Since we've last seen our 27-win Sixers on the court, you know, in April, before the playoffs started, much has changed with the team.
The Sixers thankfully rid themselves of the Eddie Jordan experiment, and not a minute too soon. Fans can only handle so many erratic lineups, broken defensive rotations, and baffling offensive sets before revolting, and, well, Jordan used up all of his cards in his first 50 games as coach of the Sixers.
They hired TNT analyst Doug Collins, the Sixers' No. 1 overall draft pick from 1973, to lead the team out of the Jordan nightmare and back to the promised land. While Collins left the Sixers two years before their 1983 championship team, he's had the privilege of playing with some of the greatest Sixers in franchise history, and has seen Philadelphia in the midst of its basketball craziest—a good hire all around, so far.
The team also defied the odds in the NBA draft lottery, cashing in on their six percent chance to land the No. 2 pick. The Sixers then defied the odds that they'd do something ridiculously stupid with the pick, as they went with the sure-thing in Evan Turner, college basketball's reigning National Player of the Year.
And finally, the Sixers erased the most painful black eye from the Billy King era by trading Samuel Dalembert's bloated contract to Sacramento. While it's tough to hate on the Haitian this year, given the off-the-court circumstances, it's pretty safe to say both sides (Dalembert and the Sixers) were ready to move on.
So, what will be the biggest questions the Sixers have to deal with in the coming season? Let's check out five issues that will define whether the Sixers end up back in the lottery or if they can return to their 40-win days.
Last season, due to untimely injuries to Lou Williams and Andre Iguodala, the Sixers threw rookie PG Jrue Holiday into the starting lineup far earlier than anyone could have anticipated. They may have uncovered their point guard in the future in the process.
When Holiday averaged starter's minutes in March (35.1 per game), he averaged a more than respectable 13.2 points, 4.1 rebounds, and 5.5 assists per game for the Sixers—not the 20-5-5 that Rookie of the Year Tyreke Evans put up, but nothing to sneeze at.
More importantly, Holiday thrived in the aspects of the game the Sixers need in order to return to relevancy: Defending and the transition game. At 6'4", Holiday has great size for a point guard, and put his defensive scrappiness on display last year with his 1.8 steal per game average in March.
Holiday's ability to run the fastbreak, while promising last year, will be the lynchpin to determining his future with the Sixers going forward. Coach Collins has announced his intention to return to a run-and-gun mindset on offense, and he'll expect Holiday to orchestrate that assault.
If Holiday can continue to build on his surprisingly excellent rookie season, a number of teams will question how they let him slip all the way to No. 17 in the 2009 draft.
Two years ago, this was the biggest question for the team going into the season. Last year, this was the biggest question for the team going into the season. Both years ended in disappointment.
Fool me once, shame on me…
It's time to admit that the automatic 20-point, 10-rebound machine version of Elton Brand has faded off into the sunset already. While the Sixers hoped they were getting the 20-10 Brand when they signed him to a five-year, $80 million deal in 2008 (that was their hope, right?), so far they got an injury-shortened year and his 13-point, six-rebound average last season.
The Sixers started off on a bad foot here: They overestimated their ability to plug the half-court-oriented Brand into their transition-based attack. But even when they slowed the offense down with Eddie Jordan's Princeton offense last season, Brand couldn't take advantage, posting a wholly-average PER of 15.72.
If the Sixers can get anything useful out of Brand at this point, they'll take it. A 15-point, eight-rebound average for a season will sound like a success given the dearth of expectations for Brand. Anything. Can it happen?
I drafted Thaddeus Young in the 10th round of my fantasy basketball league last year, and swore I landed the steal of the draft. When the reality of Eddie Jordan set in, I realized Young's value had been compromised by a lineup-switching madman.
Going into last year, Young was coming off a sophomore season where he averaged 15.5 points, 5.1 rebounds, 1.1 assists, and 1.3 steals in just over 34 minutes a game. The sky appeared to be the limit for the kid offensively (see: In fantasy basketball), even though he was a bit of a tweener.
Then, the Eddie Jordan experiment happened and Young regressed, averaging 13.8 points, 5.2 rebounds, 1.4 assists, and 1.2 steals in 32 minutes per game. Young's disappointing season included a career-low in PER (a below-average 14.08), being benched for the first time since his rookie season, and having an injury end his year early.
In other words, the Sixers don't want the 2009-10 Thad Young to show up. Ever again.
If Young can revert to his 2008-09 form, and continue progressing along that rate, the Sixers will have uncovered a steal at No. 12 in the 2007 draft. If not, he and his new teammate Spencer Hawes can compete for the right to be the most disappointing 2007 lottery pick on the team.
When the Sixers traded Samuel Dalembert to the Sacramento Kings for Andres Nocioni and Spencer Hawes, they gave up their best defensive presence in exchange for some peace of mind (Dalembert had been clamoring for a trade for years).
The Sixers, who already ranked in the bottom third of the league in defensive efficiency last season, now must replaced their leading rebounder and shot-blocker with a mish-mash the bigs on their roster.
Dalembert's replacement probably isn't coming in the form of Elton Brand—even in his prime, he wasn't known for his defense. Will it be Marreese Speights, who hasn't quite shown much interest in defending during his first two seasons?
What about Hawes, the young 7'0'' project the Sixers received in exchange for Dalembert? Can he earn consistent starter's minutes in Philly, after not proving able to do so in his first three seasons in the league?
The Sixers just added veteran Tony Battie this week; could the No. 5 pick from the 1997 draft have one last hoorah in his legs? Look to see who's filling the hole in the middle early and often this year.
There's no questiong what the No. 1 issue is for the Sixers heading into the 2010-11 seasonfiguring out to play their franchise player alongside their star draft pick. Normally, this wouldn’t be a huge problem, but fact is, Andre Iguodala and Evan Turner largely overlap in both their strengths and weaknesses on the court.
No matter how much both players try and convince you otherwise, they both thrive playing on-ball. With Jrue Holiday at the point, however, there's only so many possessions that each player can control.
On the other hand, neither player has a consistent long-range gameIguodala boasts a career 32.6 three-point shooting percentage, while Turner finished college shooting 36.2 percent from downtown.
Now, Coach Collins has already announced his intention to slide Iguodala from the 2, where he mostly played last year, to the 3, in order to create room for Turner. But considering that Holiday isn't exactly a renowned marksman from downtown, the proposed starting lineup of Holiday-Turner-Iguodala will be seeing a lot of zone until one can become a credible threat from deep.
If Holiday or Turner enter the season with a suddenly reliable three-point shot, the Sixers shouldn't have much of a problem meshing Turner and Iguodala. If the two clash in playing styles; however, it's going to be a loooooong year for the Sixers.