“Trust the Process.” The words often uttered by Philadelphia 76ers fans, in defense of former President of Basketball Operations Sam Hinkie’s unprecedented vision of how to rebuild a team. Since the beginning of the 2014 — 2015 season, the Sixers have been the laughing stock of sports, having a winning percentage less than 20%. But somehow, someway, the entire Sixers fanbase didn’t just handle the disappointment of constant losing, but they got behind their squad, embracing the Process at every opportunity. People called them crazy and people called them biased, but now they’re being vindicated. The Sixers are not just trending in the right direction, but they have legitimate franchise cornerstones.
Joel Embiid is a dream center, and I’m not saying that because of his comparisons to Hakeem Olajuwon. There is nothing you could want from a big man that he doesn’t have. After missing well over 2 years of basketball due to a foot injury that once put his career in question, he has proven just a few weeks into his (third) rookie season that he’s one of the most skilled bigs in all of basketball. He’s been an excellent rim protecter and rebounder this season, averaging 10.9 Rebounds and 3.6 Blocks per 36 minutes. He’s athletic and can run the floor, has an array of post moves reminiscent of players like Olajuwon, and did I mention he’s currently tied for the best 3PT %in the whole league? Or that he’s averaging 26.6 Points per 36? How about the fact that he’s 7’2? And that he’s still only on a 28 minutes per game restriction? I didn’t forget he’s only 22 years old, did I? As evident by the stats as well as the game tape, the phenom who dubbed himself “The Process” oozes with potential, and has a brighter future than anybody (outside of Karl Anthony-Towns) can even imagine having.
Back to those Hakeem comparisons, they aren’t just because of how similar their play styles are. In his freshman year of college, “The Dream” averaged 18.1 Points, 13.5 Rebounds, and 5.4 Blocks per 40 minutes while shooting a very efficient 60% from the field. Embiid? 19.4 Points, 14 Rebounds, 4.5 Blocks, 62% FG. Joel Embiid does not just have superstar potential, he has Hall of Fame potential.
Embiid may get compared to Olajuwon a lot, but if there’s anyone who is used to getting compared to all-time greats, it’s Australian phenomenon Ben Simmons. Someone who drew comparisons to guys like LeBron James and Magic Johnson since he was a sophomore in high school, the enormous expectations that come with being drafted first overall will just be more of the same. But with Simmons, not all is well. Aside from his lack of a jumpshot that could handicap his offensive game if it doesn’t develop, he broke a bone in his foot during training camp. While the expectation is that Simmons returns sometime around mid-January, it’s a possibility that the organization decides to hold him out until next year. He has played some games in Sixers uniforms, back in the Summer League, where he was electrifying. At first he seemed timid, afraid to attack on the offensive end, but when his teammates got him in the right mindset, he was a force to be reckoned with. He got to dominate smaller players, and dribble right around players his own size. At 6’10, he possesses the quickness of a guard and passing vision that is largely responsible for comparisons to players like Magic and LBJ. He made Twitter explode at least a few times every time he stepped on to the court thanks to his incredible passes, even if it was just the Summer League. So even if he may be hurt right now, Sixers fans know they’re getting a second superstar whenever he arrives.
But the Sixers have more than just two assets. Fans get to see Croatian jack-of-all-trades Dario Saric. Jahlil Okafor and Nerlens Noel are two centers who excel in opposite spectrums of the game, Okafor being a dominant post scorer and Noel being an elite rim protecter. It’s expected that one of those, more likely Nerlens, will be dealt for a guard sometime this season after he voiced his frustration regarding playing time, and as good the progress as been so far, the Sixers’ record will still be one of the league’s worst this season, which means Philly will most likely be home to another top 3 pick. They also will get the Lakers’ first rounder assuming it stays out of the top 3, which seems likely. On top of that, the 76ers easily have the most cap room in the NBA, allowing them to take some risks on hit-or-miss young free agents, and hopefully some established and well-respected veterans, in the next few offseasons.
Sam Hinkie’s Process may be unprecedented. It may be frowned upon, even by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver. It may be constantly ridiculed by fans of all teams. But he saw a light. Although he won’t be there to get the credit he deserves, the Philadelphia 76ers are going to once again be a great team very soon. All you had to do, was Trust the Process.