30 Teams, 30 Days
Philadelphia 76ers Season Preview.
We continue previewing the Atlantic Division with the Philadelphia 76ers. You can read past previews here.
2008-09 Recap: Mo Cheeks fired after 9-14 start. Elton Brand lost for the season after February 3 with separated right shoulder. Finished 41-41, enough to secure a 6-seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. Lost to the Orlando Magic 4-2 in Round One.
Who’s gone: Andre Miller, Reggie Evans, Theo Ratliff, Donyell Marshall (yeah, he actually was there)
Who’s new: Jrue Holiday, Jason Kapono, Primoz Brezec
The logo and uniforms from the Sixers’ latest championship run are back. During a season that will see the demolition of the Spectrum, home of the 1983 NBA Champs, there will be a hungry group of talented youngsters looking to rekindle that successful spirit inside the Wachovia Center.
Yes, the city with a hoops history richer than Oprah is now twenty-six years removed from basketball greatness. Seven of the Sixers weren’t even born yet, including Andre Iguodala. Iggy comes into his sixth season as the high-flying star of the team. While management, coaching, and personnel have fluctuated since his arrival in 2004, he’s been a staple in the starting lineup, missing only six games. The acrobat out of the University of Arizona scores, rebounds, dishes, steals, and has found his touch in the clutch.
It will be the responsibility of Eddie Jordan to guide Iggy and the Sixers to the Promised Land. To sum up each of Jordan’s years in Washington: They were basically a .500 team that lost in the first-round of the playoffs. Sixers GM Ed Stefanski was an executive with the Nets when Jordan was an assistant coach there. Together they made consecutive trips to the NBA Finals. Jordan brings with him the Princeton offense which he hopes the team will rely on as infrequently as possible. The first priority is to get this group of young, versatile players to play feisty defense and score on-the-run. However, when Plan A fails Plan B will depend on Elton Brand. With his ability to sink the elbow J and create space for guys cutting to the basket, he is a perfect fit for Jordan’s offense. Remember, EB averages two blocks per game for his career and that defensive toughness will be critical when the Sixers decide to go with a small lineup.
With Brand at the 5, the promising lefty Thaddeus Young will likely see time alongside him in the frontcourt. Last year, as a regular starter, he scored 15.3 ppg, grabbed 5 rebounds and shot 50 percent from the field. He can knock down the three much like Antawn Jamison was able to for Jordan in D.C., so he’s a frustrating match-up for opponents.
The amount of time the Sixers play small depends on Samuel Dalembert. If you’re a gambler, a good one anyway, you’d probably bet against Sammy playing well. After seven seasons, the 7-foot Haitian still just doesn’t get it. I’m certain the new, complicated offense won’t help him. I’d love to say this is the year he strictly rebounds, blocks, and just does his job right but we all know that’s far from the truth. Some nights he’ll do just that, but others he’ll be in foul trouble early and often.
Due to Dalembert’s inconsistency, Marreese Speights will need to be reliable coming off the bench for rebounds and defense. He definitely possesses the tools on the offensive end, but his defensive productivity is more essential to the team’s success. Last season, when Philly went on their longest win-streak of the year (7 games) the rookie Speights was instrumental. In just over 20 minutes per contest during the stretch he posted 11.4 points on 58 percent field goal shooting along with 6 boards and nearly 2 blocks. The ability is certainly there for the second-year man; his desire will be better measured this season.
With Andre Miller off to Portland, Lou Williams gets the keys to the car. Some nights it’ll look like he’s driving a Lambo but other nights it will seem he’s in a Ferrari… during a blizzard. Young Lou just needs to keep that ratio favoring the Lamborghini-side and really just run the offense like a Nissan 370Z; fast and aggressive, yet modest. Confused? I’m sure you are because I am too. The thing is – nothing is as worse than an unnecessarily long metaphor besides a shooting guard running the point. But Williams knows the time is now to take the next step and in order to do that he’ll have to adjust his game. He is focused on becoming a strong defender and helping the offense operate efficiently. In an interview with former Philly PG and current NBATV Analyst Eric Snow, Williams said he understands those passionate, die-hard Philly fans. They hold their athletes to high standards (albeit irrational at times) and he wants to win their approval. Watching Allen Iverson win the fans’ hearts is something Williams witnessed first-hand and he has the same type of appeal.
The Sixers will have a strong bench this season. Aside from Speights, there is Jason Smith, a 7-footer that can hit from long-distance, rebound, and block shots. He’s coming off of a torn ACL which cost him all of last season but says he’s 100 percent. Willie Green is just a scorer (not a great one, just average) and not much else. Fans can only tolerate him coming in for short stints off the bench, and justifiably so. Jrue Holiday should get some quality playing time in his rookie year. A lot of people considered him a steal where the Sixers drafted him at number 17 overall. At 6’4” he can be a menacing defender, so hopefully he picks up the offense quickly so we see him on the court playing 15-20 minutes per game. Jason Kapono, whom I affectionately refer to as “Pono,” was brought in via free agency. He fills the sharp-shooter role off the bench as he nails nearly half of his bombs from behind the arc. Royal Ivey is back for his second year as a Sixer and he’s another lanky, athletic guard to be tossed into the mix. Rodney Carney returns to Philly after a one-year stint with the Timberwolves. He is enigmatic at best. And Primoz Brezec… he’s tall.
PREDICTION: Eddie Jordan is the right fit for Philadelphia. This team is built to run and that’s exactly what they’ll do. With a healthy Brand the Sixers can really be a dangerous team and a joy to watch. The optimist in me says that he WILL be healthy and average 19 and 10. Inevitably there will be struggles with the new offense and guys playing out of their natural positions. If they avoid injuries, I see them competing for the 4-seed in the East, ending up with the 5-seed, and prevailing in a Game 7 in Round One. At the very least, the new uniforms will be a huge improvement! ’09-10 Record: 45-37.