Woeful 76ers Hope Markelle Fultz Can Lead Them Back to Respectability 0

76ers Hope Markelle Fultz Leads Them to…RespectabilityThere was a time when the Philadelphia 76ers were one of the powerhouses of the NBA. This was the team of Julius Erving, Charles Barkley, Moses Malone, Wilt Chamberlain, and Alan Iverson. The team even won three NBA titles (1954-55, 1966-67, 1982-83) and has made six other trips to the championship series, most recently in 2000-01.

Those glory days seem like a thousand years ago, or maybe even that they were in a dream. These days, the 76ers have fallen to new lows, finishing near the bottom of the standings in the Eastern Conference for the fifth straight season after going 28-54 in 2016-17.

This was an 18-game improvement over the previous season but, when a team wins just 10-games out of 82 the season before, winning 28 is not like the team is on the verge of winning it all. It simply means that they are less mediocre than in previous years.

How the Mighty Have Fallen

In 2011-12, the NBA was just coming out of a labor dispute between players and management that led to an abbreviated season. The Philadelphia 76ers finished 35-31 that year, the third best record in the Atlantic Division, giving them a berth in the NBA playoffs. They would down the Chicago Bulls in six-games before falling to the Boston Celtics in seven. The team looked like they were on the rise once again. However, looks can be deceiving.

The next season, the team won 34-games, and a downward spiral began. Their win-loss ratio would decline in each following season, falling to 19 in 2013-14, then 18, and finally just 10 in 2015-16. The 76ers became the laughingstocks of the league, which led the NBA to force the ownership of the team to accept their help in running the basketball side of the operation.

In April of last year, Bryan Colangelo, son of Jerry Colangelo, considered to be one of the best minds in the NBA, was hired as the team’s new president of basketball operations. The hope was that he would restore at least some respectability to this team after years of looking more like a D-League club.

How Can They Be So Bad?

What made the Philadelphia 76ers decline so stunning was the fact that they seemed to benefit very little from the NBA amateur draft. The purpose of the draft is to aid the really bad teams in getting better quickly, by enabling them to be among the first to select the top talent coming out of college.

Ben Simmons

In the last five seasons, the team had the 11th overall pick in 2013, the third and 10th picks in the 2014 draft, the third in 2015, and the overall No. 1 pick last season. This season they were slated for third before making a move with the Boston Celtics to move up so they had the overall No. 1 pick once again.

One would think that with selections like this the team would soar back to the top of the pack, yet that has not been the case. Mismanagement and incompetence continued and the team only got worse.

Michael Carter-Williams is a prime example. He was the 76ers’ selection in 2013, and had a phenomenal rookie campaign, averaging 16.7 ppg, 6.2 rpg, and 6.3 apg. Those numbers were good enough for him to earn NBA Rookie of the Year honors. He followed up his rookie season with another solid year (15.0, 6.2, 7.6), only to see the team inexplicably trade him for a future first round draft pick.

Carter-Williams’ second season in the league should have been a huge campaign for Philadelphia. Not only did the team have the Rookie of the Year, but highly touted forward Joel Embiid was selected with the third overall pick that year. This looked like the duo could be the next Kobe and Shaq, but Embiid turned out to be what ESPN’s Tony Kornheiser refers to as the “Human Ace Bandage.” The center broke a bone in his foot before the season even began, and it took two full years before he was finally able to get on the court. He appeared in just 31-games this last season.

Injuries have plagued the team’s 2015 selection as well. Jahlil Okafor was a highly regarded prospect coming out of Duke, where he averaged 17.3 ppg and 8.5 rpg in his one season in college. He was taken with the third overall pick, and has managed to get on the court in each of the last two seasons, but for 103-games out of a total of 164 that the team played. He averaged 17.5 ppg in his first season, but tailed off last year, averaging only 11.8 per game.

Last year, the 76ers had the overall No. 1 pick and selected Ben Simmons from LSU. The power forward had a brilliant college career, averaging 19.2 points and 11.8 rebounds per game, and looked to be a cornerstone player. However, before the season began, the 6-10, 240-pound forward rolled his ankle, breaking his foot and he would not play a single game for the team.

Is Four a Charm?

Thursday night, the Philadelphia 76ers selected guard Markelle Fultz out of the University of Washington with the overall No. 1 pick. He is the fourth player that the team has selected in the lottery portion of the draft in the last five years and came highly regarded after averaging 23.2 ppg, 5.9 apg, and 5.7 rpg.

Together, Embiid, Simmons, and Fultz  are the kind of core that a team can build around and find themselves in the championship hunt within a season or two. However, recent history suggests that the 76ers will be returning to next year’s draft, making a pick in the top 10 once again. Hiring Colangelo was a step in the right direction, but is he the one that can turnaround the team’s fortunes? The fact that Simmons didn’t play even one minute last season suggests otherwise.