It has been a season of precocity in the National Basketball Association. Seemingly everywhere, promising players are blooming into fully fledged, All-NBA-quality dynamos. For those interested in the shape of basketball to come, the 2017–18 campaign offers no shortage of thrilling case studies, such as the Milwaukee Bucks’ putty-limbed Giannis Antetokounmpo and the New York Knicks’ gigantic and sweet-shooting Kristaps Porzingis. These young intrigues hope to guide their teams to playoff berths, but that goal seems secondary to a larger one: to speed the league along into its next era.
Even in this context, though, the Philadelphia 76ers stand apart. After a five-year stretch of historic (and purposeful) losing, they are suddenly thriving, on the strength of not one but two next-generation phenoms. The center Joel Embiid and the point guard Ben Simmons—who, prior to this season, had only played in a combined 31 professional games (all courtesy of Embiid)—have spurred the team to an 11–8 record, good for fifth place in the Eastern Conference, and toppling the upstart Washington Wizards (11–9) Wednesday at home would create yet more separation in the standings.
This fast-tracked success, marked by victories over solid playoff teams and back-and-forth contests against recent champions, has soothed win-starved Philadelphia fans. But the nascent superstars behind it have become the talk of the entire league. Stylish and full of potential, the Sixers are already the NBA’s most interesting team; they may soon be one of its best.