“The Process” has been a revolutionary concept that altered the way in which we examine team building. The approach likely cost Sam Hinkie his job and resulted in the league adopting changes to resting players and tweaking its lottery system. However player health has rarely been discussed as a driving force for the Process, though injuries, both assumed and unforeseen, helped fuel the 76ers approach.
Prior to Philadelphia’s involvement in the Dwight Howard trade, the Sixers were one of the healthiest in the league. Head athletic trainer Kevin Johnson helped guide the team to seven straight seasons below the league average for games lost to injury, including three top-2 finishes. However the addition of Andrew Bynum and Jason Richardson elevated Philly’s injury rates into unseen territory and help position the team in the 2013 Draft Lottery.
The Sixers would wind up with the 11th overall pick but a draft night trade helped Hinkie initiate his plan. The former general manager traded Jrue Holiday to New Orleans for the draft right to Nerlens Noel, despite the fact that Noel was still recovering from a torn ACL. Noel would go on to miss the entire season as injuries and poor play would again bolster the Sixers’ lottery odds.
The Sixers would take a similar approach in the 2014 Draft selecting Kansas’ Joel Embiid. Questions about his durability surfaced around the draft due to stress fractures in his back and foot. Hinkie assumed the risk anyway and Embiid would go on to miss two entire seasons before making his professional debut.
While Hinkie resigned during the 2015-16 season, last year was supposed to mark a step forward for the franchise. Sadly those plans were once again derailed by injury as rookie Ben Simmons suffered a fifth metatarsal fracture in training camp and would miss all 82 games following surgery. Embiid suffered a setback of his own, tearing the meniscus in his left knee. As a result, the Sixers once again found themselves atop the draft board and eventually completed a trade to land the top overall pick and guard Markelle Fultz.
Now the Sixers are poised to reap the benefits of years of frustration. Simmons and Embiid have both returned to the court as have the previously injured Robert Covington and Jahlil Okafor. The team isn’t completely devoid of injury with center Richaun Holmes expected to miss the start of the year with a wrist fracture. Maintaining and sustaining this good overall team health will surely be a challenge but would go a long way toward helping “the Process” become a product.