THIS IS THE TIME of year to give thanks, and when it comes to the 76ers, there seems to be a bit to be thankful for. Just start by looking at this date, Nov. 25, the past two seasons. In 2014-15, the team was 0-14 on its way to 17 straight losses to begin the season. The next year, the Sixers were 0-16 and suffered two more losses before finally finding their first win of the season.
Wednesday, the Sixers dropped a double-overtime, winnable game against the Memphis Grizzlies by 104-99. The loss dropped them to 4-11 on the season. That record, while far better than the past two seasons, still might not excite many, but there is far more to it than the win-loss totals. Before Wednesday, the team had won four consecutive games at the Wells Fargo Center. The Sixers also won consecutive games for the first time since March 2015. Of the 11 losses, five have been by seven points or fewer. Also, the win was the sixth straight by the Grizzlies, one of the hottest teams in the NBA.
There are other things to be grateful for at this time of the year, but the biggest is a no-brainer - the play of center Joel Embiid. Entering the season, there couldn't have been any way the 7-2 center would have been able to equal the lofty expectations attached to him. So far he has, and then some.
If you sprinkled in a dose of reality in your expectations of Embiid, you would emphasize that he hadn't played an organized game of basketball since March 1, 2014. That was when he hurt his back while at the University of Kansas. Two surgeries on a fractured right foot followed and the long layoff began.
And while there is still a lot of rust to be shed, Embiid has shown glimpses of dominance in a game filled with versatility usually displayed by superstars.
He has shown a remarkable ability to shoot the ball from the outside, both midrange and deep. He has made 12 of his 26 three-point attempts, which makes defenders wary of backing off Embiid when he pops out to the arc. And if a defender closes on him too quicky, he is able to take a strong dribble or two and finish hard around the rim. His timing on defense is still a ways off, which shows just how dominating he may become. He has blocked 26 shots in his 11 games, intimidated many, many more and is an aggressive rebounder at both ends of the floor. He has been prone to some foul trouble, though he is still limited by a 24-minute restriction, but that is just a result his rustiness. While pieces have been brought in endlessly through this rebuild with varying success, Embiid has shown he is the centerpiece of it all. Scary to think the Sixers have barely scratched the surface of his talent. He really is the first definitive rebuilding piece the organization has obtained in the past four seasons.
Ben Simmons could be the next. Hard to be thankful when it concerns the top overall pick as he recovers from the fractured right foot he suffered on the last day of training camp, but appreciate that the LSU product has vowed to be back on the floor this season. By many accounts, Simmons was the best player in training camp. When he is ready to return, the hype surrounding this team will reach a level not seen since the days of Allen Iverson.
Be thankful that Dario Saric is a man of his word. He promised Brett Brown and Sam Hinkie he would come and play for the Sixers after two seasons of professional ball in Turkey, even though it would have been more lucrative for him to stay another year. Saric will struggle this season, but it is invaluable for him to learn the ways of the NBA. His game is what this team needs - tough and smart. He can be a rock-solid contributor in this league for a long time, a position the Sixers sorely needed to fill.
If Jerryd Bayless can get healthier and stay that way, the point-guard spot seems solid with him and Sergio Rodriguez. When Simmons returns, that position will need to be filled by a player who can be effective without the ball in his hands. Bayless, in particular, can certainly be that.
While the likes of Robert Covington, Hollis Thompson, Nik Stauskas and others might not seem to have improved at the rate fans would like, they have made strides in helping this team. For example, Jerami Grant improved enough to enable the team to trade him for Ersan Ilyasova, who has been a terrific contributor since arriving from Oklahoma City early this season.
Of course, the season of gift giving is quickly approaching, and there are many items on the lists of Sixers' fans. First and foremost probably would be improved play from Jahlil Okafor. The second-year center has struggled a bit this season, but much of it is because he is not yet in basketball shape. Still, his defense warrants some serious concern and prevents Brown from putting him on the floor at the same time as Embiid. When Okafor plays hard and fast, concerns fade. When he doesn't, his blemishes are glaring. The gift of full health and a strong motor would be a welcomed present for fans.
While 4-11 isn't satisfactory, when you factor in the other elements of this team right now, it's a heck of a lot better than the previous two seasons at this time.