Philadelphia 76ers: 10 Bold Predictions for the 2011-2012 NBA Season
Usually the late summer months mark the end of the NBA Offseason, a period where teams are done with marquee signings and moving to fill rosters holes with second-tier players that slipped through the cracks during the mad rush to sign available stars.
But the summer of 2011 has had no such excitement for NBA fans. The lockout remains, with no end in sight. Should—by some miracle—the owners and players come to some kind of agreement and basketball return, what might we expect from a Philadelphia 76ers team that managed to finish 41-41 after a dreadful 3-13 start to the season?
Bold Prediction #10: Jrue Holiday Will Emerge as a Top-5 Point Guard
From his rookie to sophomore campaign, Jrue Holiday improved nearly every aspect of his game—he was more disciplined, a better all-around offensive weapon, a better floor general, and a better defender. There is no reason to think that an athlete with Holiday's level of talent and work ethic can not continue to improve again as he enters year 3.
In order for Holiday to take the next step into the realm of the NBA's "elite" PGs, he will need to up his assist numbers while keeping his turnovers down, improve his mid-to-long range game, and continue to improve as a floor general.
While that may seem like a tall order, when it's broken down, it's certainly in the realm of possibility. Holiday needs to increase his per-game assists by 2.0 while keeping his turnovers around 2.5, his points by 2.0-3.0, and his 3-point percentage by 3%. Those are all very achievable goals.
If he succeeds, his 2011-2012 line could be something along the following lines:
PPG: 17.0, APG: 8.5, TO: 2.5, S%: 45%
Combine those stats with Holiday's already-excellent defense, and he should be a top-5 PG in the NBA.
Bold Prediction #9: Nikola Vucevic Will Be a Bust
I will be the first person to admit that one year is simply too small of a sample size to definitively determine if a draft pick was a bust. That is why this Bold Prediction is multi-seasonal. The Sixers' top selection in the 2011 NBA Draft will be a bust.
Vucevic was not the best player on the board when the Sixers selected. He wasn't the best big man available. He doesn't have a high ceiling. He doesn't do anything particularly well. He's just tall. And apparently the Sixers' front office is still clueless when it comes to drafting big men.
This is just another pick wasted on a Spencer Hawes clone. Vucevic has bust written all over him.
Bold Prediction #8: Andre Iguodala Has Played His Last Game in Philadelphia
This is a break-up that is long overdue. The other A.I.'s time in Philadelphia has come to a close. For months, there has been rampant speculation about where Iguodala might end up. Golden State has been tossed around, along with Chicago, Los Angeles, and even Orlando. But there is one constant to all of these rumors: none of them have Iguodala suiting up for the Sixers in 2011-2012.
For once, the gossip is right. This is a breakup that is best for both sides. The Sixers need Iguodala out of the picture in order to free up valuable shots and floor-time for Evan Turner and Thaddeus Young. Iguodala, after toiling for far too long on a mediocre Sixers team, deserves a chance to play for an NBA championship. He desperately needs to be the Robin to another franchise's Batman.
Iguodala is probably the second-best point-forward in the NBA right now. He does everything well, but nothing extraordinarily so. He can score. He can run the fast break. He can defend. He can rebound. He can pass. He understands how to run an offense. He's a complete NBA player. But like Scottie Pippen, he needs a Jordan to really shine. And that is why A.I. needs to play somewhere else next season.
The Sixers can probably get a great haul in return for the talented winger. They should move him now. Iguodala needs it. The Sixers need it. It needs to happen.
Bold Prediction #7: Thaddeus Young Will Have a Breakout Season
Thaddeus Young has shown flashes of brillance over the past three seasons, and for good reason. He has all of the raw talent (and more) necessary for him to be a star at the NBA level. He's big, he runs the floor well, he understands how to play defense, he's capable of finishing in the lane, and he's begun to develop a post game.
The biggest impediment to Young finally blossoming into a star has been a lack of playing time. With Iguodala out of the picture, that should no longer be an issue.
Young will be able to play 35:00+ minutes per game, attempt more than a paltry 10 shots per game, and be the beneficiary of more than a handful of set plays in the half-court set.
If Iguodala is gone, look for Young to score 18.0+ ppg while grabbing at least 8.0 rebounds per game. And he has the talent to exceed those lofty expectations.
Bold Prediction #6: Samuel Dalembert Will Return to the Sixers
The Sixers need a big man that can rebound and block shots if they hope to take the next step and be a legitimate playoff team. Dalembert has already said that he misses playing for the team that drafted him all of those years ago. It seems like a match made in heaven, provided the two sides can come together at a reasonable price.
After watching the Dallas Mavericks win the Larry O'Brien Trophy with a mantra of team-first play and solid defense, it's likely the Sixers will try to find their own defensive anchor in the mold of Tyson Chandler. Dalembert may not have the raw talent of Chandler, but he does have a similar skill set and a similar attitude.
Again, provided he can be had for a reasonable price, Dalembert could be the perfect option for the Sixers at the center position. He's willing to rebound, block shots, and play defense without expecting anything on the offensive end. He's a team-first player and a class act on and off the court. And unlike other options, he doesn't have durability concerns and he does have playoff experience.
Bold Prediction #5: Elton Brand Will Score 20 Points Per Game
Elton Brand impressed me in 2010-2011. He finally showed he understands how to use his experience and veteran savvy to consistently get good looks. He consistently made smart plays with the basketball, passing when double-teamed and taking high-percentage shots. He was able to step up when the young Sixers were struggling and knock down a few key buckets, then step back and allow the team to feed off the momentum his offense created.
I believe Brand can continue to re-establish himself as an upper-eschelon NBA big man. He only took 12 shots per game—significantly less than he did earlier in his career. With Iguodala out of the way, Brand should be able to increase that number to around 15. If he is able to continue to take good shots, it's perfectly reasonable to think he'll be able to have his first 20+ PPG season as a Sixer in 2011-2012.
Bold Prediction #4: Evan Turner Will Prove He Is Not a Bust
Evan Turner has struggled to establish himself as a player worthy of his status as a Number-2 overall draft pick, much to the dismay of Philadelphia 76ers fans everywhere. The pressure is on Turner to prove his critics wrong and transform his flashes of brillance into consistently strong play.
Part of the problem has been a lack of playing time. With Iguodala gone, playing time should no longer be a problem. Turner will be the starting SG for the Sixers. He will have every opportunity to make good on his potential.
Turner is simply too talented and too dedicated to his craft to fail once he is given a legitimate opportunity. He'll have a strong 2011-2012 season and his critics will get a little quieter.
Bold Prediction #3: Lou Williams Will Be Sixth Man of the Year
Right now, Lou Williams is one of the NBA's primiere off-the-bench scorers. He finished the 2010-2011 season averaging just under 14 points per game while playing just under half the game. Excellent production for a Sixth Man candidate.
Aside from the sheer volume of points scored is the way Williams scores those points—by entering the game when the Sixers are struggling and injecting life into the team. He has the ability to take over for stretches, seemingly scoring at will.
He's a perfect candidate for the award. And with another solid season, he just might win it.
Bold Prediction #2: Doug Collins Will Be a Coach of the Year Finalist
Doug Collins has been a godsend for a Philadelphia 76ers team that has been stuck in the quagmire of mediocrity for far too long. His team-centric philosophy and game-by-game approach have brought the franchise's young core together. His defense-first coaching strategy has given the franchise an identity.
And he's improved the team by 14 games in just one season. That number should increase by another 6 games in 2011-2012. That will mean that in the stretch of just two seasons, Collins has turned the Sixers from a 27-win team to a 47-win team. That's a massive improvement. That is Coach of the Year caliber performance.
But I don't think it will be quite enough to get Collins over the hump. The voters will choose the feel good story of the season over the consistent excellence of Collins. It may not be right or fair, but that's life in the NBA.
Doug Collins certainly deserves recognition for his excellent work in Philadelphia. Unfortunately, that recognition is going to have to come in the form of a solid season and a playoff series win, not a shiny award.
Bold Prediction #1: None of These Other Predictions Will Matter...
...because there will not be a 2011-2012 NBA Season.