Look no further to how vital a bench can be to a team’s success than the final four teams left standing at the end of the 2010 NBA season. The Phoenix Suns were able to go four to five deep with their bench of Lou Admunson, Leandro Barbosa, Channing Frye, Jared Dudley and Goran Dragic. The Boston Celtics had players such as Glen Davis, Rasheed Wallace and Tony Allen. The Orlando Magic’s reserves boasted J.J. Reddick, Matt Barnes, Brandon Bass and Jason Williams. More importantly, the world champion Los Angeles Lakers who had a so-called “weak,” bench still managed to run out Lamar Odom, Luke Walton, Shannon Brown and Jordan Farmar.
While the 76ers do not have the experienced veterans and in some cases the talent that those teams have coming off their bench, they do have the potential to go eight deep and those players have the ability to keep the Sixers in games.
The first two guys off the bench for the Sixers have the potential to be starters on other teams. Thaddeus Young has been a starter at the power and small forward positions for the Sixers in the past and he might very well find his way back into a starting role this year. As of right now, he is expected to be the top guy off the bench for the Sixers since rookie Evan Turner is likely to be inserted into the starting lineup.
Nevertheless, he is a valuable asset to the 76ers off the bench. Young should be able to develop into a James Posey type player, but with a higher upside on the offensive end of the court. Over his short career, Young has been a 12.4 points, 1.1 assists, 1.2 steals and 4.8 rebounds per game guy. Off the bench, he could give the Sixers instant offense. With his athleticism he has the potential to be groomed by head coach Doug Collins into a defensive stopper in the mold of Posey. Since Young has the quickness to give power forwards fits and the size to keep small forwards in check, he is a nice piece coming off the bench. Remember the James Posey who played an intricate role in the Celtics ride to a championship? With a lot of hard work and dedication, that’s the type of player Young could become for the 2010-11 Sixers.
So who is the other guy that could start, but is coming off the bench for the 76ers? Well that would be the forgotten player in the deal that sent starting center Samuel Dalembert to the Kings. Certainly, small forward Andres Nocioni is never going to be a superstar or even be a player team’s game plan around, but he does a lot of things well. Nocioni can shoot the rock and score, as he is a 37.5 career three-point shooter and an 11.3 ppg. wing player.
More importantly than the offense he provides, Nocioni brings something that Philadelphia has lacked over the past couple of years, which is toughness and hustle at the defensive end. Nocioni is the typical blue-collar worker on the defensive end. He will get into an offensive player’s face and make life hard for the opponent. Even if they score, he is going to make them pay the price with his aggressive, physical nature. With him on the court, there is never an easy basket.
Furthermore, Nocioni will dive after loose-balls, gets floor burns and brings instant intensity to the floor and a buzz with the crowd. It is not hard to imagine, the Philly faithful falling in love with Nocioni and his style.
Besides Young and Nocioni, the 76ers have a young and promising talent off the bench at both inside positions. Collins has three legit options in his arsenal with Jason Smith, Marreese Speights and Spencer Hawes. Yes all of then are raw in aspects of the game, but each big man has unique basketball gifts that could allow them to be big time contributors.
Hawes was acquired this offseason as the centerpiece in the Dalembert deal. While most Sixers fans believe he needs to gain weight (which he does) and that he is not quick enough to compete in the paint with the big boys of the Eastern Conference — Dwight Howard, Chris Bosh and Kevin Garnett, he could surprise a lot of people. In his short 220-game career, Hawes has managed to crack the starting lineup 118 times. Not only has he started more than 50 percent of the games, he has been able average a block a game along with 5.5 rebounds, 1.6 assists and 8.8 points per game.
Obviously he needs to crash the boards better, but bear in mind Hawes is a legit seven-foot-one and a former top 10 pick so he does have the talent to be a difference maker. Plus it usually takes centers a tad bit longer to develop than guards.
As for Speights and Smith, both are former first-round picks that haven’t panned out yet (for different reasons). With that said, both remain solid prospects. Smith missed the entire 2009-10 season due to a torn ACL and when he wasn’t anchored to Eddie Jordan’s bench in 2010-11, he showed signs of being an impact player. Smith gives the Sixers a big man with an array of offensive moves who can also pull defenders out 15-18 feet with his ability to hit the mid-range jumper consistently.
Meanwhile, Speights has had a tumultuous time with the 76ers. When Speights came out of the University of Florida, scouts never questioned his athletic potential. Unfortunately, he carried the label of “lazy.” So far with the Sixers, it seems like that label is fitting. In two years, Speights has started only three out of 141 games. Yes, he missed 14 games with a torn MCL this past season, but he has never become the presence the Sixers thought he could become.
The six-foot-ten Speights has the bulk to bang with the big bodies in the low post, which he has demonstrated by pulling down 3.9 rebounds per game over his career in just 16 minutes per night. Moreover, Speights can put the ball in the hoop with the best of them as he is averaging a .5 points per minute played (8.8 ppg. for his career). His problem lies with his lack of passion at the defensive end. He draws a ton of fouls due to being lazy and not moving his feet. With Collins in the saddle, Speights has a chance to changes his bad habits. Collins knows how to teach young players and get the best out of them. And if he doesn’t change his defensive ways, the Sixers have two quality big men to run out there ahead of him.
Lastly, the Sixers have a plethora of talent at the guard position. Their backup guards all have unique and diverse roles with the club. Louis Williams is a pure scorer who can hit mid-range jumpers or use his lightning quick speed to get to the hoop. Meanwhile, his speed allows him to breakdown a defense and dish off to a teammate for an easy basket. Also, he possesses great hands, which leads to a ton of steals at the defensive end of the court.
It is true that Williams has his deficiencies – he lacks the ideal size to be a true shooting guard, struggles at the defensive end to stay in front of his man and is probably not a good enough distributor to be a pure point guard. However if can deliver 14 points and 4 assists off the bench like he averaged this past season, then the Sixers will have a very formidable combo guard off the pine.
The 76ers reserve guard group also includes two shooters that could make huge contributions in 2010-11. Those two players are Jodie Meeks and Jason Kapono. No one on the Sixers is considered to be an elite or even a decent three-point shooter, but Meeks and Kapono add that dimension to this team. If Collins utilizes their strengths, then both could make an impact on a nightly basis.
A deep bench is a colossal advantage for any NBA team, but especially useful for a franchise trying to pull themselves out of the basement in the conference. Having a competent and proficient bench enables a club to stay close or ahead of opposing teams without even having their best lineup on the court. Moreover, a solid bench can make up for the bad night of a superstar and win a game that should be a sure loss.
At Collins disposal is a bench that could wear down opponents starting five on a nightly basis; meanwhile can also keep his team fresh for the stretch run (and possible playoff run).
Unquestionably the 76ers bench is untested, but the talented is definitely there. If the Sixers bench is employed properly and accepts the nightly challenges, then they could transform from a team with promise into a legitimate playoff contender.