LEARNING CURVE HAS BEGUN

It seems like just yesterday Andre Iguodala was sinking a free throw to send the Sixers to the Eastern Conference Semi-finals.  A few months earlier, Lou Williams showed off his best Allen Iverson impression, scoring 14 points (including the last 10) in a 4th quarter comeback to stun the Lakers at home for a monumental victory. 

Or what about Elton Brand? From being lost in the shadows of the 2010-11 season, to shifting gears and having one of the best defensive seasons in his NBA career while vocally willing the Sixers to one of their most successful seasons of the past decade.

The memories are hard to forget.  And, without a doubt every last one of them deserves credit for putting on their uniform every day and fighting for this organization.

You see, regardless of how ‘Dre has acted towards the Sixer coaching staff and its fans the past week, let’s take a moment and reflect on what these three men have given you all.  A franchise that is relevant again.  Other talented players did help out along the way, but through all the doubters (myself included towards the end of last season) these three fought night after night and gave this city and its fans a reason to believe. 

The Sixers are more relevant than ever, but the current roster isn’t filled with the same familiar faces you’ve seen in the past.  It’s truly hard to believe that the Sixers team which is about to embark on the 2012-13 NBA season holds only 5 of the 12 players who made their stamp in the history books last season. Everything you used to know and were used to seeing as a Sixers fan is about to change for good.

 

In comes a brand new game plan on both offense and defense, but with only a short month to master everything. Not only that, but there’s a huge piece missing to the puzzle. Unless you’ve fallen into a deep depression watching the Washington Nationals beat out the Phillies for a playoff spot this fall, then you should have heard that Andrew Bynum will most likely sit out all of preseason to recover from the knee “procedure” he had in Germany back in September.

This kind of a roster shakeup creates a lot of adjustments which need to be facilitated and we got our first look at how the players are adapting to those adjustments last night.

By parting ways with Andre Iguodala, Lou Williams, Elton Brand, Nik Vucevic, Jodie Meeks, Tony Battie, and Sam Young the Sixers shed a very large amount of the production the team relied upon last season.

 

This is how the numbers break down:

(Percentages of total production lost)

Minutes:54.7%

Made Field Goals: 51.2%

Made Three Pointers: 77.1%

Made Free Throws: 63%

Rebounds: 52.5%

Assists: 53.5%

Steals: 55.1%

Blocks: 57.4%

Points: 54.4%

Over half the production of last year’s team has been replaced by a new set of talent and personalities who hope to follow the path that was built by their predecessors.  Filling out the new roster are Andrew Bynum, Jason Richardson, Dorell Wright, Nick Young, Kwame Brown, and Arnett Moultrie. Whether or not Maalik Wayns makes the team over Royal Ivey is yet to be seen, but apparently Wayns has looked fast and strong in training camp and he had a nice game in O-town last night.

Replacing this lost production is not an easy task, especially having to simulate plays in practice as if Bynum were actually in the paint.  There’s a good possibility that Bynum won’t have a chance to play with his teammates until the season opener against the Nuggets.

In the mean time, the Sixers had a preseason game to play last night.  Returning Sixer Jrue Holiday led the charge with 27 points in a 102-95 victory over the Orlando Magic. Where Sweet Lou used to drain one mid-range jumper after another, new addition Nick Young stepped in dropping 22 points of his own and at least for one night giving critics and fans something to get excited about.

On the other hand Evan Turner who’s expected to fill in for Andre Iguodala, looked awful, shooting just 2 of 12 from the field while attempting zero free throws.  He had an above average night doing other things such as defending, rebounding, and passing but just doing those things well isn’t going to cut it for him this season.  ET has to shoot better at a better clip or DC will insert someone to do it for him. 

The same goes for Thaddeus Young. The longest tenured Sixer on the roster shot 5-14 from the floor while the team went -7 with him on the court.  Two of the five guys returning to the team coming up short just isn’t going to cut it anymore.

Even worse was the play of the now oldest veteran on the team, Jason Richardson.  He was out of sync offensively and defensively the entire game, shooting a measly 1-5 from the field and having the worst +/- on the team at -9.

However, in the NBA with one man’s failure come another man’s opportunity and those opportunities shined bright in the new and improved Sixers “Night Shift”.  Maalik Wayns was all over the court scoring 6 points while adding 7 rebounds and 6 assists.  Dorell Wright hit three shots from downtown adding 10 points in just 16 minutes.  This is the type of production the Sixers will need if they are going to be successful this season.

Outside of Jason Richardson and Dorell Wright, nobody on this Sixers team has ever gotten the chance to play with a dominant big man. The players who will be feeding the “Bynumal” the ball this season will have to try their hardest in practice and in preseason to continue to play as if he were there filling out the post anyway.  It’s going to be a tough adjustment to go from running simulations of plays for Bynum during training camp and preseason to actually getting the big guy the ball in the regular season.

On the defensive side of the ball, coach Doug Collins is going to have to get players like Jason Richardson, Nick Young, and Dorell Wright to buy into the team defense concept as well which is a lot more complex than anything they’ve had to use during their careers.  There’s a lot of help defense and traps, there’s a lot of cutting off passing lanes and keeping your hands up, there’s a lot of fighting through screens and switching.  If the Sixers plan on repeating their success of last season, it’s going to start on the defensive side of the ball.

Evan Turner and Jrue Holiday will have to become lock down defenders and Andrew Bynum and Spencer Hawes will have to learn how to compliment each other in the post.

On offense, Andrew Bynum must be working with Collins every day.  He must study tape and memorize the plays.  He should skim over the design of Stan Van Gundy’s 2009 Orlando Magic team and figure out where the ball should be when teams throw at him a double or triple in the post like they did to Dwight Howard.  As the focal point of the Sixers attack on both the offensive and defensive end of the floor, he has to assume the leadership role on this team and be able to read and understand where he should be on the court and what he should be doing on any given play.

It’s going to be a tough go out of the gate for the Sixers to start the season. From Oct. 31st-November 9th the Sixers will play: Den; @NYK; NYK; @NOH; and @Boston. The Nuggets, Knicks, and Celtics are all defensive-minded/physical teams who have much more experience playing together than the young Sixers.  The Hornets also now boast one of the best young rosters in the League and are definitely a team not to be taken lightly.

These games could all easily be losses if the starters down lock down their duties offensively and defensively and if Bynum isn’t able to adjust to the new attention he’s going to receive from opposing defenders.  JaVale McGee and Tyson Chandler are both long and physical defenders who’ve seen their fair share of Bynum over the years.  They could use Bynum’s rust to their advantage and force others on the team to create.

 

It’s yet to be seen not only how the team will perform alongside Bynum, but how well the team will fare without Bynum as well.  For one preseason game they held their own, but just barely (against a weak Orlando team).  Hedo Turkoglu made Thaddeus Young pay for staying off of him, the combination of Glen Davis, Nikola Vucevic, and Andrew Nicholson had their way with Sixers bigs in the post , and the Sixers as a team stole a win in what shouldn’t have even been a contest.

 

 

 

The mark of a great team is how you’re able to perform when missing your star.  For players like Evan Turner and Thaddeus Young that means they have to respond better on Saturday against the Nets if they want the minutes they feel they deserve and also want to have the Sixers playing their best possible basketball to start the season.

Having the season starting off the right way is crucial.  It’s going to be a long December, which I pointed out in a past post.  Stringing together some wins in November is a must for the Sixers to have any shot at dethroning the Celtics as the Atlantic Division Champions at the end of the season.

 

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