You look at the 76ers’ version of “The Big Three.”
There’s Joel Embiid, the towering best player on the team, and perhaps the most intriguing player in the NBA.
Then there’s a confident costar in Ben Simmons, who just might reinvent the point guard position.
And there’s multitalented youngster Markelle Fultz. While his time with the Sixers has been hampered by injuries, there’s a belief that he’ll be one of the league’s elite players in several seasons.
The acquisition of talented players like Embiid, Simmons and Fultz is the reason the Sixers sacrificed wins for the last 3½ seasons. The trio’s presence was also the reason the Sixers were able to sign veteran free agents J.J. Redick and Amir Johnson in July. And it’s also the reason the team has 14 nationally televised games, starting with Wednesday’s 7 p.m. season opener against the Washington Wizards at Capital One Arena.
However, there are the unknowns.
Embiid’s ability to stay healthy could be the biggest factor in determining whether the Sixers reach the playoffs. And we’ll have to find out if Simmons and Fultz can live up to the lofty expectations that come with being first overall picks.
Their ability to get along and check their egos could also determine the Sixers’ success. Right now, they all get along. But will that remain true if one of the trio’s individual goals takes a hit from being overshadowed by the others?
Right now, it is Embiid’s team, especially after he signed the five-year, $146.5 million extension.
“I think it starts with being close off the court,” Embiid said of chemistry. “Just having a great relationship and I think that’s where it starts.”
He thinks that will enable them to hold each other accountable and make everyone better. He’ll get on them for not knowing a play, and vice versa.
“I think we will be fine,” Embiid said, “but it’s a process, and you have to trust it. Trust the process.”
The process will heavily involve Embiid, who will play in Wednesday’s season opener despite missing Sunday’s practice because of an ankle injury. It will mark Embiid’s first regular-season game since Jan. 27, when he suffered a torn meniscus in his left knee. That caused him to play only 31 games during that 2016-17 season after missing the previous two seasons because of two navicular bone surgeries in his right foot.
Despite that, he’s the alpha dog of the team.
“In the time that he has been on the floor, we have seen him completely change the gym,” coach Brett Brown said. “He does it with just his physical presence. He does it with a defensive mind-set. And he does it with an offensive target that’s different than anything else that we have.”
Redick takes it a step further. The veteran guard and former first-round draft choice signed a one-year, $23 million deal in July partly because it provided an opportunity to play with Embiid.
“I played with three guys [Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and Dwight Howard] that I believe are going to be in the Hall of Fame,” Redick said. “Joel has a chance to be better than all those guys.
“So there’s a chance I can say 10 years from now, 15 years from now, Joel is the best player I ever played with. So that’s exciting.”
Simmons appears to be next in the Sixers pecking order.
Some of that has to do with his unique size for a point guard — 6-foot-10 and 230 pounds — his ability to get to the rim, and Fultz’s limited availability in the preseason. It was really Simmons, not Embiid, who was thought to be team’s franchise player heading into training camp in 2016. Simmons was expected to be the featured player, while Embiid, who dealt with a minutes restriction, was supposed to come along gradually.
But things changed on the final day of training camp when Simmons suffered what turned out to be a season-ending Jones fracture in his right foot. Embiid became a national story while Simmons watched from the sidelines.
Simmons showed in the preseason why the Sixers are confident he’ll make a solid transition from power forward to primary ball handler. Simmons and Los Angeles Lakers point guard Lonzo Ball are the favorites to win rookie of the year.
Just 21 years old, Simmons is sure to rack up statistics while distributing the ball to scoring threats Embiid and Redick.
Fultz missed three of the Sixers’ five preseason games. He sat out the last two with a sore right knee, and he missed the Oct. 6 game vs. the Boston Celtics with a sore right shoulder.
As a result, the 19-year-old will come off the bench early in the season.
“We’ve got to help him,” Embiid said. “Me, personally, I’ve got to help him to reach the potential that he has.”
When Fultz gets up to speed, the Sixers believe the versatile guard will be the perfect fit to pair with Simmons. That’s because he doesn’t need the ball in his hands to excel.
The Sixers are actually a perfect situation for him. Unlike most first overall picks, Fultz isn’t looked upon as the savior. He just wants him to fit with his teammates and be in attack mode on the court.
Unwarranted or not, he’ll draw comparisons to Simmons and other first overall picks.
“Everybody has a different cycle, you know,” said Bryan Colangelo, Sixers president of basketball operations. “And I’ve said it early and often that it’s almost unfair to put two No. 1 picks on the floor at the same time. It’s unfair to Coach Brown.
“But to some degree, it’s a unique situation to those individuals to be going through it, and probably for the rest of the team.”
However, it’s a situation that the Sixers sought out. They traded up two spots with the Boston Celtics to be able to pick Fultz in June’s draft.
Embiid, Simmons, and Fultz are the cornerstones of the franchise.
Come Wednesday, we’ll get our first regular-season glimpse of how it will work.