Former Detroit Pistons coach Doug Collins sure knows how to get his teams in line quickly. The team went from 27 wins under Eddie Jordan in 2009-10 to a .500 record in Collins first year and a 35-31 record in year two. They do this behind a meticulous, aggressive brand of defense. Oh yeah, and they just added one of the best young centers (but not necessarily most beloved) centers in the game.
You have to give the Sixers credit -- they were bold this offseason. The team traded away its best player in Andre Iguodola, amnestied an effective Elton Brand, and let its best guard off the bench walk in free agency. What they got in return was certainly nothing to sneeze at -- one of the most effective young centers in the NBA in Andrew Bynum and an effective veteran scorer in Michigan State alum Jason Richardson.
My question is, did they really need such a radical overhaul?
Philadelphia had the third-ranked defense in the NBA last season thanks in large part to Iguodola, Vucevic and even Brand. Iguodola seems to have been on the trading block for the past several seasons because Phillly was frustrated he wasn't living up to his potential and the team wasn't winning. Well, last season might have been his best season and the team was winning, even going into the second round of the playoffs.
They started strong and sputtered to a 35-31 finish, but much of that could be chalked up to bad luck. They underplayed their expected record by eight wins. And 43 wins would have given them the fourth-best record in the NBA. But maybe they were right to do something radical. After all, it's not really about making a deep run in the playoffs, it's all about a simple question -- can my team beat the Miami Heat?
I'd wager the answer after last season was no and the answer after their recent transformation? ..... maybe.
Let's examine how this new squad can work. Bynum is easily a 20-10 candidate, especially now that he is going to be the primary offensive weapon. And he will still be just 25 years old when the season begins. He also pairs nicely with Spencer Hawes, who had a breakout season a year ago. Hawes can play the high post ("play the Pau Gasol role" as coach Collins put it), hit jumpers and cut to the rim. Richardson provides a steady, reliable (if overpaid) scoring option. Evan Turner has been an enigma so far in his young career, but at least he is an enigma that can play solid defense. And Thaddeus Young remains one of the most dynamic, effective bench weapons in the NBA
Where I see problems is in roster construction. The team boasts three solid centers in Bynum, Hawes and Kwame Brown. But none of those players is especially suited to defend the power forward position and the bench consists of Young, Lavoy Allen and rookie Arnett Moutrie. And of course with Bynum you always have to worry about injuries.
He played 60 games in the strike-shortened season last year and that was good enough to be the third-most games he'd played in a season in his seven-year career.
But guard depth is even more concerning. Lead guard Jrue Holiday is not only going to have to step up his game but he is going to be playing without a safety net. Behind Holiday is journeyman Royal Ivey and undrafted rookie Maalik Wayns. And behind Richardson the Sixers have only Nick Young. That is the same Nick Young who is simply not good at the game of basketball. The team inexplicably waived Brand for the chance to sign Young. A move that never made sense but has been forgotten in the excitement of the eventual Bynum-Iguodola-Richardson mega-deal.
The Sixers could conceivably be the second-best team in the Eastern Conference. They could also be even worse than last year as any injury could completely wreck its unbalanced roster. Bynum and Hawes have injury histories and Richardson isn't a young man anymore. And with a lack of depth the team can't afford any key pieces to miss a significant amount of time. In the end the Sixers will probably see a slight decline in their defensive effectiveness but a big uptick in their ability to put the ball in the basket. A worthy tradeoff. But that is, of course, health dependent.
I've read a lot of Sixers commentary about how they will be a matchup nightmare because of their size but I think the deciding factor will be how effectively they can go small -- a necessity when trying to eclipse the Heat. If the team can put either Bynum or Hawes on the floor with Young, Turner, Richardson and Holiday and still play the kind of defense they pride themselves on then they have a shot.
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