Are the Sixers for real?
Philly's roster is young, deep and talented, but can it hang with Chicago and Miami?
By David Thorpe
The Sixers have gotten off to a fast start this season.
In the NBA, a team should never have to apologize for a win or multiple wins.
Indeed, whether it's because of good fortune, bad luck, injuries, suspensions, strange calls or stranger bounces (the Boston Celtics won a title on one of the strangest bounces off a rim), it's all part of the game.
So when a team such as the Philadelphia 76ers
surges through the first few weeks of the season winning games the
toughest of ways -- blowing out opponents on the road -- it's certainly
done its job and doesn't deserve conditional respect or an asterisk next
to its name while sitting in first place in the Atlantic Division
However, when the 76ers sit atop John
Hollinger's power rankings, it definitely begs the question: Are they in
the same class as the Chicago Bulls and Miami Heat?
10-4 record suggests yes, while their personnel suggests no. To be
sure, Philadelphia is a well-balanced team, ranking among the league's
top three in both offensive and defensive efficiency. It is no surprise
that the 76ers are defending well considering they employ a top-three
wing defender in Andre Iguodala, a strong and smart power forward in Elton Brand, a highly motivated center in Spencer Hawes
and a host of agile, strong and explosive athletes at every other
position. They play to their strengths; their coach stresses defense and
they play it with energy and purpose most of the time.
bottom line here is that, based on who they've beaten, the 76ers still
cannot yet be considered "elite" or on the same level as Chicago or
Miami. However, the 76ers are for real -- a solid team that has a decent
chance of making the playoffs. Here are a few reasons:
Developing young players
Lou Williams, Iguodala, Thaddeus Young and Evan Turner are all playing better than they did last season. Jrue Holiday
has shown signs he can be an upper-level point guard (although he still
has a ways to grow). Brand is contributing again, showing so far that
his performance last season was not a fluke. Jodie Meeks is now a proven, legitimate 3-point threat. Nikola Vucevic is a top-10 rookie and perhaps the biggest surprise of the 2011 draft class thus far.
this aforementioned group, only Brand is considered a player on the
downside of his career. Even if none of the younger players get much
better, they can still be a factor in the East, but Holiday, Turner,
Vucevic, Young and Hawes can all be expected to get better, as they
possess skill and basketball IQ and lack only experience.
these youngsters mature rapidly, it would improve the 76ers' depth,
which would make them a much tougher out in a seven-game series against
either Miami or Chicago.
Strength of schedule
Philadelphia has yet to play a team with a top-10 offense, and in fact
the 76ers have played just four teams in the top 16 in offensive
efficiency: Portland, Utah, Golden State and Phoenix. So it's
understandable why questions remain about the 76ers' defense being
However, the schedule continues to be a
benefit for Philadelphia. The road looks smooth through February in that
the 76ers play only two "tough" road games, at Miami and Orlando.
Assets to trade
One benefit of having the type of depth that the Sixers possess is that
they maintain the option of shipping three or four of those quality
players in return for a top-20 player. Having a lot of young assets
gives it a lot of options, which is why it wouldn't be a surprise to see
Philadelphia get involved in discussions at the March 15 trade
Even without a move, the Sixers are built
to be in the mix near the top of the Eastern Conference, from now
through April. They're not in the Bulls-Heat realm yet, but the talent
and growth potential is in place in Philadelphia for this team to be a
force in the East this season and going forward.