"My focus will be defense, defense, defense. That's what I want to do to make us a winner again. And I think it can happen now.''—76ers Center Marreese Speights.
(Philadelphia, PA)—I know that it was Vince Lombardi who said "The best defense is a good offense" but in the case of this article and in the game of basketball it's in our best interest to switch that around a bit.
Defense is the key to a solid basketball team, and the ability to shut down an opposing force will always open up your chances to score. Coming into the 2010-11 season the Philadelphia 76ers will need to rely on that adage if they plan on improving from their 27-55 mark last season.
The Sixers remained inactive in the offseason, but the moves they did make were all relative to the low-post and center positions. The major move the team made was sending long time Sixer Samuel Dalembert, who was the team's starting center for the last seven years, to the Sacramento Kings for F Andre Nocioni and C Spencer Hawes.
The loss of Dalembert may have been more for the morale of the team as Dalembert had been petitioning for a trade for some time now. The team freed itself from his hefty, yet expiring, contract.
The other move the Sixers made was signing free-agent center Tony Battie. Battie has been in the league since 1997 and has spent time with the Celtics, Nuggets, Cavaliers, Magic, and Nets. He will be a solid bench player and a much needed improvement over former centers Primoz Brezec and Francisco Elson.
Before we begin, let's look at how the Sixers' roster is set at the center position:
Departures: Samuel Dalembert (Trade), Francisco Elson (FA)
Acquisitions & Current: Spencer Hawes (Trade), Tony Battie (FA), Marreese Speights, Jason Smith.
As you can see, the loss of Dalembert and the non-signing of Elson left the Sixers with a four-man rotation at the center position. Smith is listed as a PF, but his 7'0" frame leads me to believe that new head coach Doug Collins will rely on him more at the 5.
Smith and Battie will be coming off the bench and, pending injury, will only see limited time (mostly mop-up duty). The real competition for the Sixers will be between current center Marreese Speights and newcomer Spencer Hawes.
Hawes is a pure center who averaged 10 points and six boards for the Kings in just around 27 minutes a game. From the looks of things he is the first in line to get the start at center, but depending on the opponent, Collins may want to go with Speights at the center position.
Marreese Speights is an interesting player. When Dalembert was at the starting center position we often saw Speights either as the starting PF or coming off the bench as the first reserve, mostly replacing Elton Brand.
I would not be surprised if Speights ended up as the starting PF, but with his 6'10", 245 pound frame I think he could develop into a strong center in the right system.
Speights averaged 8.6 points and 4.1 boards last season in just 16 minutes of work per game, mostly platooning with either Brand or Dalembert.
I understand that the NBA Summer League is no match for the trials and tribulations of the regular season, but in his three games Speights has looked solid for the Sixers, averaging 12 points and nine rebounds a game.
Reports say he lost close to 15 pounds in the offseason and seemed very receptive to the Sixers' staff and their new defensive strategy.
Even Collins agrees, making this statement to the media after the Sixers' Summer League match with the Boston Celtics.
"He's (Speights) an incredibly talented guy who is going to be a big part of what we do this year."
It will all depend on the opponent the team is facing. Speights could get the start against a smaller team, but when the Sixers play teams with a 7'0" center I expect to see Hawes. Either way the team has given itself two very promising and productive options in the low post.
It has been reported that in the next few weeks new head coach Doug Collins will be meeting with Elton Brand to discuss Brand's position with the team this season. Many people in and around the league think that Brand may be an option at the center position because of his decreased speed and his size (6'9" 254 lbs). I think this is a very small possibility if you look at the size of the other probable starting centers in the division:
- N.Y. Knicks: A. Stoudemire 6'10" 249 lbs.
- N.J. Nets: B. Lopez 7'0" 265 lbs.
- Boston: S. O'Neal 7'1" 325 lbs, J. O'Neal 6'11" 265 lbs., R. Wallace 6'11" 230 lbs, K. Perkins 6'10" 280 lbs
- Toronto: A. Bargnani 7'0" 250 lbs.
As you can see, if the Sixers want to have increased success this season it's going to have to start in the low-post. Within the division there is A LOT of talent at the center positions, and hopefully with new head coach Doug Collins the Sixers will be able to add their name to that list.
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