Last Year’s Record: 40-42
Key Losses: Rodney Carney, Jason Smith (out for the season with knee injury)
Key Additions: Elton Brand, Kareem Rush, Donyell Marshall, Royal Ivey, Marreese Speights (R), Theo Ratliff
1. What significant moves were made during the off-season?
The Sixers had perhaps the busiest, and most successful, off-season of any NBA team. The biggest move was filling their absolutely gaping hole at PF by stealing Elton Brand away from the Clippers. Their second biggest need, a shooter, was filled by the signings of Kareem Rush and Donyell Marshall. Finally, they filled out their roster with a defensive-minded back-up PG and C in Royal Ivey and Theo Ratliff. All in all, the team added a lot of veteran talent to a roster already filled with young talent. A great job by Ed Stefanski.
2. What are the team’s biggest strengths?
Transition offense. This was the Sixers’ core strength last season and will be again this year. Brand’s defense and rebounding will help get our guys out on the break where they clearly are at their best. With Thaddeus Young at the small forward he should be better positioned (on the perimeter more) to get out and run not being buried under the basket like he was last season as the temporary power forward. We already know Iguodala and Louis Williams are two of the best in the league in transition. With Andre Miller making the right decisions and tossing lobs, the 76ers will not only be winning more games but doing so in very exciting fashion.
Line-up versatility. We know Sammy and Brand are in the front court, and Miller is the starting point guard. We also know Andre Iguodala will start. But the wing positions in general are not as certain. Especially considering Mo Cheeks has suggested that he never said Iguodala was officially moving to the shooting guard position. In fact Kareem Rush ran with the first team in the first scrimmages during training camp. None of this perceived uncertainty is a bad thing to me. I love that there is competition at the wing positions; it will only make all the players better.
The reality has to be: the last starting position is Thaddeus Young’s to lose. With Young at the three we have size, athleticism and the best defensive line-up we can put out there. The difference this season from last is now we can slide Iguodala to the three and bring in Rush for three-point shooting. Or sub in Donyell Marshall for perimeter shooting and rebounding at the small forward position. We could put Lou at the point and have both Marshall and Rush on the floor with Brand. That is probably the Sixers’ best shooting line-up surrounding Brand and the one I would put on the floor if teams try to play zone. With Lou at the point he should have better driving lanes as well with two three-point shooters on the floor.
As you guys will continue to hear me say, it will all come down to how Maurice Cheeks manages and adjusts his line-ups to take advantage of opponents’ weaknesses and create mismatches.
3. What are the team’s biggest weaknesses?
Perimeter shooting. This still remains the biggest concern for the Sixers going into this much anticipated season. Ed Stefanski did what he could by acquiring Kareem Rush and Donyell Marshall to address this hole in the 76ers’ offense. But I am still not sold. Maybe it is the “bad stuff always happens to us” or “we never get lucky” mentality I have, as a long-time Philadelphia sports fan, which keeps me skeptical. In my opinion the addition of Rush and Marshall and having them on the floor only provides a “threat” of perimeter and long-range shooting. That is a good first step. But I need to see these guys in game action knocking down shots for this weakness to be realized as a new weapon.
Offensive chemistry. When the Sixers’ defense and rebounding isn’t igniting the fast break, they will be forced to play a slower half-court game. That unavoidable situation is exactly why we needed and went out and got Elton Brand. We now have a consistent inside scorer to solidify the half-court offense. Therefore, the expectation is that the offense will now run through Brand. That means:
- Samuel Dalembert will have to figure out his spacing (not getting in the way) and how he can be effective (being ready for passes if the defense uses a big to double Brand in the post) on offense. Can he be a high-post passer?
- Andre Miller and Brand have to find their harmony on the pick-and-roll.
- There will be less room for Andre Miller to back down smaller point guards into the low post and short corner area.
- What does Andre Iguodala do while Brand is posting up? Does he resort to becoming just a spot-up jump shooter which is obviously not his strength? Iguodala will need to find his niche in the half-court offense as the number two scoring option.
The good thing about the Sixers’ weaknesses is that they may only be growing pains due to the all the new personnel. By season’s end we expect Rush and Marshall to spread the floor and make double teams pay. Word from training camp is that Rush’s jumper is top notch. It shouldn’t take long for Miller and Brand to find their rhythm. I just worry about Iguodala settling for too many jumpers if much of the offense is running through Brand. That is where Mo Cheeks needs to be the coach we all want him to be and put guys in positions to succeed. Time will tell, and I can’t wait.
4. What are the goals for this team?
The players will tell you, as they always do, that the goal for this team is to win a championship. Is that a realistic goal for this team? It’s possible, but a lot of things will need to happen. We will call these “mini-goals” that need to happen in order to reach the main goal. First, this team needs to develop a rhythm and incorporate Elton Brand into their run-and-gun style that helped them finish the season 22-12. Second, Andre Iguodala needs to transfer all that energy he spent in the off-season improving his jump shot onto the court. Third, young stars Lou Williams and Thaddeus Young have to grow up fast and become big-time (and efficient) contributors. Finally, Andre Miller and Sam Dalembert need to not suffer a dip from career seasons last year. If all of these mini-goals are reached, the Sixers have championship potential.
5. Who will be the key player to the Sixers’ success?
Thaddeus Young. We know what we are going to get from Andre Miller. We know what Sammy is going to bring to the table. I am confident in Elton Brand’s health and what he will give us on offense, on the boards and defensively. The two biggest question marks from a player standpoint are can Iguodala succeed at the shooting guard position and will Thad make another leap in his progression? I’ve already written my thoughts on Andre Iguodala at the shooting guard. But in order for this team to really move to elite status and compete for a championship, we will need Thaddeus Young to turn his potential into production. He will be at his natural position and won’t have the weight of an entire team on his shoulders like other promising young players. I’d like for Young to be the team’s 3rd leading scorer and have our aging point guard play much more of a distributor role. Thad is in a good situation to continue his development without very much pressure. Let’s hope he does it.
Predicted Record: 52-30
The Sixers were quietly one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference for the second half of the season and burst onto the national scene by giving the mighty Pistons a battle in the first round. Going into this season, Philadelphia is more excited about a Sixers team than they have been since the 2001 Finals. They have a great core of young talent with Iguodala, Williams, Young and Dalembert. Added to this is a pair of all-star veterans in Andre Miller and Elton Brand as well as several solid bench players. The talent is there; the only unknown is how this team will gel and whether or not they will continue to excel with their running offense and tough defense. If it all comes together, a trip to Eastern Conference finals is possible.
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