Exciting talent and a new identity stand out in the Sixers’ start to the season

By: Jesse Larch, Sports Talk Philly editor 

The Sixers may have come up short in their season opener, but the team left fans with plenty to be excited about going forward. 

J.J. Redick said that he does not believe in moral victories, but with all due respect to J.J., this is the most potential a Sixers team has shown in the last five seasons – maybe longer. "This is the most encouraging open day that we have had since I've been here," said head coach Brett Brown

The biggest news out of the debut was probably Joel Embiid and his minutes restriction. All of the reports prior to the season opener were that Embiid would likely play less than 20 minutes. To the surprise of fans Embiid picked up where he left off last season and played 27 minutes, scoring 18 points with 13 rebounds. 

Embiid showed that his first season was no fluke, making an impact in all areas of the game as we have grown accustomed to him doing. 

Speaking of first seasons, we got to see the debuts of Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz on Wednesday night. Ben Simmons dazzled Sixers fans and national commentators alike with his tremendous athleticism and body control for someone of his size to go with extremely advanced court vision.

After seeing Simmons up close Wizards point guard John Wall said "he's one of those guys that, like a LeBron – gets the ball off the rim, he's pushing it and finding his teammates, he can finish at the rim."

Markelle Fultz did not open eyes like Embiid and Simmons did, but make no mistake, Markelle Fultz is still the player that worked his way to the first overall selection. Fultz scored 10 points in 17 minutes off of the bench and showcased his smooth dribbling and penetrating that makes him such a dynamic playmaker and scorer.

Fultz looked very reluctant to shoot jumpers as he deals with a shoulder injury but there should be little doubt that Fultz will adjust to the NBA and start turning heads like Embiid and Simmons have already done. His shooting ability was one of the traits that were so coveted by teams across the league, so it would be a surprise if that part of his game does not get ironed out.

The Sixers may need Fultz to develop sooner than later after Jerryd Bayless played very poorly for three quarters on Wednesday. Bayless is starting in the spot that Fultz would likely be in once he cracks the starting five. 

To Bayless's credit he salvaged  his performance in the fourth quarter with some timely three-point shooting to keep the Sixers close. When The Sixers had a golden opportunity to take a late lead in transition it was Bayless who had the killer turnover and gave it back to the Wizards who would ultimately win the game. 

Bayless just looked out of place with the starters, and will be better served as a reliable shooting option off of the bench. 

The most surprising performance in the opener came from Robert Covington. Covington was automatic from deep, going 7-of-11 from beyond the arc. Covington played his usual excellent defense finishing with five defensive rebounds (7 total), two blocks and a steal. 

Covington was the benefactor of much greater floor spacing in he opener. With Ben Simmons distributing, and three-point threats like J.J. Redick, Jerryd Bayless, and Joel Embiid sharing the floor, Covington was able to take advantage of many open looks, and also knocked down multiple shots with a hand in his face. 

Covington scored the most points by any Sixers player in a season opener since Allen Iverson in 2006 when the Answer scored 32. With the Process getting ready to take the leap into its next phase Covington is making sure to let the powers that be know that he is part of the past, and the future of the 76ers. 

Someone who was noticeably in a smaller role was Dario Saric. Saric played 22 minutes in the opener, only registering three points, three rebounds, two assists, and one block. Saric was expected to be a sixth man of the year candidate after his tremendous rookie season, but going 1-for-5 from the field is no way to do that. Maybe Saric is just adjusting to his new role, but the Sixers will need him to bring the same impact he had last season off the bench if this team is going to sustain success. 

Nik Stauskas and Justin Anderson both did not enter the game at all. Instead, Brett Brown played Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot for 18 minutes in the opener over the two senior players. TLC is not as polished a shooter as Stauskas and he is not as strong of a defender as Anderson but he is far more well-rounded than both. It will be interesting to see TLC continues to be the rotational wing or if Brown will experiment with Stauskas and Anderson in that spot in the coming games. 

Perhaps the most important takeaway from the Sixers opener is what J.J. Redick said after the game. When the media asked Redick about what positives he saw in the loss the 13-year veteran said "I don't like taking positives from losses."

This was incredibly refreshing and poignant for a fanbase that has sat through losses and grown accustomed to searching for silver linings. With this statement the Sixers new veteran leader set an identity for the 2017 Sixers, one that demands more than this team has been used to in a long time.

Redick has never missed the playoffs in any season in his long NBA career and now it is clear that he was a part of the culture on those teams that reached the playoffs each and every season. Redick is a great fit in Philadelphia because the team needed another reliable shooting option, but the reason he was signed was less for his skill – which is ample – and more for his attitude and leadership. Redick wasted no time establishing himself as a leader, and that strong veteran presence and winning mentality is what the Sixers have lacked most during the process. 

After one game there is a ton to feel good about. This is a team with generational talent and limitless potential, and it will be extremely fun to watch them grow into the team that Philadelphia has been waiting for ever since Sam Hinkie made his first promise to us. 

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