After a summer of intermittently previewing NBA teams, it's now time for something completely different: a preview of the Philadelphia 76ers! While I look forward to the midseason articles asking if the Sixers could beat the Alabama football team, or something like that, the Sixers' emulation of the 2012 Bobcats may be too depressing to focus on once the season begins. That may be too harsh; the team's long term future appears bright thanks to some potential stars on the roster and in the front office, and the present won't be quite as painful as some other recent trainwrecks.
The biggest advantage Philadelphia has over those aforementioned Bobcats is the presence of a borderline All-Star. While that Charlotte team didn't have a single average player on the roster, and tripled their win total once Kemba Walker hit that threshold, Thaddeus Young has become a very effective two way player. Mike Prada recently wrote about his preternaturally crafty offensive game, showcasing the cuts and activity that allow Young to create space without an effective jump shot. Young is also a very good defender, capable of covering multiple positions, helping intelligently, and forcing a surprising amount of turnovers. The Sixers' raw on/off numbers suggest Young's importance, as they suffered a much bigger drop off when he went to the bench than when any other player left the game.
Players like Young are often thought of as accessories. They are good in their own way, and they can help push a team over the top, but they are not the driving force behind a team's success. To succeed, a team needs an engine, and Philadelphia's engine absconded to the house of the rising sun. I do not completely agree with these sentiments. I think it is perfectly possible to build a competitive NBA team without a high usage "engine". There are plenty of capable shot creators in the NBA; certainly there are more of those than versatile players who are above average on each side of the ball. That being said, Young will not be taking 20 shots a game, and none of the team's perimeter shot creators are even dependably "capable".
Evan Turner has been getting a lot of ink as the team's primary scoring option. I don't want to be cruel, but if you are basing your hopes on the shot creation of a player that has averaged a .479 TS% and 2.0 FTA for his career, you don't really have an offense as much as a series of prayers that would shame a monastery. The Sixers will be paying the fourth year rookie nearly 6.7 million a year as they hope that increased offensive responsibility will cause him to take a leap or turn into an attractive trading chip before he reaches restricted free agency this summer despite all of the available evidence suggesting that he does not have the athleticism to consistently finish inside or become a plus defender. We feel your pain, Hinkie.
The final member of Philadelphia's "Big Three", the melted imitation cheese to Thaddeus Young's chopped steak and Evan Turner's overly crusty hoagie, is Spencer Hawes. I don't particularly like Spencer Hawes. Some of it is rational, some of it is not. He never gets to the line, is often far too passive for someone his size, and often looks hopeless defending in space. On the other hand, he can space the floor a little bit, which means he can space the floor a lot more than just about anyone else on the roster, is a better rebounder and post defender than you might think, and is a very good passer. A lineup of Hawes, Young, and three shooters could be very effective running through Hawes in the high post. It's a pity the Sixers don't have any shooters.
Despite the ubiquity of capable backup point guards bouncing around Europe and the NBA who could be had for near the minimum salary, the Sixers will go into the season with Michael Carter-Williams and Tony Wroten at point guard. Even Carter-Williams defenders acknowledge that he's not quite ready, while his detractors are skeptical he'll be able to crack 30% from the floor. MCW's pro prospects are probably the biggest difference between my own lying eyes and VJL110's predictions. He racked up ancillary stats at Syracuse, but concerns about his scoring ability and the legitimacy of those gaudy defensive stats make me doubtful he'll ever be more than a useful reserve. Tony Wroten, meanwhile, is the answer to the question "what if Corey Brewer was a point guard?"
While I have already put more time into writing this preview than the Sixers have put into winning games this year, they have a variety of intriguing youngsters. The cream of the crop is Nerlens Noel. I still can't figure out why Noel wasn't the #1 pick, but he gives Philadelphia a future DPOY candidate to pair with Young in their frontcourt of the future. (Young will still be a very good player, and under a very reasonable contract, in 2016. I don't think they trade him unless they get blown away by an offer.) The athletic Arnett Moultrie, who spent most of last season in Doug Collins' doghouse to the consternation of Doug Collins, among others, will get a chance to show what he can do. German big man Tim Ohlbrecht, who impressed at RGV last year, will get a shot at backing up Spencer Hawes.
Lavoy Allen had a somewhat disappointing sophomore season, but the solid defender provides hustle and an occasional put back. Kwame Brown and Jason Richardson will compete to be the team's least impactful player; Richardson is injured and Kwame continues to be Kwame. Royce White also followed Sam Hinkie to Philadelphia, a throw-in in a deal that gave the Sixers the rights to Turkish big man Furkan Aldemir, an undersized center who is an excellent rebounder. Royce is probably already using his last chance as a NBA player. Unfortunately for fans of hustle and statistical projection systems, second round draft pick and rebounding machine Arsalan Kazemi appears to be headed to Europe instead of Philadelphia.
A more intriguing Houston refugee, James Anderson showed some promise in very limited minutes last year, as can be seen by the following table.
If Anderson can produce similarly this year, he'll be starting for Philadelphia very shortly. Philadelphia also has a lot of undrafted rookies hanging around, ranging from "mildly intriguing" (Rodney Williams, Khalif Wyatt) to "even I don't know who the hell that is" (Mac Koshwal).
The final reasons for optimism in Philadelphia are Sam Hinkie and Brett Brown. The former Rockets executive has shown that he is willing to make bold moves and plan for the future, and it is not unreasonable to think that the Sixers will now benefit from many principles and statistical research the Rockets have developed over the past decade. Meanwhile, Spurs coaches get the benefit of the doubt until proven otherwise, unfair as that might be. With a few centerpieces to build around (Young, Noel), a roster filled with intriguing potential role players, and two high picks in next year's draft, Philadelphia is poised for quick turn around. It just won't be pretty until they bring in or develop some competent perimeter players.
Thanks to Sham Sports for salary info.