Last season I really believed that the 76ers had a chance to beat the Magic. I told my friends, "Don't sleep on the 6ers." Hey, you there, "This is the year Iggy proves he's a superstar." Or maybe I'd say, "Did you know that the Magic match up horribly against other fast-break teams?"
Of course the 76ers didn't win that series, but the playoffs were just a tiny bit of Philly's story last season. And with the departure of Andre Miller, fans are hoping that the playoffs are in the books for this season too. Follow me over the jump for the dirty:
Before anyone else believed in the 76ers' young core last season, their front office proved that they believed in the young team by spending the big bucks on former All-Star forward Elton Brand. This contract was incredibly expensive for a team that had struggled with cash-flow over the past few seasons, but the front office was proving that they were committed to their guys and that they fundamentally believed in the unit.
The only problem was that Elton Brand didn't really work out. He battled injury and ineffectiveness all season, and never seemed fit enough for the 76ers customary fast pace slash n' dash offense. Additionally his presence upset incumbent defensive stopper and rebounder Samuel Dalembert, who would also never be the same.
"The GZA famously supported the 76ers offense"
With veteran point guard Andre Miller, who embodied their slashing style, on the way out, the 76ers success again seems like it's going to be predicated on Elton Brand returning to dominance. Anyone who tells you that might be right, but their probably wrong. Elton Brand is a sunk cost. This team's success is, just like the past, all about the wings and the point guard position.
The wings are stacked with talent from Andre Iguodala and Thaddeus Young, but they'll need big production out of Thaddeus. He'll provide the bulk of their starting lineup's three-point shooting, which will again be an Achilles heel, and will need to produce on both ends of the court. If Thad the Impaler can play defense on the elite small forwards of the league, up his scoring a bit, rebound a bit better, and increase his efficiency, this team is going to be extremely dangerous. This is obviously a lot to ask, but comparing him to Iguodala isn't unfair, and Iggy has obviously stepped up his performance to fill a void in the past.
The point guard slot is the major question mark. New coach Eddie Jordan's Princeton offense preaches equality and claims to not need a traditional point. While that may be true, it's not like they can just play without a small guard on the floor for extended periods of time. Enter the petite but dynamic scoring guard Louis Williams. Williams will probably fill the position well on the offensive end, but he's going to have to show greater commitment on the defensive end if the 76ers want to get the stops to start their break. Rookie Jrue Holiday is a personality on and off the court, but probably won't really push Williams for the starting job.
Breakout: Thaddeus Young- I don't know what not to love about the kid. He's smart, a great guy, and can jump out of the gym. Did I mention he can play either forward position, has solid handles, and his jumper is pretty slick? The departure of Miller will get Thaddeus more involved in the offense, and his three-point shot should be well improved. ESPN says he should be off the board in the first 80. I say that 18 points, at least one three, 6 rebounds, and improved defensive stats makes him a top-50 player.
"Thaddeus 'The Gladius' trying on the Sixers' new throwback style uniforms"
Bust: Elton Brand- Obviously a high-risk, high-reward type selection. The reason I'm avoiding Brand is that even if he does stay on the floor, I'd rather have almost anyone else in ESPN's top 30. Maybe if he falls in your draft based on injury concerns, but even a healthy Elton Brand will be hard-pressed to be a top 30 player on this unit.
Useful: Andre Iguodala, Louis Williams, Samuel Dalembert- Iggy is a great pick in the basement of the second round, but you'll struggle to score if you reach at the end of the first for his all-around game. Louis Williams and Samuel Dalembert are both sleepers for me. Most people will have forgotten about these guys, even though Dalembert used to be a prospect for Ben Wallace-lite. Grab them both way late for their upside.
My Prediction: 42-40 (ESPN: 39-43) I trust these guys. I don't know why I see this team losing its spiritual core and still succeeding, but somehow I believe that it's going to work. Thaddeus Young reminds me too much of Rudy Gay and Danny Granger last season to think that he won't break out--Sixers fans need to hope that he's more Granger then Gay, but whatever, room for big growth is there.
And while I don't trust Eddie Jordan that his system doesn't need a point guard, I do trust that Louis Williams will provide enough of a point man, especially since Iguodala often takes over as the lead playmaker. Look for this team to exceed expectations, but don't bet on them to make too much noise--the East is a looking deeper than ever this season.
And in a new section, my new arch-nemesis Brock is going to provide his own take:
The Philadelphia 76ers may very well be one of the most interesting teams to watch this NBA season. Find me a person that thinks they can win more games than last year, and I will find you three that will point out that, yes indeed, Elton Brand and his contract is still hanging around.
The team effectively gave away Andre Miller, to be replaced with rookie Jrue Holiday. Samuel Dalembert went completely dysfunctional to close out the season, and the bench play looks like it will continue to suffer this season, especially from beyond the arc.
We may be looking at one of the best young teams in the league, but replacing their only proven vet for the youth movement doesn't bode well for their awful road record.
All this means they are effectively taking themselves out of it for at least this season. I want to give them the benefit of the doubt, as they are a fun team to watch, but there are too many questions at this point to hope for even another .500 season.
Get with Liberty Ballers for some nice coverage of the 76ers all season.