The Gigantic, Enormous, Ginormous, 1st Annual NBA Season Preview: ATLANTIC DIVISION

We are 94 days to Christmas.  

We are 63 days to Thanksgiving

And we are 33 days to the opening of the 2016-17 NBA season!

So, without wasting your time, let me present to you:

The First Annual,, NBA Season Preview.  

I’ll be posting the preview in 6 parts; with the Atlantic division today, and the other five divisions over the next week or two.  Each team will be broken down, analyzing their most interesting storyline, most interesting personality, most interesting stat, most interesting lineup, and projected record for the upcoming year.  I may even throw in some extra stuff on a few of the teams.  And if there are a couple teams you find boring, that you want to skip over...that’s ok; I had a couple teams I wanted to skip over, too.  Enjoy, and feel free to criticize...that’s what the internet is for, right?

Atlantic Division

Toronto Raptors

Most Interesting Storyline:  Has Toronto peaked?

34, 48, 49, 56.  That’s the progression of wins, per year, for the Raptors since the 2012-13 season, and that upward trend is, not coincidentally, since the hiring of GM Masai Ujiri.  Ujiri was known as a shrewd dealmaker from his time at the Denver Nuggets, who, also not coincidentally, topped out with a mid-50’s win total in their most successful, and last, season under Masai.  But that last season was the last in the upper echelon of the Western Conference for the Nuggets, and while this team is still mostly in place, it seems that this Raptors team may be in for a similar fate, barring any major moves.

In the offseason, the team locked up Demar Derozan to an eye-popping, 5 year, $139 million deal.  The deal was eye popping for a couple of reasons; because Derozan has an obvious handicap to his game (He’s a below average outside shooter), and because the last two years of the deal, Derozan will be in his 30’s, typically the age where players are starting their post-prime.  But Toronto was between a rock and a hard place...they couldn’t afford to NOT pay him, risking losing a centerpiece of a top-2 Eastern Conference team for nothing.  

Aside from locking up one of the two centerpieces to their team, Toronto had a couple noteworthy moves, including letting walk their rim protector off the bench and playoff spark plug, Bismack Biyombo, and replacing him with a relatively bargain bin signing, Jared Sullinger, formerly of the Boston Celtics.  Sullinger’s Defensive Win Shares from last year were surprisingly impressive, but he’s nowhere near the rim protector that Biyombo was.  But also noteworthy for Toronto was a move they didn’t make, which was a trade that would have sent a package of players/picks to Oklahoma City for Serge Ibaka.  Power Forward is the Raptor’s achilles heel, where they’ll either try to make due with a replacement-level player like Patrick Patterson, or go small in situations, while letting Demarre Carroll handle the bigger players.  

So, while continuity is a good thing, the Raptors have two-fifths of their starters this year, Kyle Lowry and Carroll, going into this season over the age of thirty.  With teams improving around them, and some of their depth gone up front, it’s fair to ask what’s on everyone’s mind: has this team peaked?

Most Interesting Personality: Kyle Lowry

Two summers ago, Lowry was a free agent, all-star point guard, and because the salary cap was relatively stable, there weren’t many teams bidding for his services.  He ended up signing what was, at the time, a very fair, 4 year, $48 million deal to stay with the Raptors, and has since been the leader of their ascendance to the top of the Eastern Conference.  

But a couple things have happened since Lowry signed his deal.  First, the NBA Salary Cap jumped by almost 50% in two years, and even though Lowry is a multiple time all-star and Olympic gold medalist, backups were getting contract offers the same size as his deal this summer.  By the time his current contract is up, Lowry will be turning 32, and likely won’t be getting near the money he would’ve gotten had he been a free agent this summer.  Second, though the Raptors went into free agency in 2015 and were able to sign a new starting small forward, Demarre Carroll, they didn’t really make any in-roads improving the team this summer, and infamously turned down the Serge Ibaka deal that was reportedly on the table for more than a hot second.

So you’ve got an underpaid, late-prime point guard, who has been notoriously prickly earlier in his NBA career, living in the coldest city in the NBA, on a team where he has to share ball handling responsibilities with his younger, better paid backcourt mate, Derozan, and a team that hasn’t improved itself on paper in the offseason.  For my money, Lowry is the personality to watch on this Raptors team.  Can he raise the level of his game even higher, and bring the team with him, or could the fabric of the team unravel from the seeds of Lowry’s discontent?

Most interesting Stat: 26.7

Last year’s Raptors team led the Eastern Conference with 26.7 free throw attempts per game, third overall in the NBA.  Because of the games of both Lowry and Derozan, who relentlessly work to drive to the basket, and the impressive offensive rebounding chops of their two centers, Biyombo and Jonas Valanciunas, their games took a little bit longer with the free throw stoppages.  But those free throws were a major factor in the Raptors outperforming their metrics, with their actual record much better than their season point differential.  They will need to continue their march to the free throw line if they hope for another first-round playoff series with home court advantage.

Most Interesting 5-man Lineup: Lowry/Derozan/Terrence Ross/Carroll/Valanciunas

This is a lineup I expect to see often from the Raptors.  I like the idea of Carroll as a small ball 4, with Ross, and his length, at least on paper, being able to bother frontcourt players on defense, and then allowing for two the forwards to spot up while Lowry/Derozan bully their way into the paint.  Sub in Cory Joseph for either of guards, and the concept still works.

A little extra…

A few weeks back, I was driving for uber, and got a call from the Palace of Auburn Hills, just a ten minute drive from my place.  When I arrived, I saw a ton of commotion in the parking lot, and the guy that jumped in directed me to run to the store, and asked that I wait outside so that I could bring him back.  Early into the ride, I learned that my rider was, in fact, the tour manager for the show to play at the Palace that night; Drake & Future.  He said he called uber because he needed to get away from the insanity for a little bit...they had just gotten to the Palace late that morning after a show the night before at the United Center in Chicago.  

He shared a couple interesting anecdotes from the tour during our ride, but the one that stuck out to me was the economics of a single show.  “Just from last night’s show, the tour made a tick over $4 million”, he bragged.  “After paying the vendors there in Chicago, I’d say the tour made about $2.4 million, and Drake, himself, after paying everyone else on the tour, will pull in around $1.5 million just from last night.”  My bottom jaw was in my lap.  “So how many shows are on this tour?” I asked.  “Just 40”, he said.  The words “One point five million” echoed in my head.  That’s a nest egg for retirement...I’d be perfectly happy to hang everything up and live off of the interest of that nest egg the rest of my life...and Mr. Degrassi made that by performing 90 minutes of bad music.  

So if you’re wondering, those Raptors courtside seats fit in Drake’s budget pretty easily.

Toronto’s projected 2016-17 record: 52-30


Boston Celtics

Most Interesting Storyline: Is Ainge still wishing for a “star”?

The offseason was pretty good to the Boston Celtics.  They were able to get the third pick in the 2016 draft, and used in on super-athlete Jaylen Brown (though there was plenty of backlash from Celtic fans for not taking point guard Kris Dunn).  Boston was then able to land the second most sought after free agent on the market, big man Al Horford, luring him away from the Atlanta Hawks with a 4 year, $113 million deal, the promise of a young nucleus on the uptick, and one of the most respected young coaches in the game.  Without a doubt, this Boston team will be improved on both ends of the court.

But it’s well known across the league that Boston’s GM, Danny Ainge, has always wanted to catch a star.  He was able to nab “the Big Three” a decade ago, which led to an NBA title and many other deep playoff runs.  Ten years later, Ainge has a very deep team (there are multiple players on the team that were high draft picks, but won’t see playing time).  He also has multiple upcoming 1st round picks from a huge trade made three years ago with the Brooklyn Nets.  He could put together many variations of a package of attractive assets to other teams if he wanted to try to bring back another high profile star to his Celtics roster.  And even though this team is on the rise, with career years last year from guys like Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, and Jae Crowder, Ainge’s name keeps coming up in trade rumors for other big name guys in the league.  

One underrated downside this summer was the team losing their secondary creator on offense, Evan Turner.  Portland made a huge, 4 year, $70 million offer to the swingman, and Boston was wise to let Turner walk.  With their depth and youth, they didn’t need to start locking up bench guys at that price, especially if they’ve got their eye on other moves.  But losing out on Turner will hurt the team initially. Boston has impressive, athletic guys around the perimeter, including guys that haven’t already mentioned here, like Marcus Smart or RJ Hunter, but other than Thomas, no one else excels at initiating the offense like Turner did.  Horford may help with some of that, but there’ll be some growing pains with their secondary units.

So with a deep, talented team, and big expectations for the year, there’s still a chance that one more big move is in the sights of Danny Ainge.  Either way, Boston will be a serious challenge to Toronto in the Atlantic, and a favorite to host a first round playoff series in the East.

Most Interesting Personality: Marcus Smart

Marcus Smart was the 6th pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, and was initially projected to go higher.  With impressive athleticism and incredible work ethic, scouts didn’t worry as much about Smart’s shaky jumper or his sometimes questionable decision making on the court.  What did raise an eyebrow with many was a confrontation in the stands his final year at Oklahoma State.  After diving into the crowd on a hustle play, he was confronted by a fan that was yapping in Marcus’s face.  Even though there was debate afterward over what the fan might have said, it was inexcusable that Smart shoved the fan in the heat of the moment.  Smart was suspended for the incident, which led to many pre-draft discussions about his “character”.  (Sidenote: I hate “character” discussions...99% of the time they seem like sportstalk filler where the athlete is put on trial with a small fraction of evidence).  

Going into his 3rd year now, Smart has shown flashes of promise, but his shooting has not improved in two years.  And while he can handle the ball ok, it doesn’t seem as though he’ll ever be a lead guard in an NBA offense.  He also has vets like Bradley and Crowder ahead of him on the depth chart, along with newcomer Brown, who could also eat into his minutes.  Smart could be eligible for a contract extension next summer, and he faces a season where his time on the court could actually go down.  So, combine a tight Celts rotation, a potential upcoming payday, and a fiery competitive spirit, and Smart is the personality to watch this year for Boston.

Most Interesting Stat: 4.5

Al Horford was 9th in the NBA last year with 4.5 Defensive Win Shares.  That is a major improvement over Jared Sullinger, Kelly Olynyk, and Tyler Zeller, three guys whose minutes Horford will take from last year. So I’ll make this prediction now: Boston will have the best defensive metrics in the NBA this year, thanks to Horford’s addition.  

Most Interesting 5-man Lineup: Thomas/Bradley/Crowder/Amir Johnson/Horford

Say hello to Boston’s “vice grip” lineup.  Those five will be as good of a 5-man defensive unit as there is in the league this year, and if they really wanted to get nasty, they could substitute Smart for Thomas in spot minutes.  

A little extra…

A friend of mine is a coach at a small college in the Midwest.  When you’re coaching in that situation, you know everyone else in the coaching world from conferences, camps, and recruiting trips.  Because of that, about 10 years ago, he became acquaintances with Brad Stevens while Stevens was at Buter...not close friends, mind you, just coaching acquaintances.  The first year that Butler made it to NCAA championship game and lost to Duke by a point, my friend shot Stevens an email telling him congrats, and how impressed he was in the work that Stevens had done with his team over that year.  Stevens responded with a heartfelt, thank you email 12 minutes later.  

A year later, Butler made the NCAA finals again, unheard of for such a small school.  This time, they lost to UConn in the finals, and again, my friend sent Stevens a congrats via email, and again, Stevens responded with a thoughtful thank you, this time 9 minutes after the original email was sent.

It then came time when the Boston Celtics shocked the NBA world by not hiring an assistant NBA coach for their head coaching vacancy, but instead, dipped into the Horizon League in college, a mid-major school, and hired Stevens to be the head coach of the NBA’s most storied franchise.  My friend, a third time, sent a congratulatory email to Stevens for such an amazing accomplishment.  You guessed it...11 minutes later, Stevens responded with a heartfelt thank you, and encouraged my friend for all the hard work he’d been doing at his small school.  

There are certain guys in sports you root for just because they have incredible integrity.  They treat everyone the same, don’t have a negative thing to say, and work their tail off to be their best.  Stevens is one of those guys.

Boston’s projected 2016-2017 record: 49-33

New York Knicks

Most Interesting Storyline: Is this how it ends for Melo?

Carmelo Anthony is a 4 time Olympian.  He is a 3 time gold medalist.  He is an NCAA champion from his one year at Syracuse University.  He’s been celebrated since his first year in the NBA with Denver Nuggets, and always compared to his peers, Lebron James and Dwyane Wade.  But in year 14 of Carmelo’s NBA career, there is one thing that haunts him, much like Karl Malone from the generation before him; he has never won an NBA championship.  Lebron has 3, Kobe had won 5, and even guys like Dirk Nowitzki and Paul Pierce won one.  But Carmelo’s ring count rests at zero...but there’s always hope.

A championship seemed like it was in the cards for Melo from the moment he was drafted.  He was supposed to be dominant.  And he was, occasionally.  But over the course of his career, he let other interests take up his time.  Maybe those interests didn’t cut into his basketball training at all, but in the fans’ eyes, they did.  Because, to the people that rooted for him, it seemed like he was trying to be a basketball player “plus”.  Sometimes the “plus” was a business venture, sometimes “plus” was a celeb, and most recently, “plus” has been an activist.  People can be more than one thing...typically they are.  But when you fall short of your expectations in one area, the “plus”s can be seen as a reason why by those who don’t know you...but there’s always hope.

So the Melo fans, most of whom are also Knicks fans, are conflicted.  Going into this year, Melo has very little time left in the NBA.  He could go the Duncan/Dirk route, and tack a couple unsuspected, high level years onto the end of his career.  But typically, for most NBA stars, the mid-30’s is where it ends.  The Knicks have a made a couple, ill-conceived attempts to try to build the team around Melo this year.  They made a trade for a former NBA MVP, Derrick Rose.  But Rose hasn’t looked like an all star in half a decade.  They signed a once dominant, defensive center in Joakim Noah, but Noah played a third of last season, limited by seemingly-chronic injuries.  They signed one time a starting point guard in Brandon Jennings, less than 18 months after Jennings’ achilles tendon burst.  And they have a second year phenom big man in Kristaps Porzingis, who, at this point, looks to be more potential than reality...but there’s always hope.

So the fans are back to Melo.  32 years old, they’ve been together for 7 years.  But without much help around him, and having seen this show before, his fans are tired.  It seems like Melo is tired too.  Could this be how the NBA ends for him?  Playing out his contract, being the marquee name on road games, giving superhuman efforts from time to time, but inevitably, falling short of what was expected of him when he was drafted 13 years ago.

It seems to be destined that Melo will be thought to be a tragic NBA figure...but, well, you know…

Most Interesting Personality: Derrick Rose

Derrick Rose was, once upon a time, the pride of the NBA.  Playing in his hometown, there wasn’t a fanbase that loved a player more than the Bulls fans loved Rose.  But multiple surgeries later, the franchise traded Rose for spare parts in an effort to move on.  They traded him to the highest profile franchise in the league, at the same time that Rose is involved in a legal battle involving a sexual assault accusation.  (BTW, avoid the transcripts from the case on’ll feel better about your day).  

Is it possible that Rose regains the form that made him so celebrated? Probably not.  Do we know how he’ll react when he’s not coddled by a community that thought of him as their own?  Not really.  But redemption stories are my favorite kind of story, so I’m eager to watch the saga of New York point guard Derrick Rose unfold.

Most Interesting Stat: 22.2%

Carmelo Anthony spent 22.2% of his possessions last year on postups. He was one of only two NBA players not listed as either a power forward or center to be in the top 50 in the league in % of postup possessions (Shaun Livingston, 6’7” point guard of Golden State, was the other). On the block posting up is where Carmelo excels.  It seems he’s best suited, in these last couple years, to be a small ball, power forward.  Yet, in constructing the roster, the Knicks seemed hell bent on making sure that Carmelo continued to play small forward, investing $72 million in Joakim Noah to play center, which bumps Porzingis down to play power forward.  The Knicks know what they have and chose to go with a system of play over playing to the strengths of their guys (or at least their most important guy).  

Most Interesting Lineup: Rose/Courtney Lee/Lance Thomas/Melo/Porzingis

Because of their stubbornness, I expect that this lineup will see less than 5 minutes per game, but this lineup would allow for flexibility, and put Porzingis in the best position to take advantage of slow-footed centers on the other team.  If my team was playing New York, and this was who was on the floor, it would give me more reasons to be anxious.  

New York’s projected 2016-2017 record: 36-46

Brooklyn Nets

Most Interesting Storyline: Can Sean Marks master Thrift Shopping?

The truth about our world, about our economy, is that some people bargain-shop because they enjoy it.  They get more joy with every good bargain they can find. To these shoppers, bargain shopping is a bit of a game.  But some people bargain-shop because they have to.  Life has dealt them a difficult hand to play, and their livelihood and their family’s livelihood depend on their ability to find the right bargains.  If they don’t find bargains, they don’t’s that simple.

The San Antonio Spurs, in sports terms, have thrived at being bargain shoppers.  The Spurs took the 28th pick in the 2001 draft, plucked up a speedy point guard from across the Atlantic Ocean, and turned him into future Hall-of-Famer Tony Parker.  They scooped up a South American guard that played like the Tazmanian devil with the 57th pick in the 2nd round of the 1999 draft, and nearly 20 years later we’re watching the final season of trailblazing and universally beloved guard Manu Ginobili.  Just 5 years ago, they traded a backup guard for the 15th pick in the draft, and that pick ended up being the current cornerstone of their franchise and all star Kawhi Leonard.

The Spurs were bargain shoppers because they enjoyed it.  They were already successful, but kept finding bargains.  The Brooklyn Nets are in a position right now where they HAVE TO be bargain shoppers.  So when the position of head shopper opened up in their organization, of course they hired a guy from the best bargain-shopping organization in the league, Sean Marks.

The Nets are void of much talent up and down their roster, and their draft pick situation is in shambles.  So last summer was the first one where they put the new bargain shopper in charge, and here were some of their results:  

They traded a decent vet, Thaddeus Young, for a mid-first round pick, and got a guy, Caris Levert, that would’ve been much higher on most draft boards had it not been for health scares. Fortunately for the Nets, their team doctor was the one who had operated on Levert in the first place, and gave good reviews.

The Nets signed Jeremy Lin to be their starting point guard.  Lin has bounced around the league since he emerged as a legitimate force in, guess where, New York, where he, you guessed it, was a starting point guard.

Marks tried signing other young guys with upside, each time missing out when the original teams of those guys matched their offers.  But Marks is trying, and he’ll give opportunities to guys that may not get opportunities elsewhere.  He’ll invest energy in areas where other teams might not, because that’s what bargain shoppers do.  As the season goes on, and the ones after it, Marks bargain shopping will begin to be judged.  The Nets are banking on Marks ability to clip coupons, scan flea markets, and find the best deals.  They're hoping that, if he succeeds, they’ll get back to being able to thrift shop again because they WANT TO, and not because they HAVE TO.

Most Interesting Personality: Jeremy Lin

Do you remember Linsanity?  The Nets do.  New coach, Kenny Atkinson, is known as a great teacher/instructor, and is in need of cerebral point guard on the floor as he tries to mold young guys like Levert, Rondae Hollis Jefferson, Joe Harris, and Justin Hamilton.  Enter Lin, the Harvard ball-handler who has taken just enough lumps in the last 5 years to be considered a trusted vet.  

But with his place on the team as a statesman/floor general, there will be days of magic.  Sure, Lin will go 4/15 with 4 turnovers a time or two over the course of the year.  But there will be games where he slices through the lane like he did just a few years ago.  There will be games where he’ll finish at the rim time and time again, completing a handful of and-1’s.  He might even single-handedly win a game or two for the Nets.

Do you remember Linsanity? It’s rare in sports when success comes from a place that NO ONE saw coming, and that’s what happened with Jeremy Lin on the Knicks.  And when it did, it was must-see television.  I remember watching a game against the Raptors where he hit a 3 from the top of the key at the buzzer to win the game, and he just turned and looked at the camera blankly, almost like he was saying, “I’m the one doing this, and even I have no idea how i should feel about this.”  

On a mostly boring team, I’ll check in every once in a while, just to see if a hint of Linsanity still exists.

Most Interesting Stat: 3

Three.  That’s how many years the Nets have before they can draft with their own 1st round pick again...2019.  First round picks are how you build talent in the NBA, and the Nets just don’t have them.

Most Interesting 5-man Lineup: Lin/Levert/Bojan Bogdanovic/Trevor Booker/Brooke Lopez

There’s not much to this.  Levert has the most upside on the team.  Bojan showed some flashes in the Olympics.  Lopez has proven to be a reliable, 20ppg scorer over his career, and Lin is Lin.  In trying to put together the most interesting lineup, the cupboard is pretty bare.

A little more…

I believe in sports curses.  I believe in sports karma.  Maybe not the “greater forces” part of curses, but I definitely believe the psychological side of it, as in, the longer it takes you to break through some barrier, the more freaked out/anxious you will get each time you get close to that barrier.  I believe it’s in the Cubs' heads each time they get close to success.  And because it’s in their head, they are more likely to make a mistake at a key moment.

I believe the Nets are cursed.  Success isn’t easy for anyone, and there’s no quick shortcut to it, especially in sports.  In 2013, the Nets tried to rush success.  They approached the Celtics, and basically said, “you have a good team, and we want your team.  We’ll give you any current and future assets we can to make that happen.” So, in the blink of an eye, the Nets traded for two hall-of-famers, both near the end of their careers, and they gave away, basically, their future.  They traded all of the 1st round picks they had that they were legally allowed to trade, and Boston said yes without blinking.  Boston was willing to rebuild the hard way after trading Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, while the Nets were trying to cheat the process and be good right away.  And in that moment, when they traded future success for instant gratification, they put a curse on themselves.  Billy King, the orchestrater of that trade, did far more permanent and psychological damage to the Nets franchise than any edict handed down by the commissioner could have.  

And so, three years old, I believe the curse of Pierce and Garnett has a stranglehold on the Nets franchise.  Because, just like love, you can’t hurry success.  You just have to wait...It will be decades before the curse is lifted.

Brooklyn’s projected 2016-2017 record: 22-60

Philadelphia 76ers

Most Interesting Storyline: Can Brett Brown coach?

When Philadephia started their long rebuilding project a couple years ago, they did a fairly excessive job at cleaning house/turning over the roster.  Gone was any semblance of a veteran presence, instead replaced by an large number of 2nd round picks, undrafted free agents, and longshots.  As they cleaned house, they also cleaned out the coaching staff.  I remember watching it all transpire, and thinking to myself, “I know it’s the NBA, but who would want to take THAT job?  You’re basically coaching a minor league team.”  

The Sixers did what many franchises have done before them in an employee search; they looked at other successful franchises, and cherry picked one of the longstanding employees from one of those franchises, hoping that the institutional wisdom and quality processes would come with the person they hire.  They surveyed the landscape, found an assistant coach ready for the next challenge, and hired Brett Brown from the Spurs.

For two years, Brown has been the overseer of a team that nearly set records in two straight years, reaching historical records of losing.  But there was almost no one in the NBA landscape, media or otherwise, willing to place the blame at Brown’s feet.  What the heck was he supposed to do with TJ Mcconnell as his point guard?  How could it possibly help if he could get Jerami Grant to improve his outside shot?  Even last year, when the Sixers brought veteran coach Mike D’antoni to be his assistant midseason, there isn’t anyone who thought it could help the team’s bottom line.  Hell, put Phil Jackson, Red Auerbach, and Pat Riley on the bench; that team was not going to put up wins.

But in year three, the Sixers finally have the makings of some pieces.  A couple years after being drafted, Dario Saric is making his way over to join the team (and he looked pretty stout in his Olympic experience).  In theory, the team should finally have healthy the three bigs they drafted in the three lotteries before this one: Nerlens Noel, Jahill Okafor, and Joel Embiid.  The team also signed a couple point guard free agents who, at the least, should be interesting with their range, in Jerryd Bayless (43% from 3 last year) and Spaniard Sergio Rodriguez (known for his scoring streaks).  Finally, the Sixers seem to have struck gold by winning the draft lottery and striking it rich with number one pick Ben Simmons, who has quickly drawn praise around the league for his once-in-a-generation passing ability, unheard of in a small forward.  

So, for Coach Brown, this is the season for him to start showing his value.  He sat through a raging dumpster fire for two straight seasons, and there wasn’t one person who claimed he was the arsonist.  But in year three, with some pieces in place and a new boss at the helm, Brown needs to show off some of the chops that got him the head coaching gig in the first place, or perhaps, Philly’s front office will start to look for a better fireman.

Most Interesting Personality: Joel Embiid

This one can be quick.  Embiid is interesting because he's the unknown.  Hyperactive on social media, loaded with potential when he was a draft prospect, Embiid has yet to play one NBA minute in two years because of injury.  This was a possibility, even when he was picked 3rd overall by the Sixers, and it was a possibility as there was real talk about Embiid being the number one overall pick during workouts.  It seems that his fate rests somewhere between Greg oden and David Robinson.  The Sixers are hoping for the second, but with every physical setback, and every day another young big jumps him on the depth chart, it's looking more and more likely that it will end up being the first.  

Most Interesting Stat: 6

6 is the number of career playoff starts the entire Sixers had in total (2 for Bayless, 4 for Gerald Henderson), before signing octogenarian Elton Brand to be the 17th man on their roster.  This team is GREEN with a capital GREEN.  

Most Interesting 5-man lineup: Simmons/Stauskus/Covington/Saric/Noel

A move that is fun is when a team has a player who runs the offense who's not the point guard (Think Grant Hill, Giannis Antetokounmpo, or Lebron James), so they just decide to play without a point guard, period.  With Simmons, the Sixers have the opportunity to do this, by putting the appearance of shooters around him in Nik Stauskus, Robert Covington, and Dario Saric, and then taking advantage of the extra length on the defensive end.  With so few 5-man units familiar with one another on their roster, I can see Coach Brown taking a shot with these five on the floor.

A little more:

Sam Hinkie was the world’s most annoying Uno player.  In Uno, it’s most fun to be the player that has a bunch of weird crap in their hand.  You don’t want all colored numbers.  You want a couple skips, maybe a reverse, a Wild Card or two, and maybe even some Draw Two’s or Draw Four’s.  When your hand looks like that, you’re unpredictable, and none of the other players know when you’re going to strike.  

In as much as it was possible, Sam Hinkie was running the Philadelphia 76ers by holding/hoarding all of the good cards.  As teams around him in the league got their hands down to three cards, two cards, or even sometimes calling Uno, Hinkie would never use any of the Wild Cards in his hand.  At any point he could have laid one down, whether that was in the form of a trade, a max contract offer, or a dozen other wily maneuvers.  But he never did it.  He just kept drawing cards, having the craziest looking hand in the history of Uno.  Sometimes, he could barely hold it all with one hand.  But he never used them.

Now imagine you’re Bryan Colangelo.  Someone just kicked Hinkie out of the game for hoarding all of the good cards, and you’ve been put in his place at the table with the hand he left you.  Do you make everyone Draw Four in the first five minutes?  Do you Skip the person after you repeatedly until he wants to quit the game too?  If you’re Colangelo, you have SO many options.

He played a couple of his Wild Cards during his first summer at the table.  He picked one of the most heralded number one overall picks in the last decade in Simmons.  He offered a near-retirement Manu Ginobili a ridiculous, above market contract, just so his team of 15 years had to match it to keep him.  He got Saric to finally come west to join the team he’d avoided since he’d been drafted in ‘14.  

I don’t know if Colangelo is going to win this game of Uno, but if he does, he’ll owe Hinkie for leaving him the craziest Uno hand anyone has ever had.  And even if he doesn’t eventually win the game, he’s definitely the one at the table worth watching.

Philadelphia’s projected 2016-2017 record: 18-64