I’ll admit it, I was worried for a little bit there. I always held firm that I thought we’d have NBA basketball this season, but around mid-November the outlook was pretty grim. If you made me bet my worldly posessions, I still would have bet that basketball would happen, but I’d have been pretty nervous about it. Especially to lose my Jrue Holiday bank.
Lockout, smockout, none of that matters, because on Sunday, the 2011-12 NBA (mostly 2012) season begins, and I’ll officially have something to do this winter. If “watching lots of basketball” counts as “something to do.”
I love watching pretty much any NBA basketball game (even a random Golden State vs. Utah game on League Pass), but I watch every Sixers game. Last season, that was a pretty enjoyable experience. A lot of times it was a very enjoyable experience, and a welcome change. It wasn’t a championship year, but there was growth, and I was proud to be a Sixers fan. They weren’t perfect, but they’re ours.
But with improvement and growth comes expectation, and that’s where we are, expecting something. The question is, “what can we expect?”
The bar is set higher, for the coach, for the fans, and for the rest of the league. The Sixers will not be sneaking up on anyone this year. Michael Wilbon even predicted that they’d win the Atlantic Division, and many people think they’ll fall in the 4-5 seed range come playoff time.
So what’s going to happen this season? Well your guess is as good as mine (maybe better). That said, here’s mine:
There are many people who have suggested the best thing for the Sixers to do this season would be to a) trade Andre Iguodala and b) either trade or amnesty Elton Brand. By doing this you would a) clear cap space (if not now then at the end of the season and b) give the younger players room to grow. You would also a) probably make the team significantly worse and then b) get a better draft pick in a deep draft.
I don’t discount that this is an option and a legitimate one, however, it’s not one I agree with. Not now anyway. I am behind what the Sixers want to try to accomplish this season.
The Sixers want to create a good team, with young, promising players who show growth. They want to create an atomosphere that a big time free-agent would want to be a part of, or a big time player would be willing to sign an extention in after a trade. This is the plan, and I’m behind it.
I think it’s worth trying to see if Evan Turner and Iguodala can play together productively. I want to see if Turner can play shooting guard while Iguodala plays small forward and Jrue plays the point. It’s worth a shot. This whole path thing comes down to whether you believe that this is worth a shot. I do, because Andre Iguodala is very good, even if he’s not the kind of player they sold you.
Andre Iguodala is a very good basketball player. He’s probably the best wing defender in the NBA, and offensively is well rounded. He isn’t a dominant scorer, but he’s never going to be, and it’s not worth discussing why you want him to be. No matter how many times you talk about his contract or why he doesn’t score 20+ a game, it doesn’t change who he is. Who he is, is a very good basketball player. I don’t think you’re going to get value in a trade, and I don’t want to trade him for cap space. Not without giving this a try first.
If you’re following this plan, it makes sense for Elton Brand to be on the team this year. You don’t have a power forward behind him who you’re dying to give minutes to, and the Sixers are without question a worse team without Brand in the lineup (he led the team in scoring and rebounding last year). In addition to his steady play on the court, he’s clearly taken on the “veteran leader” role on the team. If next year, Brand becomes the guy you amnesty to sign a big free-agent, or the expiring contract you trade for a big time player, then that’s what you do. But moving him this year doesn’t help you at all. Plus, I love watching that mid-range jumper. Dude, it never even touches the rim.
The final reason for continuing down this path is that Doug Collins is your coach. If he’s going to be your guy, then I just don’t think taking that “step back” is a path that’s going to be condusive to his style. The year to do that would have been last year. Collins has historically improved teams for the first two seasons he coached (we won’t talk about what generally happens the third year). If you make the team worse this year for the sake of youth and trade away two of his favorites in the process, I think Collins’ head explodes.
Not to mention, I’m pretty sure the new Sixers owners don’t want to suck the first year. Just a guess. After seeing what rebuilding looks like in Washington DC, I can’t imagine that’s a product they’re going to want to market. With or without Hip Hop. Basketball that sucks looks like it sucks even under awesome lights, for cheap tickets.
So that said; what happens this year? Well, I guess I’m in a similar boat as everyone else.
Record And Playoff Position
I’m going to go ahead and say the Sixers finish with a 37-29 record (I originally had 36-30 until @danrosz called me names on Twitter), and put themselves in a position to finish the year solidly around the 5th seed, with an opportunity to grab the 4th and home court for the first round.
This season is pretty hard to predict, because of the cramped schedule. Conventional wisdom has the Sixers young legs and consistency being of value. I see the logic in it. I don’t know if that’s how it’ll work out, but I definitely buy into the logic. The Sixers have an opportunity for a quick start, and they need to take it to have that shot at the #4 or #5 seed.
As I mentioned, there have been a few people who have predicted the Sixers could win the Atlantic Division. Again, that pesky logic tells us that the Celtics will just try to coast through the regular season (because they’re old), and the Knicks will take a while to gel (because of the new players). Both fair conclusions to jump to, but be aware, it is jumping. It’s as possible that the Sixers finish third in the Atlantic as it is first.
Before last season, my guess was that Jrue Holiday had a chance to be very good, but probably shouldn’t be the best player on a very good team if you want to contend. That ceiling was echoed by many. I’ve changed my mind though, and I think the ceiling is higher. Jrue Holiday can be one of the very best point guards in the NBA. I truly believe we’ve underestimated his ceiling.
One of the reasons Jrue Holiday can be so great, is the same reason that people discount him; he plays in the pocket. Holiday doesn’t run as fast as he can to get from point A to point B. Remember in that first pre-season game when Wall went coast to coast, outrunning everyone and dunking the ball? Well the Sixers were up by 40 at that point, a lot of it was because of Holiday. He doesn’t shoot too much (maybe not enough) and he’s not really flashy. But he is really, really good at basketball. He’s got fantastic basketball sense. He’s able to go really, really fast, but he waits until he’s lulled the opposing defender to sleep to do it. By the time he’s kicked it into that extra gear, he’s already by you or the three is already in the air. He’s shown the ability to take and make big shots at big spots.
Jrue Holiday was much better in year two than he was in year one, and he’s going to be much better in year three than he was in year two. And here’s the scary part; he will probably get better again in year four. Jrue Holiday is going to be really, really good and Philadelphia is going to love watching him play.
That step that Holiday took in year two, I think Evan Turner will take in his year two as well. With a quicker, smoother (although still imperfect) jump shot, more confidence and a better sense of who he needs to be, Turner’s got chance to surprise a lot of people this season. You can already see it. Everything about his game that we’ve seen so far this year is more deliberate.
And Evan Turner’s just got it. He wants to win and he wants to kill the other team and he wants to be the guy to hold the sword. It’s great to have talent, but there are plenty of guys with all the talent in the world who don’t have it. Turner showed it in college, and we saw flashes of it during the series against Miami. I even remember a the season opener, when he did this to Dwyane Wade, tweeting that “Evan Turner is going to be just fine.”
Whether he starts or not, we’re going to see a lot of good things from Turner this year.
Andre Iguodala just seems different now. Maybe it’s a judgment based on not enough information, but he seems more at ease. I mean, he came to the End Of Lockout party and took pictures with #FreeBoosie shirts. He just seems more confident. Maybe the new owners and the march to change mascots and lower ticket prices has taken some of the weight off of his sholders. Maybe having the same coach two years in a row, and a coach who knows what Iguodala does best has added confidence. Maybe even the thought that “hey, maybe Jrue or Evan are really ok to take that last shot” is something he wants, because he’s sick of getting blamed for not hitting those shots. It’s fun to be the guy they put on the posters and the commercials, but it’s a lot of pressure too. Maybe he’s more relaxed because this role suits him better. You have to imagine a more relaxed, healthier, more confident Iguodala gives us a better Iguodala. I’m hoping the “keep Iguodala” experiment works.
Elton Brand at some point I imagine is no longer going to be a Sixer. I guess somehow it could work out that he plays out his contract here and signs for significantly less, but I doubt that. I’m sad about that, because he’s really turned it around and become a player I love watching. Brand works hard, plays well, and brings it every night. A player who was once a symbol in this town of a “bad contract” has become a leader and a stand-up guy, he’s really turned it around. I think we’ll see more out of Brand that we saw last year, which is very good. H
Lou Williams has finally found the role that suits him best. Lou Williams is a sixth man. He’s good at being a sixth man. He’ll still take some shots that will make you go “ugh,” but let’s hope he makes enough of them to make us forget the ones he misses. Playing with Turner will help, because you’ve got to assume Turner will be the one getting us into the offense, and assuming more of the point guard type duties. Although his true shooting percentage told a better story than his 40% from the field last season, I’d still love to see that around 44%-45%.
Thaddeus Young looks like he’s found the role that suits him best too, also a sixth (seventh?) man. With the contract situation behind him, let’s hope he can now start to improve certain individual skills like his jump shot. Thaddeus Young with a mid-range jump shot is going to be a nightmare to guard. He’ll be worth every penny of that new contract, and depending on the future situation at center, I could see him starting at the power forward spot if Brand isn’t here next year.
Spencer Hawes … let’s just hope he stays in shape, gets to the line a little more (a lot more), and doesn’t take any three point shots. If he does those things, I’ll deal with his complaining about the refs and right-wing Twitter nonsense. I’m not his biggest advocate, but at his best, he’ll do for now.
Jodie Meeks, just continue being Jodie Meeks. I don’t think he’s ever going to be very good at the things he isn’t good at now. To me, Meeks becomes better by becoming even better at the things he’s good at … well the thing he’s good at. Shooting three point shots. He was streaky and good last year, but I’d love to see him become a killer.
The other guys, Vucevic, Brackins, et al … I’ve got no idea. That Brackins three-point shot looked pretty killer during that first Washington game. If there’s a chance, I’d love to see more of it.
I see it shaking out something like this:
3. New York
8. Orlando (falls apart post-Dwight, but has enough wins to keep them in the playoffs)
And I’ll say the young, upstart, Sixers beat Boston in the first round, and lose in the second round. It’s kind of hard to say the Sixers can definitely win, or definitely not win the first round without knowing who they play. So few games separated 1-2-3 and then so few separated 5-6-7-8 last year, that’s a real toss up.
I think the Holiday/Turner/Iguodala thing works at and the Sixers try to figure out a way to make a move for a bigger name in the offseason. I’m not sure who, or if it’ll work, but I believe they’ll try.
I also don’t think anyone is getting past Miami. Heard that before right? Well, I mean, no one in the conference got past them last year, and I think they’ll be better this year than last.
For the first time in a long time, we’ve got hope, and there’s a little bit of a buzz in town about Sixers basketball. It’s good to see.
I hope to see you at the games this year. Last year was fun, but this year can be even more fun. And you don’t have to worry about everyone being bombed by the time the game starts like Phillies or Eagles games.
If you want tickets, my season ticket guy is Kevin, and you can find him on Twitter @76ersTixRep. He’s a good dude.