The 100 Greatest Sixers of the 2010s: 20-1
Here they are, now fight over them.
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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This week at If Not, Pick Will Convey as Two Second Rounders, AU is counting down The 100 Greatest Sixers of the 2010s -- ranking players by on-court contributions, as well as general symbolic and cultural importance to the 76ers decade that was. Find a more detailed intro and Nos. 100-81 here, 80-61 here, 60-41 here, 40-21 here, and read on below as we finish off our list by counting down from 20 to 1.
20. Jerami Grant (2014-2016)
The crown jewel of our 117 second-round draft selections between the years 2013 and 2015, Jerami Grant was a truly uncut gem his two-plus seasons here, dazzling but lacking proper form or definition. He was permanently out of position at the three (where the frontcourt-heavy Sixers were frequently forced to play him) and became the first player to ever set the single-season record for missed dunks in consecutive seasons , but was electric on defense, and when he actually connected on a rack attack, good lord. It was probably inevitable that he would get traded to a better team and immediately become a full-time contributor -- basically what happened after we dealt him to OKC for Ersan Ilyasova M. 1 -- but unlike many Process-era Sixers prospects who never quite worked out here, I don’t think anyone wants anything but the best for Jerami. (Hopefully he stays out West to keep it that way.)
19. Josh Richardson (2019)
Not much else you could want from a Good Process Sixer than what J-Rich II provides: Staunch defense, erratic-but-occasionally-inspired shooting and playmaking, big hair, stealthily stellar social media. (I’d predict an imminent Angry Parent but don’t want to have to do the creepy research required to back up the likelihood.) The true growing pains will come between us and Josh Richardson, but for now, the honeymoon period seems blissfully unaffected by his game-to-game performances, which is pretty much the surest possible sign of a true fan favorite.
18. J.J. Redick (2017-2019)
I was sorta taken aback by how sad I was following news that J.J. Redick had signed in New Orleans. He was never a personal favorite while here and I’d sort of written him off as a likely offseason casualty anyway, but upon news of his official departure, I suddenly couldn’t picture the offense without him: I’d grown accustomed to his spacing, as it were. Even as the offense has gone through its struggles this season, we’ve actually been better than I expected functioning without him -- though you know Joel, who once called him the “best player I’ve ever played with,” would send half the team packing to get him back in a heartbeat. He hit shots. He survived on defense. He had no idea what the hell the Rights to Ricky Sanchez was about.
17. Michael Carter-Williams (2013-2015)
I’ve ranted about this before I’m sure, but I never got the MCW booing. Usually, I can respect Process Truster booing consensus even when I don’t agree with it, but with Michael Carter-Williams it does kinda bother me. I mean, all he did when he was here was beat the Heat in the season opener, give us a player to get unreasonably excited/indignant about, win Rookie of the Year (without actually winning us too many games and taking us out of the Embiid sweepstakes), and then get himself traded while he was still valuable enough to land us a prime draft pick, one that turned into… well, who even remembers what actually became of that pick at this point (a couple second-rounder strands of it are probably still lingering out there anyway). Boo if you gotta, I suppose, but point is: We are where we are, and if anything, MCW helped us get there. It’s not his fault we didn’t heed his lessons about how if a point guard’s jump shot isn’t there from the get, it’s probably not coming anytime soon.
16. Al Horford (2019)
29 games into the season, and my only takeaway with how Al Horford’s first year as a Sixer is going is still: Holy fucking goddamn is it still a hoot that Al Horford is a Sixer. Al Horford! A Sixer! As in the opposite of a Celtic! Not a Mike Budenholzer or Brad Stevens in sight! When Big Al wound up from three for the potential game-winner against Miami on Wednesday, my reflexive thought was not to care about its potential impact on the outcome of the actual game, it was just good grief would it be funny if he made this. Shows no signs of abating, certainly; for all I know it could be Game Six of the 2022 finals and I’ll be going lol can you imagine if Al Horford wins a second championship as a Sixer. A hilarity that I will always appreciate.
15. Elton Brand (2008-2012, 2015-2016)
In retrospect, we should’ve always known that Elton Brand would work his way up the Sixers’ front office ladder in no time: You don’t go from overpaid free agency bust to gritty fan favorite in a couple years’ time without some legitimately primo Relationship Guy skills. After being given the Let’s Just Do It and Be Legends near-max deal in the summer of 2008 despite having no remaining lift in his knees, it took EB until the new decade to figure out how to be useful as a grounded frontcourt player. But improbably, he did it, reinventing himself as a half-court grinder and immovable low-post object, and arguably the most valuable player on the first Sixers team of the post-Iverson era. Then three years after being belatedly amnestied in the summer of 2012, he returned to babysit Jahlil Okafor and let Joel Embiid bust on him in practice for the nauseating back end of the 2015-’16 season, even getting some last-second PT for his troubles, posting a memorable double-double in 24 minutes against the Hornets (in a losing effort, natch.) It’s still fucking wild that he was GMing the team barely two seasons later, but we’d learned to give the Old School Chevy the benefit of the doubt by then.
14. Thaddeus Young (2007-2014)
In many ways this is a disrespectful ranking for the ultimate honors student of the Sixers’ decade -- near-perfect attendance, well-studied, always willing to follow assignments and go for extra credit afterwards. It’s not Thad’s fault that nobody really likes a brown-noser, or that he came to stand for a lot of the try-hard unexceptionalism of both the Mo Cheeks and Doug Collins eras -- a rep that he’s only really continued to live up to in Minnesota, Indiana and Chicago. He was a fine open-court player, a versatile defender, an efficient scorer and an excellent teammate. But he doesn’t really represent anything that we care to remember about the 21st-century Sixers.
13. Mike Scott (2019)
If you were going to engineer a Philly hoops cult icon from scratch, he’d probably end up talking, looking, playing and drinking a whole lot like Mike Scott. He’s unextraordinary but reliable as a rotation player, he hits so many big shots that nobody cares about the number of little ones he misses, he steps in for his teammates whenever needed (and occasionally when not), he never second-guesses himself on the microphone, and he is 100% ready for the moment at all times both on and off the court. He could be a Sixer for another ten games or another ten years and nothing would change. He is Mike Scott, and he is exactly what we asked for him to be.
12. Evan Turner (2010-2014)
Maybe a controversial ranking for some, since it would be a wild stretch to claim that Evan Turner ever even came close to meeting expectations after being drafted with the No. 2 pick in 2010. All I can really say is this: I loved Evan more than any Sixer this century not named Joel Embiid. It’d be diminutive and dumb to say that I understood parenthood better following ET’s Sixers career, but it at least felt the way I’d imagined having a troubled kid would: Never-ending anger and disappointment, mixed with a similarly undying hope for things to one day get better, and a genuine affection -- one sparked in the rare moments that were truly good, but deeply present even in the most awful times. I never gave up on Evan, never stopped wanting good things for him -- for his sake (almost) as much as my own. Wasn’t the easiest relationship, but I think I was a better basketball fan for having gone through it.
11. Tobias Harris (2019)
Due to my forever-burning hatred of the Tobias Harris trade, I’ll probably go down in the history books (if I’m afforded a sentence beyond Sauce Castillo anyway) as Anti-Tobias Guy. And I can live with that: We all have to be Anti-Something Guy. But fact is, I do genuinely like Tobias as a player and a person, and I’m overjoyed at how productive he’s been as a Sixer this last month. I just don’t want to be forced into a position of pretending something he isn’t -- which is what happens when you look at a player who we traded a star package for and gave star money to, and have to contort your eyes until he actually looks like a star. And maybe he could be one -- but he hasn’t been one yet, not even this season, when it’s taken in its entirety. But he’s still been a good enough Sixer to land one spot out of the all-decade top ten, after just 56 games total. I hope he gets in there for real next decade. He probably will.
10. Tony Wroten (2013-2016)
He never played on a Sixers team that won 20 games, he never posted even a league-average PER, and only once did he even make it to the end of the season healthy. But you just can’t tell the story of The Process without Tony Wroten. That’s true in a fairly literal sense: It might not even be called The Process without T-Wrote coining the three-word Hinkie-era catchphrase that Mike and Spike and the rest of the Phaithful made eternal. But also, no one boasted the shiny-but-jagged edges of a Process prospect as purely as Wroten, a two-way highlight machine, in that the highlights were always equally likely to go one of two ways. He could run, he could pass, he could dunk, he could shoot the lights out from 70 feet, but the simple reads and mundane sets tended to elude Tony, leading Brett Brown to check his watch 20 times a game wondering if it was 2017 yet. A no-doubt future Process Hall of Famer, he’s currently campaigning for a Washington-based TBT squad, which sounds like an RTRS road trip if I’ve ever heard of one.
9. Jimmy Butler (2018-2019)
I can hear Spike’s teeth grinding in between bites of peanut butter, apple and sriracha from here. Obviously, Jimmy’s particular brand of ‘90s NBA movie villainy isn’t for everybody, and whatever it was that might’ve driven Sixers fans insane over the course of his tenure here -- his insistence on being the point guard, his unwillingness to shoot threes, his mostly lousy Game 7 performance, his insistence on giving idiotic interviews to any seventh grader with a Language Arts assignment, whatever -- it’s hard to argue with. But Jimmy Butler was the second-best player on a Sixers team that was inches away from beating the eventual champs -- and going into Game Seven, he’s the guy that Raptors fans were actively scared of. When it comes to evaluating Jimothy’s Sixers legacy, that might not be everything, but it certainly ain’t nothing.
8. Nerlens Noel (2013-2017)
For a guy who gets an “Incomplete” on his ultimate Process Report Card, it’s hard for me to look back on the Nerlens era with anything but affection. He came around a couple years too soon and didn’t do enough to ensure that he had to be kept around when things got good -- but in that way, he was like an early innovator of the genre, one who got screwed over by his label and whitewashed by radio, and who due to poor management and other behind-the-scenes issues fell out of the system altogether by the time it should have been his moment to cash in. I still think of Nerlens in those early days, fending off layups like a goalie, tripping over his own feet on a breakway, dancing with his supposed good buddy MCW, and I get overcome with nostalgia -- which invariably turns into blinding rage when I then recall that he was shipped out at his least-valuable moment for Justin Anderson, a malcontented Andrew Bogut and a fake first-rounder. The real ones still remember, Nerlens, and won’t ever let anyone else forget.
7. Dario Šarić (2014-2018)
Don’t sleep on how incredible it was that in 2014, we left draft night with Joel Embiid and Dario Saric as our two first-round selections -- not just because both went on to be great Sixers, but because neither would even play for Philly for another two seasons. That was still earlier than many thought Dario would end up here, but the call of The Process (and/or the urgency to escape the Turkish geopolitical situation) was too great for him to resist.
I wonder if Dario’s relatively short time playing in Philly (just two seasons and change), combined with his so-so stats elsewhere since leaving, will result in his enduring legacy being less than we might have anticipated -- while Sixers fans continue to engineer trade scenarios to get Robert Covington back into the fold, no one seems to really be trying to pry The Homie from Phoenix. But for two years, he was a big-shot-hitting, awkward-fist-pumping, forever-klumpyflumping marvel in Philly, putting up great numbers in the 2018 playoffs and appearing on his way to near-stardom. It’s sad to see his NBA tenure kinda meandering anonymously at this point since he was traded away, but for the Sixers, he was certainly worth the wait.
6. T.J. McConnell (2015-2019)
Higher than Dario, huh? It’s an argument to be had, certainly -- Dario’s numbers were obviously superior, and T.J. fell out of the rotation altogether by the end of last season. But T.J. played here longer, wormed his way deeper into the culture, and was simply responsible for more iconic Sixers moments. If I said “The Dario Shot” or “The Dario Game,” your mind could do no better than a couple educated guesses to what I was talking about. But nobody doesn’t know the T.J. Shot, a classic game-winner over Carmelo Anthony and the Knicks re-enacted live on stage by T.J. and Mike at the Live Pod, or the T.J. Game, where The Wind Crised T.J. for one glorious win over the Celtics in the 2018 East Semis. And really, just him becoming a reliable rotation player when he came to the Sixers as Aaron Craft 2.0 remains one of the Process’ greatest triumphs. Hope he’s pissed about not being Top 5 when we see him in Indy on New Years.
5. Andre Iguodala (2004-2012)
Should be said right off the bat that this ranking does not reflect the full impact of Andre Iguodala’s career as a Sixer, which stretches back to Iverson’s first go-round in Philly in the mid-’00s, and includes a brief trial period of Dre (don’t call him Iggy!) as a first option on a playoff team in the late ‘00s. By the ‘10s, we had fewer illusions about who Iguodala was, and we were able to surround him with enough… I dunno, stuff… for him to get to the playoffs a couple more times as more of a complementary piece -- where he hit the two biggest free throws in modern Sixers history, while also making his first All-Star appearance as the nominal “best player” on the early-overachieving ‘11-’12 squad.
Few tears were shed for Dre when he was shipped to Denver as part of the Bynum deal -- we had run our course with him, it felt, and a lot of fans never stopped resenting his hefty contract and his failure to live up to primary-scorer expectations. But don’t forget that for the solid decade in between AI’s falling out with the franchise and Joel Embiid’s takeover, Iguodala was unquestionably the most important Sixer, a heady, versatile defender, brilliant playmaker and PT workhorse who just wasn’t elite at generating his own offense -- a Scottie without a Michael, essentially. Another defensive-minded veteran wing probably wouldn’t be at the top of our wishlist this trade season, but part of me feels like we’ll never win a championship in Philly until we get to make good with Iguodala for never properly appreciating him in his own time. (In the meantime, the Horford bit must really piss him off.)
4. Jrue Holiday (2009-2013)
It wasn’t The Process, but there was certainly something about watching Jrue Holiday develop from defensive-minded point guard prospect to quality game-manager to leading scorer and first-time All-Star within the space of his first four years as a Sixer that certainly set the table for what was to come. Jrue was supremely likeable even when he was shooting 2-24; something about him seemed so steady and smooth and open-hearted that it was hard to imagine anyone not wanting to play with him -- especially because he seemed to take nothing off the table with his own game.
It’s not the biggest shame, but it is a shame to some degree that we never got to see what this team could have looked like built around Jrue and a still-young, still-dynamic Andrew Bynum. Doubtful they contend for a championship with that top two, but it would’ve been the foundation for something pretty serious, and we wouldn’t have even had to wait years for it to come together. Wasn’t in the cards, unfortunately, and after Bynum essentially no-showed, no-worked for his entire brief Sixers career, Holiday was dealt to New Orleans, in the swap that brought us Nerlens and a future first and essentially jump-started The Process. Jrue was absolutely a great Sixer -- and still could be today, which is why the trade machine proposals have been flying since New Orleans re-opened their roster for business last week.
3. Robert Covington (2014-2018)
You wouldn’t think a solid team player with a relatively muted personality off the court would prove one of the most divisive Sixers of the decade. But when you’re arguing about Robert Covington, you’re really arguing about ideology -- about the league-wide importance of three-and-D guys, about whether shooters really are plagued by inconsistency or just by not hitting as many shots as we’d like them to (all of ‘em, basically), and about whether having reliable players on good contracts was more valuable than having volatile stars on heavy deals.
But of course, none of us here at the Ricky have ever played it coy about our allegiances in the debate: In this podcast content-related blog column, we stan Robert Covington. Still think trading him was justifiable, but RoCo is a guy that could fit into any NBA roster -- multiple times over, most likely -- with stellar athleticism, his superlative perimeter and help defense, and his fire-away approach to three-point shooting. He’s the crown jewel of the Hinkie-era developmental system, our first home-raised (if not home-grown) true difference maker, and the guy whose name being mentioned usually let us see how serious a fellow Sixer fan really was about The Process. He’s the ideologue we need in Philly, now more than ever.
2. Ben Simmons (2016-2019)
The other most polarizing Sixer of the decade had far more obvious reason to be so hotly debated: It’s not often that you get a player whose good parts remind you of peak LeBron, and whose bad parts remind you of… I dunno, late-period Kendrick Perkins? Ben Simmons’ basketball brilliance is unquestioned, but his drive, his growth and his overall fit with the Sixers has been perpetually under fire since he was drafted with the top overall pick in 2016 (with the Sixers’ lottery selection landing at No. 1 still ranking in strong contention for Sixers Moment of the Decade.) Simmons is great, but can he be one of the best players on a championship team if he still refuses to shoot with any regularity whatsoever?
We’ll find out more of the answer to that in the half-decade to come, but even at this point, it’s impossible to imagine this era of Sixers basketball without Simmons. Let’s say we played Kevin O’John Connor and started sending robots back in time to futz with the Sixers’ timeline and get them to take Brandon Ingram over Simmons -- would the team still have taken off two seasons ago? Would they self-actualize on a level anywhere near the 16-game win streak at the end of that 82? Would the team’s identity still be built around size, physical toughness and rebounding if we didn’t have a 6’10” (nominal) point guard who was a perpetual triple-double threat? Would the rest of our budding stars chafe without a true pass-first/second/third point guard to make ‘em look handsome every night? We’ll never know for sure, but despite how (understandably) controversial Ben Simmons remains for all the things he doesn’t do, the things he does do have made this team what it is.
1. Joel Embiid (2014-2019)
Joel Hans “The Process” Embiid. There have been many other great Sixers this decade, but reading a list of ‘em is like reading a countdown of the best Philly Jock Jams of the 2010s -- there’s other good choices to fill out the top tier, but if “Dreams & Nightmares” isn’t No. 1, just throw the whole list out. Embiid is the Alpha and the Omega, the yin and the yang, the ultimate game and the reason why they play it again next year. He’s the reason why The Process resonated as more than an NBA bio experiment, the reason why Our Once and Always Dark Lord Sam Hinkie’s legend is forever secure, the reason why casuals on both the bandwagoner and hater sides even have an opinion about the Sixers in the first place. He’s the greatest Sixer of my lifetime, and pretty likely yours too.
And that’s why it’s so weird to be in a year where the prevailing sentiment around Joel Embiid is something other than “FUCK YEAH JOEL LET’S GO.” We knew there would come a day when Embiid’s staggering on-court majesty -- the shot-blocking, the rip-moving, the half-court cooking, the defensive trailing, the occasional connection on a bomb from deep -- would be undercut with questions and concerns about why he wasn’t already more/better. It happens to everyone. But with Jo, we now have to remind ourselves to remind ourselves that even when he’s not at 100%, even when his play comes with lapses in judgment and ability and even his shimmy doesn’t have the panache it normally packs, he’s still the greatest thing that ever happened to us. We used to pray for players like this, to share like this -- now he’s ours until he don’t want us anymore. And right up to that day, he’ll still be No. 1 here.