8:30 p.m. CDT, ESPN
The rebuilding process in sports, particularly the NBA, is a funny thing.
Rebuilding teams usually sacrifice immediate success over the course of a season or more in order to reach that success in the future. During this period, the expectations for the team are low — short-term achievement is not defined by wins and losses. Rather, it’s defined by the production of recently-acquired young franchise players.
The Minnesota Timberwolves and Philadelphia 76ers have both succumbed to the rebuilding process over the past few years — and both franchises were forced into the rebuilding process thanks to a superstar leaving town following the 2006-07 season.
Allen Iverson left the 76ers for the Denver Nuggets before the 2007-08 season. Since then, Philadelphia has actually made the playoffs four times. However, the Sixers have won just one playoff series and their regular season record (including 2017-18 thus far) since Iverson’s departure is 306-524.
Minnesota, meanwhile, has spent essentially the last decade in trial and error rebuilding mode after Kevin Garnett’s departure for the Boston Celtics after the 2006-07 season. Unlike the 76ers, the Timberwolves have not made the playoffs since their superstar left town. The Wolves’ record in the post-Garnett era currently sits at 267-564, in the same neighborhood as Philadelphia.
In the past three seasons, both Minnesota and Philadelphia’s rebuilding plans have begun to take shape in the form of a slew of talented draft picks. The Timberwolves acquired both the 2014-15 and 2015-16 NBA Rookies of the Year in Andrew Wiggins (via trade with Cleveland) and Karl-Anthony Towns (via the No. 1 overall pick). Additionally, the Wolves drafted high-flying wingman Zach LaVine and athletic point guard Kris Dunn in the past three years, which led to the trade for Jimmy Butler this summer.
Philadelphia’s newfound potential is similar in that it was found primarily with high draft picks. Joel Embiid was selected third overall in the 2014 draft and, though he has missed significant time due to injury, clearly possesses superstar potential after having played less than a full season of games in his career. The 76ers used their first overall pick in the 2016 draft to pick oversized point guard Ben Simmons, who is the runaway favorite for 2017-18 Rookie of the Year after missing all of 2016-17 with a foot injury.
Today, thanks to each franchises rebuilding periods and draft selections, the Timberwolves and 76ers have been burdened with high expectations in the near-future. They each boast the talent to contend with the best teams in the NBA, and it appears to be only a matter of time before it takes place.
The 2017-18 season is displaying a small step forward for each team thus far. Philadelphia is 13-13 and grasping at a tie for eighth place in the Eastern Conference after recording a winning percentage under 23 percent the past four seasons.
Minnesota is 16-11 and fourth in the Western Conference despite some clear issues on both sides of the ball. Nobody really knows if that’s a good thing yet, but what’s clear is that this Timberwolves team is vastly better than other Timberwolves teams in the recent past.
Both the Wolves and the Sixers are on track to become NBA powerhouses within the next few years. The rebuilding process, the draft picks, the revitalized fan bases — it’s all there. The next part is meeting, and maybe exceeding, those high expectations.
Tonight’s game is a glimpse into the future of the NBA. Buckle up. Grab your popcorn. Enjoy.
Expected Starting Lineups
PG - Ben Simmons
SG - JJ Redick
SF - Timothe-Luwawu-Carrabot
PF - Dario Saric
C - Joel Embiid
Injuries: Joel Embiid (back) and TJ McConnell (shoulder) are expected to be available for the 76ers. Robert Covington (lower back) is listed as questionable.
PG - Jeff Teague
SG - Jimmy Butler
SF - Andrew Wiggins
PF - Taj Gibson
C - Karl-Anthony Towns
Injuries: Nemanja Bjelica (foot) has been ruled OUT.
Factor / MIN / PHI
eFG% / 52.0 / 51.7
FTR / .295 / .269
TOV% / 14.3 / 16.9
OREB% / 25.5 / 27.2
It will be interesting to see how the Timberwolves plan to defend Ben Simmons and JJ Redick. Will Jeff Teague chase Redick all over the court while Jimmy Butler sizes up Simmons? That seems to be the most logical approach. Embiid is obviously a matchup nightmare in his own right and head coach Tom Thibodeau will likely try to put Taj Gibson on him as much as possible.
Minnesota is clicking just a bit more than Philadelphia is right now, so I’ll take the Wolves in a close one.
Wolves 110, 76ers 107