Doug Collins has done nice things in his two years as head coach of the Philadelphia 76ers. He has taken them to two straight playoff appearances, even advancing past the Chicago Bulls in the first round this past year. The main reason the 76ers advanced past Chicago was because Chicago lost star point guard Derrick Rose in Game 1 to a torn ACL. With a new ‘star’ in town, can the 76ers take another step in the right direction this season?
The 76ers have lacked ‘star-power’ since Allen Iverson played for the franchise in 2007. Those days might be coming to an end, though. They acquired former Los Angeles Laker and All-Star center Andrew Bynum in the Dwight Howard trade. They had to give up Andre Iguodala, a guy who has given a lot to the franchise during his time in Philly. In return, they get a 23-year old Bynum who has shown glimpses of dominance during his five years in Los Angeles.
Bynum will be the main focus of the 76ers on offense. He is one of the better low-post players in the game today and only seems to be improving. Since Iverson was traded, the 76ers have relied on depth to win games. Depth is a nice thing to have, but it doesn’t make up for the lack of a star player. No offense to Iguodala, who did a lot of things to help the team, but he wasn’t the type of player who was able to win you a playoff series or two or three. I don’t think Bynum is that type of player yet, but I feel that 76ers have a better shot with him because he is on the cusp of becoming “big time.”
The 76ers have a lot of nice pieces around Bynum, including improving-point guard Jrue Holiday, forward Thaddeus Young, guard and 2010 No. 2 pick Evan Turner and veteran guard Jason Richardson, who they also got in the Howard trade. They picked up free agents Nick Young and Dorell Wright, both of whom are pretty good offensive players. A year ago, Louis Williams led this team in scoring and a total of five players averaged double-figures in points per game and two more players averaged more than nine points per game. They had eight players play between 25 and 36 minutes per game.
As my friends would say, Philadelphia “trimmed some of the fat.” Elton Brand had a good year, but wasn’t as good as he was five years ago and was making a lot of money. I like the decision to amnesty him. They let (Lou) Williams walk, traded Iggy for Bynum and Richardson, and got rid of some other bench players in that trade as well. I like how they sharpened-up their roster to make them more of a “true” contender in the Eastern Conference. They play solid defense and the interior of their defense will take a step in the right direction with Bynum in the middle.
Let’s breakdown their depth chart.
Point guard(s) – Jrue Holiday took a bit of a step backwards last season. His scoring, rebounding and assisting totals and averages were down last season. Some of that has to do with the balance of the 76ers team and the rest has to do with his big improvement from Year 1 to Year 2. Usually second-year players struggle in the NBA, but Holiday seemed to excel. His averages for points, rebounds and assists went up significantly in his second year. Last year, he shared the point guard duties with Lou Williams. That won’t be the case this year, though. The 76ers have three point guards on the roster; Royal Ivey and Maalik Wayns are the other two. Ivey and Wayns will battle for the backup guard spot, which figures to go to Ivey because he is more experienced. Wayns is a rookie from Villanova and a local Philadelphia kid. I played against him in AAU ball, and I will tell you that he works extremely hard and will give Ivey a run for his money. Holiday averaged 33.8 minutes per game last season, but averaged 35.4 the season before that. The fourth year is a big year for the young point guard, as he will be playing for a contract.
Like I mentioned, Ivey and Wayns will battle for backup minutes.
Position Grade: B-
Shooting guard(s) – Evan Turner hasn’t “wowed” anyone with the numbers he has put up in his first two years in the NBA. At times, he has really struggled and some wondered whether the pressure of being the No. 2 pick in the 2010 draft was starting to get to him. However, he silenced some of the critics with a very nice playoff run, in which he averaged 11.2 ppg and led his team in rebounds per game (7.6). 2012 is going to be a big year for Turner. With Iguodala being traded away, Turner will see his minutes almost exponentially. He will go from playing 26 minutes per game to, roughly 34 or 35 minutes per game, depending on how well he performs. He was a stud at Ohio State, but at times, it looks like he has lost that confidence he once had in college. The 76ers are going to need him to produce.
My gut feeling tells me that Collins would rather start Turner over veteran Jason Richardson. If that is the case, Richardson and Nick Young would split backup minutes, and both of them can play some small forward too.
Position Grade: C+
Small forward(s) – Thaddeus Young has been one of the more consistent players in the league, for what he does, since he was drafted in 2007. It’s hard to believe he has been in the league that long already. He started two games the past two seasons after starting the majority in his first three seasons. Dorell Wright is the other small forward on this team, but he is coming off a horrendous year in which his scoring was six points per game. A big reason was because he played 11 less minutes per game. Nonetheless, Young is a “tweener” who can play both small and power forward positions. He is agile and quick enough to play on the wing, and strong and long enough to play inside. It will be interesting to see how Collins uses him.
Wright and Young both have been starters and both have come off the bench in their careers. They are comfortable doing either. One thing is for sure: one will start and one will come off the bench.
Position Grade: B-
Power forward(s) – The 76ers have two power forwards listed on their roster: Lavoy Allen and Arnett Moultrie. Thaddeus Young can play the power forward, but I don’t think Collins would want to start Young at the 4. That being said, I think Collins feels comfortable enough in starting second-year player Allen. Allen started 15 games last season and played pretty well in the playoffs (6 ppg and 5 rpg in 19 mpg). Moultrie was the 76ers’ draft pick this season and figures to be in the mix to get some of the backup minutes. He is a good rebounder and can finish inside. He also has some size to him that Allen lacks.
Moultrie will backup Allen if Allen starts. Allen will do the same if Moultrie starts.
Position Grade: C
Center(s) – Of course Andrew Bynum is the main focus here. The 76ers have the best center in the Eastern Conference and someone who will give them consistent production, most of the time. Doug Collins’ only mission as head coach is: make sure Bynum is satisfied. Bynum wasn’t afraid to display anger, resentment, or frustration while he was a member of the Lakers. In doing that, it led him to be inconsistent and, sometimes, a “ghost” in games. How does Collins keep Bynum happy? By making sure his teammates feed him the ball. He doesn’t need it every time down the floor, but I would say the ball needs to go into the post three out of every five possessions. If Bynum plays well, I think the 76ers are even more potent.
Spencer Hawes will be Bynum’s backup.
Position Grade: A-
Projected Starting Lineup
G: Jrue Holiday
G: Evan Turner
F: Thaddeus Young
F: Lavoy Allen
C: Andrew Bynum
Starting Lineup Grade: B
G: Royal Ivey
G: Nick Young/Jason Richardson
F: Dorell Wright
F: Arnett Moultrie
Bench Grade: C+
Coaching Grade: B (Doug Collins)
I think the 76ers will finish third in the Atlantic Division and be the four-seed in the Eastern Conference.