. You have to remember how young this team is. They definitely buy into it though. After re-signing Embiid to a max extension just a week ago, the future is bright for years in the city. The top five teams in the East don’t look like they’ll change much. Boston and Cleveland will fight it out for the one and two seeds, while Washington, Milwaukee and Toronto all should pose strong statements for three-through-five.

Then you look at Miami, Charlotte and Philadelphia really for those last three postseason slots. After that it sort of nosedives, which is what the East is dealing with right now. Carmelo Anthony is finally off the Knicks; they’re in the next phase of their rebuild I guess? Detroit, Indiana, and Atlanta all seem like they’re focused on getting better for the future, while Orlando, with rookie Jonathan Isaac, are the only other real team to seem like they could push for that eighth seed.

What the Sixers have done well is add depth where they can. After taking Fultz with the first pick and having a healthy Ben Simmons finally, it was more about the veteran role presences. The starting lineup is going to be young, but having guys like JJ Redick and Amir Johnson will help spell those starters and keep pace high. Jerryd Bayless defines a role player and could be a nice spark for this team and help the transition for Fultz as a point guard.

Simmons and Fultz should really excite fans. Two No. 1 picks taking the floor for the first time at the same time? That doesn’t happen often. Fultz has all the look of a floor general for this team for the foreseeable future. Does that translate to a ROY run? It could. This team looks like it’ll score points in bunches. Whether that’ll help Fultz shine offensively remains to be seen. The real question is who’s more pressured out of the two? Simmons, with a whole year off, shouldn’t have the ceiling of expectations. But fans are antsy for him to make his mark and I’m sure he’s feeling that.

The key for this team is Embiid’s health. Richaun Holmes will miss time with a fractured left wrist, and Jahlil Okafor has been a disappointment up to this point. Simmons size helps him play the three or the four if needed, but a healthy Embiid eats up minutes and powers this lineup.

Dario Saric was great last year, and the help that came from Robert Covington definitely made it easier. That again makes that Amir Johnson addition more important as a guy who can play both the four and the five when needed.

Looking at this roster, Saric is my x-factor in 2017. Averaging nearly 13 points per game and just over six rebounds last season, having a lineup that can score at all five positions will create space for a forward that can stretch the floor with his shooting. In the three preseason games, Saric averaged nearly 15 points per game to go with six boards. His ability to make plays and effectively shoot from beyond the arc makes his presence felt and will also open up games for the other four on the floor.

Tennessee State University alum Robert Covington hasn’t let the moment down yet and I don’t expect him to this season. Along with Saric, his size and ability to shoot the basketball is why this team looks like a legitimate threat. Having a guy at literally every position who can hit the open shot is big and if teams overlook that, Philly can score quickly. Compare that to a team like New Orleans who doesn’t have much of a three-point setup heading into the season and the Sixers are primed to make some noise in an Eastern Conference in need of some shakeup.

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