After the 76ers beat the Miami Heat on Monday, I went to the Safeway in my town (for reference, I live in California), shopping for something to bring to a Thanksgiving Potluck that my fraternity brother was hosting. While I was standing in the check-out line, I saw the cashier do a double-take of the 76ers knit beanie I was wearing. When it was my turn to have my items put through the scanner, we ended up having an exchange that went something like this:
Cashier: Are you are Sixers fan? (I guess he refused to believe that I was wearing an actual 76ers beanie?)
Me: Yes, I am.
Cashier: Oh man, you guys have been fun to watch — Joel Embiid is a monster.
Me: I know. This minutes restriction is killing me, but honestly, it's all about the future.
The conversation went on for another 15-20 seconds before I got my purchased items and walked out of the store. It was then that I realized that I had had a conversation with some random Safeway cashier about how fun the 76ers have been to watch so far this season. Previously, the only topics discussed when talking about the 76ers were tanking, Sam Hinkie, injuries, two-and-a-half years of no Embiid and the 500 players that cycled through the roster over the last three years. While I love to defend Hinkie's plan, recycling the same talking points over and over again has become uninteresting, not to mention depressing, and as fans, we were searching for a light at the end of the tanking tunnel.
Now? It's about all the close games we've been in so far; having a two-game win streak for the first time since 2014, before losing to Memphis on Wednesday in double overtime; the young talent we have on the roster, including the staggering Rookie of the Year front-runner Joel Embiid; tracking the improvements of role players, like Nik Stauskas (STAUSKAS?!) and Robert Covington (while he has been in a shooting slump, he has become an elite defender), and just being immersed in the excitement surrounding this team's future. Did I mention that our number one overall pick from this past draft, Ben Simmons, is still waiting to play in his first game?
The 76ers are still young and inexperienced, but they have reached that stage where they are enjoyable to watch. This contrasts directly with previous years, in which the talent was repeatedly bottomed out and our best players were hurt. There are a number of reasons that the 76ers have turned into a nice, league pass team, but because I have talked about Embiid so much already (and will unapologetically continue to do so), I'll give you some non-Embiid (sort of) reasons that this is the case.
Style of offensive play
Coach Brett Brown has always made it a point to get out in transition, spread the court and shoot threes, but you can't play that style at even a competent level if you don't have the prerequisite talent on the roster to operate it. The 76ers' best point guard after the Michael Carter-Williams trade was Ish Smith, which already put the team at a disadvantage. The 76ers have always played with pace, never ranking less than sixth in pace since the 2013-14 season; however, with very poor shooting and perimeter talent, it's led to a lot of turnovers and a clogged sink on offense. Over the last three seasons, the 76ers have consistently ranked as one of the worst teams in turnovers per game — 30th in 2013-14, 30th in 2014-15 and 29th in 2015-16 (thanks for the bump up Phoenix!).
For the 76ers, turnovers are still a problem (ranked 29th at 17.2); however, they are no longer made because of a lack of chemistry from an ever-changing roster. Rather, the Sixers' turnovers are now reflective of a young team trying to learn to jell together.
Additionally, 3-point shooting has substantially improved. The team ranks eighth in 3-pointers made per game (10.3 makes per game), eighth in attempts (29 attempts) and 12th in 3-point field goal percentage (35.4 percent). Taking so many 3-point shots — and making them — has helped to offset some of the turnovers that previously held the 76ers back. Couple that with the fact that the team ranks 11th in assists and those five-minute scoring droughts, which always seemed to happen in every game over the past three years, have become noticeably less frequent so far this season.
Obviously, I'm not trying to make it sound like the 76ers are an elite offense, but it's definitely been more competent than in previous seasons. This, in turn, has given them a chance to be in so many of these games thus far.
The young 76ers have the most badass player nicknames of every team in the NBA.
Yes, I'm about to breakdown nicknames (with some numbers, too).The 76ers not only have a number of players with great nicknames, the nicknames themselves are organic and unique. It's not something self-proclaimed, like all 2,000 of Shaq's nicknames, or something with the player's actual name incorporated into the nickname, like CP3, Iso-Joe (ok Iso-Joe is actually a pretty dope nickname) or KD.
The best part about the 76ers' nicknames is that the public address announcer, Matt Cord, will shout some of the players' nicknames after they make a basket.
Nik Stauskas a.k.a. "Sauce Castillo"
a name that ironically started gaining traction after he played against the 76ers in his first year as a Sacramento King.
This season, Stauskas seems to have remembered that he is a knock down 3-point shooter, shooting 43.6 percent from three. Overall, he has shot 50 percent from the floor and 68 percent in the paint. It's a far cry from his first two seasons, in which he shot 32 percent from three and posted a field goal percentage of 36.5 percent (2014-15) and 38.5 percent (2015-16).
The fact that Stauskas has seemed to have regained his shooting prowess makes the nickname "Sauce Castillo" more viable, almost like an alter-ego. Whenever Stauskas drills a 3-point shot in the Wells Fargo Center, Cord shouts well, I'll let you listen for yourself.
During the pre-season, when Stauskas was just dreadful, I wrote about how this could possibly be his last chance — naturally, the 76ers picked up the four-year option on his rookie contract right after I was ready to write him off. Let's hope he continues to be the confident player he was at Michigan.
Dario Saric a.k.a. "The Homie"
The fan base created this nickname for Saric after he decided to join the 76ers in the United States from abroad this past summer. Saric, much like Embiid, inspired so much mystery since being drafted in 2014. There was faux-speculation that he wouldn't come over after two years like he promised on draft night; however, here we are, and he has already displayed the ability to be a solid play maker. More importantly, the 6-foot-10 forward has adjusted to the NBA 3-point line quite well, shooting 39.6 percent. Now we just need Cord to say "The Homie" whenever Saric makes a 3-point shot.
Sergio Rodriguez a.k.a. "El Chacho"
According to Urban Dictionary, chacho (derived from "muchacho") translates roughly to "dude" in English. This means that Sergio's nickname is "The Dude," and, of course, it reminds me of one of my favorite movies of all time, The Big Lebowski. It's simple logic as to why this nickname is awesome on various levels. I hope the 76ers re-sign Rodriguez after this season. Although he is challenged athletically and gets burned by NBA point guards on defense, he is a play-maker on offense that knows how to properly run a team, which is something the 76ers have been lacking for awhile now. More importantly, Rodriguez is "The Dude."
Joel "The Process" Embiid
Of course, we can't forget the man, the myth, "The Process." A nickname derived from "Trust the process," a phrase that was coined during the Sam Hinkie era. If you think about it, there really is no better player to take on the mantle of "The Process" than Embiid. He has been the embodiment of the phrase, waiting two-and-a-half years to step on the court and now patiently waiting to play a game unshackled from his 24-minute restriction. Embiid has shamelessly said, "Trust the process," in almost every post-game media session with reporters, and he asked Cord to announce his nickname before every game in the starting lineup. Now, it's echoed across the Wells Fargo Center whenever Embiid makes a 3-pointer or throws down a dunk.
It's actually great that Embiid embraced "The Process" motto early on and continues to do so. As we move further away from the Hinkie era, the media and the new front office regime will try to distance themselves from "The Process," only it should never and will never be forgotten because "The Process" got us Embiid, a special talent that is clearly a prodigy still learning how to play the game of basketball. The 76ers have now become a young, fun, and competent professional basketball product, especially when Embiid is on the floor, and, with Simmons waiting in the wings, it's time to buy stock in the team's future.