We continue previewing the Atlantic Division with the Philadelphia 76ers. You can read past previews here.

by Khalid Salaam

For you guys and girls who have already lost faith in your team (yeah Wizards) I will offer you a one-time, no-questions-asked opportunity to join the Sixers bandwagon.

Usually, I’m much less agreeable about such things, but hey, I’m in a giving mood. I will tell you this though: it’s a limited-time offer. Look, we just completed the best off-season in my 21 years of Sixer fandom. I mean, seriously, we’ve made more moves lately than Vladimir Putin.

Don’t come to me when we’re the cool media darlings. When we’re 14-5, and everyone is wondering how it happened for a team that looked irrelevant just 10 months ago, don’t come to me. Don’t start commenting on how fun we are to watch and wonder why we aren’t on national television more often.

By then it will be too late. I will slam the bandwagon door on your monkey-ass face. Wafflers, you are officially on the clock…

Now, for my season preview. I won’t bore you or myself with rehashed commentary about the changes we made over the summer. What I will do is tell you – position-by-position – why we will be a contender.

Starting Five

Point Guard – Andre Miller

He of the earthbound, but highly effective point guard play, had one of the best seasons of his career last year. He played in all 82 regular season games and averaged 17 points, 7 assists, 4 rebounds and 1.3 steals per contest. He also was one of the few Sixers who played well in their first round loss to Detroit. On the low he was the best player on the team and led its after-All-Star break surge. He will ensure the team plays efficiently by putting the ball in people’s hands where they are comfortable. He’s best in the half-court, but can play an uptempo game too. Now that we have the players for both styles, look for Miller to have a big year.

Shooting Guard – Andre Iguodala

Fans across the country look at Iguodala highlights and see him catching low-success percentage alley-oops and bang them down with ease. Or they hear sports analysts rave about his ability to lock down opponents (he’s good, but under stalwarts like Bruce Bowen and Tayshaun Prince) and how’s he’s such a versatile player. Sixers fans see you guys gulping down the Kool-Aid and we shake our heads in disgust. See the truth is, Dre Dala is a really talented dude with (at times) seemingly illogical athletic ability. He also exists within the team concept – rarely ever jacking-up bad shots or forcing his self upon the team.

But last year it was Miller who was the most consistent player. Iguodala hasn’t developed much of an offensive arsenal and remains at his most dangerous on the break. His handle is here and there, he doesn’t have a go-to move and at times I’ve seen second (and third!!) tier guys get points on him. Still, I’m glad he’s on my team. Here’s why.

As long as you have a good point guard who can get him good shots, he’s lethal. After Iverson, he’s bar-none the most athletic player we’ve had in the last decade and change. And he uses that athleticism to not only amp-up the fans but to intimidate his opponents. Additionally, when his teammates stay disciplined, meaning he doesn’t wear himself out having to play the weak side defensively, he has the ability to make other dudes disappear. He’s not the prototypical shooter you’d like your 2 guard to be, but he makes up for his deficiencies with intelligence (his court awareness especially). You can see it particularly on defense where he uses his IQ to anticipate steals. And on a team where he no longer has to be the main offensive force, this season Dre Dala will have his coming out party. He’ll challenge for an All-Star spot, mark my words.

Center – Sam Dalembert

I’m on some Dennis Green sh*t when it comes to Dalembert. He is who I thought he was. Seriously I know he’s never going to totally understand floor spacing and will always pick-up cheap reaching fouls when he shouldn’t. His low basketball IQ is especially befuddling to me since he’s a hardcore techie who tricked-out his own house with the latest gadgets. It is what it is; we’re all blessed in different ways so I’ll take the good with the bad. The thing is it’s hard to be consistently mad at a guy who you know is trying (sidebar: writing about Dalembert makes me think of Haiti. Just want to wish well all of those struggling with the effects of this year’s hurricane season). Still, he is a presence and his ability to run the floor, rebound and block shots makes him a solid contributor. Last year’s averages of 10 points, 10 rebounds and 2.3 blocks are good enough.

Small forward – Thaddeus Young

Sixer fans don’t want to talk about it outside of select company, but mention Young’s name and I guarantee you will get some variation of the following statement – He’s the future. The real reason the Sixers turned things around last year was Head Coach Maurice Cheek’s decision to insert Young Thad (that’s not a typo. That’s just what I call him) into the starting line-up. Dude just has natural ability and is a dominating rebounder, a relentless scorer and is willing to defend. Of course, he just turned 20 this summer – he’s still raw and turnover prone. Additionally, he still needs to work on his jumper but I’ll be surprised if he doesn’t reach stadium status. We’ve just scratched the surface of his talent. We know he won’t remain a secret for long so let me officially introduce him. NBA fans meet a future member of the 2012 Olympic Games. Yep I said it.

Power Forward – Elton Brand

We’ve haven’t has a legit PF since Charles left. So naturally I’m excited and still a little surprised. See, we NEVER get free-agents like this so when word broke, I was in disbelief. I never thought he’d leave L.A., so my hopes weren’t dashed. It was really a pleasant surprise and a power move for an organization that is done sitting on the sidelines. Brand’s career averages of 20 and 10 automatically add legitimacy to our front line. Brand not only improves our interior defense, but it helps our outside shooting (which was literally the worst in the League last year; how we still managed to make the postseason, I’ll never understand). Now Dre Dala will find getting to the hole easier, Miller has someone to pass into for easy shots, Thad will learn how to be an even better rebounder, etc. As far as I’m concerned the Exec. of the Year Award is Ed Stefanski’s to lose. After years of pain under the direction of Billy King (I guess King did his best, but his best just wasn’t good enough. Larry Brown co-signed him so we had some hope. He sure looked the part with his snappy suit game but we soon learned that it doesn’t matter if you put lipstick on a crappy GM, he’s still a crappy GM), it seems like another world with this regime. Of course, my fingers are crossed that Brand stays healthy. I know it was a risk, but sometimes you have to roll the dice. This was – and is – a phenomenal addition to our roster.

Bench
(Up there with the best in the L, by the way)

Lou Williams – I admit it. I slept on him hard. I just didn’t think he was ready coming out of the preps ranks straight into the NBA. This kid is good and is a lethal scorer averaging 11.5 points per in just over 23 minutes per game. The more he plays the better.

Reggie Evans – The beast on the boards that every team needs. This guy is straight physical energy. He’s like Wolverine or something.

Theo Ratliff – Good solid vet. Brought in to spell Dalembert and take up some of the frontcourt slack we lost when promising back-up Center Jason Smith blew out his ACL earlier in the summer.

Kareem Rush – As I mentioned, we had the worst 3-point shooting in the L last year. Rush will help on that at the very least.

Donyell Marshall – Another vet. Will help in the locker room and give us a few points from outside the arc every so often.

Royal Ivey – A hardcore defender. Will stick to other guards like gov’t peanut butter.

Marreese Speights – The team is big on the rookie big man from the U of Florida. He was killing in the summer leagues. Whether or not that transfers to the L I don’t know, but the Sixers seem to believe in him. Should provide back-up minutes when the injury bug hits.

Kevin Ollie – Dude seems like he’s been around long enough to have kids my age. Locker room presence mostly but will play sometimes as a back-up to Miller when Lou plays the 2. And that’s if he makes the team.

Willie Green – Does nothing great. Does nothing bad either. Undersized and streaky as hell, but talented and plays with a chip on his shoulder. Not a lock to make the team but as of now is on the roster. Would be surprised if he didn’t make the team, honestly.

52-30 is my prediction. A trip to the ECF is within reach too. So there you have it. I bet you can’t swagger like us.