The 76ers are trending in the right direction.
They’re far from a finished product. They’re far from a championship contender. They’re far from a parade down Broad Street.
Finally, after four painful Tank-a-thon seasons with 75 victories, they’re playing real basketball in South Philadelphia. The crowds are buzzing. The young players, most notably Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, are improving every game.
It’s nice to see.
The Sixers defeated the Detroit Pistons, 108-103, Saturday night at the Wells Fargo Center, improving to 13-9. Keep in mind that the Sixers were 4-18 at this point last season. Two years ago, the Sixers started 1-30 and finished with a miniscule 10 victories.
Lots of rabid Sixers fans on Twitter like to give former general manager Sam Hinkie credit for the four lost seasons. The word “credit” is tough to swallow because it meant giving up on four full seasons. That’s a lot of bad basketball. And there’s no guarantee that this group will even win a title.
Even with some injuries and Simmons struggling from the free throw line, the Sixers are learning how to win. That’s a huge step forward.
“It’s good to be able to take something that you have to improve on and deliver it after a win,” Sixers coach Brett Brown told reporters after the five-point win. “We understand where our problems were in this game, and to be able to identify those and still be able to come in with a win is a great thing. That’s a good team … that’s a good team. They beat the Celtics, they beat Golden State we felt all that. But there’s still so much to learn from this game for us.”
Franchise cornerstone Embiid had 25 points and 10 rebounds and didn’t play one of his more fluid games. Imagine how much better Embiid will be with experience. That’s when the Sixers will see the true value of Embiid if he can stay healthy.
Embiid is only the fourth player since 1963-64 to post 950-plus points, 400-plus rebounds, 100-plus assists and 80-plus blocked shots through his first 50 games, joining Hall of Famers David Robinson, Patrick Ewing and Ralph Sampson.
One of the biggest keys for this growing team is the veteran leadership of players such as JJ Redick. That type of leadership has been sorely lacking in past seasons while the Sixers were busy counting ping pong balls.
“I think veteran leadership is a very broad topic,” Redick told reporters. “I’m just trying to be a pro and help where I can. Our crowd is incredible. It’s the best home crowd I’ve played with in my career. Sometimes in Orlando and sometimes in L.A. we had good crowds, but as far as consistently bringing it every night, we feed off of that. They’re tremendous. They give us energy, there is a symbiotic relationship when the fans are feeding off the player’s energy and the players feeding off the fans energy.
“You can create sort of a frenzied atmosphere,” Redick added. “When Rob Covington hits back to back threes and the fans are going nuts, that’s fun for everyone. That’s when it’s beautiful and that’s when you get great atmospheres.”
The Sixers are 12-5 in their last 17 games and the fans can feel the buzz. They’re starved for a winner and have been for some time.
“The Process” is far from over. But at least results in the short term are positive. The Sixers are definitely trending up.