“Baby Steps”: 2015-16 Philadelphia 76ers Season Preview

Robert Covington & Nerlens Noel look to take the next step in their production in 2015-16. (Getty Images)
Robert Covington & Nerlens Noel look to take the next step in their production in 2015-16. (Getty Images)

Last season: 19-63, 4th, Atlantic Division (14th Eastern Conference), Missed Postseason

Notable Acquistions: G Nik Stauskas (trade w/ SAC), F Carl Landry (trade w/ SAC), G Kendall Marshall (free agent), G Pierre Jackson (free agent), G Scottie Wilbekin (free agent)

Draft Picks: C Jahlil Okafor (Duke, 3rd overall), C Guillermo Hernangomez (Spain, 35th overall), F Richaun Holmes (Bowling Green, 37th overall), C Arturas Gudaitis (Lithuania, 47th overall), G/F J.P. Tokoto (UNC, 58th overall), F Luka Mitrovic (Serbia, 60th overall)

Notable Losses: F Luc Mbah a Moute (LAC), G/F Glenn Robinson III (Indiana), F/C Henry Sims (Phoenix), F Thomas Robinson (Brooklyn), G Jason Richardson (retirement), G Ish Smith (free agent)


Top DOG: Nerlens Noel

TDIT (Top DOG In Training): Jahlil Okafor

Star UnderDOG (al-most star): Robert Covington

Salty DOG (elder statesman/veteran leader): Carl Landry

Burning Question: Will Brett Brown play Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor together in the starting line up?

Jahlil O.

Nerlens Noel shined as a rookie with his excellent shot blocking instincts and surprising offensive attack (finished the year avg. 9.9 ppg, 8.1 rpg & 1.9 bpg). Jahlil Okafor, drafted 3rd overall, is an outstanding post-up threat with great footwork down low.

While they do not exactly complement each other in terms of spacing, Noel could help shore up Okafor’s defensive deficiencies in year 1.


After enduring another difficult season in 2014-15, “Tankadelphia” finally looks to shed it’s awful moniker. Instead of playing questionable lineups down the stretch of games and avoiding potential impact players on the market, the Sixers actually resemble a functional organization these days.

Well, aside from the Joel Embiid disaster…Ahh, let’s touch on Embiid for a sec! As you all know, Philly’s talented big man has yet to appear in a single game since being selected 3rd overall in the 2014 draft due to nagging foot injuries. “Nagging” is actually downplaying the extent of Joel’s injury, as he is expected to miss the ENTIRE 2015-16 season as a result. Now, the onus is on grooming his “replacement” and hoping for a speedy, successful recovery.

The Sixers definitely knew how bad Embiid’s foot was, so they turned to last June’s draft for insurance.

Jahlil Okafor was selected because, not only was he the best player available, he can alleviate the pain felt from Embiid’s continued absence. Luckily, Okafor has an advanced skill set for his age and the mentality and work ethic to turn into an All-Star level big. Nerlens Noel figures to complement Okafor on the defensive end but they could struggle to score with limited spacing.

Noel is constantly working on his midrange jumper but it seems at least a year away from making more than just a cameo appearance. That said, he is a true star in the making and was the team’s best (avg. over 14 points/game, 11 rebounds/game, 2 steals/game & 2 blocks/game in March 2015) and most consistent player a season ago.

Robert Convington (Bill Streicher:USA TODAY Sports)
Robert Covington shot 37% from deep in 2014-15. (Bill Streicher/USA TODAY Sports)

To provide more shooting, a couple of young swingmen are looking to make plays: Robert Covington & Nik Stauskas. Covington was a revelation after Philly acquired him back in November. He ended up leading the team in three-point attempts and became a marksman from long range. He figures to slot right back into the starting small forward spot and is a sleeper candidate to break out.

If there’s one player on the roster who has a clear path to improve, however, it’s Nik Stauskas. Let’s be honest, his rookie season in Sacramento was awful. With a young, growing roster in Philly, he has a beat on the starting two guard slot and should have plenty of open looks once Okafor commands the defense’s attention.

Coach Brown needs to decide which floor general will feed the ball to shooters like Covington and down low to Big Jah. Tony Wroten is the incumbent but his erratic style wears thin after a while. Former D-League standouts Isaiah Canaan & Pierre Jackson are key backups, along with pass-first PG Kendall Marshall. Leadership out of this spot is important for Philly to stay competitive.

The time is now for the Sixers to finally turn the corner back to respectability. While this season won’t yield a playoff berth, GM Sam Hinkie has assembled a collection of talent who will compete hard each and every night.

Further player development (Okafor, Noel, Covington in particular) is the main priority in 2015-16, which may not be what Sixer fans want to hear. At the same time though, “trusting the process” is starting to become second nature these days.

Projected Starting 5:

Mix and Match:

Grant & Sampson are two athletic wings looking for playine time. (Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports)
Grant & Sampson are two athletic wings looking for playing time. (Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports)

Similar to last season, the Sixers have a lot of young guards and wings on the bench who are sort of interchangeable. Let’s take a look at some of the position battles heading into training camp:

Backup PG: Isaiah Canaan v. Pierre Jackson v. Kendall Marshall 

Kendall Marshall 2015

With Wroten (6’5) expected to get the starting nod, Canaan, Jackson & Marshall will duke it out for the majority of minutes while he rests. Canaan, acquired at the trade deadline last February is a solid shooter and shot creator but is still learning how to be a more efficient playmaker and command the offense. Jackson is a similar player in the sense that he’s undersized (5’11) but is a very explosive scorer and athlete.

The two of them absolutely lit the D-League on fire the past couple of seasons. However, seeing how Tony Wroten is not the most “controlled” PG, does Brett Brown want another scoring guard to run the offense? Kendall Marshall, formerly of Phoenix, Los Angeles (Lakers) & Milwaukee is a nice set up man who looks to pass first, second and third. Canaan and Jackson are still improving as distributors and should be looked at more as shot creators who can play both the 1 and 2 off the bench.

Although he’s coming off an ACL injury, Marshall’s ability to find teammates should give him the advantage.

Edge: Marshall

Backup SG/SF: Hollis Thompson v. JaKarr Sampson

Hollis Thompson (USA TODAY Sports)

Hollis Thompson is a very fine shooter (40%) who added scoring last season. Entering his third year under Coach Brown, Hollis has the coach’s trust to launch threes at a high rate. He needs to continue to work on shot creation and defense to challenge for playing time.

Sampson, on the other hand, could end up being the backup to Covington. He is more versatile than Thompson since he can pass, create in a pinch (started a few games at PG in 2015), and is a decent shooter. If Sampson reigns in his energy a bit, he can be an X-Factor. But for now, Thompson’s (potentially) elite shooting ability makes him a more valued commodity.

An area of weakness a year ago, a shooting trio of Thompson, Stauskas, and Covington could do damage.

Edge: Thompson

Backup PF: Jerami Grant v. Richaun Holmes

Jerami Grant

Jerami Grant is an athletic wing who doesn’t exactly have a true NBA position yet. Sure, he can finish in transition but he needs a more consistent jump shot to keep his man from cheating on the perimeter.

Holmes, selected with one of Philly’s 3458 second round picks this past June, is a jump-shooting big who also likes banging down low and coming away with difficult boards. Defense will be a challenge in the beginning, as well as contributing more offense in post.

Veteran forward Carl Landry, rebounding four man Furkan Aldemir and training camp invitee Christian Wood could also get extended looks but Grant gives them to best opportunity to keep a fast pace style and get easy scores.

Edge: Grant

Philly’s Best Case Scenario: Jahlil Okafor shows flashes of being a star, whilst winning Rookie of the Year, Nerlens Noel & Robert Covington make huge strides, and Philly ends up with three first-round selections (their own, via LAL, via MIA) in the 2016 draft.

Philly’s Worst Case Scenario: Okafor and Noel struggle to co-exist, Wroten is as unreliable as ever, Brett Brown gets the axe, Philly tanks, yet falls to number 4 in the draft.

Season Prediction:

5th, Atlantic Division (15th, Eastern Conference), Will Miss Playoffs

“They are taking steps, but they are baby steps.” – Julius Erving


-Jabari J.

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