‘The Process’ begins to pay off in Philly: Simmons and Embiid shine early in the season, giving hope to Sixers’ fans

By Adam Zalewski, Staff Writer

     There has been a lot of discussion about “The Process” and if it would work, or if it would send the Philadelphia 76ers back years on their path back to contention. In the first small sample size of the 2017-2018 NBA season, we have our answer. The Philadelphia 76ers are over .500, with all of their losses coming against teams who made the playoffs a season ago and are generally considered perennial playoff contenders (Boston, Washington, Toronto, and Houston). Don’t look now, but the ‘Sixers are back.

     Getting our first look at Ben Simmons, he is exactly what every Philadelphia fan hoped he would be. As the primary ball handler on over a third of the Sixers’ possessions, Simmons is averaging 18 points-per-game to go along with 10 rebounds and eight assists. These are the types of numbers we expect to see out of established NBA All-Stars, not 21-year-old rookies. What may be even more impressive about Simmons’ statistics is that he is doing all of this while maintaining an assist-to-turnover ratio of over 2.5, and shooting over 50% from the field. Simmons looks mature beyond his years, and he will only get better with experience. If there is any complaint about Simmons’ play thus far this season, it’s that he is shooting just 59% from the foul line, a number that should improve.

     A different piece of the process that Sixers fans are slightly less enthusiastic about comes in the form of Markelle Fultz. Fultz has been shut down for the time being with a shoulder ailment that has been affecting his shooting. Fultz has only played four games in a Sixers uniform, but it was very apparent that he was hurting during his time on the court. It seems to be becoming a rite of passage with Philadelphia rookies, as both Embiid and Simmons missed their first seasons with the Sixers due to injury. Fultz’s injury is nowhere near as serious, but will still cause uneasiness and impatience within the organization.

     Speaking of Embiid, the big man has picked up right where he left off last season as Philadelphia’s most dominate player on the court. Averaging 20 points-per-game and pulling in 10 rebounds, the only complaint regarding Embiid is that he turns the ball over far too often. If he can get his turnovers under control, he will be an NBA All-Star for years to come.

     Taking a look at the other parts of the 76er’s roster, J.J. Reddick has been a revelation at small forward, hitting over 43% of his three-point attempts. Reddick is playing on a one-year deal worth north of $20 million, and he will almost certainly cash in on a big contract in the coming free agency period. Dario Saric has looked solid, although he doesn’t have to put the team on his back as much as he did as a rookie. Robert Covington has been through thick and thin with the 76ers organization, and remains a mainstay in the starting lineup as he has for many years. Finally, TJ McConnell has shown flashes of brilliance in his 20 minutes-per-game on the court, easing the pain of the Michael Carter-Williams trade from several years ago.

     Looking ahead for the rest of this year and beyond, Philadelphia should make it to the playoffs, giving fans a taste of postseason action for the first time since 2012. Beyond this season, the Sixers will look to use some of their cap space to sign a marquee free agent (Klay Thompson or Kawhi Leonard), while continuing to develop the core of Fultz, Simmons, and Embiid.