Well, the Michael Vick comeback train keeps rolling and it’s certainly an amazing return to glory for a player who hadn’t started a game since 2006 and spent 21 months in prison in the interim.

And now the Phillies have secured the front page headlines after stealing Cliff Lee from the clutches of the hated Yankess and returning him to the friendly confines of Citizens Bank Park. 

Across the street though at the Wells Fargo Center, much less ink has been spilt over another former-Atlanta resident in the midst of a pretty remarkable comeback of his own.   And while it might not be quite as impressive as number 7’s recent accomplishments, it certainly has us here at Philadunkia pumped for what lies ahead.

Thad Young had a nice rookie season.  He shot 54% from the floor, posted a WP48 of 0.126 (Average is 0.1 for a vet, 0.04 for a rookie), produced 4.1 wins, and logged playoff minutes. And he was 19. The sky was the limit.

What did he do as a follow-up?  Something no one saw coming.

He got much worse at everything.

Over the next two seasons, as his minutes rose his production fell.  His field goal percentage dipped 70 points. His rebounds per 48 minutes fell by a pair.  He turned it over more, he hit his foul shots less. Rim rattling dunks were replaced by ill-considered 3’s.

Last season was his nadir.  He posted a WP48 of -0.029 and -1.3 wins.  The once-promising Young had entered the Adam Morrison zone, and the Sixers, not coincidentally, entered the Lottery.

Despite Young’s fall, hopes were (relatively) high coming into the season.  The Sixers brought in Doug Collins as coach and also added a hyper-productive young wing who promised to take the team to new levels. And that wing was…Thaddeus Young.

In an inexplicable reversal, through 23 games, Thad is third in the NBA in FG%.  He’s improved on the boards.  He’s shooting a career-best from the line.  He’s halved his turnovers.  He’s back.

He reached critical mass on Dec. 7 against the Cavs. He went 11/12 from the floor and 3/3 from the line for 26 points, pulled in 11 rebounds, swiped two steals, and turned the ball over all of zero times.

Now pick your jaw off the ground, dust it off, and listen to this: I spoke with the renascent Young on Friday night and wrote down what he said.  We covered his resurgence, contract status, Evan Turner’s struggles, and Charles Barkley. You’re welcome.

Q and A after the J.

PhiladunkiaTough loss last night*.

*The Sixers fell 102-101 to the tops-in-the-East Celts.  If you shout expletives at the screen during the post-game, does it still count as a moral victory?

Thad:  Yeah it was it was, it was a heartbreaking loss. But we went out there, we fought hard, we played hard –we played our butts off– and you know…

PhiladunkiaYou’ve lost some close games to good teams like that. How is the team responding?

Thad: Well, each time we lose we’re down about it, but we try to take all the positives we can from the games that were close, and just try to go out there, bring {the positives} to the next game, and just finish games. That’s our only problem right now, we really haven’t been able to finish games, and put the hammer down on the nail.

We had won four games in a row at home, we tried to get the fifth, but things happen and it doesn’t always work out in your favor. We just have to work past that, and look to the next game, and hopefully we can come out and get it.

Philadunkia: Are you guys better than your 7-15 record?

Thad:  Definitely. I would probably say we should be in the mix in the Eastern Conference –anywhere from the fifth to the eighth spot. In the East, you can beat any team on any given night. We just gotta… our record doesn’t indicate what we are. We’re not a team that should be 7-15, or whatever we are.*

*The Sixers, with a roster that produced 15 wins last season, somehow, someway, have a positive scoring differential right now. A team that, by all rights, should have been the dregs of the league, has clawed its way back to mediocrity, albeit unacknowledged mediocrity given the whole (now) 8-15 record situation.A playoff birth is not out of the question. Whether it’s in the best interest of the franchise to forsake a lottery pick for a first-round exit is another thing entirely though.

Philadunkia:  How is the team responding to Doug Collins?*

*Well. See above.

Thad:  He’s a very intense coach. He brings the best out of his players. All he asks of us is to go out each and every night and play hard and he’s gonna put us in a position to win basketball games, and he has. It’s been working out great. I think he’s a great coach for us, and he’s definitely a coach who’s gonna help us in the long run. He’s a guy who gets the most out of his players and helps teams become better.*

*Truer words are rarely spoken. Doug’s Bulls improved by 10 games his first year at the helm, and the Pistons and Wizards 18 each.

Philadunkia:  Charles Barkley said at halftime of last night’s game that he thought you were the best player on the Sixers. What does that praise mean to you? Do you agree with him?*

*Through the season’s first 23, Sir Charles is probably right.

Thad:  That means a lot to me. Anytime Charles Barkley –he’s a legend, a guy who’s put his time in and done a lot of things for the game– any time you hear words like that, when you get praise like that from him, it’s big. I’d like to thank him for that. He didn’t have to say that.

I try not to get into who the best player on the team is or anything like that, I just try to go out there and just play basketball. Go out there and have fun, play my best basketball and just win some games. I hate losing. I’m a guy who’s been a winner his whole life, I just want to win. Go out there, win basketball games, and get things accomplished.

Philadunkia:  You’ve been unbelievable this year? What’s the difference?*

*The difference is his otherworldly TS% of 62.2 (league average is 54.2. Thad was at 52.3 last year), which is in turn driven primarily by an at the rim FG% of 78.8 and an inside 10 feet FG% of 63.3. Yeah. I know.

Thad:  I’d probably say I’ve been much more aggressive, I’m not living and dying by the three-point line*. I’m paying attention to everything the coach is saying and just having fun with what I’m doing, and giving my team a chance to win basketball games.

*After shooting over 2.5 threes per 40 minutes the past two seasons, he’s at 0.9 this year. This discretion is offset though by an increase in 16-23 footers.

Philadunkia:  Why have you laid off the 3 point shot this year? Is that deliberate, or just what’s happening in the flow of the offense?

Thad: I’ve been meaning to do that. It’s something I’ve been trying to get away from. If I have a wide, wide, open three I’ll take it, but mainly I’m just trying to attack guys and keep them on their heels. Knock down a few mid-range jumpers, but mainly just try to get to the basket*.

*What he meant: “I’m afraid that Doug Collins will have an aneurysm if I take another contested three. I shot one against the Wizards and his left eye went lazy for the rest of the first half. It was pretty scary.”

Philadunkia:  You’re finishing much better this year. I don’t know how closely you follow your own stats, but you have a higher FG percentage than Dwight Howard. Are you stronger? Is it the offense? Better shot selection? What gives?

Thad:  Man, well, I’ve always had a knack for scoring around the basket, but I’d probably just say I’ve been focusing in a little more, and my teammates have been putting me in a great position. It goes out to them. Those guys have been setting me up; Evan and Lou and Jrue and Dre. They’ve been putting me in positions where all I have to do is put it in the basket, play one-on-one, and attack cats*.

*Thad is a pretty self-aware guy. 65.8% of his finishes at the rim and 68.4% of those inside ten feet have come off assists. The association averages are 51.3 and 42.5. Dude’s getting a lot of help.

Philadunkia:  You’re playing fewer minutes, is that making a difference? More spring in your step?

Thad:  I wouldn’t say that, I just go out there and play. I wouldn’t say I have more hop in my step or anything like that. I’m just focusing in, playing, and making the most of the minutes I get. Whether it’s 15,25,35,40, I just go out and give my all regardless, and it’s working in my favor this year.*

*Sort of gets lost in the audio-to-transcript translation, but Thad seemed miffed at even the slightest hint of a suggestion that he’s not a full-time guy. He wants to be on the court all the time. The numbers seem to argue though that he’s better off playing 25 a night than he is 35.

Philadunkia:  Talk to me about your contract situation. Are your people in contact with Rod Thorn? What’s the progress? What kind of a deal are you looking for?

Thad:  We are in negotiations, as of the end of October. Everything is fine with me, I know it’s a business and I know a lot of teams are backing off re-signing guys, or getting involved in long term deals with guys because of the CBA ending soon.

But I’m not mad about anything. I’m just going out there and playing and trying to win games. I’m not worried about anything.

Philadunkia:  How set are you on returning to the Sixers?*

*Stupid question. What’s he going to say? “The city’s pretty ‘meh,’ if you ask me. I stay, I leave, whatever. Franchise sucks anyway.”

Thad:  I’m very committed. I love being in the city of Philly, I never want to leave. This is the team that drafted me, this is the team that gave me my first chance. And, I’m looking forward to continuing to play these guys, and grow, and one day win a championship with these guys.

But some things don’t work out that way. But right now I’m not worried about it. When the time comes, it’ll get sorted out.

Philadunkia:  Do you feel like the Sixers want you back?

Thad: Yeah, definitely. I have a great relationship with Rod, Coach, Ed, everyone. I don’t think there’s any bad-blood there. Those guys love me and I love those guys; my teammates especially. I love playing with those guys and we have a feel for each other. We know how each other play. Why break something like that up?*

*Because you’ve gone 35-70 the last season and a quarter.

Philadunkia:  After a great rookie year, you went backwards for two seasons. What happened?

Thad:  Last year I wasn’t really comfortable. I wasn’t comfortable at all last year in whatever we did. This year I’m more comfortable. Coach is looking to put the ball in my hands a little more when I’m coming off the bench. Me and Lou are the guys that have to do the scoring for that second group. The ball is in me and Lou’s hands a lot, and when we go out there we play with a lot of freedom, and we just have a great time.

Philadunkia:  Uncomfortable how? Were you miscast in Eddie Jordan’s offense?*

*While a lot of the Sixers problems can be pinned on Jordan, Thad’s decline started under Mo Cheeks. That said, it steepened considerably under Eddie.

Thad:  I wouldn’t say that. I showed some signs of having fun and running the offense, and some signs of it not working out. The thing is though, it’s a team thing. It’s not about me. It’s about how the team works overall on offense

Philadunkia:  Evan Turner’s disappeared a little lately, he looks lost out there. As a guy who’s struggled in this league and come out the other end OK, what have you told him?

Thad:  Just go out there and do the things you know how to do. Don’t try to do to much*. Anytime you try to do too much you get yourself in trouble**. I told him that I’ve been one of those guys who played, didn’t play, played, didn’t play, and you just have to be ready. Everything else is out of your hands. Whether you’re coming off the bench, or whether you’re starting, just be ready at all times, and it’ll work out.

*Trying to do too much doesn’t seem to be Turner’s problem.

**Doing too little can also apparently get you in trouble.

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