It goes without saying that the most talked about move of the summer for the 76ers was their acquisition of Andrew Bynum. Plenty of people have chimed in on this, both positively and negatively, and it has (rightly so) been pegged as the team’s most impactful move.
However, one aspect of this trade that has not been analyzed enough is the fact that it ensures that Spencer Hawes will spend the majority of his playing time at the power forward position rather than center. This move will impact different aspects of Hawes’ game in different ways.
First off, let’s take a look at what this will do to Spencer on the offensive side of the ball. Last year, Spencer didn’t exactly play like the prototypical center. Scouts have always said that he has strong skill in the post, but he almost never shows it. Instead, he prefers to play out of the high post or mid-range corner. This spot away from the basket suits his skill set, as he has proved himself to be a valuable distributor (4th in assist rate among qualified centers) while also taking care of the basketball effectively. It should be noted, too, that these assist numbers were accumulated without having Andrew Bynum as an option offensively.
In addition to his passing abilities, the high post allows him to space the floor with his strong jump shot. While being paired up with the opposing team’s power forward should decrease the number of open looks he sees, it should also help to open up passing lanes to find Bynum or one of the Sixers newly acquired shooters.
Something to note, though, is that while Spencer’s mid-range jump shot is fairly effective and will space the floor, his distribution should be his main weapon, as the mid-range jumper is not an efficient scoring method. One way that Hawes could add some more value to his offensive game is by crashing the boards. Spencer posted a strong rebound rate last season, but most of this was done at the defensive end (15th among centers in defensive rebound rate vs. 33rd in offensive rebound rate). While it is certainly possible that the move to the 4 doesn’t affect his work on the offensive glass, a smaller body boxing him out should ensure that if his numbers move, they’ll move in a positive direction.
Additionally, using Spencer as a Pick-n-Pop option should see positive results for the offense. Last year, on plays where Spencer set a screen and either rolled or popped, his 0.98 points per play were good for 65th in the NBA. While 65th in the NBA isn’t astounding, when you combine that number with the fact that he only turned the ball over 6% of the time in these situations and this play becomes a solid low risk option for the Sixers offense.
On the defensive side of the ball, Hawes has always struggled. He doesn’t have the toughness or the bulk to bang in the paint with opposing teams’ centers (opponents scored 19.4 points per 48 minutes against him last year) and he doesn’t have the lateral quickness to guard stretch fours either. While the first problem should be less apparent with the position change, more and more teams are playing small with power forwards that can both shoot and handle the ball. Thus, Hawes will undoubtedly have a learning curve (to put it nicely) on this end of the floor. The hope is that having Bynum manning the paint will cover up for Spencer’s lack of foot speed, and it undoubtedly will help to a certain extent, but the jury remains out on whether he can be effective at guarding power forwards at this level. The good news, though, is that Hawes’ defensive rebounding numbers will be extremely strong when matched up with power forwards rather than centers. Hawes and Bynum together in the front court will be an extremely strong duo in terms of rebounding.
It should be an interesting season for Hawes. If Collins stands by his proclamation that Spencer will be the starting power forward, the move could open a whole new world of offensive threats for the 7-6. However, in the end, the success of this experiment will likely be determined by whether or not Hawes can become a respectable defender at the other end. If by guarding opposing 4’s Hawes becomes a liability at the defensive end, Collins is sure to pull the plug on this idea quickly, no matter how positive his offensive contributions.