The Philadelphia 76ers will find themselves four games out of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference on Friday. Center Andrew Bynum's long-awaited post All-Star break Sixers debut has many wondering if the young star's presence will be enough to return Philadelphia back to the playoffs.
Since their strong 10-6 start entering December, Philadelphia has posted an abysmal 11-21 record (.344 winning percentage during that run). To give you an idea of how terrible that is: Had they been playing around that same .344 clip all season, the team would be sandwiched between Sacramento and Phoenix for the seventh worst record in the league (which would leave them somewhere around 16-17 total wins and four-five games further out of playoff contention).
Translation: The Philadelphia 76ers have been playing very poorly for a very long time.
This team came into the season with high hopes, primarily as a result of the trade that brought Andrew Bynum to Philadelphia. Soon the Sixers will to see the fruits of that trade finally step onto the court, and hope his contributions will lift them back to the postseason.
The team ranks near the bottom of the league in rebounding at both ends of the floor (24th overall), a figure that should shore up once Bynum starts playing. This will open up some room for Evan Turner, who has had to hit the boards heavily for his position in order to make up for the team's rebounding inadequacies.
Though Bynum's return should also help on defense (almost anything would be an improvement here over Spencer Hawes) and give the Sixers their first viable shot blocking threat in years, that is not where he'll make his biggest contributions.
This is because, as per the usual, Doug Collins has Philadelphia playing very well on defense. They allow 95.7 points per game, good for eighth best in the league. They also measure in at 11th overall in defensive rating as a team (an estimate of points allowed per 100 possessions), per basketball-reference.com.
These statistics are great until you consider that Philly is one of three teams rated in the top 17 in this category while also possessing a sub .500 record. The two other teams are Washington and Minnesota.
What this shows is a clear and obvious lack of offense. One statistic shines a bright light on these struggles: Philadelphia ranks 29th in the league in offensive rating (an estimate of points scored per 100 possessions). Yikes.
Bynum coming back should really open up their offense by giving them an elite presence in the low post. This will free up space for the entire offense on the perimeter (now more important with the loss of Jason Richardson for the season) and take some of the weight off of Jrue Holiday's back at this end of the floor.
It will be even more beneficial to their offense if Holiday and Bynum can develop a nice pick-and-roll game. This would be a great way to get more easy buckets inside as Bynum cuts and his defensive man—who very infrequently will be as physically imposing as him in the East— will be forced to foul or surrender an easy dunk or lay-up.
More trips to the line are much needed, considering Philly is last in the league in free throws made. A pick-and-pop game between these two could also be fruitful considering Jrue Holiday's impressive mid-range game and his ability to create.
Fans of the team worried Bynum will slow down the Sixers "up-tempo" pace should understand one statistic: Philadelphia is 21st in overall pace of play. Bynum won't interrupt any run-and-gun game the Sixers have, simply because such a thing is not exactly their bread and butter anyway.
For them to reach the postseason Bynum is going to have exhibit superb basketball and outplay his matchup on a nightly basis. The Sixers have many games left against decent to pretty good centers and it will be quite a stretch for him to play at such a highest level coming off injury (though Bynum is more talented than every center remaining on their schedule).
Bynum will make an immediate impact as playing for Spencer Hawes/Kwame Brown is an obvious upgrade. But with this team already in a sort of free fall, it may be too little too late for this season.
The Philly faithful banking on the Sixers being able to do more than merely squeak into the postseason (at best) have to understand the time it takes to build on-court chemistry.
Yes, the star center should help make some real improvements for Philadelphia, especially on offense. But Bynum will likely play only somewhere around the 30 game range, which really is not enough of a sample for he and the rest of the squad to adapt to each others' games at full potential.