The Philadelphia 76ers are about ready to kick off the 2009-10 campaign Wednesday night in Orlando. The Sixers, under new head coach Eddie Jordan, started the preseason 4-0 and finished with a 5-3 record. Jordan has said that he is pleased so far with what he has seen, but we won’t truly know how good they are until the regular season begins. The team has made their final roster decisions, so let’s go through each position to see who will be playing for the Sixers this season.
Starter: Lou Williams
This will be by far the the biggest question for the Sixers this season. The loss of veteran point guard Andre Miller to free agency has caused a lot of questions among critics as to whether or not the Sixers will be able to fill that spot capable of producing the same numbers as Miller. Rather than put all the burden on one player, the Sixers will most likely rotate in and out different players to play point guard in the beginning of the season. If one player appears to stand out from the rest, look for that man to become the full time starter. However, for now, Lou Williams will get the start and see the most playing time at point guard. This will be Williams’ first season as a starter, and depending on his play, we’ll see if he remains there throughout the duration of the year. Williams was very effective coming off the bench for the Sixers last season, averaging nearly 13 points per game. He has also done well so far this preseason. I am glad to see Lou get the opportunity to start after putting in several years coming off the bench. I expect him to have no trouble scoring, forcing turnovers, or hitting clutch free throws with the game on the line. What concerns me about Williams is his poor shooting percentage, especially from beyond the arc, as well as his ability to take care off the basketball. He also will probably struggle early on in running the offense, including the fast-break which Andre Miller ran so well, until he gets comfortable playing over 30 minutes every night. It will be a struggle for Lou early on, but hopefully he will be a quick learner and adapt to the change from being a reserve to an every day starter as soon as possible.
Reserve: Jrue Holiday
Backing up Williams, will be 1st round draft pick Jrue Holiday. While the team has high hopes for Holiday down the road, this will probably be a building year for the Sixers top draft choice. Holiday is still very raw, having only played one year at UCLA before leaving for the NBA. He was regarded as the best high school player in the country in 2008, but struggled to live up to the hype last season at UCLA, having a very mediocre year for a very mediocre Bruin team. The Sixers love his potential to dominate, but still realized he is a work in progress. It may take a couple seasons before Holiday is able to play to his potential. Until then, he will serve as a backup seeing limited time in the beginning of the season. Depending on how well he plays, Holiday could see his minutes increase as the season progresses.
Starter: Andre Iguodala
No surprise here as Andre Iguodala begins his sixth season with the 76ers. The Sixers will turn to Iguodala to provide the majority of their points every game. Iguodala has usually been an 18-19 points per game player, a number the Sixers would like to see increase this season. If Iguodala ever wants to be among the elite of the NBA guards, he will need to improve both his 3 point shooting and free throw percentage. Iguodala averaged barely over 30% from beyond the arc last season. This has to improve as the team cannot continue to get poor three point shooting from its backcourt. In addition, he was inconsistent from the free-throw line all year, including the playoffs. He shot 72% from the free throw line, about 3% fewer than his career average. As the Sixers go-to player, Iguodala needs to be able to hit free throws to close out games. Recall all the games last year that the Sixers lost on a buzzer beater. Buzzer beaters usually occur because a team failed to close out the game at the free throw line. Hopefully Iguodala will have improved since last season, which should result in him averaging over 20 points per game, something the Sixers have lacked from one player since the departure of Allen Iverson. One thing we should not have to worry about are Iguodala’s defensive abilities. He continues to improve each season, and should draw the opposing team’s top perimeter threat each game.
Reserve: Willie Green
Willie Green will be a solid backup for Iguodala. He should see between 15-20 minutes per game unless he struggles, which could allow for Jason Kapono to get more playing time. Green has struggled in the past when he was chosen to start games, but has usually excelled when coming off the bench. Green can be inconsistent in terms of his scoring production, but can be counted on to take care of the basketball when he is in the game. He is, however, a major defensive liability, so it is critical that Iguodala stays out of foul trouble so that Green will not have to play for a large portion of the game.
Reserve: Royal Ivey
Ivey should see limited time off the bench for the second straight season. He can provide a little offense but is of little value beyond 10 or more minutes of playing time.
Starter: Thaddeus Young
Thaddeus Young is the player I expect to improve the most from last season. He is entering his third season in the NBA, and has gotten better each year thus far. Now it is time for him to the next great leap forward. He shoots a great overall field goal percentage (49.5 % last season), but I would like to see him get more involved with the offense. Despite averaging over 15 points per game, the former Georgia Tech star would often take fewer than ten shots per game. Getting him more involved in essential for the Sixers, as he is also the best 3 point shooter (34%) of their five starters. The best thing that Thad has going for him is that he is only 21 years old. He hasn’t even come near to reaching his prime. This gives all of us great optimism that he will continue to progress and become a great NBA player.
Reserve: Jason Kapono
Kapono will see a lot of time off the bench this season, mainly in place of Young. The Sixers’ newest acquisition should help the team improve from its league-worst ranking in 3 point shooting. Kapono is a pure 3 point shooter, and he won’t hesitate to take plenty of shots from beyond the arc. This can really add a new dimension to an offense which is mainly known for its fast-break abilities.
Reserve: Rodney Carney
Carney returns to the Sixers looking to get his NBA career back on track. He is good for eating up some minutes while grabbing some rebounds and providing offense from down low and beyond the arc. He is currently nursing a strained hamstring, which will limit his minutes for the first few weeks of the season. But Coach Jordan has liked what he’s seen from Carney and says he will see significant playing time this season.
Starter: Elton Brand
Elton Brand is healthy (for now) and ready to make an impact on this Sixers team. He was signed last season to give the Sixers a dominant low presence that they have lacked for many years now. Instead all he gave them was inconsistent play and a spot on the injured reserve list for most of the season. Now that he is back, Brand needs to step up his game and give the Sixers a consistent presence in the post that both provide easy points, as well as making it difficult for the opposition to dominate the Sixers down low they way they have recently (Dwight Howard in last year’s playoffs). For the 29 games that Brand did play last season, all his numbers were significantly less than his career averages. He needs to be scoring between 16-22 points each game, along with around 10 rebounds each night. The only way the Sixers will have a chance to contend in the Eastern Conference is if Brand has a great year. The Sixers need to have that low post presence that can go to for easy buckets and to limit all the big forwards (i.e. Howard, Kevin Garnett, Shaquille O’Neal) they will face in the East.
Reserve: Marresse Speights
Last season’s first round pick Marresse Speights should take big strides this season. His offensive skills alone will get him more minutes this season. If Brand or Dalembert struggle, Speights may see himself play over 20 minutes a game. He has tons of potential and on a team that is desperately looking for a consistent scoring big man, Speights is going to play a big role on this year’s team.
Reserve: Jason Smith
Smith has a very solid rookie season before missing all of last year with a season ending ACL injury in the preseason. The 7-0″ Smith will see limited time off the bench, mainly to eat up minutes for Brand and Dalembert when they’re in foul trouble.
Center: Samuel Dalembert
Dalembert is back as the starting center once again for the Sixers and the same question remains as always: Can he stay out of foul trouble so that he can actually make an impact on the game? Well if history is any indication, then the answer will continue to be no. Dalembert’s biggest strength is his ability to control the paint defensively. However, he has not been able to do it without constantly fouling the opposition. This leads to a massive reduction in his minutes and never allows for him to get into the game. When Dalembert is able to stay out of foul trouble, he usually plays very well. He can score down low as well as rebound on both ends of the court. If Dalembert can finally stay out of foul trouble, he can help the Sixers solidify their front court play which well greatly improve their chances to win against the top teams in the league.
Reserve: Primoz Brezec
The Sixers signed the seven foot Brezec to give them a defensive presence off the bench when Dalembert goes out for foul trouble. He will be expected to fill the role that Reggie Evans played last season. Expect him to come off the bench and provide rebounds and some scoring.
5 Keys to the Season
1. Elton Brand–>Brand must play well for the Sixers to have a chance to contend this year. It’s as simple as that. Enough said.
2. Consistent point guard play–>The team took a big hit when they did not resign Andre Miller, who was the quarterback of the fastbreak that was so big in the Sixers offense for the past two seasons. They will need Lou Williams to come through for them, otherwise it will be tough for this offense to get on track.
3. 3 point shooting–>The Sixers have ranked last in the league for the past two seasons in 3 point shooting. The addition of Jason Kapono should help that ranking improve, but it is still not enough. Andre Iguodala, Thaddeus Young, and Lou Williams need to be able to hit 3 pointers for this team. Iguodala especially must improve, so that defenses will be forced to play the Sixers on the arc, rather than around the paint in anticipation of a drive to the basket.
4. Smart Defense–>The team needs to play defense without fouling. The Orlando Magic were always shooting free throws during last year’s playoff series. Samuel Dalembert especially must stay out of foul trouble so that he will be able to assert himself as a major defensive presence in the paint.
5. Strong Start–>The Sixers play a relatively easy schedule in the first month of the season. If they’re able to start strong while working out any problems at the same time, they will give themselves a great chance to contend for a top-4 spot in the conference. If they start slow, they will still probably make the playoffs but will find it very difficult to get one of those top spots which would allow them to avoid playing Cleveland, Orlando, or Boston in the first round.
Regular Season Prediction: 45-37 to finish 2nd in the Atlantic Division behind Boston and 5th in the Eastern Conference behind Cleveland, Orlando, Boston, and Atlanta.