Sunday, 27 October 2013

'You have six NBA players' - All is Not Well in the City of Brotherly Love

Sixers head coach Brett Brown pondering a season of headaches.
Prior to the team's recent preseason loss at the hands of Cleveland in Columbus, Ohio, incoming head coach Brett Brown offered an honest, foreboding assessment of the status of 76ers basketball, confessing that Philadelphia are blessed with the fortunes of just six legitimate, capable, NBA-calibre players. This explicit denigration of the quality of the roster emerged from a series of comments by Brown, and was not to be lost among the sombre revelation that the first-time coach, and the organisation, do not anticipate highly-touted rookie and #6 pick in this year's draft - Kentucky product Nerlens Noel - to appear at all in the upcoming campaign. Noel, the deeply scrutinised big man who (prior to June's NBA Draft) had long remained in the conversation as a possible #1 overall selection, despite suffering a torn ACL in his left knee in February, joined the franchise as a lone, flickering beacon of light and prosperity on an otherwise disjointed, lacking squad with gaping holes and ill-conceived contractual negotiations. The Sixers' new regime unashamedly ushered in wholesale changes to the team in acquiring the injured Noel, and hitting the restart button by sending All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday to New Orleans, receiving the nimble Kentucky centre and the Pelicans' protected 2014 first round pick in return. All of this shuffling and reshaping, it should be mentioned, occurred well prior to the appointment of Brett Brown as the man in charge. The fact that the organisation withstood a span from April to August without an official head coach is ominously reflective of the state of affairs.

Brown takes the reigns of this undisputed mess following 11 seasons on the San Antonio sidelines, as a recent inductee of the New England Basketball Hall of Fame, and with a four year stint as head coach of the Australian national team under his belt that saw them place 7th at the 2012 London Olympics. Wisely, Brown protected himself and assured stability and job security by insisting upon a lengthy four year contract, displaying a clear awareness of the basketball debris that burdens his new roster. He enters the fray in the midst of discussions and expert opinion that place these 76ers in contention to break the franchise's own mark for the worst 82-game record in NBA history, an unenviable task, to say the least. The declaration that Noel is unlikely to play a part at all in the team's 2013-14 schedule evokes horrific memories for a fan base that endured a treacherous run with the costly, broken down Andrew Bynum, who failed to register a single minute in a Sixer uniform last season, and does little to discredit this level of doom-and-gloom conversation.

With the regular season fast-approaching, Philadelphia figures to put forth a starting crew 'headlined' by holdovers Thaddeus Young, Evan Turner, and Spencer Hawes, a trio responsible for middling, subdued results when sharing substantial minutes together. As lineup regulars in recent seasons, the Turner-Young-Hawes combination appeared in a considerable sample size of 74 regular season outings in 2012-13, managing a meagre +/- of +0.1 points per 100 possessions, per stats. This, if anything, is a harsh truth for Brown and illustrative of what he will have to work with in his inaugural season on the job. Brown will struggle mightily to address the barren offensive output overseen by Doug Collins, which was good for a placement of 30th in the league rankings, with an average of 93.2 points per game, also per The Sixers were able to move the ball relatively freely and establish themselves in the assists department, nevertheless, dishing out 22.8 helpers per game - good for 11th in the league - whilst limiting their turnovers to an honest 13.0 per contest, 2nd best in the Association. Their ability to share, value, and manage the basketball almost certainly followed budding star Jrue Holiday out the door, however. In addition to this, spacing and opposing defense's packing the paint is destined to plague the Sixers play, at least until they attempt to address the shallowness of their outside shooting.

Philadelphia guard Evan Turner's 2012-13 shot chart (where yellow represents league-average, green above-average, and red below-average), courtesy of
Neither Evan Turner nor Thaddeus Young holds the capability to wilfully and/or adequately stretch the floor, with Turner hovering either at or below league-average from all areas behind the three-point line, while of Young's negligible eight tries from beyond-the-arc, he cashed in on only a solitary attempt. These facts, in congruence with Spencer Hawes' admirable gunslinging attitude from the outside and the ongoing knee troubles of reliable veteran Jason Richardson, seem a certain formula for an overcrowded frontline and an inefficiently orchestrated offense. Hawes, despite an obvious willingness to lurk on the perimeter, nailed a melancholy 31% of his 19 hoists from the left-wing, and didn't serve any better on the opposing side of the floor, hitting just 1 of 11. Unquestionably, this does not bode well for Brown or the 76ers, and has the makings of a paltry, below-average scheme, even before one considers the plethora of minutes likely to be handed to incumbent starting point guard Michael Carter-Williams, who netted an eye-gauging 39.8% of his field goals over a 66-game career at Syracuse. Carter-Williams launched a disproportionate 137 long balls over that same span, sinking an uninspiring 42 of them.

How Brown elects to distribute and balance minutes over the course of the season will auger an influence on the team's offensive mould to an extent, yet he more than anyone, though, will be aware of the scarce pickings on hand. Assuredly, Brown will look to accommodate the poor shooting prowess of the roster by allocating starter's minutes to fourth year guard James Anderson, a guard who has nailed 39.1% of his shots from downtown in sporadic time with San Antonio and Houston. The material outcome of this kind of dependence on Anderson will prove a learning curve for both player and coach, alike. Where Brown will not receive any production is from former lottery pick Royce White, previously of the Houston Rockets, whom the Sixers discarded this past week, having only traded for him in July. Philadelphia holds the dubious honour of being the second NBA team to give up on White, the individual who is yet to log any regular season minutes.

Brett Brown will head into Wednesday's opener at home to Miami hoping to complement his likely starters of Carter-Williams, Anderson, Turner, Young, and Hawes, with some form of bench concoction consisting of fourth year big Lavoy Allen, combo guard Tony Wroten, and relative NBA no-names Daniel Orton and Hollis Thompson. Philly will exhibit an ironically thin lineup for an organisation desperately pining for the enthusiasm of a city and a disenchanted fan base, emblazoning the team arena, merchandise and neighbourhoods with the ambiguous motto of 'Together We Build'. Cynicism aside, it will be interesting to the NBA junkie to observe how the faultlessly-honest Brown seeks to massage the veritable mess of a roster at his disposal, and just how low the squad will sink into the muddy waters of the perennial 'tanking' discussions.
Image courtesy of
Don't despair, Sixer fans, together we build.

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