10 Reasons to be Excited for the 2011-2012 Philadelphia 76ers
December 25, 2011 Leave a Comment
10) Spencer Hawes: Hawes battled an injury during training camp last fall, fell behind in his training and never really caught up to the team. Double cheeseburgers were also prominently involved. He always seemed a step behind in his first season in Philly, and played like one of the shortest 7 footers I”ve ever seen. However, I saw a picture of him at practice last week and he was noticeably slimmer.
In last weeks preseason game in DC and he really looked like a different player. I’m not saying we should expect Hakeem Olajuwon, but 30 minutes, 10 ppg, and 8 rbs is reasonable. He has always been an exceptional passer at his size, so that is one part of his game that should also carry over. Collins has said this is a different team when Hawes is playing well, and he is right. Teams do not usually have a game plan for him and it gives them a huge advantage having a center with his skill-set. As long as he is healthy and in shape we should see an improvement from his first season in Philly.
9) Will Smith: Not really, he only bought a minority stake in the franchise, and does not appear to be involved in day-to-day operations, but part of the positivity surrounding the team is certainly due to the new ownership group. This seems to happen whenever a new billionaire buys a stale franchise. But the opportunistic timing of the endeavor can’t be ignored.
Building off momentum from Collins’ 1st year as head coach, these owners have injected new life into an organization that failed to sell half the seats in the arena most nights. They have slashed ticket prices across the board, taken to twitter to get the message out and become more accessible, and asked for fan input in choosing the new mascot. It feels like Pat Croce all over again. While there isn’t an Iverson or #1 pick waiting in the wings, this team is already light years ahead of the 1996 team in terms of roster talent. The most important thing, of course, is that they appear committed to winning and willing to prove it by opening their wallets. With both Brand and Nocioni’s contracts coming off the books in the next two seasons, they will fall well under the salary cap and be able to spend on the star free agent they need to contend.
8 ) The bench: Turner just saw Thaddeus Young get his pay-day after finishing third in Sixth Man of the Year voting. The combo of Lou Williams, Thad, and Turner really seem to buy into their roles, and allow the Sixers to go eight deep. Many teams simply tread water when they turn to their bench, but Philly is able to build leads when their starters rest because their second unit is better than most. Lou Williams is the best player on the team at drawing fouls and getting into the paint, while Thad has a nose for the ball around the basket and remarkable hops. Erik Spoelstra was so shocked by Thad that after the first two games of the playoffs Miami’s designed their defense exclusively to stop him.
Perhaps Collins said it best, when asked about the team’s depth, “We’ve got eight guys on this team who are capable of starting. It’s up to me to put the puzzle together and to do that, you have to have people who trust you enough that you’re doing it for the right reasons. Thad and Lou did that last year. Thad was rewarded with a nice contract and our team won. I hold them up every single day as guys who star in their roles. When more people star in their roles it gives us a better chance to win.”
7) Evan Turner’s 2nd season: Let me start by providing a glimpse of what Collins recently had to say about Turner: “Evan’s been very aggressive, he’s been looking to score. He’s in a very good place. I spoke to Evan the other day, in front of the team, and I said, ‘Evan, you probably have been our hardest worker in the offseason with one goal in mind, to be a starter on this team.’ And I said, ‘You are a starter. As one of our better players, you’re a starter. But what you do for our team, with Thad [Young] and Lou [Williams], is if I were to put Jodie in your spot and put you in his, we’re not as good a team right now because Jodie would get lost with Lou and Thad. I know you [media] get hit all the time about, ‘Why isn’t he starting, being the No. 2 pick in the draft?’ To me, he is a starter.”
The #2 overall pick in the 2010 draft, Turner wasn’t even invited to play in the Rookie-Sophomore game during All-Star Weekend. We did, however, see signs of what made him the National Player of the Year at Ohio State. Turner showed he is a great ball-handler, an instinctive passer, and one of the best rebounding guards in the league. Being the #2 pick obviously comes with expectations, and it looked at times last year that when Turner was struggling with his shot he began doubting himself. Over the offseason he worked with local coaching legend Herb Magee on his jumper, and early reports are that his altered form looks more natural. He will start the season coming off the bench because of Jodie Meeks’ ability to space the floor for the starting unit as a 3-point threat. But Turner has said all the right things so far regarding his role on the team and not starting.
6) A healthy Andre Iguodala: AI2 played in a career-low 67 games last year, yet still posted the second most triple-doubles in the league behind Lebron. Much maligned during his career for everything he is not, fans fail to recognize everything he does provide on the court. An exceptional passer, rebounder, and one of the best wing defenders in the league, Iguodala relishes the opportunity to shut down scorers like Melo, Paul Pierce, and Kobe. Coming off a strenuous summer playing for the USA national team in 2010, he never had a chance to fully recuperate an injury from the previous season. According to all reports, he is in great shape and his knees are healed. This is the season when he hands the leadership reins to Holiday, and slides into his more natural role of playmaker and elite defender.
5) Doug Collins: When asked recently about communication between players and Coach Collins, Thaddeus Young responded: “I have a coach that loves me for the ballplayer I am and the person I am. You know each and every day he is continuing to help me get better. Anytime you have a guy like that on staff who wants to help you get better, you don’t mess that relationship up.” A coach that loves me for the ballplayer I am and the person I am?!? Have you ever heard a professional athlete speak like this about a head coach? Any way I say this will be an understatement. But the guys on this team LOVE Doug Collins. The desire to play hard for a coach can only get you so far, and eventually it comes down to a combination of talent and X’s and O’s, but it is rare that such mutual admiration between players and coach exists on a roster this young.
4) Continuity: Philly is returning nearly the exact same lineup as a year ago, with additions of rookies Nic Vucevic and Lavoy Allen. Only Jason Kapono and Darius Songalis, who played sparingly last year, will not return. The continuity amidst the turmoil of a lockout and shortened training camp should provide the team with an edge. Last year it took them a quarter of a season to develop an offense that highlighted the team’s strengths. This year they are already ahead of the curve, which was exhibited in their thrashing of the Wizards in their opening preseason game. The offense looked fluid and crisp, while Washington looked like a team who had not played together in 9 months. Additionally, they will not be adjusting to a new head coach this time around, which contributed to that 3-13 start in 2010.
3) 38-28: This was the Sixers’ record last season after their dreadful 3-13 start, which was 2nd worst in the entire league. The winning percentage of .576 in their final 66 games was 13th best. Coincidentally, this shortened season will also be 66 games. If they can improve just 2 games on last year’s mark to finish at 40-26, they should finish in the top 4 in the East.
2) The Confidence/Positivity: Last week Holiday boldly proclaimed the Sixers as the best team in the East. From anyone else, such a statement might have seemed troublesome. But from Holiday, I loved it. We all know the Sixers are not the best team in the East. Optimistically, we can hope for a 4 seed this April and homecourt in the opening round of the playoffs. But Holiday is letting his teammates know that he expects to win, and so should they. For a team that has not finished a season above .500 since 2004-05, this is a dramatic shift in philosophy. It was good enough to finish strong after a dreadful start last year to finish 41-41. Now Holiday is asserting himself as a leader who knows the team must be better this season. There is more positivity surrounding this franchise than we have seen in a decade. I am banking that it will translate into wins on the court.
1) Jrue Holiday: Any list like this has to begin with the most intriguing player this town has seen since Allen Iverson departed in ‘06. Holiday showed marked improvement last year in just about every facet of his game. After a rookie season in which he started 51 games and played only 24.2 minutes, averaging 8.0 points, 3.8 assists, 2.6 rebounds, and 1.1 steals, his numbers jumped to 14.0 points, 6.5 assists, 4.0 rebounds, and 1.5 steals while starting every game. In a 4-1 loss to Miami in the opening round of the playoffs, those numbers remained similar, except for a remarkable spike in 3pt accuracy. He was a good shooter during the regular season, but he shot an uncanny 52.4% from 3 when the lights were brightest against Miami.
It wasn’t the numbers that were most impressive in the playoffs, though. It was the 20-year old’s willingness to seize the moment, step up and make the big shots. Plenty of players have the talent to succeed in the NBA, but unless you have a certain amount of swagger, the belief that you are the best player on the court, then that talent is as valuable as a car with no keys. What we learned in the playoffs is that Jrue Holiday has that confidence. During the series against Miami we saw Holiday control the flow of the game on same court where Dwayne Wade and Lebron James stood. As a fan, Holiday exemplifies everything you want from a young star in the making. The conference is stacked at point guard and he is still too young to jump ahead of Rose, Rondo, or Deron Williams, but I fully expect him to start garnering all-star consideration this season.