The 2016-2017 NBA season is just two weeks old and, aside from the usual discussion concerning the best of the best in the league, the biggest story in the sport is Joel Embiid. “The Process” is arguably the most exciting young player in basketball right now, and while Embiid still takes a back seat to the likes of Karl-Anthony Towns and Anthony Davis in “best young big man” discussions due to injury concerns, the 7-foot-2 center looks to be every bit of the building block that Sam Hinkie had in mind for the Philadelphia 76ers.
However, the Sixers are … bad.
In fact, bad probably undersells what Philadelphia is at this point, as Brett Brown’s team has been easily the worst team in the Association through a handful of games. When Embiid is on the floor, the Sixers are entertainingly futile, as Philadelphia is being outscored by 11.3 points per 100 possessions despite the occasional magnificence of Embiid’s play. When he isn’t involved, though, Philadelphia is transformed into a good, old-fashioned dumpster fire, losing every bit of the entertainment factor while plummeting to a net rating of -16.6 points per 100 possessions that would make any basketball fan cover his or her eyes.
Ben Simmons is on the shelf with injury and that, unquestionably, matters. At the same time, this was billed as the year that the Sixers would become more competitive, and given what Embiid has been able to accomplish while appearing in five of the team’s six games this season, it is safe to state plainly that Philadelphia’s overall performance has been a disappointment. The season is (very) young, but make no mistake, the Sixers remain the worst team in basketball and it might not be close.
1. Cleveland Cavaliers (6-1, Last week — 1st)
The Cavaliers are no longer perfect after a home loss to the Hawks on Tuesday, but that isn’t enough to remove LeBron and company from the top spot. Cleveland shot just 37 percent from the floor and 26 percent (on 42 attempts) from three in that four-point defeat and they were still able to compete with a competent, well-run team in Atlanta. Everything is fine for the defending champs.
2. Golden State Warriors (5-2, Last week — 3rd)
This ascent will surprise some people, but my belief in the Warriors is unshaken. Golden State’s flat performance against the Lakers wasn’t the best look, but Stephen Curry exploded for 13 threes earlier this week and we have now seen what the Warriors look like when shots are actually falling. Given the talent level, it is probably safe to assume they are going to fall more often than not.
3. Los Angeles Clippers (6-1, Last week — 4th)
Having one loss (by two points) is a good indication of how well the Clippers are playing and a league-leading +13.5 net rating is an even better one. Chris Paul and, perhaps more importantly, Blake Griffin look sharp and the much-maligned bench has been keeping things afloat when the stars take a seat. There is every reason to be skeptical about the ceiling, but the Clippers are good at basketball when everyone is healthy.
4. San Antonio Spurs (5-2, Last week — 2nd)
Both of San Antonio’s losses have come by double digits at home and that isn’t ideal. With that said, the Spurs are the Spurs and they already banked two quality road wins (at Utah, at Golden State) that make up for a few hiccups. The defense hasn’t been as good (100.5 points allowed per 100) as some might think, but given what they have received from Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili (read: very little), everything is just fine.