Each year, Ben Golliver and Rob Mahoney signal the changing of the basketball leaves by releasing Sports Illustrated Top 100 NBA Players, and by doing so they bring NBA Twitter out of its brief post free agency hibernation.
The entire Sixers starting five from last season were invited to the party, making them one of the seven teams with 5+ players on the list, trailing only the Golden State Warriors and Boston Celtics who both had six players make the cut. Let’s take a look at where the Sixers landed on the list, and how much or little that makes my blood boil.
#62 JJ Redick
Coming off the best season of his career, JJ Redick actually fell three spots from the 59th spot on this list which he held down for the past two years, but three super rookies making their Top 100 debuts (one of whom we will get to momentarily) and turning 34 over the offseason will do that to you. Redick’s pros and cons are similar to that of some of his neighbors on the list. On the surface, JJ doesn’t have much in common with Jusuf Nurkic (64) and Jonas Valanciunas (63), but all three are somewhat of a liability on the defensive end come playoff time.
With that in mind, JJ’s spot at #62 is is still well deserved. Although Redick is sometimes referred to as a shooting specialist, that is certainly not the case and it’s the reason why you don’t see players like Kyle Korver on the list. JJ is a key that opens up the Sixers offense, with Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons benefiting particularly. Lineups with Redick and either of the two young stars posted offensive ratings slightly above 112, compared to the 107 that the team posted overall. JJ has the same gravitational pull on a defense that all great shooters have, but what takes him above specialist is his work rate off the ball, his ability and willingness as a screener and his craftiness as a playmaker when a defense ball watch are what put him in the company of Lou Williams (61) on this list.
#54 Dario Saric
For a player many never even thought would come over, landing at #54 on this list seems like quite the accomplishment. That being said, after taking a look at those directly above him it feels like a case can be made for The Homie to be moved up a few spots on this list.
Search NBA.com/stats for the best two-man lineups in the NBA and you will see a plethora of 76ers lineups near the top. In fact, eight of the top 25 two-man lineups in the league (by Net Rating) are Sixers pairs, but only one of those lineups excludes both Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons – Dario Saric and Robert Covington. Often getting lost in the shuffle behind Embiid and Simmons, Ši Ši had a phenomenal 2017-18 season. Earlier worries about his fit with Simmons were dissolved quickly as the two developed strong on court chemistry – which led to some highlight reel assists from Simmons on instinctive cuts from Dario.
Excluding #52 Kristaps Porzingis, who was named an All Star right before tearing his ACL, there is a case for Dario over both #53 Eric Bledsoe and #51 Derrick Favors. Saric, Bledsoe, and Favors all play with a player ranked at least in the Top 15 of this list, allowing them each to function as elite role players, so ranking the three can come down to a stylistic choice for some. A bigger question for me to look at in 2019 is this – should Blake Griffin be 13 slots ahead of Dario? It may sound crazy today, but as Griffin’s athletic decline continues, he becomes more and more efficient, while there is a chance Dario enters the 50/40/90 club this season. Look for the gap between Super Dario and Blake to shrink in 2019.
#48 Robert Covington
Typically when rankings like this are released, there is usually outcry from biased fans blasting the writers for undervaluing their teams players – but when it was revealed that Robert Covington was rightfully named a Top 50 player in the NBA the outrage came from some Sixers fans themselves.
Covington is an analytical darling, as he ranked 8th overall in Real Plus Minus and 3rd in Defensive RPM, but the confusing part is that it does not take a trained eye to see the impact he makes defensively. He is not only a hound off the ball, leading the league in deflections, but he is equally as disruptive as an on-ball defender. His ability to stay square and in front of defenders, combined with his lethally quick hands and penchant for fighting through screens are what made him an easy choice for a First Team All Defense nod.
Covington’s detractors will often say that they want him to shoot better from three, become a better player, and finish better at the rim – which would make him Paul George. He might not be the 11th best player in the NBA, but as Golliver said in his Covington write-up, he is the NBA’s premiere 3-and-D wing and that certainly validates a spot within the NBA’s Top 50 players.
#26 Ben Simmons
Of the players remaining on the list at this point, Ben Simmons possesses the most tantalizing “what if?” If he were to develop a reliable jump shot, there is no telling where Simmons could land on this list. Even as it stands currently, though, it appears as if Mr. Simmons has been undervalued by SI.
Here is what Golliver had to say about #24 John Wall:
“The five-time All-Star missed half the season due to injury, ranked outside the top 45 by PER, Win Shares, Real Plus-Minus and WARP, and was quickly bounced in the first round of the playoffs. At 28, Wall has never led a 50-win team, he’s led just one top-10 offense, and he’s won just three total playoff series during his eight-year career. That body of work doesn’t compare—at all—to the likes of Stephen Curry, Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook.”
It also doesn’t compare to the likes of Ben Simmons. At 22, Simmons outranked Wall in PER, Win Shares, RPM, and WARP. He won his first round playoff series in five games, led the 11th ranked offense in the NBA on a team that won 52 games. Although Simmons might not shoot the ball, he is not a detriment to his team’s shooting. The Sixers shot 4.6 percent better from deep with him on the court, which is almost double the impact that Wall brings to the Wizards (2.4 percent).
Simmons is already right there with the best point guards in the East, and when this list comes out again in a year, he might just be gaining ground on the likes Russell Westbrook and Stephen Curry.
#9 Joel Embiid
Less than 9 years after picking up a basketball for the first time, Joel Embiid has been ranked as the 9th best player in the NBA by Sports Illustrated.
As remarkable as The Process’ story is, his game is even more so. Embiid combines Rudy Gobert’s defense with Karl-Anthony Towns’ offense, an equation thats sum equals the most dominating low post player in the entire league. While there is certainly a case to be made that Embiid’s impact outweighs that of Chris Paul or Russell Westbrook at this point, it’s understandable that his size and history cause for more concern over injury.
The areas of Embiid’s game that hold him back from an even higher spot on this list are clear – Joel needs to make quicker decisions with the ball, read and anticipate double teams better, and improve his overall conditioning. After a summer of working with trainer Drew Hanlen with a clean slate of health, there’s no telling how good Mr. Process will be this season and just how high he could land on this list in a year.