Ask a handful of Philadelphia 76ers fans who the team's best player is, and you're likely to get a handful of answers in return.
But there shouldn't be any debate as to who the most valuable player is for head coach Doug Collins' squad. And strangely enough, he's not even a starter.
In a season filled with more than its fair share of highs and lows, Thaddeus Young has been the most consistent player on the 76ers roster, and is one of the keys behind Philadelphia's impressive 26-20 start.
On the year, Young is averaging 13.2 points and 5.2 rebounds per game, and is shooting nearly 50.5 percent from the floor. Those numbers are in line with his stellar output from last season (12.7 PPG, 5.3 RPG)—a campaign that resulted in Young finishing third in the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year voting.
Even without getting starters' minutes, Young has scored in double figures in 36 of the 45 games in which he's played this season. According to Synergy Sports, Young ranks in the Top 50 in the NBA in terms of points per possession, and is extremely efficient in turning offensive rebounds into scoring opportunities (1.21 PPP on offensive rebounds—26th best in the NBA).
One of the knocks on Young—in addition to his defense—is his questionable mid-range game. But the former Georgia Tech star put in a fair amount of work on his jump shot this offseason, and his shooting percentage from 16-to-23 feet of 39.0 percent is slightly better than the league average.
"That's been my goal all summer," said Young when asked about his improved jumper. "I've just been working on my jump shot and getting it ready and it's falling now."
The most dynamic part of Young's game is his efficiency in the paint: Over the past two years, he has converted more than 72 percent of his attempts at the rim. At 6'8" and 220 pounds, Young creates matchup problems for opposing forwards of all sizes.
As recently as three months ago, there was a question as to whether or not the 76ers would be the beneficiaries of Young's talents this season. The versatile small forward was a restricted free agent once the abbreviated league year began, but Philadelphia quickly re-signed him to a five-year, $43 million deal in December.
A salary of $8 million per year for a bench player seems—and probably is—slightly excessive, but for someone with a diverse skill set such as Young's, it's definitely fair market value.
With Andre Iguodala entrenched at the small forward position, there doesn't appear to be any place in the starting lineup for Young in the short term. But regardless of what role he'll eventually be assigned to play, the 23-year-old Young will continue to be an invaluable part of the 76ers' rotation.
"Thaddeus Young is one of the most special young men I have ever been around," said Collins earlier this year. "The epitome of a guy to me is a great husband, a great father and a great teammate and that is what Thad Young is, and he gives us a chance to win every night."