2011-2012 Philadelphia 76ers Mid-Season Evaluation
We are near the NBA’s midway point and this much is clear: The Sixers are a scrappy, fun to watch bunch.
They’re 20-14 and own a three game lead over the Jeremy Lin-led New York Knicks in the Atlantic Division. But are they worthy of championship talk, or even a deep playoff run? Or have they simply taken advantage of the league’s truncated, sorry excuse for a regular season?
They give opponents fits with their athleticism and defensive prowess as they rank in the top five in both opponent scoring average (tied for 1st) and opponent field goal percentage (4th). But is that enough to achieve anything meaningful this spring?
Let’s examine their key components:
Doug Collins – He has proven himself to be an outstanding communicator and leader of young men. His team is ready to play basketball virtually every night and he’s getting maximum output from several players. That’s no small task in a shortened season where players are missing games because they’re too tired. Still, the Sixers rely on whoever has the hot hand late in games instead of crisp execution of their plays. Furthermore, his backcourt rotation is a mess.
Jrue Holiday – He is the Sixers' most talented player and is good enough to impose his will every night, but it isn’t happening. Holiday has scored 14 points or less in nineteen games already. Is that because he’s trying too hard to please the head coach? Or, is it more because he’s channeling his inner Larry Hughes far too often? If it’s the latter (and I think it is) the Sixers need to deal him before his results equal his potential in the eyes of the league. He should be doing what Jeremy Lin is doing for the New York Knicks.
Evan Turner – The next in line in terms of talent and the main reason Holiday is expendable. Collins is asking him for effort and good decision-making and he’s delivering most nights. Turner has vastly improved from last year’s rookie season, when he looked overwhelmed. He still doesn’t shoot like he was expected, but he’s a solid defender and sees the floor very well. Guards with Turner’s size and playmaking skill are rare. He’s a player to build on. Collins needs to stop overthinking things and start him.
Andre Iguodala – He’s only 28, but it feels like he’s played here for fifteen years. Iguodala is finally an NBA All-Star (I know, I can’t believe it either), shooting three-pointers a little better than his career average, but is worse at the free throw line. Basically, he’s as good as he’s ever going to get, which is good enough if his lone responsibility is defense and highlight-reel finishes. Unfortunately, the Sixers need more. In fact, they’ve always needed more from Iguodala, but he’s always failed to deliver. If you flirt with someone long enough without delivering, they’ll eventually lose interest. Sixers fans have lost interest in Iguodala, and rightfully so. All offers for his services should be considered.
Lou Williams – He’s the quintessential one-dimensional player. He isn’t the most talented Sixer, but at the halfway point he is far and away the most valuable. His job is to score and he does that well. Williams leads the team in scoring and makes as many big shots as anybody. At 25 he’s no superstar, but he’s a useful player in this league and should be starting.
Elton Brand – He used to use his wide body to bully power forwards and centers, but age and injury have turned him into Tyrone Hill. Collins tries to manage his minutes but the Sixers need his toughness. Plus, he actually knows how to play basketball, which is precisely why he’s able to do what he’s doing on one good leg. He’s not the problem, but he isn’t part of the solution either.
Thaddeus Young – Gifted athletically, Young has the kind of bounce a veteran team like the Celtics, Lakers, Spurs and Mavericks could really use. On the Sixers however, his energy (while helpful), only serves to remind you of what’s missing. This is his fourth NBA campaign, so you can add him to the list of players who aren’t interested in specific improvement from season to season. Young looks like he’s gotten better, but if you really watch him, he’s only gotten better at what he already did well. He’s a forward but I have no idea what kind.
Spencer Hawes – Like Brand, Hawes has just about maxed out his ability. Earlier this season you could write 10 points and 10 rebounds next to his name, but injuries have stunted his progress. If Hawes could play 32+ minutes every night he would be really good, but that’s his problem. The Sixers need more from him and he just isn’t fit enough to give it to them. Chances are he likely never will be.
With all due respect to Jodie Meeks, Lavoy Allen, Tony Battie and Nikola Vucevic, they’re merely a part of the ensemble. They play as hard as those with leading roles, but they haven’t played well enough to warrant significant mention here.
So what does all this mean to the Sixers and their fans? From my perspective, they look a lot like the Duke Blue Devils, and Collins is coaching like Mike Krzyzewski.
If the Sixers were a 3-seed in a single elimination tournament they’d be a serious threat to win the championship. But the NBA playoffs are about beating the same team four times in ten days. It’s about great players or players who are playing great.
Because of effort and defense the Sixers will likely win between 37 and 40 games. They’ll advance to round two of the playoffs and no further because they lack consistency on offense.
Teams with great players overcome those inconsistencies with talent and sheer will. That’s why the Miami Heat, perhaps the most dysfunctional good team we’ve ever seen, advanced to the NBA finals last year. And it’s why they have a good chance to win the championship this season.
Teams don’t have to play the right way anymore; they simply have to defend and hang in there until a superstar or two takes over the game. Most nights, execution has nothing to do with winning.
Unfortunately, the Sixers, for all their grit and toughness, aren’t nearly good enough to advance beyond the Elite 8.
Earl Myers is a freelance writer from the Philadelphia area. He closely follows North America's four major sports leagues but just about any sporting event gets his attention. His goal is to provoke a little thought in his readers.
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Photo of Doug Collins from foxsports.com
Photo of Sixers-Knicks game from 560wgan.com