The past week for the Philadelphia 76ers has been an interesting one: three games, two wins, and one loss. With their record at 7-5, the Sixers currently rank 3rd in the Atlantic Division of the Eastern Conference, behind the New York Knicks (1st) and the Brooklyn Nets (2nd). Although I believe they will be able to surpass the Nets eventually, they haven’t necessarily been playing like a force with which to be reckoned. While they beat the Cavaliers in their first match up, they dropped the ball on the second. They had to come back late in the game against the Raptors, the team that is in last place in the Atlantic Division. For the Sixers to come up big in the East, there are several concerns that need to be addressed so that this team to continue to be a contender.
Probably the biggest problem of all is the shooting percentage and subsequently, scoring average. The Sixers are ranked 29th and 28th in both areas, respectively. In fact, out of the five lowest scoring teams in the NBA, the Sixers are the ONLY one with a winning record. So how does that happen? Well, it can be partially explained by the fact that they are winning VERY close games. Their win against the Cleveland Cavaliers was achieved by only 7 points; the victory against the last place Toronto Raptors, by 8 points. Conversely, when they have lost they managed to get blown out; first by the Knicks (twice) and even by the previously win-less Detroit Pistons. In fact, they lost to the Pistons by 18 points, giving that team their first win of the year.
Jrue Holiday is consistently the player putting up the most points, but is also the one with the most minutes on the court. He ranks 6th in the NBA overall for minutes played. He is averaging 18.4 points per game, and 39 minutes played. And it showed by the time the team played the Cavaliers on 11/21, because Jrue looked beat. The Sixers got off to a very slow start, and were down by 13 points at the end of the very first quarter. Although Holiday managed to score 16 points (along with shooting guard Jason Richardson), his averages and shooting were down overall, and he seemed to clearly be dragging a bit. But that is almost unavoidable at this point, with Doug Collins doing his best to deal with a lineup that is missing its biggest star. Without Andrew Bynum on the court, Holiday is almost forced to play more like an overall guard, and less of the pure point guard position. That means he is shooting more and making big plays less. Without Bynum at the helm and the vast majority of scoring duties being carried on the backs of Holiday, Jason Richardson, and Evan Turner, it’s no wonder the scoring totals for their games, wins or losses, are just not that high. Although Thaddeus Young is doing a pretty good job filling in at center (recording a double-double in the loss against Cleveland), the 6’8” Young is no Andrew Bynum. But he has far outshined the likes of Lavoy Allen and even Spencer Hawes at center, so he will likely be handling that position a bit more in the upcoming games.
A lot of attention has been put on the Bynum situation, both by the media and by the fans. And once the 7-foot beast steps on the floor, I’m sure we’ll see some great things. But he is not a cure-all for the Sixers. He is not the only thing that the team needs. For example, in the last few games Evan Turner has shown up big, even racking up a high of 19 points in the win against Cleveland on 11/18. He’s also been great on rebounds as of late, having recorded a total of 89 for the season thus far, trailing only Thad Young (91). But he has shown to be inconsistent in the past, performing in a lackluster manner in just as many games as he’s performed well. Nick Young has been a good scorer overall, but he has proved to be inconsistent with his performances as well. Jason Richardson is back after an injury, which is reflected in his numbers, but he always plays solidly.
So what’s the overarching, metaphysical problem? Chemistry. This is a team with talent, a team that can play well, but not a team that really seems to know how to play together. They don’t seem to know how to use each other. This is reflected in assist numbers, as well as the plays that are being run. And this is partially why so much focus has been on Bynum, on when he will be back, on how the team will improve once he’s there. People seem to be of the opinion that Bynum will be a leader, the superstar on the team that allows them to start dominating instead of just keeping up and pulling it out at the end. While that may be true to a degree, the Sixers being a top team and Andrew Bynum playing are NOT mutually exclusive. The Sixers made it to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals last year, without Bynum. The Sixers are only one win behind the Knicks, without Bynum. Bynum’s presence will probably put more points on the board, as his presence at the low post will make up for some of the Sixers’ inadequacy in the realm of perimeter shooting. But his presence will also change how everyone else on the team needs to play. And while that’s largely a good thing, considering the chemistry of the current team, it might not be the quickest of adjustments. So while he’s gone, it is imperative that the team works harder on defense. With such mediocre shooting, keeping the other teams scoring low is essential. The individual players need to work harder at coming up on big plays, and not flubbing away even the small ones. Shooting needs to improve, especially from the outside. And they can do it. They’ve managed thus far, with all the lineup shuffling and position shifting, and I think they will continue to manage. But what is key is improvement. To quote everyone’s favorite Eagles’ coach: “We need to do a better job.”
The Sixers took Thanksgiving off, with Coach Collins allowing the players to spend time with their families. They practiced today, and will take on the defending Western Conference champs, the Oklahoma City Thunder. It’ll be a tough one, but if the defense can contain the likes of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, the boys have a shot.Tags: Andrew Bynum, Doug Collins, Evan Turner, Jason Richardson, Jrue Holiday, Lavoy Allen, NBA, Nick Young, Philadelphia 76ers, Spencer Hawes, Thaddeus Young