Trust The Process. Sam Hinkie. Adam Silver deciding The Process was no good for the NBA. The last handful of years of Philadelphia 76ers basketball was nothing short of a cult meeting whistle-blowing watchdogs.
There might not be a build to any (good) professional team as polarizing as this one. The Process is a strategy that resulted in a core group of players who have the Sixers in a great place to be good for a very long time.
Claiming Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons are a great nucleus for any one basketball team is not a new sentiment to be hammering on the worldwide interwebs in April 2018 A.D. Both are great. Tremendous. Future multiple All-Stars if their bodies allow it.
But the excellence happening in the City of Brotherly Love extends beyond Philly’s two most dynamic talents. It began years before Bryan Colangelo became the man to benefit off the back of another executive’s vision.
It’s (too) well documented by now, but Hinkie believed that a team could be built through the draft by way of tanking. It wasn’t an actually revolutionary move, as teams in the NBA have long unofficially forfeited wins for better draft spots, but few did so in such a transparent way as Hinkie’s Process Sixers.
Revisionist history has been kind to Hinkie, and part of it should. Yet, thanks to the Cult of Hinkie, for every discussion about how he’s the reason Embiid and Simmons have the Sixers back in the playoffs, people are quick to forget that he’s the same man who drafted Michael Carter Williams and Nerlens Noel.
As a disclosure: I thought Hinkie’s strategy was smart, though he sometimes failed in capitalizing on his attempts to upgrade his draft pick value. In a way, his tank for top picks strategy was the high-volume blogging approach to the NBA. Quantity over quality. Throwing as much shit against the wall to see what sticks. Luckily for Sixers fans, enough had been painted on the walls that the excellence covers the gaping holes made in The Process of Philly’s interior redesign.
Relatively speaking, it worked, as two generational talents in Simmons and Embiid are in a Philly uniform, the main goal of Hinkie’s plan.
There’s also Dario Saric. There’s always been Dario.
Lost in the hoopla and hype of Simmons dominating without a jumper and Embiid impacting the NBA in ways beyond words, Saric was once the prospect who was never coming over. Or, to some, the guy who wasn’t actually that good. A mystery wrapped in an enigma stuffed under a pillowcase to only be heard of when his father spoke (Dario’s dad was LaVar Ball before LaVar Ball), with the NBA’s fans not knowing what to make of the latest overseas sensation.
Simmons, Embiid, JJ Reddick, whoever. The Philadelphia 2017-18 season might be defined by those who have name-brand clout, but much of The Process’ ascension would be impossible if it were not for the rise of Dario Saric.
And yet, no one seems to care.
The 12th overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, the world’s favorite Šibenik product has made that second-year jump people expect out of future superstars. Not necessarily a young team’s — at some point — future third best player. Note that part hard, as Saric is indeed a special player, who might otherwise be a franchise’s pegged future superstar, but he’s going to be the Sixers’ third guy.
Saric, who is a multi-position player and appears to be a sky pirate of sorts, has emerged from the shadows of The Process as Philly’s Donatello. Maybe he’s not as edgy as Raphael, or he lacks the leadership of Leonardo, or doesn’t have the comedic chops of Michelangelo, but he’s an important cog in this wheel of growth that is quietly exceeding expectations.
After all, 12th overall picks aren’t meant to be where he’s already at on an upper-tiered Eastern Conference playoff team.
They are meant to be wallowing on lesser-thans. Maybe putting up gaudy numbers on awful teams or struggling to find footing on ones on the rise. Not developing in real-time on one of the better teams in the Eastern Conference. Hell, sometimes guys selected around where Saric was find it difficult to snag quality minutes on the hardwood. This has, obviously, not been the case.
Let’s be blunt about it: Rare is the 6-foot-10, 23-year-old averaging 15-7 for a three/four-seed going this unnoticed outside of his own fan base’s bubble.
It’s beyond the counting-stats, the incredible efficiency numbers (46 percent from the floor, 40 from three), and the appearance of yet another large human on Philly’s squad, that makes Saric of such huge importance to the Sixers. It is that he, alongside those aforementioned uber-talents (as well as, hopefully one day, a fully formed Markelle Fultz), are hitting their strides together.
Three guys — Simmons, Embiid and Saric — all giant, positionless (to a degree) humanoids, with the oldest of the group (Embiid) only being 24. It’s not just The Process starting to realize its full potential in Philadelphia, but the possible next evolution of basketball is indirectly happening thanks to one man’s idea of tanking through it.
All of this by accident. This land of unicorn-ish talents playing relatively positionless basketball. It wasn’t Hinkie’s vision that brought this grouping together to have one of the lengthiest trios in all of the NBA. He was just trying to get what he deemed to be the best players in each draft class. The result, and it is very much by happenstance, is this core of youngsters allowing the Sixers to have great flexibility moving forward, as each guy is unique in that they don’t need to have a defined role.
Embiid is undoubtedly a big guy, yet he’s no traditional center, as he’s more than capable of shooting from distance while having insanely advanced footwork for a player of his experience level; Simmons, yet without a jumper, has come from the great abyss that was his single year at LSU basketball to become a two-way, 6-foot-10 point guard in his first healthy season in the NBA; and then there’s Dario Saric. Philly’s glue-is guy. The one who allows Simmons to be so incredible, as he offsets the guard’s inability to shoot with his own. A man who is so much more than that and would be any other franchise’s touted gem. It just so happens that his running mates with the Sixers are deemed so special, his budding excellence is getting lost in translation.
All the other pieces are inherently important to the Sixers this season, and could be for the long-term success of the franchise. But make no bones about it, even if Fultz struggles to become a superstar and ‘only’ ends up being a more than competent NBA guard, The Process has merely arrived in 2018… and the product is still very much developing.
A scary thought when you consider that the franchise took a Dario Saric-like jump this season in terms of success. Even more horrific if one considers that, thanks in large part to Philly’s core-three, the Sixers are likely to end up being a valued destination to the league’s top free-agents in the years to come. I mean, who wouldn’t want to play with three young players who can do it all and haven’t even come close to touching their collective full potential?
Truth The Process. Sam Hinkie. All of that jazz, with all of those narrative-based discussions that still come with it. None of it matters. The Sixers are where they are, however you feel about how they got there, and this is only the beginning. The start of years of great basketball being played in Philadelphia.
All I ask, just please, for the love of everything holy, don’t forget about Dario Saric. His development this season has been astounding. And, while he is unlikely to become the superstar Ebmiid and Simmons are presumed to already be, he’s going to come awfully close.
Not too shabby for the third wheel in The Process’ attempts at aggregation.
Plug/Byline Aside: Joseph got laid off twice in six months while being “in the industry.” He’s probably done being a full-time Internet Scribbler. He also doesn’t love writing his byline in the third-person… and yet, here we are. He has a gnarly podcast called Off The Wall, where he and another fella discuss basketball and all sorts of other tomfoolery. He’s underrated in my humble opinion. Of note, the humble opinion of his being underrated actually comes from him/me. I am him.