After losing to the Pacers last night, the Philadelphia 76ers fell to 21-27 and are four games behind the Celtics for the last playoff spot. In their first game without Thaddeus Young (who is out three weeks with a strained hamstring), Philadelphia missed their second leading scorer as they racked up their lowest point total of the season by losing 88-69.
With only three games left until the All-Star break, let's congratulate and criticize some players by dishing out a few midseason awards.
Holiday taking over
This was an easy pick. With Andre Iguodala off to Denver and Andrew Bynum recovering from knee surgery, Jrue Holiday has taken over this team. In his fourth year, the 22-year-old point guard was named to his first All-Star game this season. These first 48 games have not been pleasant for Philadelphia, but it has not stopped Holiday from averaging 19.3 points and nine assists.
Holiday is also the most improved Sixer, but that is a given. He may even win the league's award in that category. Hopefully, his numbers will rise as he'll be asked to do more in Young's absence, and there is still hope that Bynum can return soon after the break and add a spark to this offense.
Common look this season
With Bynum sidelined this season, the second-year big man out of Temple has had a chance to step up and shine, but instead has been a big disappointment. Former No. 2 overall pick Evan Turner was a close runner-up for this award, but he's already been there, often; it's time to pass the torch.
In last year's playoffs, Lavoy Allen would come off the bench and play surprisingly solid minutes for a rookie, which gave Sixers fans hope this season. As a starting center this year, Allen is averaging a little over six points and less than one free throw per game.
Although he is better known for his defensive abilities, he still hasn't been a big presence down low. Allen averages three defensive rebounds and less than a block each game. With a whole offseason to improve and more minutes available to him, Allen has not progressed as much as he should have.
Young stuffing Perkins
It seems that Thaddeus Young has assumed Iguodala's role in Philadelphia. Almost every game, Young is the hardest worker on the floor and he hasn't let up in his first season as a starter. These minutes have produced career highs for the young athlete, including 14.9 points per game, but his real value comes on the defensive side of the ball. As a small forward, Young leads the team with 7.4 rebounds and 1.7 steals per game. He also is second on the team in blocks, behind only seven-footer Spencer Hawes.
Unfortunately, Young suffered a left hamstring injury in Monday's win over the Magic. He is expected to miss three weeks, but the Sixers lucked out, in a way, for one of those weeks will be the All-Star break. This team struggles mightily offensively, but holds their own on defense by allowing only 95.7 points per game, which is eighth in the league. The loss of their best defender and second-best offender does not bode well for Philly going forward.
He will be missed
I know that the loss of Iguodala and Williams was hard to swallow for Philly fans, but no one could have predicted what a gem the Sixers were also giving up in the Bynum trade. Last year, in his rookie season with Philadelphia, Nikola Vucevic did not get much playing time and only averaged 5.5 points per game. This year he has burst onto the scene as the starting center for the Orlando Magic. The 22-year-old is averaging a double-double (12.1 PTS, 11.3 REB) on a pitiful squad.
This is the physical presence the Sixers have been lacking all season, for the team averages only 38.4 points in the paint each game, which ranks 26th in the league. A great shooting team can overcome that statistic, but as a team they shoot 44.4 percent. It stings to see a former prospect thrive at the position your team needs the most.
The Sixers parted ways with fan-favorite Lou Williams, an offensive spark off the bench, through free agency in the offseason, so they brought in Nick Young. The newly acquired guard was expected to fill that void, but has failed to do so. Young is averaging 11.3 points, but lacks the ability to truly impact the offense when they are struggling.
That being said, Spencer Hawes has been great off the bench. The center provides much needed size in the paint and, although he isn't a defensive powerhouse, he has a bigger offensive repertoire than Lavoy Allen and Kwame Brown. He scores 10 points a game and contributes in other areas such as assists, steals and blocks more than the other big men.