BN often named luck as a key element for teams and players on draft night. The draft is the most common way to go when teams have no future and need an injection of talent. The dreaded and infamous “tanking”: the team sucks for one year, gets a high draft pick and “rebuilds”. Sam Hinkie, ex GM of the Philadelphia 76ers, found a glitch in the system, and was ruthless enough to take advantage of it. The 76ers turned tanking into a science.
GMs, owners, coaches and everyone else in between knows that the draft is made of mistakes. It follows that the best way to succeed in the draft is to give yourself the chance to make as many mistakes as possible. Sam Hinkie explained this concept in his resignation letter. That is how The Process was born, the mantra that has been repeated by Philly fans in the last few years.
It began in 2013. On draft night, Hinkie started to tear down a Philadelphia team that was stuck in the Nba no man’s land: they could make the playoff every year but never make it to the Finals. The best player on the team, Jrue Holiday, was traded to the New Orleans Pelicans on draft night for the #6 pick, Nerlens Noel, who had torn an ACL in February and would have spent the Nba season rehabbing. Without the injury he would have been the #1 pick. This was the first step: always pick the Best Talent Available (remainder, the usual choice is Best Player Available, which is not the same), think about the consequences later. And Trust the Process.
The following year the 76ers were awful: the team was dismantled, no pick to show for it, and a round in the lottery which granted the #3 pick. Another player with huge red flags on his health declared for the draft, a center from Kansas University, Joel Embiid. While Noel was considered a good prospect, experts talked about Embiid as the second coming of Hakeem Olajuwon.
Cleveland and Milwaukee pass on him, the health risk is too high and he might never make it on the court. Hinkie does not care. Another lottery pick who will not play next season (he will stay out for two full seasons). The 76ers also have the #10 pick in the draft and they choose Elfrid Payton, only to trade him a few minutes later to the Orlando Magic for Dario Saric, who will spend the next two seasons in Europe. Two top 10 picks, none of the player will show up at training camp. You’ve got to Trust the Process
Three lottery picks in two years, at the beginning of the third year only one of them is playing, the most offensively challenged of the three. The heat is on, the 76ers get trashed on and off the court for their game and their behavior. Nobody likes Sam Hinkie. Nobody likes what he is doing because he even half admitted he has been doing this on purpose, he has been signing non-Nba talent because he wants his team to increase the odds of a #1 pick. 2015 draft, Philadelphia has the #3 pick. Karl-Anthony Towns goes to Minnesota, D’Angelo Russell to the Lakers. The 76ers pick Jahlil Okafor, a plodding center, as talented as he is slow, in an era where teams are abandoning the post game to play faster and shoot threes. He is also the fourth frontcourt player in three lottery runs. You’ve go to Trust the Process.
The Noel-Okafor pairing is a complete failure, the 76ers are embarrassing again despite yet another lottery pick. The roster lacks the talent to even compete. The 76ers are a joke. As the management is changing the course and not sticking to the plan, Hinkie resigns. On draft night, the 76ers finally have the #1 pick and choose Ben Simmons, who fit in so well with the team he immediately suffers a Jones fracture in his foot and is forced to undergo surgery. He will likely miss the whole season (rumors have it he will be back in late February, after the All Star Game). But Saric and Embiid will be available. There is hope. The Cameroonian takes the Nba by storm. When he is on the court, Philadelphia gives the feeling to be competitive against anyone. As the season rolls on, Saric is proving to be a good piece for the future.
After the umpteenth foot injury that kept him out for the first few months of the season, Noel is back. There are issues with the management, the ex Kentucky wants to play and earn a big contract next summer (which he will get). Embiid proves to be a true leader on and off the court, and let the management know he wants to play with Noel, because Nerlens is his best friend and they can be a good defensive combination. He says in an interview. Coach Brett Brown decides to try it. The 76ers need to play Noel to decide what to do with him in the future (Philadelphia can match any offer Noel receives in the summer). The 76ers go on to win 7 of 9, with Noel and Embiid anchoring the defense and carrying the team to a 99.0 defensive rating in the month of January, first time the 76ers defensive rating is below 100 in over a year. Speaking of Embiid:
Embiid’s friendship will not keep Noel in Philadelphia, he might be traded midseason or bolt in July. Okafor is the odd one out: incredible talent, but he plays the wrong position in the wrong environment. His trade value is plummeting. He currently is out of the rotation, and when Simmons will be back he will lose even more. Both Noel and Okafor have to go.
The best is yet to come in Philadelphia. The 76ers might make the playoff, they are not that far from the 8th spot right now, but they will probably miss and stay in the lottery. They are going through a run that could flame out soon and let them earn a top 10 pick. And Philadelphia will also receive the Los Angeles Lakers’ first round pick, as long as it’s not a top 3 pick.
That means the 76ers might have two top 10 pick next June, and add two players out of the following group: Markelle Fultz, Lonzo Ball, Dennis Smith, Josh Jackson, Jayson Tatum, Malik Monk, Frank Ntilikina, Miles Bridges, and De’Aaron Fox. Add to that Ben Simmons returning. With Joel Embiid to lead them (first 76er to have 10 consecutive games with 20+ points since Allen Iverson).
Coaches and management say the plan is to have Simmons play the point, the same plan the Milwaukee Bucks used for Giannis Antetokounmpo. Simmons, Embiid and three shooter around them, all of the 23-and-under, make for a fascinating group and could have a great future in the league. With Embiid, everything is possible.
All credits should go to Sam Hinkie, he brought Philadelphia on the brink of success and was pretty much forced to resign. In the meantime, after many painful years, the 76ers fans see the light at the end of the tunnel and the results of the plan developing on the court. It is not yet the time to label it a success, but for all those who put their faith in the Process, it is too late to go back. Trust the Process, just a little longer.