Tonight, the Utah Jazz (19-13) welcome the Philadelphia 76ers (7-23) to The Viv. These are two franchises that have seen drastically different rebuilds over the past handful of years. The Sixers’ approach has been simple: Be terrible and get a lot of high draft picks until you find a superstar. The approach of the Jazz has been much more complicated, but we’ll get to that later.
Trust the Process (of losing)
From the beginning of the 2013 season until now, the 76ers have won 54 games. Total. Yikes. That’s a record of 54-222. Over that span, they’ve drafted at #3 (Joel Embiid), #3 (Jahlil Okafor) and #1 (Ben Simmons). For comparison, at the Jazz’ worst in their rebuild, they finished with a record of 25-57 and drafted Dante Exum at #5.
Philadelphia’s process won’t be on full display tonight as it was announced yesterday that Joel “The Process” Embiid will be out for a scheduled rest as he continues to work his way back from the myriad of maladies that have plagued him since he was drafted at #3 in 2014. Ben Simmons, the Sixers’ #1 pick from this spring, also broke his foot in preseason and has yet to play a minute of NBA regulation time. There’s a light at the end of the tunnel for Philly, but it’s still a ways off. They’ve got major pieces for a contender, but they still have to build a team and asking your cornerstone pieces to live through several seasons of fewer than 20 wins takes a toll.
Don’t Skip Steps (Whatever that means)
Now, consider the (when fully healthy) starting five of the Utah Jazz:
George Hill - Acquired via trade with Indiana Pacers
Rodney Hood - Drafted with #23 pick of the 2014 draft, acquired via trade with Golden State Warriors
Gordon Hayward - Drafted with #9 pick of the 2010 draft, acquired via trade with New York Knicks
Derrick Favors - Acquired via trade with New Jersey Nets
Rudy Gobert - Drafted with #27 pick of the 2013 draft, acquired via trade with Denver Nuggets
None of the starters were drafted with picks originally owned by the Utah Jazz. Nor were they all top picks. In fact, the top pick of the bunch was Favors, drafted #3 by the Nets in 2010. This roster has been built largely with the wheeling and dealing of Dennis Lindsey and the Utah front office.
These are players that have helped produce one of only five teams currently with a top-10 net rating on both offense and defense. The Jazz are #8 in offensive rating and #4 in defensive rating, and 6 games over .500. Not to mention the full starting lineup has played only 12 minutes together thus far this season, though all of the starters will hopefully be back in action tonight.
It’s a common belief in NBA fan circles that in order to build a championship contender, you have to either bottom out to draft a star at the top of the draft or snag one in free agency. The Sixers are trusting the process of being awful until you have the players to be good. It just may have worked, considering Embiid’s play this season as a rookie and the fact that they have a top pick waiting in the wings. The Jazz, on the other hand, are showing that with good management and above-average drafting throughout the first round of the draft, you can build an elite team without being a perennial bottom-3 team.