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Philadelphia 76ers 2015-16 Preview

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The Philadelphia 76ers are in the basement of the NBA, but Jahlil Okafor gives them a hope.

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

2014-15 IN REVIEW
18-64
4th in Atlantic Division
14th in Eastern Conference

Not much changed in Philadelphia last year, as the 76ers followed up 2013-14's 19-win mark with an even worse season, going 18-64 and finishing with the third worst record in the NBA in 2014-15.

The fact of the matter is, most of the roster would have a hard time finding a key role on other teams and a decent chunk of them might not even make the cut in other training camps.

At the NBA's trade deadline, Philadelphia decided to move 2013-14 Rookie of the Year Michael Carter-Williams to Milwaukee in a three-team deal with Phoenix that landed the 76ers a future first round pick that could turn out to have some excellent value. The pick was sent over from Phoenix via Los Angeles, making it a Lakers pick that is top three protected in 2016 and 2017. The Lakers still don't look like a formidable playoff squad out west, but there is a strong chance that Philly ends up with another lottery pick within the next two years.

Unfortunately, 2014 third overall pick Joel Embiid was unable to suit up throughout his entire rookie season, missing the full year with a broken foot that he has still not fully recovered from. This marked the second year in a row a 76ers lottery pick was forced to miss his first season, as Nerlens Noel's torn ACL kept him sidelined in 2013-14.

Noel was back in action last year, however, and he showed a lot of promise. Appearing in 75 games, Noel put up 9.9 points and 8.1 rebounds while blocking 1.9 shots per game along with 1.8 steals. After the All-Star break, Noel really hit his stride and averaged a double-double of over 13 points and 10 rebounds over the course of the final 26 games of the season, swatting 2.3 shots in the process.

Noel finished third in the NBA's Rookie of the Year voting, earning a spot on the All-Rookie 1st Team.

Second-year forward Robert Covington was statistically one of the most improved players in the NBA last season, although numbers do lie to a certain extent on a team like this. Covington acted as a part-time starter, finishing the year producing 13.5 points and 4.5 rebounds per game, proving that he can knock down NBA three's at 37% from beyond the arc while hoisting six triples per game.

Tony Wroten was the most productive Sixer in the beginning segment of the season, putting up career highs 16.9 points, 5.2 assists and 1.6 steals per game through the first 30 games of the year. In January, however, Wroten suffered a torn ACL and was forced to miss the remainder of the best season of his career.

Last season was about as rough as everybody expected it to be for the 76ers, and I wouldn't even blame head coach Brett Brown if he secretly developed a severe drinking problem behind the scenes.

There's nowhere to go but up from here, right?

SUMMER OF 2015

Key Additions - Jahlil Okafor, Kendall Marshall, Nik Stauskas
Key Losses - Jason Richardson, Luc Mbah a Moute, Henry Sims

Heading into the 2015 NBA draft, the general consensus was that Karl-Anthony Towns and Jahlil Okafor would be the first two names called by commissioner Adam Silver, and there was a healthy debate about which would go first. To Philadelphia's surprise, the Lakers threw a bit of a curve ball by selecting Ohio State guard D'Angelo Russell second overall, allowing Okafor to slip into Philly's lap at number three.

The 76ers have taken a big man with each of their last three lottery picks, as Okafor joins a front line already containing Joel Embiid and Nerlens Noel. There is no question that Okafor was the best prospect on the board, and the pick made even more sense considering Embiid's health concerns.

Philly may finally have a go-to scoring option in the making, as the 2015 NCAA champion already possesses a wide low post arsenal and has all the tools to develop into a serious weapon if he pans out.

In July, the Sixers finalized a deal with the Kings that landed Carl Landry, Nik Stauskas and Jason Thompson in Philadelphia. Thompson was flipped to Golden State in a deal for the expiring contract of former Celtic Gerald Wallace, who the Sixers waived immediately.

Stauskas didn't quite get off to the best start to his career out in Sacramento, but he can really shoot the rock and perhaps a change of scenery with more responsibility will help him steer his career in the right direction.

PROJECTED DEPTH CHART
C
- Jahlil Okafor / Joel Embiid
PF - Nerlens Noel / Carl Landry / Richaun Holmes
SF - Robert Covington / Jerami Grant / JaKarr Sampson
SG - Tony Wroten / Nik Stauskas / Hollis Thompson
PG - Kendall Marshall / Isaiah Canaan / Pierre Jackson

X-FACTOR - Development of Youth
Philadelphia is clearly going to post one of the worst records in the NBA this season, if not the very worst. Realistically, the biggest key to the season is to develop the young core and show positive signs of growth from an individual standpoint.

The 76ers need Jahlil Okafor to perform at a high level as a rookie, they want Nerlens Noel to get better as a sophomore and of course, everybody would love to see Joel Embiid finally suit up for his first game as a pro.

WHAT TO EXPECT IN 2015-16
You can expect Philly to lose a lot of games and perhaps even get blown out relatively frequently, with the majority of the roster made up of players that would struggle to earn a significant role on most other teams. They would be lucky to win 20 games, even in the Eastern Conference.

As long as the young guns show signs of improvement and Joel Embiid takes the floor, the season will be a success. Anything beyond that is butter.

PROJECTED STANDINGS
5th in Atlantic Division
15th in Eastern Conference

Philadelphia 76ers 2015-16 Preview - Liberty Ballers - SBNation.com

Is the number one pick a goal? The Sixers are clearly in the tank for one more season, and having the best odds at the best pick is still important.

But from an on-court perspective, the key development will be the tandem of Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor. Can they function together? Can Okafor bring his prodigious back-to-the-basket game into the NBA? Can Noel function as an offensive "four?" Everything else is secondary to how their potential superstars perform together. If they can't make it work, then the tank may continue to run for years to come as the team cycles through talented players while looking for the right fit.