Who Are These Guys?
Who are the Sixers without Andrew Bynum?
by Doobie Okon | @doobieSLAM
I attended the Sixers-Bucks game on Monday night, all ready to write an effusive piece afterwards on what I thought was going to be a relatively easy Sixers victory.
Had Philly won, they would’ve improved to 5-2 without their star big man, Andrew Bynum, who the team now says will be out until at least mid-December. Instead, the Sixers failed to stop the dynamic Brandon Jennings-Monta Ellis backcourt, which scorched Philadelphia’s perimeter defense to the tune of 51 combined points on 20-41 field goals.
OK, I thought. The Sixers had just gotten back from a three-game road trip, which they swept impressively with great defense, timely shooting and fourth quarter lockdowns. Granted, Anthony Davis didn’t play for the Hornets, but Philly still held New Orleans to a franchise-low 62 points. Beating the Celtics in Boston, 106-100, was the best victory of the young season by far, and then the Sixers held off a talented Toronto team to bring out the road brooms.
So okay, Milwaukee got hot, and the Sixers still mounted a few substantial comebacks in that game but failed to get over the hump. Fine. Let it go. But then Wednesday night’s fiasco ensued against the friggin’ 0-8 Detroit Pistons, a team the Sixers should surely dominate even without Bynum.
Instead, Philly trailed by double-digits all night, looked awful doing so, and lost by 18 in front of a very disappointed crowd. Greg Monroe, with 19 points and 18 rebounds, exposed that gaping 7-foot, 285-pound hole in the middle.
This team, in a very Philly-like fashion, has gone to mush just like that.
The biggest problem without the big man is that the Sixers lack a true identity. Bynum’s presence will be the identity in itself if he indeed should ever play for this franchise, but without him, Doug Collins doesn’t really know what do. And it’s not his fault—this team, filled with plenty of brand new faces, is not a cohesive unit so far.
While Andre Iguodala’s departure was necessary, his defense is seriously missed right now. The current team is still a scrappy defensive squad, capable of shutting teams down, but what the Sixers lost with Iggy’s perimeter-hounding they were supposed to gain with Bynum’s interior D. And the problems from last year in that area are absolutely killing the team right now.
I like Spencer Hawes and Lavoy Allen, and think they will do wonders next to a star big man, but they aren’t delivering in the middle right now. The Sixers rank last in defensive rebounds allowed, at almost 35 per game, which is a huge reason they also sit near the basement of points scored at merely 88.0 points per contest. Combine the 28th-ranked field goal percentage (40.1%) with all those one-and-done possessions and you get an extremely futile half-court offense like last season.
With all those miserable numbers, you’d think Philly would be 0-8 right now, not 4-4. So what are the positives? Well, the most obvious is the development of Jrue Holiday. The team is now in his hands, and he is certainly delivering as his 18.3 points is good for sixth among point guards, and Holiday’s 8.8 assists ranks fourth in the League.
Those assists should be way higher if not for two things – the terrible team shooting percentage and Holiday’s 43 turnovers, which puts him at 5.4 per game. Ouch. But it’s to be expected, given that he has complete reigns of the offense now and that Holiday’s surely too talented and smart for his turnover rate to remain that high. I’ve said it for three years: this kid has All-Star potential, and now he’s finally showing it. But he definitely needs to polish his game if he really wants to be considered an elite point guard.
Another positive sign, albeit a weird one, is the Sixers three-point shooting (35.9%), which ranks 11th in the NBA. The off-season additions of Jason Richardson, Dorrell Wright and Nick Young should pay off as the season goes along. Throw in the fact that Jrue’s actually the team’s best three-point shooter, and this will be a reason that the Sixers can stay in games even if the rest of their offense is fleeting.
I could also talk about how Thaddeus Young is so insanely underrated it hurts, or how the offense can’t possibly stay so poor, or how Philadelphia has a favorable schedule for the next few weeks. But what’s really going to keep the Sixers afloat until Bynum returns? Their heart.
It’s cliche, but it’s true. And if you don’t have a superstar in this League, that’s all that’s going to get you by. Heart comes out mostly on defense, and like I said the Sixers are still a very scrappy team even without Iguodala and Bynum. It also means you fight until the very end when you’re down in the game. Even in that Milwaukee game, the Sixers made several runs to try and win. Three straight wins on the road is a sign of something good. Even the two earlier home-and-home losses to New York could be forgiven as the unbeaten Knicks are on fire and their shooting was unstoppable.
But heart seriously lacked in that dreadful effort against Detroit. Philly fans notice that kind of thing, and that above all else is what worries me more than shooting percentages or turnovers.
However, I have faith in those in charge. The ownership clearly wants to win. Doug Collins, for all of his flaws, cares about his players and his team as much as any other coach. He would never let his guys lose their heart, especially on the defensive side. Jrue Holiday is now the clear, vocal leader, and I trust him with the ball despite the TO rate.
It’s not going to be easy. Clearly, the Sixers are going to have to fight and claw for every victory until Bynum makes his debut, and who knows when that is going to be. Everybody keeps talking about who the Sixers are with Andrew Bynum, but now the Sixers have at least a couple months to figure out exactly who they are without him. And that might be just as important.