02/24/12 10:23 am EST
The 3-2 opening road trip and the overall hot start. L’s vs. New Jersey, at New York (pre Emperor Lin) and Minnesota as well as two reality check smackdowns at the hands of the Heat. Wins over Chicago, the Lakers and Atlanta — twice. And of course the current five game losing streak.
To say the start of the lockout shortened 2011-12 season has been a wild ride for the 76ers is an understatement.
By now you’ve watched enough Sixers basketball and listened to the opinions of enough national “experts” to form your own thoughts on this team and where they are headed this season. Still in an effort to provide you the reader with educated reviews on how the Sixers year has played out thus far, the scribes here at Philadunkia — people who eat, drink and sleep the 7-6 — have typed up their recaps for the first half of the 2011-12 season.
According to the Philadunkia staff, one thing is for sure, despite the very positive start to the season, the 2011-12 76ers still have a lot of work ahead of them.
After the jump…Here we go.
At the beginning of the season I predicted the Sixers to finish the season going 36-30, good enough for the sixth spot in the Eastern Conference. Some of the main complaints I voiced were that the Sixers hadn’t really changed their identity as a team at all in the off-season. They didn’t upgrade for a force in the paint, and they hadn’t looked into a reliable option at the shooting guard position. The biggest moves they made were acquiring Nikola Vucevic and Lavoy Allen in the 2011 NBA draft.
That was then, and this is now. The Sixers now stand at 20-14, which is good enough to stand atop a tough Atlantic Division. The Sixers have shown the country how much they have grown together in just a year’s time, and their defensive intensity has reached new heights as they currently stand at number one in the L, holding opponents to just 87.3 ppg.
The Sixers only have to win 16 more games to reach my pre-season prediction and they definitely will. They have surpassed my expectations and a lot of credit is due to Doug Collins. In terms of player growth, I’ve been thoroughly impressed by the play of Temple University product Lavoy Allen who I claimed before the season, “needs plenty of teaching from Elton Brand before he can be considered any sort of option in the lane for this team.” He has been a huge boost of the bench both offensively and defensively this season. The play of Nikola Vucevic has also been for the most part exciting to see. It’s rare to see even one rookie for a team to get this type of production, and to have two hit for near identical numbers is exciting to see.
Another thing I didn’t expect to see this season was the fall of Jrue Holiday. Going into the season, if there were one player on the Sixers who I’d poke out a spot on the all-star ballot for it would’ve been Holiday. Jrue had just come off of a season averaging 14 points, 6.5 assists, and 4 rebounds a game while getting noticed around the League for his growth and maturity as a player. In his 2011-12 campaign, he has played well below the promising player he had proved to be last season.
The Sixers are now 5-8 in February, and currently own a five game losing streak (the longest of the season). A couple of the main reasons the Sixers have been losing of late is because of their interior and perimeter defense, which are things I’ve voiced my opinions about for the past three years. Falling back into old habits will be killer to this team, and the Magic exploited those habits to the maximum back on Feb. 15th.
Now with both Spencer Hawes (Achilles) and Elton Brand (thumb) out of action for the next couple weeks, it should be in the best interest of the front office to make a move for a big man. Even with Jrue’s play of late, I still believe the Sixers are just a couple pieces away from being a championship contender. The team itself is starting to lose confidence and they need a boost now more than ever. Make a move for a player like Tyrus Thomas, Al Jefferson, or Kris Humphries and all of a sudden you are back into contender status as a team.
I have faith Jrue will turn things around and by seasons end either ET or Lou Williams will probably start at the two. The Sixers really just need a big physical man in the post to take them over the top. Dreaming about Dwight Howard in a Sixers uniform is an every night occurrence for me.
With the Sixers recent slump (lost five straight), my once sky high expectations have subsided just a bit. Though I still have the 7-6 booked into a second round playoff series against the Bulls or Heat, the continual rise of the Jeremy Lin led Knicks (who just got their best player in Carmelo back, who unlike every other talking head in the country, I think will work perfectly alongside America’s favorite point guard), the almost guaranteed resurgence of the Boston Tea Party come playoff time and the “what team should we be tonight” Atlanta Hawks, I am a little worried that if this slump continues, I may want to book that in pencil.
For me, it all falls on Jrue Holiday’s shoulders. I think everyone knows how much I value Holiday, but he has regressed as of late and in this NBA, let alone the Eastern Conference, having a point guard disappear into the floor boards is not a good thing. Jrue needs to learn how to score, hand out assists AND play good defense cohesively every game. Until then, the Sixers, as much as this pains me to say, may be spinning their wheels.
Although the Sixers have slumped of late – losing their last five contests – they continue to surpass my 36 win expectation for the shortened slate (on pace for 40). Continuity and youth has proven beneficial for the Philadelphia ball club. And while I’m impressed with the division-leading effort thus far, one player has disappointed me: Jrue Holiday. I, along with many, expected Jrue to have a breakout, potential all-star season in his 3rd year. Instead, the young guard has regressed in nearly all statistical categories including points, assists, rebounds and shooting percentages. The most alarming stat, is his below league average 14.47 player efficiency score. Maybe Jrue’s numbers, or lack thereof, fall short of expectations due to the 7-6 makeup with several guards controlling the rock.
Hopefully, it’s not a sign of his ceiling as a player already being reached. Either way, keep an eye on Jrue to close out the year, his success as a player weighs heavily on the future of this franchise.
The Sixers are much better than any of us had any right to imagine (except for Carey Smith. He more or less perfectly imagined it.) and yet in late February the season feels like something of a disappointment — like as well as they’ve played, it’s been an opportunity lost, or at least not fully realized. This is partly to do with their 0-5 record in games decided by less than four points, a lot to do with their now-five game losing streak, and sure isn’t helped by their 8-12 record without Spencer Hawes — who it looks like they’ll continue to be without for the foreseeable future.
It shouldn’t though. Feel like a disappointment that is. What it should feel like is the beginning of something. And that something is this: an era of Sixers basketball where top-3 defense is expected; having the best coached team in the NBA is a given; and every night they’re as flat-out fun to watch as anybody in the Association.
Looking out at the back nine of the season, expect more of the same. The Sixers will blow out the bad teams, do just enough to lose close to the really good ones, get Spence back in time for an inspired playoff run (I’m looking into my crystal ball and seeing a first round W followed by a six or seven game loss in the semis), and maybe – just maybe – parlaying their embarrassment of riches in the young asset department into a real difference maker.
Hey, it Dwight happen.
Prior to the season I predicted that the Sixers would register a 40-26 record in this lockout shortened season. So I am not surprised at their 20 win total at the all-star break. However, I could never have imagined that they would be on pace to accomplish those 40 wins in such wild fashion. I had no idea that Spencer Hawes (and his now absence) would be such a big factor for this team. I could never have predicted that after his 2010-11 performance that the Sixers would get nothing from Elton Brand this season. I thought Big Nik would be a factor off the bench for this team early on and then push Hawes for a starting spot, but I never dreamed the Sixers would be leaning on him for interior offense and that he would deliver. I never would have forecast Jrue Holiday’s roller coaster year. Or that Lavoy Allen would be a key member of this team so quickly. Nor could I have had a nightmare that showed me the Sixers would lose 5 straight headed into the ASB.
In short it’s been a crazy 33 games.
And while the 7-6 is still “on pace” to win the 40 games I predicted, I am very concerned that their play during the current 5 game losing streak is not going away anytime soon and that the slide will keep this team (or already has) from reaching that 40 Ws mark. Assuming that Hawes is out for the next 10 games and EB will miss some of those contests as well, I can’t see the current version of the Sixers (in level of play & roster) doing much better then 5-5 over that stretch. That would put Philadunkia’s home team at 25-19 with 22 games to play. Which means over the last month of the season (roughly) the Sixers would have to go 15-7 to reach my 40 wins prediction. Even if I assume Sixers shake out of this funk and return to the high level of play we saw from them early on, with games vs. CHI, vs BOS, @ NYK; vs. MIA; @ CHI; vs. NYK; vs. BOS; @ SAS; @ MIA; and vs. ORL over those last 22 contests, 15 up and only 7 down is going to be a monumental achievement.
Hopefully the Sixers find their “A-game” from the jump after the ASB and EB locates his 2010-11 skills while he is seated on the bench. Then Hawes returns at full strength, Holiday finds his usually steady game, Doug gets LW under control and Rod Thorn adds a piece to help this team (Jason Thompson anyone?). If that all happens, I’ll feel a lot better about Collins & Co. reaching my 40 wins prediction.
Quite honestly, none of us at Philadunkia truly expected the Sixers to sit at first place heading into the All-Star break. Yes, they have been a surprise and have exceeded expectations, but their seat atop of the Atlantic Division is really more about the lackluster efforts of the Knicks and the Celtics. At this point in the season, the Sixers are watching their lead dwindle day by day (a five game losing streak would do that for you). We all expected them to start hot with an early favorable schedule. They took full advantage of that schedule and played their way into contention in the Eastern Conference. Though, time has a way of balancing things out; and in the case of the Sixers, time has brought them back to Earth.
Their great early play will propel them pass my 36 game prediction but it will be interesting to see if they can hold on to the division lead and a top 4 seed come playoff time. March and April will be fun.