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13
Jan
11

The Comeback – NBA and NCAA Top 5s

Due to the rigors of acclimating myself to a new job, I have been less than vigilant in keeping up with the Sixers, let alone keeping up with writing about them. Well, now that I find myself comfortable in my new position, I hope to be able to get back to my favorite hobby… writing about my favorite teams. Please, readers, accept my apology and let’s enjoy the fruit of an otherwise bitter winter season – basketball. Much like the Sixers in recent weeks, its time that I come out of a seemingly dormant state and get back to business!

In my extended absence, the hometown team has clawed its way back to respectability. While extensive posts about the Sixers resurgence are under construction, I believe its appropriate to briefly survey the overall landscape in both the NBA and NCAA. Below are what I consider to be the Top 5 teams in both the NCAA and NBA, accompanied by brief explanations for their respective positions:

NCAA:

1. Kansas – The Morris twins are the steam that keeps this engine churning towards the Final Four. The Philly natives anchor one of the top frontcourts in the nation, and they have a supporting cast that matches their intensity nicely. With 10 players averaging 5 ppg or more, Kansas is one of the country’s most balanced teams, and they still haven’t even fully found their stride. Josh Selby, last year’s top high school prospect joined the team only halfway through the season, which means the Jayhawks are only now beginning to gel. In my opinion, this is the team to beat headed into Feb.

2. Ohio State – Jared Sullinger is this years’ Carmelo Anthony – a freshman who has taken his team to another level. Watching Sullinger is like watching a man among boys, he is that dominant. Aside from Sullinger, OSU has 4 other players averaging double figures, led by William Buford, a highly touted prep player in his own right. OSU may be the only team in the country that can get into a shooting match with Duke and win and Sullinger is better than any low post player the Dukies have, so into #2 they go.

3. Duke – I’ll go on the record now and say I hate Duke so, am I biased? Yes. But haven’t we seen this before?? Duke always seems to dominate the regular season only to fizzle in the NCAA Tournament. I can’t shake the feeling that they are soft and losing Kyrie Irving was possibly the biggest loss of the year so far in college basketball. I’m currently watching FSU hold Duke at arms length in an incredibly sloppy game, so I do not believe this team can beat either Ohio State or Kansas and it seems we will have to wait until March to find out how good they really are. One more thing… if Duke was in the Big East, no way they are still undefeated.

4. Syracuse – Another team with an NBA-ready frontcourt in Philly native Rick Jackson and Kris Joseph. ‘Cuse is also stacked with talent in the backcourt, led by Philly native Scoop Jardine and Dion Waiters. Don’t expect ‘Cuse to be here in the coming weeks as they must run the brutal gauntlet that is the Big East, but the same goes for all Big East teams. That conference may prohibit extended stays in the Top 5, but it also ensures that these teams are battle tested come March. Expect ‘Cuse to go deep in the Tournament.

5. San Diego State – Who?? A school most famous for giving us Marshall Faulk has a sick basketball team this year. Steve Fisher’s squad is good… like 2010 Butler good. Unfortunately for SDSU, they are now in conference play, which means we probably won’t talk about them much between now and March. The only other team worth discussing in their conference is BYU, currently ranked #10, so it’s not like they won’t be tested, but something tells me College GameDay isn’t rushing to get to San Diego for SDSU v New Mexico this weekend…

Also under consideration: Pitt, Villanova, Purdue

NBA:

1. Miami Heat – All I need to say about this team is 21-1. That’s their record in their last 22 games. It seems that whatever growing pains the Three Headed Monster had to go through to get used to each other are over. While question marks still exist regarding the Heat’s supporting cast, there is no question that in the last month and a half, this is the best team in the NBA. Can they keep it going for 5 more months??

2. San Antonio Spurs – Before the Heat were the hottest team in the NBA, that title belonged to the Spurs. The league’s most methodical, deliberate, technically sound team is extremely difficult to pick against when completely healthy. However, health will be the Spurs’ biggest obstacle going forward. The Spurs’, aside from maybe the Celtics, are the NBAs oldest good team and one has to wonder whether the wear and tear of a long season will take its toll on this team. If they can survive the season relatively healthy, I think you can pencil them into the Western Conference finals against the Lakers.

3. L.A. Lakers – The NBAs defending champions have been in a bit of a rut of late, but with Kobe and Phil at the helm, you just know that this downturn will not last long. The Lakers boast what I believe is the NBAs most talented, well-rounded starting lineup and anytime you have a competitor like Kobe Bryant on your team, you are most definitely in the hunt for the title. Trust me when I say, the Lakers will be at least the 2 seed in the West come April.

4. Orlando Magic – The Magic made a power move recently, acquiring Jason Richardson, Hedo Turkoglu, and Gilbert Arenas. As this team finds its footing, I think they will emerge as the most explosive offensive team in the East, and getting rid of the league’s worst good player – Vince Carter –  will only help them on both ends of the floor. I watched a Magic game in December where Jeff Van Gundy accurately predicted exactly when Vince Carter would use possessions to try and get himself hot. If Jeff Van Gundy can predict that from the announcer’s table, you can be sure that Doc Rivers, puppetmaster Pat Riley (whose decisions and power are channeled through Eric Spoelstra), and most definitely Phil Jackson and Gregg Popovich know its coming. Orlando – just be glad he’s gone.

5. Boston Celtics – Again, full disclosure, I hate the C’s. But they are good. Rajon Rondo is in my opinion one of the best distributors this game has seen in a while, and Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen are all 3 years younger as a result of him being there. The Celtics will most certainly be a contender come April, but with the balance of power in the NBA shifting from West to East, it is certainly no stone cold lock that the C’s even make the Eastern Conference finals, let alone the NBA finals.

Also under consideration: Hawks, Mavs, Thunder

Aaannnddd with that, I am back! More to come later this week.

18
Nov
10

Drexel and Penn College Ball Previews

With the Sixers struggling mightily, basketball fans in Philadelphia need to turn elsewhere to see some solid basketball. Luckily for us, the Big 5 resides in Philadelphia, a collection of 5 major college programs packed tightly together plus Drexel, sharing a history deeper than can be found anywhere else in the country.

Over the next few days, I’ll offer up previews for each of these teams, starting with Penn and Drexel this evening. The reasoning behind the order in which I will post the previews is  based on national relevance, which is why Temple and Villanova will be last.

Drexel:

The Dragons are still working to rebuild from senior laden teams of a few years ago which were fixtures in ESPN’s BracketBusters Showcase. Bruiser Flint’s team this year will  feature 6 underclassmen in its top 7 rotation as the look to improve on last year’s 16-16 finish. Likely to lead the Dragon’s is Academy of New Church product Samme Givens, a junior forward who averaged 8 points and 8 boards last season. Don’t let last year’s stats fool you… as a result of the dismissal from the team of last year’s leading scorer, Jamie Harris, this team is suddenly Givens’, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Givens has a natural ability to rebound the basketball despite his smaller size (6’5″), and is a gifted scorer in the paint. Also returning is CAA Freshman of the Year Chris Fouch. Fouch will provide Drexel with a scoring spark off the bench to start this season, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he plays his way into the starting lineup as he is Drexel’s leading returning scorer.

Freshman Guard Franz Massenat assumes the starting point guard role, and much of Drexel’s success hinges on his ability to assimilate to the college game. If Massenat can prove himself to be wise beyond his years, expect Drexel to finish in the top half of the Colonial Athletic Association.

This year will be key to Drexel’s future success with so many young players playing vital roles on this team. It gives Flint the opportunity to lay a solid foundation to build upon in the next few years.

Drexel will play a very difficult nonconference schedule this year that features matchups away against Big East powers Louisville and Syracuse as well as a trip to visit an improving Rhode Island squad, and home games against St. Joe’s and recent BracketBuster mainstay Niagra.

Penn:

Penn looks to rebuild in their first season under newly minted head coach and former Penn star Jerome Allen, whom coached over half the season last year with an “interim” tag attached to his name. Unfortnately, this is not a Dunphy-esque Penn team, as former coach Glen Miller failed to fully stock the cupboard in his 3+ seasons as head man at Penn. The Quakers are picked to finish fourth in the Ivy League, which isn’t saying much consdering the conference traditionally lacks firepower from the 3rd place team on down. If there is any good news for Allen, it’s that potential All-Ivy League swingman Tyler Bernardini has fully recovered from a foot injury that kept him out of action for much of last season. Allen has a major rebuilding project on his hands, but his understanding of the dyanamics of the local basketball scene should help him to get the job done quickly.

Penn’s schedule is stacked this season, increasing the odds against the Quakers making a surprise run at the tournament. Aside from the traditionally difficult Big 5 matchups, Penn will travel to Pitt and Kentucky, both ranked in the preseason Top 25.

16
Nov
10

Extreme Makeover: Sixers Edition

Apologies for the long break from posting. Being as the Sixers’ season has been anything but  interesting thus far this season and the college basketball season upon us, I have been taking the time to write previews for each of the Big 5 teams and Drexel. Despite how our pro team has performed, we Philadelphians are extremely lucky to live in one of the best hoops hotbeds in the country. If you’ve never been to a Big 5 game at the Palestra, you must make it your top sports priority this winter. Once you experience the excitement of a game there, you will immediately be hooked, and you will quickly learn that there is great basketball being played in our backyard, despite what the NBA standings say. I’ll dive a little deeper into this over the course of the next week, but I can’t emphasize my point enough. If you are a basketball fan, you need to take a look at what is but a short train ride away. Over the next week, I will be posting previews as follows:

Wednesday: Penn/Drexel
Thursday: St. Joe’s
Friday: La Salle
Saturday: Temple
Sunday: Villanova

On to the Sixers:

A season that began with many eyes turned toward what all were hoping was a bright future has quickly dissolved into a lottery watch as the Sixers continue to flounder like a fish out of water. Any glimpse of hope, glimmer of talent, flash of brilliance has been quickly extinguished by a deluge of ineptitude, time and time again.

We are only halfway through November and even myself, ever the optimist when it comes to my teams, has to admit that this team is destined for the lottery. There are simply too many holes in the roster as it stands today for the Sixers to expect to contend for a playoff spot and, in all honesty, making the playoffs as a 7 or 8 seed will be more detrimental to the franchise’s long term development than a 20-win season would be.

The team must continue an overhaul that began this offseason if they desire to become relevant again even in the next 5 years. The situation is that dire. Below, I have listed the entire Sixers’ roster and my opinion on whether or not each player should stay or go and why….

Tony Battie – Battie’s value to the Sixers is best described as “trade bait”. Signed as a clubhouse guy whose main job is to keep the young players focused, his services are not needed on a team that is at best the 28th best team in the league. Battie would be a nice throw in on a deal that could serve to turnover the roster, and that’s about all.

Craig Brackins – The youngster hasn’t seen the court at all this season. He was acquired in the same trade that sent Willie Green and Jason Smith to the Hornets. Brackins is exactly the kind of player the Sixers need to hang on to right now but, knowing this front office, he’ll be one of the first to leave. Hoepfully history isn’t the best indicator as to what the Sixers will do here. Brackins is young (23 and a rookie), talented (avg’d almost 17 pts and 9 boards at Iowa State last year), and big (6’10” 230 lbs.), and, best of all, inexpensive ($1.3 mil this season). Doug Collins is starting to show frightening similarities to Larry Brown in that he is refusing to develop young talent, a terrible formula for a team in as deep a rebuilding mode as the Sixers. Brackins is a perfect example of a young guy who needs to start seeing the court, if only so that the Sixers may begin to more accurately evaluate the talent they have. Worst case scenario: he works his way back to the bench, where he has been resting comfortably all season. Best case scenario: the Sixers end up realizing they have a scrappy young guy with size who will definitely command solid trade value to a contender late in the season, if not establishing himself as a solid rotation guy for the future (this concept will be a recurring theme going forward).

Elton Brand – I’m probably going to surprise you here considering my rhetoric regarding Brand as recent as a month ago, but I think the Sixers need to keep him at this point in time. Considering the contract the Sixers signed with Brand, combined with Brand’s well documented injury history, there is no chance the Sixers will get a solid return on their investment in a trade scenario for Brand. Looking elsewhere on the roster, the Sixers are severely hurting at the PF and C positions. In fact, they are hemorrhaging from those positions. The Sixers have been killed in the paint this year and it is the most obvious hole on the team. The most realistic way for the Sixers to improve in the frontcourt will be through the draft, and someone like Brand (who, by the way, is playing very solidly, averaging 16 and 8) is the perfect mentor for a young, talented PF or C. Brand has always been a fundamentally sound player and fundamentals seem to be where the Sixers young frontcourt talent has been falling short. Assigning Brand as a mentor to the young guys currently on the roster and whomever the Sixers get in the draft (it HAS to be a big man) will only help to hasten this teams’ climb back to relevance. Why this hasn’t worked up to this point? More on that later.

Spencer Hawes – Keep him. Unless he is the make-or-break piece in a deal involving Iggy, Hawes is another young big man the Sixers have on the cheap at just $2.9 mil. A first-round guy who is only 22, his best basketball is ahead of him. A 7’1″ Center isn’t readily available on the playgrounds of Philadelphia, so an effort needs to be made to develop the skills of one when you have him. In just 16 minutes a game, Hawes has averaged 6 points and 3 boards. Those numbers are nowhere near gaudy but, when your most obvious talent is in the backcourt as it is with the Sixers, you don’t need 1990s Shaq numbers out of your center. You need a guy who can control the paint and clog the lanes. Hawes, with a body that is still developing, could conceivably fill this role. At just $2.9 mil, give him a chance to develop or, more to the point, take advantage of the asset when you have it and follow up on your investment – give him the tools to develop. Hawes is a keeper for at least the rest of the season.

Jrue Holiday – An obvious keeper. Holiday, 20, has the raw skills to be an All-Star at 24. Keep him on the court and let him learn the position slowly. Holiday is one of the few keystones on this roster that you can actually build around.

Andre Iguodala – A strained Achilles sidelined Iggy for a few games last week and the Sixers offense suffered no obvious loss of talent. Rumor had it that the Hornets inquired about his availability in that time and, for some reason, he is still on the Sixers. Why the front office is so enamoured with Iggy simply boggles my mind. I don’t mean to pick on the guy… having met him, he is a true professional and a seemingly good person, however, he is not going to lead this team out of the woods. He is not the right guy. I truly believe that once he is traded, he will flourish on a roster where he is not expected to carry the scoring load and is free to be more of a Swiss Army-knife type of player, but that is not going to happen in Philly. In my opinion, this is the Sixers’ biggest obstacle to success, the result of a combination of things, not the least of which is Iggy’s ridiculously excessive contract. Plain and simple, and discussed ad-nauseum in this space, he is not the right guy to rebuild this team around. The sooner he is gone, no matter how badly the Sixers get ripped off on the deal, the sooner the Sixers can build themselves into a contender.

Jason Kapono – Ed Stefanski was an improvement over Billy King in what way? Terrible contract for a terrible defender, and the shooting touch that won him several 3-point shootouts earlier in the decade has been elusive in Philly. He’s got to go.

Jodie Meeks – Jodie is an interesting talent. He proved at Kentucky that he can light it up at the drop of a dime but hasn’t gotten a chance to prove himself in the pros. This is something I have never really understood about the NBA. Weird, dated prejudices against players (i.e. lack of size) prevent them from ever even getting the opportunity to get in the flow of an NBA game. Meeks is a guy who I think can be a spark plug off the bench in the right situation, he just needs to see the court. This is another example of a guy who I think the Sixers need to just play to see what they have. It is completely pointless to park a young player on the bench. He isn’t going to bring anything to the table in the clubhouse, and being as he’s never as much as seen the floor, he carries little to no trade value. Play him, see what he can do. You’re already one of the worst teams in the league, so it can’t get any worse.

Andres Nocioni – Nocioni is a journeyman, but I don’t understand why. I love his lunchpail approach to the game, and he plays smart basketball. Nocioni is another keeper, with the “Iguodala Caveat”, where if he is the make-or-break player in a deal to move Iggy, you’ve got to let him go. Love Nocioni’s game though.

Darius Songaila – He is pointless on this roster. He is old and something tells me he’s not leading that clubhouse anywhere. Songaila could be a solid role player on a good team, a solid contributor as the 9th or 10th man, but he’s not doing this team any good.

Marreese Speights – Here is where I admit to inflating the value of a player who is going nowhere. I really thought at the beginning of the season that Speights could turn the corner this year and combine his talent with basketball IQ and work ethic to be a solid contributor, but I thought wrong. Speights seems uninterested when he plays, which isn’t often. Averaging 10 minutes a game, Speights contributes about 4 points and 3 boards a night on just 41% shooting, terrible for a big man. The knock on Speights coming out of Florida, and the reason he fell to the Sixers with the 16th pick, was that he was lazy and somewhat uncoachable. After the draft, he said all the right things to refute those claims, and I really wanted to believe him, even somewhat staking my preseason prediction on his development this year, but he can’t continue to hide his true identity as an all-talent, no drive paycheck casher. Not that there is anything wrong with that, you are who you are, but all too often Speights seems to be running a different play than the rest of the team on offense, completely spacing on help defense, and throwing up ill-advised shots to stuff his stat sheet. Maybe Speights will learn someday how to combine his sick athleticism with basketball brains to become a good player, but it’s not going to happen in Philly. Speights has worn out his welcome with me.

Evan Turner – Obviously, Turner is a keeper right now but Sixers fans have to have the word “bust” crawling around in their heads, especially after watching John Wall dismantle the Sixers a couple of weeks ago while Turner hardly made a dent in the stat sheet. With DeMarcus Cousins, chosen after Turner and playing a position that continues to be a major hole in the Sixers roster, tearing it up in Sacramento, you have to wonder whether Turner was the right pick. Throw in the fact that Lou Williams continues to evolve into a solid scorer at shooting guard, and one wonders why exactly the Sixers felt the next to bolster a backcourt that was already much more stable than their frontcourt. This is more a knock on the Sixers front office than Turner, and I really do hope he can develop into the player he was in college (he did win Player of the Year over Wall last year), but the whispers of “bust” are only going to get louder until Turner starts to produce.

Lou Williams – Well, we’ve gotten this far, we might as well keep him, right? I’ve always liked Sweet Lou so I may be a little biased here, but he has to be one of the more pleasant surprises of the season so far. Averaging about 15 points, 3 assists, and 2 rebounds in just 23 minutes a game, Williams has provided many a spark off the bench for the Sixers thus far this year. Being just 24, he will only continue to develop his game. Let’s keep him, if only for the fun of it.

Thaddeus Young – Young, unlike Speights, has not let me down in my preseason prediction. In just over 20 minutes of action a night, he has averaged 10 points and 4 boards. I really like what Young could be, with an emphasis on the word “could”. He is another player the Sixers need to focus on developing more than demanding production out of. Young is just 22, only spent a year in college, and is probably just beginning to grasp some of the more intricate details of the game as his talent alone was enough to get him to the pros. I think Young is still a keeper, despite his somewhat mediocre numbers, but the Sixers need to give him the tools to develop.

All in all, the Sixers need to focus more on developing talent than winning games. It’s time to give the keys of this bus to young guys who haven’t seen much action up to this point. Let them develop, let them build some trade value for themselves. If one of the cheap, young players on the roster can prove themselves to be a solid prospect for the future, it may help soften the blow the Sixers will need to take in any trade for Iguodala, a player whose contract outperforms his talent. As I alluded to earlier, Collins has shown flashes of Larry Brown this year (remember his handling of Larry Hughes?? Still one of the bigger travesties in recent Sixers history) which simply won’t work if you are looking to rebuild. The front office needs to pressure Collins into developing this team. As it stands, Collins is playing the players who give him the best chance to win, presumably the players who best understand how to defend in the NBA, how to run an offense in the NBA. Unfortunately, the players on this roster who give you the best chance to win are not the same players who would play if you were playing the most talented players.

With the Sixers seemingly headed towards the lottery regardless of who plays, Collins needs to see what else he has. In the meantime, with college basketball upon us, I will be keeping an eye out for potential lottery picks who could help this team and report on them here. Look for these lottery updates to start within the next month as teams get into the bulk of their non-conference schedules and it becomes easier to evaluate their talent (something tells me that Syracuse vs Kutztown isn’t going to tell me much about Fab Melo’s ability (ALERT!!! Keep an eye on him, could be just the type of player the Sixers need)). In the meantime, look for the Penn/Drexel preview come Wednesday evening.

Finally, Mike Vick is God on the football field. Go Birds!

02
Nov
10

Sixers: Week 1 and what’s up with this lineup??

Sixers’ Opening Week in Review (Home Team in CAPS)

Game 1 – Miami Heat 97 – SIXERS 87
The Sixers came out and set forth the early tone of the Doug Collins Era, eloquently summed up by Andre Igoudala in his pregame address to the fans in attendance, “We’re going to get to where you want us to be.” I had predicted a shellacking at the hands of an angry Heat squad, but the Sixers, showing a lot of heart and playing rather inspired basketball under Collins, avoided a complete catastrophe. The Heat were clearly the superior team, but the Sixers hung tough and pestered LeBron James into 9 turnovers as he continues to adjust to his self-appointed facilitator role. James finished with 16 pts, 6 reb, and 7 ast. Chris Bosh was held to 15 pts and 7 rbs, but Dwayne Wade, the third of Miami’s Big 3, carried the load, scoring 30 pts, grabbing 7 rebs, and handing out 4 ast to go along with 2 blocks and 3 steals. It seems to be only a matter of time before these three superstars can learn to play off each other’s strengths and once they can do that, Miami’s bench will have more clearly defined roles in which to excel. If Wednesday’s game was any indication, it seems James Jones is already rather comfortable in his role as a 3-point specialist off the bench, going 6 for 9 from beyond the arc and contributing a gigante 20 points.

As difficult as it is to stop yourself from dissecting the dynamics of one of the more intriguing teams in American sports, this is, after all, a Sixers Blog, so on to the home team. To their credit, they seem committed to Collins, committed to turning themselves into winners, and most importantly, committed to endearing themselves to Philadelphia, a city that holds blue-collar work ethic on high. Wednesday night’s effort was a good start to the Doug Collins Era, even if it doesn’t show in the win column.

One interesting subplot heading into Wednesday Night’s game (and in the Sixers’ 2 subsequent games, but more on that later) was the fact that both Thaddeus Young and Evan Turner started the season on the bench. As it would turn out, the starter’s were that only in name as Turner logged about 31 minutes on the floor compared to starter Jason Kapono’s 13 minutes, and Young punched in about 26 minutes of work, compared to Spencer Hawes’ 14 minutes. Turner and Young, as well as established sixth man Lou Williams, all acquitted themselves well in their 2010-2011 debut, with Turner finishing with 16 pts, 7 reb, and 4 ast, Young contributing 15 pts and 3 rebs, and Williams chipping in 15 pts and 7 ast.

For the sake of time, I’ll skip full-on recaps of the Sixers’ next 2 games, both losses, as there are pressing matters I want to discuss:

Game 2 Atlanta Hawks 104 – SIXERS 101 – The Sixers had a chance to tie late, but Andres Nocioni’s last second 3 was blocked by Josh Smith. Again, the Sixers played hard, but lost to a superior opponent, their youth and overall lack of talent too much to overcome.

Game 3 INDIANA PACERS 99 – Sixers 86 – By far the Sixers worst effort of this young season. Leading by double digits in the second quarter, the Sixers were unable to sustain their momentum and fell victim to a terrible third quarter cold streak during which they were outscored 27-15.

Analysis and Fodder:
1) As was alluded to earlier, a major topic of discussion has been Coach Collins’ decision to bring young franchise cornerstones Evan Turner and Thaddeus Young off the bench. While the stated logic behind the decision is that both players have a steep learning curve ahead of them and the intention is to maintain their confidence level by shielding them from the fire whenever possible, one has to question what good this is doing the team in the long run.

Turner has been wildly inconsistent following a solid debut, posting a goose egg in 19 minutes against the Hawks and just 9 points on 4 of 11 shooting in 33 minutes against the Pacers. This inconsistency is no doubt encouraging Collins to continue to bring his young star off the bench, but, to me, it is somewhat of a chicken/egg situation. Is Turner’s inconsistency a result of his constantly worrying about being pulled for making a mistake or is he actually just inconsistent, thus forcing Collins’ hand? In my opinion, the NBA is not like the NFL, where early struggles can severely alter the career path of a young player resulting in crushed confidence and zero chance of success. Turner needs to be given the opportunity to play his way into a comfort zone, learn the nuances of the game first-hand. If Collins is going to play him for 28-30 minutes a night anyway as he has, why not give Turner a vote of confidence by allowing him to start. As small a gesture as it may seem, the “starter” label may be the confidence boost that Turner needs to free him from whatever pressure he is currently feeling which is causing him to be hesitant and inconsistent. Playing with one eye toward the bench to see if coach is about to pull you has never produced results, and I think it is what has been holding Turner back.

As for Young, this is his 4th year in the league, with each of his previous 3 seasons being an improvement over the last. However, this year, his minutes have dropped significantly and it shows on his stat sheet as he has taken a step back in every major offensive category. I understand that a major reason for Young’s move from starter to coming off the bench is the makeup of the Sixers roster, but what is the point of starting Spencer Hawes at center if you are only going to play him for 10-15 minutes as Collins has thus far? Is having a traditional starting lineup that important to Collins? With the Sixers’ stated goal being to steadily improve, it makes sense to play your most talented players and adjust your approach based on their strengths. If the Sixers are to improve as a team, it will be a result of improved play amongst their most talented players, all young and inexperienced, not sudden revivals of vets like Jason Kapono, who inexplicably started 2 of the first 3 games. Young is in a similar situation as Turner where I think coming off the bench has been a detriment to his development this season as it has caused him to be hesitant to make a mistake.

I truly believe Collins has an opportunity to speed up the process of pulling this team out of the gutter by allowing its young nucleus to learn and develop together. While they may not be the perfect roster, this will at least allow for the development of some trade value so that Collins can build what he envisions the perfect roster to be. As it stands, the veterans on this team are immoveable due to hefty contracts, and, soon, the young guys will be stuck here too, as no team is gullible enough to trade for a young player who has shown no discernible promise for the future. Collins’ insistence on playing these guys off the bench will stagnate this roster and only make the climb more difficult for the team in the long run.

2) One thing to be excited about as a Sixer fan has been the play of Andres Nocioni. Nocioni, averaging 10 pts and 6 boards a game, has played his way into Collins’ starting lineup by playing hard and taking what is given to him. He seems to have a knack for playing within both himself and the flow of the game, avoiding ill-advised shots and turnovers. His ability to hit the open shot, something severely lacking on this Sixers squad, definitely helps his cause. I think as the season wears on, you’ll notice Philly fans take a liking to this guy for his work ethic and low maintenance attitude.

3) A pleasant surprise thus far this year has been the offensive effort put forth by Lou Williams. Williams just turned 24 last week, something many fans don’t realize as he was drafted out of high school. Has his offensive explosion off the bench been a result of the game finally clicking for Williams? This week will help to answer that question as Williams has been almost unconscious from the floor in the first 3 games compared to his career averages. If, after 10 games, Williams is still maintaining this pace, I think it would then be appropriate to discuss whether he’s finally had his epiphany, but for now, let’s just call it a hot streak.

4) ESPN’s Marc Stein obviously felt no obligation to be kind to the Sixers, ranking them 28th (out of 30) in his initial NBA Power Rankings. While this team obviously isn’t very good, I don’t think they are that bad either. Just like Williams’ offensive streak, this week will go a long way in proving me, and Mr. Stein, right or wrong.

Up Next:

Nov. 2nd – at Washington Wizards
Nov. 3rd – INDIANA PACERS
Nov. 5th – CLEVELAND CAVALIERS

All 3 of these games are winnable as none of the above are expected to contend for anything. Hopefully, the Sixers can win at least 2 of these 3, and if not, it’s never too soon to start talking lottery.

Finally, the most recent edition of Philly Mag had a great article on the Sixers fall from grace since the turn of the century and high point of the Iverson led Finals run in 2001, and their most recent efforts to turn the tide. A great read if you have some time:

http://www.phillymag.com/articles/ed_snider_killed_the_76ers/

27
Oct
10

Happy Sixers Day!

The Doug Collins Era, Evan Turner Era, and Darius Songaila Era all get under way this evening when the Sixers take on the Miami Heat at the CoreStates/First Union/Wachovia/Wells Fargo Center.

Interestingly enough, the Evan Turner Era is off to an inauspicious start as Sixers coach Doug Collins announced that Turner will start his rookie year coming off the bench along with fellow youngster Thaddeus Young in a move that surprised most. This has to be troubling to all Sixers fans, especially in light of recent rumors floating in NBA circles that Turner has “draft bust” written all over him. Collins cited Turner’s slow adjustment to the NBA style of play as being the reason behind the decision, however Turner’s summer and preseason play did nothing to convince Collins that he had to be on the court. Turner has great pedigree and was a great player in college, so to doubt his talent this early would be foolish, however it must be disheartening to any Sixers fan to see their next supposed franchise “savior” be unable to crack the starting lineup on a team seemingly destined for the lottery. The worst thing Sixers fans can do at this point, though, would be to panic and heap criticism on the rookie. If come April, Turner still can’t crack the lineup, then it may be time to start talking, but some rookies take longer than others to grasp what it takes to play in the NBA, and Collins is notoriously hard on young players.

The Sixers will take the court with Jrue Holliday, Jason Kapono, Elton Brand, Spencer Hawes, and Andre Igoudala to match up against Dwayne Wade, Carlos Arroyo, Joel Anthony, LeBron James, and Chris Bosh, last night’s starters for Miami.

Tonight’s game is one that the Sixers will likely have to look for moral victories over one in the win column. The Heat were frankly embarrassed by the Celtics last night, held to just 80 points, tallying only 9 in the first quarter. LeBron James had 31 points but also committed 8 turnovers in his first game as the self-proclaimed second coming of Magic Johnson. Fortunately for Heat fans, and unfortunately for Philadelphians looking for a sports team to hang their hat on in the wake of this weekend’s disasters on the football field and baseball diamond, the Sixers are next up for a team that many had expected to push 70 wins this year. Expect Miami to come out firing. Dwayne Wade (13 pts, 4 reb, 6 ast) and Chris Bosh (8 pts, 8 reb, 2 ast) were profoundly silent against the Celtics, and will certainly be looking to get up to pace offensively, so look for a much more balanced Miami attack with all three of Miami’s superstars scoring in double figures.

As has been mentioned throughout the offseason, 2010-11 will be all about building a foundation for the Sixers. They are definitely not contenders, but certainly have a young enough nucleus in place that fans will accept marked improvement in play over the course of the season as a measurement of success for this team. This is good news for the Sixers because all indicators point to Wednesday being a rough night for Doug Collins’ crew.

Prediction:

Miami comes out angry after their debacle Tuesday night in Boston, hits on all cylinders offensively, and puts the Sixers away early. Heat win 115-91.

15
Oct
10

Sixers 2010-2011 Checklist

The 76ers are set embark on yet another new coaching era (their 7th since Larry Brown left in 2003), this time under Doug Collins, a coach whose most notable achievement in coaching to this point was being Phil Jackson’s predecessor in Chicago. Collins has a project on his hands here in Philadelphia. The Sixers haven’t had a winning season since 2004-2005 and even then they lost in the first round of the playoffs. While this Sixers team boasts a boatload of youthful talent and seems to have at least some semblance of a plan for the future, there is still much work to be done in order to turn this team into a contender. Below, I have concocted a checklist of steps to success that I feel the Sixers must follow in order to return to relevance in Philadelphia.

1) Get rid of Andre Igoudala, even if it means taking 50 cents on the dollar. Igoudala’s reign in Philly as the “go-to guy” has been disappointing to say the least. I honestly do believe that Igoudala is a good player as proven by his time on Team USA this summer, however he is not A) capable of being “the man” on an NBA team or B) worth the nearly $12.5 million he is due this year. Igoudala is a world-class defender and possesses athleticism that most can only dream of, but he just doesn’t have “it”.  In his 7th season, any success as a leader that he may be destined for should have been evident by now. Given his skill set (great defender, a slasher on offense) Igoudala would make a great Artest to someone’s Kobe, but unfortunately for the Sixers, their “Kobe” to be, Evan Turner, plays the same position as Igoudala. You may ask why shedding Igoudala takes precedence over getting rid of Elton Brand. Do not get me wrong, shedding Brand and his monstrous contract would only help the Sixers, but the market for Igoudala is significantly more lucrative than the market for Brand. Also, Brand could be more useful to the team given the current roster, which is guard/small forward heavy.

2) Bring Evan Turner along slowly. No one expects the Sixers to win 50 games this year. Turner, who last year suffered from a stress fracture in his back, will no doubt hit the “rookie wall” late in the season. Given the wide-open nature of the Eastern Conference, where it is not inconceivable that a team with a 38-42 record can make the playoffs, the Sixers could find themselves in position to make some noise come May. With the abundance of youth on this team, and considering that team and coach will need time to develop a relationship, the Sixers should not expect to peak until late in the season. If they are able to sneak into the playoffs, a healthy Turner will no doubt be a difference maker.

3) The continued development of Jrue Holiday. Thankfully and mercifully, the Lou Williams at PG experiment was brought to an end when the Sixers drafted Holiday as their PG of the future. As a huge Sweet Lou fan, I still hope that he can find his niche here in Philly, but it will not be at PG. Holiday has the tools to be a great PG, speed, athleticism, uncanny passing ability, etc, but being a true PG in the NBA is a whole different beast. There are so many nuances to the position, it takes years to develop, especially considering Holiday left college early and lost those valuable years of development. One of Doug Collins’ bigger challenges in his first year as coach will be helping Holiday make the leap to being a true NBA PG. If the Sixers can establish him in his position, with so much youth and talent filling out every other position on the roster, this team can establish itself as a perennial playoff team with the emergence of a true PG to distribute the ball to the likes of fellow young guns Turner, Thaddeus Young, and Marreese Speights.

4) Establish someone as the starting center. Whether it be Elton Brand, Spencer Hawes, or Marreese Speights, Collins’ coaching style, which emphasizes ball control, quality possessions, and defense over the run and gun style of someone like Mike D’Antoni, requires a center in order to be successful. Brand would be an undersized center, but has proven in the past that he can be a successful rebounder despite his lack of size. Hawes is probably the only true center on the roster with a chance of seeing much playing time, but he is young and unproven. Speights, in my opinion, is better suited to the Power Forward position given his speed and athleticism and if Hawes or Brand can step up to fill the 5 spot, it would only benefit the Sixers to have some combination of Speights and Brand or Hawes on the floor as opposed to only one of the three at a time given the emphasis on ball control in Collins’ system.

5) Keep the floor spread. This is where players like Jason Kapono, Lou Williams, and Jodie Meeks are of benefit to the Sixers. If these three can find their stroke, it will open the floor for attackers like Turner, Holiday and Young. This, more than anything, will be key to the Sixers success in 2010-2011. With an offense predicated on success in the halfcourt, it is essential that defenses not be able to clog the lanes or lay off the perimeter. If the Sixers can keep the floor spread, it will be worth at least 5 or 6 wins this year, which could be the difference between the playoffs and the lottery.

Oct 27th and the arrival of Miami’s Big 3 is just a few weeks away, and the Sixers main rotation has been coming into focus in the last few preseason games. The Sixers have a long, uphill battle to becoming relevant, but following my checklist above will help the team to get there more quickly.

22
Sep
10

Team USA’s Wild Success and What It Means For You

First and foremost, apologies for the delay in posting. Computer issues can be crippling in the digital age.

In the meantime, Team USA “shocked the world” to an extent by winning the FIBA World Championship in such dominating fashion. Team USA went undefeated in the tournament, winning all but 2 of their 8 games by more than 10 points. Kevin Durant proved himself to worthy of the hype touting him as the best young talent in the NBA by winning the tournament MVP award. Every player on the roster made a strong contribution to the effort and Team USA showed a level of cohesiveness that hasn’t been evident in national team play since NBA stars joined the action in 1992. As players around the globe began to develop NBA-level games, talent alone wasn’t enough. Since the embarrasment that was the Olympics in 2004, Team USA has taken a much more organizational approach to building its teams for international play. That effort was evident in the 2008 Olympics, when the Americans, led by Kobe Bryant, DeWayne Wade, Carmelo Anthony, and LeBron James, reclaimed the gold by taking a team-first approach which had been absent from more recent American teams. The success of the organizational approach, led by Jerry Colangelo, was on full display this month in Turkey.

This is an encouraging development for NBA fans. Why? The style and approach to the game of the national team as an organization has a trickle-down effect on the NBA in that it influences the mindset of the game’s biggest superstars. In 2004, Team USA was plagued by selfish stars looking to make a name for themselves on an international level. At the same time, the NBA game was diluted by similar issues. Games had become bogged down by stars looking to create their own shots, and teams were being built around one player, not position by position. When that style failed in epic fashion in the ’04 Olympics, it became apparent that in order to win on an international level, teams needed to be built based on basketball needs, not just a collection of superstars playing streetball. Team USA took a hardline approach, preaching that success would not be possible without full commitment to the team and those who could not or would not make that commitment were told to stay home.

Those superstars who remained dedicated themselves to the cause, not their individual play, and were rewarded with a championship in 2008. Each had been taught a lesson in how team play makes winning a chamionship possible, and each took this approach to their respective teams in the NBA in their quest for the 2009 NBA title. In 2008-2009, the level of play in the NBA jumped a notch, to me a noticeable continuation of the 2008 Olympic team’s personality. That trend continued in the NBA in 2009-2010, resulting in the most exciting postseason in recent history. Young stars like Durant, Derrick Rose, and Rajon Rando are leading their teams in unselfish ways yet continue to put up dominant numbers, displaying a style of play that is exciting enough to inspire younger generations to emulate their personalities, yet fundamentally sound enough to lead their teams to success. DeWayne Wade, Chris Bosh, and LeBron James so bought into the team concept that they shocked everyone by joining forces in Miami. When it is all said and done, these developments lead to better basketball and better basketball is a win for the fans.

The success of the World Chamionship team points to even higher heights for the NBA this season, with young stars Durant and Rose maturing into top tier players, and young teams like the Thunder and Bulls maturing with them. The Heat will be extremely exciting to watch, the Magic will be looking to bounce back from a disappointing playoffs, and don’t forget about the Lakers and Celtics, both still stacked with talent. One week from now, training camps will open across the league and as baseball winds down, basketball is heating up. As the season nears, I will break down the Sixers, their division, their conference, and the league. Midnight Madness is just around the corner as well, so I will definitely take a look at the Big 5 schools as well.

Go Mike Vick!




The Philly Phour

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