Friday, April 29, 2011

Revisiting Reasons to Watch the Sixers

Back in October, I searched for reasons to watch my beloved but virtually irrelevant Philadelphia 76ers. Now here in April, after a dreadful if not expected 3-13 start, followed by a surprising and encouraging 38-28 finish to get to .500, and an exciting playoff series with the Heat in which you had to proud of them despite the 4-1 series loss, I revisit those reasons and look to what, for the first time in a while, is an encouraging future.

The development of Jrue Holiday

Jrue was definitely a bright spot. In October I pondered whether he would take steps forward or back. The answer was clearly forward. He increased his scoring (14.6), assists (5.6), and steals (2.0) from his rookie season. He stepped up and made big shots at times, and generally handled his duties as point guard extremely well. There were moments of questionable decision making and some bad turnovers, but considering his age and experience the season was a resounding success and I think Sixer fans can be confident that they have a point guard for years to come.

What kind of player is Marreese Speights?

No one knows. Well, maybe coach Collins knows, but if he does then it appears to be bad news for the Sixers. Marreese was virtually invisible all season, save for a few spirited appearances off the bench mid season. So as a fan simply drawing conclusions from what I see on the court, I got nothing. If his playing time was any indication of the coaches impressions of him, I don't expect him to be the player it was hoped he would when he was drafted.

Where does Lou Williams fit in?

Lou excelled as the Sixth man for the Sixers this year. His minutes and scoring were down slightly from last season, but the Sixers had one of the best benches in the entire NBA this year and Lou was a big part of that. He, like most of the team this year, embraced his role and did what was asked of him. He provided that much needed spark coming off the bench and hit some huge shots (see game 4). He is still only 24 years old and it seems he fits in just fine as a 6th man.

Can/Will the Sixers move Andre Iguodala?

Can they? Probably. Did they? No. Andre did more of what he always does, which is a little bit of everything. He also continues to think he is a superstar, which he is not. He demanded the ball in end of game situations, and often times proceeded to either turn the ball over or end up forcing a stupid, bad shot. His contract is crippling the Sixers financially, and I believe his game and his opinion of himself are ultimately holding them back on the court. No, they wouldn't have accomplished what they did this season without him, but I'm talking more big picture. I still believe they would be better off without him.

Will the real Thaddeus Young please stand up?

I hope he did. It was a very solid year for Young, as he joined forces with Lou Williams to give the Sixers one of the best benches in the league. He seemed to thrive, like most of the Sixers, under Doug Collins. There were a lot of bright spots for Thaddeus this season and I still like his build and versatility. He is only 22 years old, so I think there is still room for improvement. His contract is up, and there is uncertainty on the horizon regarding a possible lockout, but I hope and expect to see Thad back in a Sixers uniform and look forward to watching him join Jrue and Lou as building blocks in what is hopefully a solid future.

Will Jason Kapono really contribute?

No. And he's gone. And I'm still stunned he was an opening night starter.

Did the Sixers botch the #2 pick?

The jury is still out on this one. There were times when Evan Turner looked lost and completely overwhelmed, and even completely invisible at times, failing to even get some playing time. But there was also some flashes, some reasons for optimism. He asserted himself in the series against the Heat, having his best game as a pro in the game 4 victory. He was confident and aggressive, and it translated to him doing some real good things on the court. Hopefully he is yet another young piece the franchise has to work with.

All in all it turned out to be a pretty good season. The 41-41 record was way better than anyone would have guessed. The played valiantly against the Heat, a team that is obviously leaps and bounds ahead of them talent-wise, stealing a game and being right in 3 of the other 4. They played the way that makes Philadelphia proud, tough, gritty, not afraid. They came up short but you have to love the effort. I love everything about Doug Collins. We finally made the right hire for coach after the comedy of errors that followed Larry Brown's departure. I love the way the team responded and played down the stretch, and for the first time since Allen Iverson left, I feel excited and optimistic about the future of the Sixers.

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