After last year’s almost-always miserable 19-win campaign, the Philadelphia 76ers have become the go-to butt of many jokes about losing and NBA depravity. Once the team spent their two 2014 lottery picks on the longest-term projects out of the entire draft, one could basically feel the crowds getting restless.
But just in case you doubt the sincerity of general manager Sam Hinkie’s long-term rebuilding methods, do be aware how the organization is attacking the Summer League with thoughtful intentionality. They are using their offseason in innovative and efficient ways to create the most opportunities for their multiplicity of young players.
The Sixers are one of only three NBA franchises, along with the Houston Rockets and Miami Heat, to send teams to both the Orlando and Las Vegas sessions of the Summer League. From a big-picture organizational perspective, the Rockets and the Heat are in positions that are remarkably similar to one another: After assembling compelling playoff teams for the 2013-14 season, both the Rockets and the Heat set themselves up to basically re-create an entirely new future for their franchise during this here free agency season.
With both teams signing, trading, and losing marquee superstars, it perhaps means that the focus on their Summer League teams has fallen to an extremely low priority within the organization. As of games played on Monda, the two teams have a combined 3-11 record across the two sessions.
The Sixers, meanwhile, clearly had a detailed plan for the Summer League even before draft night that they are, thus far, executing to near-perfection, thus far compiling a record of 5-2. With five second-round picks in this year’s draft, the Sixers had a sizable youth influx, and they are taking advantage of even these supposedly idle offseason months to help everybody acclimate with one another.
First there is the way that the Sixers are bringing along Nerlens Noel, whom they traded for on draft night in 2013 while knowing full well that he would sit out the 2013-14 season with an ACL injury. The Sixers have used Noel very methodically in his first professional games: appearing in both Orlando and Las Vegas, he has averaged 26.2 minutes per game in four games.
What’s crucial here is that the games have been staggered. Noel’s games have been played on July 5, 8, 9, and 14. Noel has been getting meaningful minutes without getting overloaded, and the Sixers have saved him from the usual pressures of the Summer League’s game-every-day schedule.
The Sixers’ second-round draft picks from last month have played in more games, but with their minutes thoughtfully rationed. K.J. McDaniels (32nd overall) has played in 18.5 minutes per game over six games. Jerami Grant (39th overall) has appeared in all eight games, at 17.2 minutes per game. Jordan McRae (58th overall) has appeared in 30.3 minutes per game over the three games in Las Vegas.
There are only 10 teams who participate in Orlando’s Summer League, meaning that there are 23 NBA teams (and one NBDL team) that conglomerate in Las Vegas. The imbalance, combined with a larger venue, means that the festivities from Sin City are far more prestigious and buzzed-about than what goes on in Orlando.
But by utilizing both Summer League venues with a pointed purpose, it’s fair to say that the Sixers have already squeezed a bit of a market inefficiency out of a spot in the calendar that most teams trudge through by obligation.
Statistics via nba.com.