By Brandon Pemberton
Follow me on Twitter @BrandonOnSports and @SportsTrapRadio
This year’s Philadelphia 76ers team and season, was full of ups, downs, good times and bad. Before the season started, I wrote a season preview, predicting that the Sixers would win 35 games, earn a 7-8 seed and a first round playoff exit.But after a 20-9 start to the season, fans here were thinking they had a legit title contender, but I wasn’t falling for the fools gold.
During that 20-9 start, the Sixers did what they were supposed to do, they beat mediocre to bad basketball teams. They established themselves has a good defensive team, one who thrived in the open court offensively, and a team that played hard nightly. They handled the basketball with care, being in the top 3 in the league in turnovers as well. I liked the way they were playing at the time, but I needed to see how they played against stiff competition to get a legit opinion on what this team was.
In the Sixers next 10 games after starting 20-9, they had a 2-8 record, losing to the Magic, Mavericks, T-Wolves, Grizzlies, Rockets, Thunder, Bulls and Bucks. All at the time the games were played were in the top 8 in their conference except the Bucks and all ended up making the playoffs except the Bucks, Rockets, and Wolves. The Sixers flaws began to be exposed, such as being outmatched at the cneter and power forward position nightly, lack of getting to the foul line, and not being able to score consistently in the half court.
Nine games into that ten game stretch, head coach Doug Collins decided to take Jodie Meeks out of the starting lineup and insert Evan Turner. Turner responded by averaging 17.0 ppg and 10.1 rpg over his first six starts, and the Sixers went 3-3 in those games. Turner was finally let loose and the ball was put in his hands, where he has always felt the most comfortable in his basketball career. Collins even said during a post game press conference that ” Turner’s our point guard.”
I was finally happy that Turner was out of his coach’s doghouse and allowed to do what he does, but it I’m not sure if Jrue Holiday, Andre Iguodala and Lou Williams completely bought in. Turner never handled the ball and touched it the rest of the season, the way he did during that six game stretch. I’m not saying it was the main reason why they finished the season 15-22 after the 20-9 start, but it was one of them. The Sixers went from leading the division, to ending up in the eight seed.
ESPN’s Kate Fagan wrote an article on her personal blog suggesting that Doug Collins may have lost the team. I felt as though it was a well written piece, Collins thought otherwise saying Fagan had no source or credibility. But the Sixers effort down the stretch run was a joke, they lost games to teams that they had no business losing to. The lack of effort on defense was obvious, and that was something the team counted on nightly early in the season.
So the Sixers played the Bulls in a first round matchup that beforehand looked like a 5 or 6 game series and loss. But at the end of a game one ass kicking, the Bulls franchise superstar, and reigning MVP Derrick Rose, tore his ACL and was done for the series. Yes it was a crushing blow to the Bulls, but I still thought they could handle the Sixers without him. The Sixers came out and played with supreme confidence and won game 2 . The series took a full turn when Bulls center Joakim Noah badly sprained his ankle in game 3.
Now with the Bulls two best players out for the series, it was all for the Sixers taking. They won games 2-4, lost game five and won in dramatic fashion in game six off of the surprisingly clutch play from “Philly’s most hated” Andre Iguodala. Even though the Bulls were short handed, I actually seen growth in the team. Regardless of the circumstances, winning a playoff series for this group of players meant something and was a step forward as well.
So they draw the veteran, battled tested Boston Celtics in round 2. In game one the Sixers had a 10 point lead(77-67) with 11 minutes left to play in the game and ended up blowing the lead and losing the game 92-91. Most thought after blowing a lead like that would throw this young team in a tailspin and cause them to exit the series early. But the Sixers showed their mental and physical toughness during this playoff run, coming back in game 2 and winning a close one, despite giving up another big lead. The young Sixers team ended up taking the Celtics to seven games, losing in Boston.
So with that being said, how do I honestly feel about this team? Jrue Holiday and Evan Turner had some great moments during this 13 game playoff run. Question is, can they play together? Anyone who’s watched the Sixers play this season knows that Turner is at his best offensively when he has the ball in his hands. Jrue Holiday loves to play with the ball in his hands as well, mostly in pick and roll situations. Neither is a knockdown, consistent shooter either, and doesn’t force the defense to spread the floor enough to allow the other to operate freely. The teams left in the playoffs all have legit shot makers who make big shots down the stretch, and can also get a bucket to stop runs. Are Holiday and Turner those kind of players? Can they become those types of players?
Andre Iguodala probably had his greatest moment as a Sixer when he hit the free throws to clinch a first round victory against the Bulls, made some big shots in key spots against the Celtics as well. But at the end of the day, he averaged 12.9 ppg, while shooting 38.4% from the field and 59% from the foul line in the playoffs. Yes he is the Sixers best defender, but with his contract and the Sixers need for a deadeye shooter, he is expendable.
Elton Brand is done for, I’ve seen and had enough of him. Okay in spurts, he and Spencer Hawes left the Sixers outmatched at the 4 and 5 positions pretty much all season. Lavoy Allen has shown flashes defensively and has a nice mid range jump shot, but I’m not convinced he’s a starter in this league. Nikola Vucevic was the Sixers 2011 first round draft pick, and seen no key minutes during the playoffs. I was one of the people who scouted Kenneth Faried and thought he would be the perfect fit for this team. He of obviously had a much more productive season then Vucevic, but the two of them will be compared for their careers. The Sixers have two legit scorers of the bench in Lou Williams and Thaddeus Young, but when the two of them aren’t scoring, what else do they bring to the table?
At the end of the day, the Sixers made a nice run, showed some improvement, but this team still needs serious help if it’s going to be a legit contender. And it starts this offseason, beginning with the 2012 NBA Draft. Whether it’s via draft, trade of free agency, the Sixers need legit big men in the paint and a shooter who can not only shoot the ball, but defend and be a starter. Will they do it? I believe they will try. I know I trust Rod Thorn much more then I trusted Ed Stefanski. Thorn has a proven track record, he put together those New Jersey Nets teams who made it to the NBA Finals in back to back season in 02-03. Let’s see how this offseason plays out for the Sixers.