It would seem that Philadelphia 76ers fans are looking forward to the start of the season, which is likely to feature the debut of rookies Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid, and Dario Saric. The Philadelphia Daily News has reported that Simmons has already become one of the top 10 best-selling athletes in the NBA.
Ben Simmons Merchandise is Selling out Fast
Just months after being selected by the 76ers with the number one overall draft pick, the Melbourne-born rookie sits just behind Russell Westbrook in terms of merchandise sales and ahead of established stars such as Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul, among others. This is despite not yet playing a single game in the professional league.
While the Australian cities of Melbourne and Sydney are among the top five cities globally for total sales of Simmons’ merchandise, this massive spike in purchases also highlights the strong sense of anticipation by Sixers fans for their team’s future success.
Fans of the 76ers can be forgiven for prematurely buying into the hype of having the number one draft pick of the class of 2016. The 76ers have aimed to place themselves in the best possible position to finally win the draft lottery and build a team for the future.
The Wait for Other International Rookies
Thanks to this strategy, headed by former Philadelphia general manager Sam Hinkie, the 76ers have struggled over the past three years. While the franchise managed to draft rookies such as Joel Embiid and acquire others such as Dario Saric in 2014, neither player has been able to play in the NBA, until this point.
Saric represents the Croatian national team and has spent the last two years playing abroad for a Turkish basketball team, Anadolu Efes S.K. Embiid is another international player from Cameroon and, despite being taken as the third overall draft pick in 2014, has yet to play for the 76ers due to persistent foot injuries.
The Young International 76ers
All three rookies have increased the global influence of the 76ers franchise. Chris Heck, the Sixers’ chief sales and marketing officer, reiterated this in an interview with the Daily News, saying: “Our team has become very international; we have our share of young Americans, but also an influx of international players.” Simmons has certainly brought with him a tangible sense of optimism for fans of the 76ers.
“It’s such a fascinating summer, to be frank, and it’s not that we didn’t expect the franchise to turn the corner,” continued Heck. “But we’re seeing it. And we’re seeing it beyond Ben Simmons. He is charismatic, intelligent, good-looking – and all of those things fit into how today’s athletes are [viewed] in our pop culture, and Philadelphia is no exception.”
What this Means for the Upcoming Season
Simmons should be a welcomed face for the 76ers roster, not just because the past three years have seen the team perennially occupying the bottom half of the standings. Philly bottomed out in 2015-16 with the NBA’s worst record at 10-72. This also represents the franchise’s own record for losses in a season – ironically, the reverse record of the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls‘ famous 72-10 season.
Expected Improvement in Philadelphia
The good news for the franchise is that the 76ers should be much better in 2016-17 than they were last season. As mentioned before, Saric and Embiid will be making their debuts, adding to an abundance of front-court talent. Furthermore, Jahlil Okafor will be looking to build on a fantastic rookie season in which he was named to the All-Rookie First Team. Nerlens Noel is yet another big man lottery pick who will looking to further add to his NBA resume next season.
The 76ers were ranked 20th in the NBA in assists per game in the 2015-16 season. They’ll rely on Simmons to add to their ball movement for the upcoming season. Simmons has drawn flattering comparisons to Magic Johnson and a young Lamar Odom because of his rare combination of size and ball handling skills. The addition of Sergio Rodríguez should also add to the 76ers’ future assist totals. Rodriguez possesses a typical European point guard “pass-first” mentality.
It Won’t Happen Immediately
However, do not expect Simmons to improve the team dramatically next season, as he still needs to work on his jumper. This was a particular weak aspect of the 76ers in the previous season, ranking dead last in field goal percentage from the 10-19 ft. ranges. With the addition of three 6’10” or taller front-court players, jump shots will likely be a weakness once again for Philadelphia.
It looks like Embiid has been putting in some serious work this off-season as well, trying to stay healthy and finally have a breakout in his debut season. Ensuring that Embiid is physically and mentally ready for a rigorous first season will give the 76ers an extra edge. Embiid represents another exciting young piece for the upcoming season, and with a number of large anchors at their disposal, the 76ers could establish a dominant defensive front-line in the future.
It would seem that Philadelphia has plenty to look forward to next season. With a number of young, dynamic players with superstar ceilings, the future looks bright for the 76ers. It certainly cannot be much worse than last season. Hopefully, this won’t jinx it.