Thursday, September 18, 2014
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The Sixers' redshirt program

Redshirting a player is a pretty common practice in collegiate athletics.

The Sixers' redshirt program

76ers center Nerlens Noel talks with coach Brett Brown. (Tom Gralish/Staff Photographer)
76ers center Nerlens Noel talks with coach Brett Brown. (Tom Gralish/Staff Photographer)

Redshirting a player is a pretty common practice in collegiate athletics.

One of the benefits of redshirting someone for a year during their college career is allowing the player time to acclimate to their new team, league, or environment. A player can learn a lot, and improve upon themselves throughout a redshirt year without losing any eligibility, or suffering any serious in-game wear-and-tear to their body. Players often come out of a redshirt year more mentally and physically prepared to play after soaking up information on the sideline for a season.

In an unprecedented approach to rebuilding, the Sixers have borrowed the common collegiate practice of redshirting and applied it to their own organization.

The 2014-15 NBA season will represent the third straight season in which the Sixers’ biggest offseason acquisition will sit for an entire season. (It hasn’t been officially announced that Joel Embiid will sit the entire season, but all signs point in that direction).

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Assuming that Dario Saric stays in Turkey for at least two seasons, then the 2015-16 NBA season will represent the fourth straight season that the Sixers will have a lottery pick (or in Bynum’s case, a guy that lottery picks were traded to get) sitting out the season.

It is very difficult to pinpoint a situation in sports history where something similar has occurred. Sure, Blake Griffin sat out his first year in the league, and Derrick Rose missed the majority of two straight seasons dealing with injury issues, but the patience and planning used by the Sixers in this scenario is unparalleled.

(It is worth noting that Blake Griffin went on to win NBA Rookie of the Year in 2011 after sitting out the entire season the year before).

With no immediate intention to contend, the Sixers have afforded their prized picks not only time to recover from pre-existing injuries, but also a chance to learn the league and improve upon themselves, both physically and mentally, before being thrown into the fire.

Contending teams often look for immediate impact from their draft picks, especially the ones selected in the first round. The Sixers have gone the exact opposite route. Rather than rushing a player back to the roster in the midst of a season sure to fall short of a championship, the Sixers’ approach allows players to not only build back up to their former form, but to actually be better.

Nerlens Noel could have played late last season, but the Sixers held him out, encouraging him instead to work on his strength, shot and other areas of his game that needed to be expanded for NBA play.

The extra-time improvement has already been evident throughout the Sixers’ summer leagues, where Noel has appeared to be every bit the rim-protecting, shot-blocking machine he was at Kentucky, with a better touch from the foul line and a more developed offensive arsenal added in. (Take a bow, Greg Foster).

In Dario Saric’s case, there is no injury but he is still being given ample time to improve. The day after the draft, Sam Hinkie alluded to the fact that Saric would be learning and growing his game in Turkey while competing against solid professional competition. When Saric is ready to come contribute to the Sixers down the road, he will be a better player than he was on draft day, as Noel is.

Joel Embiid’s road to recovery will look a lot like Noel’s, with the team emphasizing the long-term health and development of the player over immediate impact. Embiid might be medically cleared to play come January or February. But with the Sixers likely long out of contention by then, the biggest benefit to Embiid’s career may be to have him sit the season, work on his conditioning and his game, and prepare to play when the Sixers are climbing back into contention.

Without immediate intention to contend, the Sixers have the luxury of allowing their prized picks, all younger than 20 years old, the opportunity of development and improvement.

While such an approach may test the patience of the Philadelphia faithful, the team’s mission is clear: Develop a deep and wide-ranging talent pool that sees players spread across the globe; on the Sixers’ sideline, in the D-League, in Turkey, and elsewhere throughout the world. Ideally, this approach will allow players to stay sharp and develop their games until it is time to come and contribute to the Sixers.

Coming off of a 19-63 year, with the upcoming season shaping up to be another struggle, you tend to search for a silver lining. While it is difficult to watch top acquisitions sit for a season, the physical and mental development that occurs during that "redshirt" season, could prove very valuable to their career in the long-term.

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