As everybody already knows, the NBA is a star-centered league. It was never more evident then when one of the NBA’s most respected coaches, Gregg Popovich, was chastised for deciding to sit four of his star players in a game last night against arguably the NBA’s best team in the Miami Heat.
For the 2012-13 Sixers, it’s been more of the same. From the start of the campaign up until now, there’s been one man drawing the attention of the national media, while next to nothing has been said of the “team” that stands at 9-6, good enough for the fifth best record in the Eastern Conference. The focus has been on Andrew Bynum, the All-Star center who hasn’t been able to play a minute this season for the Sixers as he recovers from offseason knee procedures.
Before the Sixers’ first nationally televised game this season against the New Orleans Hornets, the Sixers were on ESPN.com’s front page. Instead of a story focusing on the promising youth and acquisitions the Sixers were able to make in the offseason, it was a story focused on questioning the Sixers ownership, calling the moves they made this season a “risk”. All of the negativity was built around the status of Bynum, the Sixers’ most talked-about offseason acquisition since Elton Brand.
Just 10 days later, as the Sixers stood at 5-4, another article came out about Bynum damaging cartilage in his knees while going bowling. Most recently, as the Sixers sat at 7-5, out came yet another article on Bynum only this time about him being out indefinitely for the 2012-13 season.
As the national media now steers its way away from Philadelphia (due to Bynum’s playing status being much clearer), maybe the NBA’s fans will be able to focus on the Sixers in a positive light and see who they really are this season as a team rather than who they’re not.
They’re a point guard who is 14th in the league in scoring and third in the league in assists. They’re a small forward and former No. 2 draft pick who has taken it upon himself to improve his game as he’s statistically increased his averages across the board as a starter. They’re a power forward, who has had his size and position questioned throughout his career, who now sits at 31st in the league in rebounding, one spot above the Thunders heavily praised forward Serge Ibaka.
The combination of Jrue Holiday, Evan Turner and Thaddeus Young has made the Sixers a more than viable team in the Eastern Conference even without their so-called “star” in Andrew Bynum.
While turnovers are still an issue with Jrue Holiday, as he leads the NBA with 4.4 per game, he’s been among the NBA’s best at orchestrating the Sixers offense while giving the team a much needed scoring punch. Out of the NBA’s top five assists leaders, Holiday is the only one who’s averaging 18 or more points per game. As of today, Holiday sits ninth on NBA.com’s rankings for the MVP of the league. Evan Turner had a lot of praise for the man who’s been feeding him the rock this season.
“Obviously he’s been playing big-time ball. He’s one of the best point guards in the league,” said Turner. “I think he does it all natural. There’s no flashiness, he doesn’t come out with a dance or anything like that, you don’t see him on a million billboards, but when you see him go up against some of the top guards in this league he kills them.
“He’s doing things the right way and he’s obviously one of the best point guards in the league and the best player on this team.”
In a win against Pheonix on Sunday, Holiday had 33 points and 13 assists, while only committing 2 turnovers. It was a feat that’s only been done by four other players in the last five seasons (Deron Williams twice, Chris Paul, Monta Ellis and LeBron James) and by just two Sixers in the last 25 years (Charles Barkley and Allen Iverson).
Where Jrue has been the orchestrator, Evan Turner has played the role of “Mr. Consistent”. Since his induction into the league as the No. 2 pick in the 2010 NBA draft, both the Philadelphia and national media has heavily scrutinized Turner for not living up to the hype that surrounded him. He was the guy who couldn’t play without the ball, the guy who couldn’t hit a jump shot, the guy without a motor and the guy who was destined to become a bust. Few focused on how his minutes were limited, sitting behind All-Star and franchise player Andre Iguodala for most of his first two seasons. In a starting role this season, Turner has been thriving and people have finally started to take notice.
Turner says his success comes from listening to his coaches and through blocking out negativity. Just letting a game come to him rather than trying to do too much.
“I’m doing what the coaches ask me to do. I’m going out there and trying to be consistent while playing defense and rebounding,” said Turner. “If what I’m doing on the court results in wins then that’s what I’m rolling with. I think everybody has a perception of me. When you hear my name you hear the number two (draft pick) tag and everything that comes with it.
“Realistically you’re not going to see those crazy numbers from me like you see from KD (Kevin Durant) or anything. That’s not how our teams offense is. There’s a whole bunch of great players, a lot of double-digit scorers and that’s what we’re all about.”
In the past six games, Turner has averaged 17.8 points, 6.6 rebounds and 5.1 assists as the Sixers have gone 4-2. After the teams most recent win over the Mavericks on Tuesday, coach Doug Collins said that he’s noticed a change in Evan.
“I love the way Evan’s playing. It all comes from right here,” Collins said as he pointed to his head. “The way he’s approaching the game every night. I like where he is emotionally.
“It’s funny now. In certain stretches of the game where it gets tight or whatever, I’ll be talking to him and he’ll crack a joke with me…It’s a growth process with young players. I’m really really proud of Evan.”
Where Jrue and Turner have proven to grow on the basketball court, it’s forward Thaddeus Young that seems to have grown the most off of it. When the Sixers traded away forward Andre Iguodala, didn’t re-sign guard Lou Williams and amnestied forward Elton Brand in the offseason, they lost the veteran leadership which they had relied upon in the previous three seasons to both win basketball games and guide the youth of the team.
As the longest tenured Sixer on the roster Thad had never held a starting role with the team. That was until Doug Collins decided before the season that Thad had earned his due and deserved to take center court at the start of a basketball game for this team. Thad understands what this decision meant to him as a player.
“It shows that they have a lot of confidence in me as a player and a person. It shows that they believe in me. Obviously the team listens to me even though I’m not the oldest player in the locker room or with the most years on him, but they definitely listen to me voice my opinion,” said Thad. “(They listen) because I’ve been around, I’ve started, I’ve played in a playoff series and I’ve really made a difference in a lot of games whether we won or lost. I’m just trying to go out there and keep my play up and prove to those guys that I can be one of those leaders for this team.”
As a starter at power forward, Thad has a career high of 7.8 rebounds per game, 1.5 steals and is constantly seen starting the fast break and getting out in transition. He’s averaging 14 points a game on a team-high 51 percent shooting.
“He’s doing what we need him to do for our team,” said forward Evan Turner. “He’s been here for five years and he’s had to step up and be the leader for the big men. This is just Lavoy’s second year and he’s going to keep getting better and better. He needs that voice. It’s all about helping your teammate out. Sometimes you need that voice guiding you along during a game or in practice, whatever it may be. Thad’s been able to do that this season.”
One thing’s for sure, that this Sixers trio is off to a great start and the team has clearly benefited from their play with a 9-6 start. They’re just 1 ½ games out of first place in the Atlantic Division and look to finish November on a three-game winning streak tonight against the Charlotte Bobcats.
“Being youngsters you have to learn how to step up and want the challenges that are given to you,” said Evan Turner. “When we cleaned house to start the season that was the obvious thing to us to really step up and to show the new guys the way a little bit while also bettering ourselves. Some of the games we lost last year we want to win and some of the accolades especially in his case (Jrue) you want to get.”
Whether or not Andrew Bynum comes back this season is still in question, but what shouldn’t be in question is whether or not the Sixers are a good team. Following the lead of Jrue, Evan and Thad this team has been resilient on offense and defense and although its front-court will be in question all year, it’s hard not to notice their play so far this season (unless you’re the national media). For a city who’s suffering through the pains of an NHL lockout, a baseball team who was decimated by injuries last season, and a football team that is about to change its identity for which it’s been known for the past decade there should be no reason why the Sixers don’t play in a packed house down at the WFC on a nightly basis. As long as the team’s young trio takes the court, the Sixers have a chance to win.
“Once us three get it going, it’s hard to stop us because you have to pick your poison,” said Thaddeus Young. “If you choose me, Jrue will get it going or if you choose Evan, I could get it going. When it comes down to it that’s what it is. We’re all threats on offense who could beat you on any given night.”
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