Andrew Unterberger is a famous writer who invented the nickname 'Sauce Castillo' and is now writing for The Rights To Ricky Sanchez, as part of the 'If Not, Pick Will Convey As Two Second-Rounders' section of the site. You can follow Andrew on Twitter @AUGetoffmygold and can also read him at Billboard.
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Everyone starts the NBA season 0-0, and that includes the takesmen. It’s a magical period for prognostication in which every prediction is both inherently bold and eminently plausible -- we don’t know enough to know what we actually know yet, and thus even the least credible-seeming takes seem arguable at a minimum.
Mike and Spike already gave their seven bold predictions for the upcoming NBA season -- five Sixers-related, two not -- during the Ricky Season Preview pod (scroll down to the bottom of this post to see them), and after serving as judge for their attempts to gauge the season to come, it felt only right to jump into the fray with my own takes. I’d be lying if I said that they were based more in fact, research and reporting than in a healthy sense of blogger’s intuition, but I do believe in all them -- more than not, anyway -- and I look forward to being proven horribly wrong and/or horriblier right about them over the course of the next 82 games.
Here they come, everybody.
Markelle Fultz loses his starting job… and then gains it back before the end of the season.
I think we all sort of expect that Fultz’s penciled-in spot in the starting lineup is more of a trial run than anything else, and that he’s more likely than not to fail. It’s not even a knock on him and his long-term viability with the Sixers so much as that it seems virtually impossible that the team won’t be better with Redick in the lineup, at least at first. If Fultz struggles acclimating to regular-season competition and Redick continues to look as good as he did in preseason off the bench -- and the team still doesn’t want to mess with explicitly Dario’s stated desire not to come off the bench -- it probably won’t be long until the Process faithful starts clamoring for a lineup change, and probably not much longer than that until that change actually comes.
But here’s the thing: I think the Sixers will need Fultz back in the starting lineup eventually, and I think he’ll be readier in game 61 than game 1. I think he works his way back into the first five by a combination of increasingly strong bench play, increasingly stagnant play from our starters, and maybe an injury or two opening up a spot -- and I think he plays well enough in the lineup to hold onto it for the rest of the regular season. (The playoffs are another story, and I’m a lot less confident in his ability to maintain his spot through those, but these bold predictions are regular season only.)
This is the year that Ben Simmons vs. Brandon Ingram really becomes a thing.
Am I making this prediction as a pathetic attempt to retroactively justify my feeling three drafts ago that they should have taken Ingram over Simmons (or at the least very strongly considered the possibility)? Not impossible. But I have a feeling this is gonna be really great year for Ingram: He was already playing like a borderline All-Star in the second half last season before being shut down with injury, and now he has LeBron James as a teammate. LeBron hasn’t ever had a teammate like Ingram before, and it seems likely he’s going to make the young wing his own personal project. I’d bet Ingram averages comofortably over 20 a game on strong shooting numbers this year, and elbows his way into All-Star consideration as a 21-year-old.
And Simmons? He’ll be there too, no doubt: I don’t think last year was a fluke or anything, and I believe his numbers this year will be similarly eye-popping. But fit and chemistry may start to be a little more of a concern this year, especially as spacing gets cramped for these 76ers and Simmons’ refusal to shoot from anywhere outside of the paint devolves from frustrating to maddening. I foresee a lot of “Simmons may be better than Ingram, but which would you rather actually have on your team?”-type takes, as fans start lusting after the Modern Wingness of Ingram and start wondering if there’s really a way for Simmons’ skill set to be best maximalized in an NBA lineup in 2018.
Dario Saric is the Sixers’ odd man out this year -- in development, if not in the starting lineup.
Get no joy out of this one, as I’d love nothing more than to see the Homie take a year-three level-up of similar shape and size to his year-two jump. But the Sixers are just gonna have so much going on between Embiid, Simmons and Fultz -- so much juggling of responsibility, so much need to force-build chemistry, so much geometry that needs to be worked out -- that Dario may need to spend an unfortunate portion of the season parked in the corner just to give them space to work their shit out.
He’ll hit some shots, he’ll score on the break, he’ll flumpy-clump for a possession or two when he gets really bored, and he’ll find his way to impact the games regardless. But the spike his numbers underwent last year I think is more likely to level off this year than keep charting up, and sadly, I wouldn’t be shocked if his name was among the most mentioned in trade rumors for the 76ers as the deadline approached.
The Sixers experience an injury to an important non-Embiid member of their lineup… and go on a ten-game winning streak shortly after.
The Sixers’ roster is so top-heavy this season that I think we might actually have one guy too many right now. An injury to one of our main guys -- inevitable for the Sixers at some point, though I hope and believe that at the very least it won’t be JoJo this year -- could end up serving as something of a decongestant, allowing the rest of the guys to stretch out a little and find the elbow room they need to maneuver a little better. At some point this season, they’re going to run off a streak of performances where they look absolutely unbeatable, and I think this year it comes when they’re down a man.
My best guess for who and when? I’d say either Simmons or Dario around the turn of the calendar, when the Sixers have a little bit of a soft bend to their schedule. They spread out the floor a little better, Covington breaks out of his inevitable mid-season muck, maybe we even get a little TJ revival, and before you know it, we’re hosting Houston on national TV as the hottest team in the league.
Joel Embiid finishes top three in MVP voting.
Don’t quite have the gumption to go No. 1, and I’d feel much more comfortable predicting top five, so let’s split the difference. I agree with Spike that this is Embiid’s year, and that as the rest of the team goes through relative turmoil trying to find their place in the Sixers’ orbit, JoJo essentially serves as the team’s sun, burning brighter and stronger than ever before. You could see it in the preseason: He could barely hit a jumper, missed a whole bunch of relative gimmes, shot poorly from the free-throw line, and was still totally dominant. This is his Shaq year, where the gloves really come off -- along with his minutes limit, back-to-back restrictions and supervillain mask. He might not win the MVP, but we’ll see him as a final nominee at the dumb-ass awards show.
The Toronto Raptors end up being a bummer.
The Raps look like a sure thing to plow through the East this year, but they’re pretty reliant on a perpetually grumpy 32-year-old point guard and an a dissatisfied newcomer that’s barely played in a year -- led by a rookie head coach -- to be the co-leads of their contending franchise. If things start to go sour for one or both of them, the entire thing could turn rotten before you know it, and there’s not a ton of experience behind them on the roster to pick up the leadership slack.
And the longer Toronto goes without being awesome, the more the discussion comes to whether Kawhi re-signing there is the lost cause his people had previously sworn it to be, and things just kinda spiral out from there. I could see them finishing a four-seed, flopping in the first round and ending up one of the biggest single-season disasters in recent NBA history.
Jimmy Butler stays on the Minnesota Timberwolves all season, wins a playoff series and then re-signs there next summer.
Let’s close our eyes for a second and pretend that none of this drama with Butler and the Wolves going into this next season doesn’t really matter. Maybe it is just fuel to the fire for all concerned -- maybe it’s a winning-cures-all situation in which this summer ends up looking like like the summer that Kobe almost got traded to the Clippers or Bulls. In that case, well, the Timberwolves were on pace for a top-three record in the West last year pre-Butler injury, with two of the most high-upside young players in the league now a year older, and maybe a little life sparked into them as they’re motivated to prove to the NBA world at large that they’re not the total chumps this offseason made them to be.
Optimistic to predict that the Wolves do well enough to convince the biggest malcontent in recent NBA history that he’s better off staying exactly where he is? Sure, but it’s unsatisfying to picture this saga ending up any other way at this point. These dudes deserve each other.